The Fear You Can Hear
October 27, 2011 2:46 PM   Subscribe

The CBS Radio Mystery Theater aired weeknights from 1974 to 1982. Here are all 1,399 original episodes , free to stream or download. posted by timsteil (39 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
That's pretty neat.. are these in the public domain?
posted by HuronBob at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid I would see these listed in the paper and wanted desperately to listen but could. not. pick up the radio station. How I wish I'd known then what the internet had in store for me.
posted by JanetLand at 2:56 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

[Insert joke about spoilers for 100 year old story that draws upon MetaFilter's rich site history here]

This is fantastic and will be a perfect time suck on days when I have something mindless to do that must get done, which, is often on Friday. Just in time indeed.

I went to the Actors link to see if there were any I recognized, and the first that popped out at me was Morgan Fairchild, and clicking on her, was really surprised to see a large number (12 or 13) credits, as she's not exactly known for having "a face for radio" as they say -- and though her voice is nice, it's not like she's John Forsythe (listed just below her with one credit) And then looking at the dates, I realized that these were all before anybody would have known who she was (and therefore what she looked like)

Doesn't really mean anything, but I found it interesting.

When I was a kid I would see these listed in the paper and wanted desperately to listen but could. not. pick up the radio station. How I wish I'd known then what the internet had in store for me.

That's how I felt the first time I found a copy of the radio Star Wars that NPR did. Where I grew up, we couldn't receive the NPR station, even though it was highly promoted in the newspaper we got. And 7 year old me could not be convinced that he couldn't make the stereo work somehow and pick it up. And my dad, though frustrated, was also of the kind that would let me mess with something as long as I didn't permanently break it.

(Home delivered newspaper, radio waves from over the air that were dependent on geography, I must sound like I'm talking about cranking the Victrola to some...)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:12 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Great post - thanks. I used to listen to this often as a kid in the late 70's. Mason Adams is the actor I remember most.
posted by davebush at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2011

This is an outstanding archive, and a wonderful find. Thanks so much for posting!
posted by hippybear at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2011

HuronBob: are these in the public domain?

Doubtful. These are relatively new broadcasts, and not at all in the "golden age of radio" as stated on the site. The Golden Age of Radio is usually considered early 1920s until television's replacement of radio as the primary home entertainment medium in the 1950s, and all those recordings are generally considered to be in the public domain. These seem to be hosted in the hope that CBS won't care about dated media like radio dramas (even though the most recent are only some 29 years old).

This site is amazing, and even if the audio content happened to disappear, this still would be a great resource. It includes a stunning who's who of the voices and writers, as well as summaries for all the shows. Thanks for posting this!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are several apps that stream Old Time Radio for Android and iPhones, so you can use your new fangled gadget of science to re-create the convenience of radio.
posted by rube goldberg at 3:42 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to fall asleep listening to these as a kid--great find!

I only wish the mp3 files weren't each behind a separate .html page; I'd like to download a few dozen of these.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:44 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

See also: Molle Mystery Theater, hosted by "Geoffrey Barnes." I had an LP of two of the episodes ("Kenny Angles and the Queen of Diamonds" / "Triangle of Death"), complete with 20s-era radio commercials, when I was a kid.
posted by Gelatin at 3:55 PM on October 27, 2011

I used to listen to it on my little transistor radio at night under the covers. Some of those shows scared the hell out of me at 12.
posted by freakazoid at 4:07 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Previously on Metafilter (almost exactly 10 years ago!). I remember posting to that thread. I am older than I've ever been and now I'm even older.

I am delighted to have these old radio shows all available now!

Pleasant... dreams?
posted by artlung at 4:08 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm 42 years old; how come I've never heard of these? I had a radio. Jeez.
posted by cropshy at 4:21 PM on October 27, 2011

Outstanding and superb this. Many a night pre-pubescent wise my little brother and i would listen with our respective AM radio's through earphones when we were supposed to be sleeping and had a blast.

This is the first thing I think of whenever I hear E.G. Marshall's name.
posted by Skygazer at 4:24 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

These are awesome. Just about the last gasp of commercial radio drama, if I'm not mistaken. The last season had, among other stories, a 5 episode adaptation of Les Miserables.

I used to listen to this late at night before bed time. Sometimes I had to wait out a local college basketball game first.
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2011

Oh, how I loved this show. If I went to the mall with my mom, I'd start listening to it in the car, then run in during a break so I could listen to it in my room.

KSFO used to have a great evening lineup: Golden Age shows (Jack Benny, Lum & Abner, The Shadow) from 8-9, Mystery Thater from 9-10, then a Dr. Demento-like comedy hour from 10-11. The Golden Age stuff was fun, but my favorite was Mystery Theater. Sometimes I needed to listen to the comedy hour for a while because Mystery Theater scared the heck out of me.
posted by mogget at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe these are the ones my mom used to listen to when I was a kid. We had no TV so this was the night's entertainment once a week. I always remembered that music at the beginning of each episode. Good stuff. Thanks.
posted by Rashomon at 4:40 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is amazing how relatively recent these are!
My girlfriend tends to go to sleep before me and have trouble sleeping without me so Ive been lying in the dark listening to podcasts on earbuds next to her and feeling the kind of comfort in it that I always imagined people did back in radio's golden age.

