We Were Warned

Usually we all have a good laugh at the way authors, illustrators and filmmakers of the past imagined the future. It’s usually little men from Mars or silver needle spaceships or hulking automatons serving sinister masters. That isn’t the case with the radio show I was listening to the other night when I was suffering a bout of insomnia. This program based on a 1946 short story by Murray Leinster seems remarkably prescient in that it fairly accurately describes networked home computers, their proliferation and the pitfalls of the presence of those devices to everyday people. The characters are played for laughs with broad characterizations of repair men, bratty kids and weak-willed fathers, but I think it nails the device that was but a dream at the time and how that dream could become a nightmare. Embedded below is an episode of Dimension X called A Logic Named Joe which aired on radio in July of 1950 but is set in the far flung future of 1974.

Click on the white arrow to start the program. It does have a brief special bulletin on the Korean War, and Dimension X starts afterward.

Adventures in time and space, told in future tense…

Of course, it is funny finding A Logic Named Joe via networked computers tied to an internet repository. A lifetime of radio broadcasts are available that way. When I first got into old time radio or OTR, radio programs were available via vinyl record or cassette tape for purchase. I bought a few, but I would have gone bankrupt trying to amass even a fraction of material I’ve listened to online for free.

I was born as the last of the great radio dramas were being put out to pasture, but my parents grew up, got married and had a few of my brothers and sisters in the era of radio. I grew up firmly planted in the network television era, and I was aware that there was always an assumption that radio was all silver-tongued announcers, corny comedies and sappy soap operas accompanied by overwrought organists. It’s old so it’s considered old-fashioned meaning it’s crap and so much worse than everything that followed. Television was new so it was considered more sophisticated. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve always been a nostalgia buff being fascinated with old television and radio programs so I’ve chased down a lot of this stuff decades after it first aired. When Dimension X was broadcast in 1950, television was in its infancy and imitated radio formats with pictures and a lobotomy. It was all variety shows, gameshows and pale imitations of what was already done better on radio. Even the classic shows that were to come like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek seemed simple and somewhat reductive compared to the complexity of Dimension X and its follow-up X Minus One which were based on the works of the greatest science fiction authors of the era. The radio shows felt like they were produced for adults while television seemed like it was for kids. It’ similar to the comparison between prose stories and comic books. I think the big difference between radio and TV besides more literate scripts is that radio relied on the imaginations of its listeners. The audience participated actively rather than being fed an art director’s concept which was usually hobbled by tight schedules and nonexistent  budgets. Imaginations have no budgetary limitations and the audience supplied their own.

These SCI-FI shows weren’t wildly successful lasting only a season or two, but somebody higher up in the programming food-chain had the good sense to greenlight these projects. I’ve often wondered if the programs were ever repeated as television programs have reruns. A lot of what is considered classic television would never have been remembered if it weren’t for reruns and syndication. I’m not sure if radio programs ever had that chance. These particular programs were recorded ahead of time in a studio — transcribed to record so that they could be broadcast in different markets. That’s how they survive to this day. Some of the Dimension X episodes were rerun for use in X Minus One which came and went later in the decade. By that time, television was out of its infancy and reigned supreme. The audiences for radio drama were shrinking and advertisers were pulling out.

You have probably guessed that I am nuts about old time radio. I recommend radio programs all of the time to friends, but I have to admit that it’s a bit of a hard sell. People have their streaming programs and 10,000 diversions offered by cell phones and tablets, but if you have time to kill like a long road trip, head on over to The Internet Archive or Old Time Radio Researchers Group where you will find “Over 60,000 episodes freely available to the public!” The price is right, and the old radio shows are probably better written than that new audio book you’ve never got around to listening.

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