These are a tremendous find. Thanks!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:51 PM on October 27, 2011

I always love it when an OTR thread pops up on the blue. I was a long time listener of OTR and somehow managed to not know that CBS Mystery Theatre existed for a while. I always loved the bizarre British accents in some episodes, or the commercials and news bits. I find it even weirder though that older shows have better audio quality than Mystery Theatre - the ones I always hear sound super scratchy.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:14 PM on October 27, 2011

My wife and I fall asleep listening to Antioch Radio. 24/7 OTR! The coolest thing is that they try to match a date in history (eg. listening to a show on October 28, 2011 originally broadcast October 28, 1957).
posted by sunexplodes at 5:29 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just about the last gasp of commercial radio drama, if I'm not mistaken.

Well, in the U.S. I've always wondered why radio drama (and comedy) never went away in Britain.
posted by JanetLand at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2011

I attended a Film Sound conference in Nottingham a few years ago. One of the guest speakers was a senior producer at BBC Radio. I don't remember the figure but it was around 1000 hours of radio drama produced every year at the Beeb. They budget for it, hire writers, hire actors - due to the fact that they have an audience who get very unhappy when their favourite drama gets taken off the air.
posted by sunexplodes at 5:36 PM on October 27, 2011

I've always wondered why radio drama (and comedy) never went away in Britain

Because all BBC Radio is funded by the TV licence fee, which all TV owners must pay – so radio drama is not dependent on ad revenue. Commercial radio drama is, however, non-existent.
posted by mattn at 6:07 PM on October 27, 2011

Thanks so much for posting these! I, too, used to listen to these when I was a kid. It seems I recall a Poe week, which I really dug. I've already downloaded "Berenice," which I particularly recall, and I'm sure I'll be picking up others.
posted by ThePowerPopFan at 6:16 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because all BBC Radio is funded by the TV licence fee, which all TV owners must pay – so radio drama is not dependent on ad revenue. Commercial radio drama is, however, non-existent.

Ah, I see what you mean. Thank you.
posted by JanetLand at 6:38 PM on October 27, 2011

This makes me so happy...I remember listening to these shows as a kid, alone at night in my dark room with the glowing dials of my stereo. I always thought they were created in the 50's and rebroadcast, and wish I could download them all. Thanks so much for the post.
posted by homeless Visigoth at 7:05 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man! I used to listen to it all the time at night! Thanks!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:22 PM on October 27, 2011

I too listened to them at night! 10:07pm on AM1390 KSLM.
posted by no relation at 8:34 PM on October 27, 2011

Yes, yes, YES.

This is an incredible archive for an incredible show.
posted by Spatch at 9:59 PM on October 27, 2011

Loved this show as a kid. And on the episode I picked randomly, it has fun news from 1974. Nixon and Erlichman twisting in the wind! First pick in the ABA draft is a high school student named Moses Malone!
posted by msalt at 12:02 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you! I also loved this show as a kid, and listened often. I especially enjoyed listening on the antique radio in my grandparents' kitchen, which, even though it was comforting surroundings, somehow made the listening experience a bit creepier.

The radio show I was truly obsessed with at the time, though, was "The Nightwatch," narrated by a gentleman named F. Peter Lee. Each episode was between around five minutes or so, mostly with the kind of twist endings that greatly appealed to me as a fan of horror comics at the time. I had an LP compilation of some of the shows, unfortunately containing mostly mediocre episodes; I remember boggling at the time that none of the best shows were included. Unfortunately, that LP seems to have gone missing after we moved into our house, and I had had it since I was 13.

The most frustrating thing about this show is that the Internets seem not to have heard of it. I can find almost nothing about it online. Pretty much the only reference I can find is this photo of the LP, which helps prove that I didn't just imagine the whole thing:

Does anyone else remember this?
posted by chuq at 12:47 AM on October 28, 2011

I, too, loved the CBS Radio Mystery Theater when it originally aired. Here's something I wrote about it when I heard about the death of creator Himan Brown (self link).
posted by Man-Thing at 7:28 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I, too, listened to CBS Radio Mystery Theater on evening auto trips. I always wanted to listen to them all but never could find them. The closest I came was a Torrent of poorly recorded episodes that was barely tolerable.

Now I can listen to them all (43 days+ of continual listening).

Anyone hear the radio series from the late '80s "Alien Worlds" another SF themed Drama.

Great post!
posted by DBAPaul at 8:35 AM on October 28, 2011

In the home of my youth, where TV was very heavily regulated, I lived for radio. Of course, I was a resentful little child, filled with bitterness that I didn't have unrestricted access to the astonishing genius of Three's Company and other such glittering gems of late 20th century literature, but without knowing how lucky I'd been to miss having my brain sucked out through my eye sockets, radio became a large part of making me who I am now.

In my childhood and adolescence, WAMU FM, broadcasting out of the American University campus, hadn't become the vehicle for drive-time news, mid-day talkies with Diane Rehm carefully cutting off every possible tangent that might make an interview actually interesting, endless Mara Liasson, and endless Garrison Keillor reruns. Back in my day, young readers, the station still worked like a strange little college radio station, with bluegrass a-pickin' an' a-grinnin' all afternoon and two hours of radio drama every weeknight, in the relatively wee hours. On Sundays, we got The Big Broadcast, with even more of the vintage stuff.

Each night, it would be an hour of modern radio drama, like ZBS, and an hour of what's now annoyingly been dubbed "Old Time Radio," which just sounds like a novelty CD one would buy in the gift shop at a Cracker Barrel or any other place serving the more rake-wavy segment of the population. I'd lie there in the little cave of the supermodern bunk bed my father had built with a pair of soup can headphones connecting me to the Panasonic with a long arc of coily cord, in the dark, and the stories would start to bloom, opening out into that magical space just south of my dreams, with characters coming into focus like sketches made of words, filled out in impossible color with sound effects performed by people who lived to find the perfect footstep on damp gravel or the door latch that was

I've rambled on about this on mefi before, and will again. I will, in fact, celebrate this unmatched medium whenever I've got the time, the voice, and the platform for it, because it's just so intensely personal for me, and for who I wanted to be, and for the choices I've made in my life. When the rest of the world was lurching into the purely visual, and into increasingly "real" effects and literal visual imagery, I saw things you'd never believe, and things I can only describe on the most superficial level.

I've been frightened half to death by The CBS Radio Mystery theater, and intrigued by crime and punishment, mysteries and revelations, inspired by science fiction and fantasy, and schooled by the late, great Jean Shepherd on how to tell a story.

Thirty-three years after I first listened to "A Pail of Air," to give an example (mp3 version here), I can still remember the lush, vivid landscape of a simple story that just knocked me out when I heard it. It's a bit dated, the science is more than a bit sketchy, and the acting is a little stilted, but it painted such a picture of a world. I didn't need CGI to tell me what to see, or what to think—it just fed my subconscious, and my subconscious filled in the rest. That's the power of a good book, or a good story, told well, and it's something that's increasingly rare now that it's so easy to counterfeit every image.

When WAMU changed formats to chase after more pledges and to become one of NPR's power stations, the drama went away, except for Sundays, and in the eighties, it was hard as hell to track down this stuff. I borrowed tapes, swapping with friends, and my father finally found something we had in common and used his radio connections to turn up giant transcription records of Jean Shepherd and Lights Out that we'd copy to reel-to-reel on our old Tandberg. I eventually taught myself to use studio equipment and starting making music and sound pieces for live performances, in a kind of Laurie Anderson meets Lum & Abner sort of mode.

I tried to evangelize, too, but it's just too hard, sometimes. People are so brainwashed by the visual image, and so accustomed to having every picture painted for them. I made great radio mix tapes, trying to lure my friends into the joyous repose of the nighttime trip via headphones, and kept on archiving, collecting, copying, and storing stuff away.

The internet's a miracle, though—all this stuff is finally out there, and most of it's free, either having naturally expired out of copyright or having been abandoned by big media producers that thought it was all worthless when it came time to renew their copyrights. For those of us who already love this stuff, there's thousands and thousands of hours of it out there, almost too much to ever listen to. Having access to virtually every surviving recording of Jean Shepherd, for instance, is just true and actual magic for anyone who ever planned to sit in front of a microphone and share a tale. I'll be writing myself a little script to harvest this site to add to 300 or so gigabytes of radio drama I've got stashed away, and will search for a very particular episode of this series that scared the pants off me in 1980.

I'll keep evangelizing, but I can't seem to win converts, even among my own family. Fortunately, the other miracle of the internet is how well it links up those of us who already get it, and those who love it enough that they're firing up the old boilers, looking for that perfect sound of footsteps on damp gravel, and building extraordinary new stories with the amazing technology we have and the history and accumulated knowledge of sonic craftsmanship that's out there for the taking.

The rest of the world can stare at talking blue cats that live in Yes album covers as long as they like, and it's okay that it takes all kinds to make a world. Me, though—I'm just going to lug this pail of air back to the nest and tell some more stories around the fire like we did a hundred thousand years ago, when we diverged from our ancestors to become what we are now.

"Joe, did you see Charlie's Angels last night?"

"Nah. I've used up all my TV time this week already."

"Man—you could see Farrah Fawcett's titties right through her shirt."

"Huh. That so?"

"Yeah, it was incredible. What'd you do last night, then?"

"There's this new show they're playing on the radio—it's the funniest thing ever—that's called 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,' and there's this guy who's like real ordinary, and he's in a bathrobe, and the world gets destroyed and his friend's really an alien, and they have to listen to this crazy bad poetry and get thrown out of a spaceship and get picked up by accident by another spaceship that's powered by improbability and they go to this planet where they make new planets and it's just cool, man."

"What happens after that?"

"I dunno. There's nuclear missiles shooting at them, but I won't know what happens until next week."

"And it's funny?"

"Yeah. It's the funniest thing I've ever heard."

"Funnier than Cheech and Chong?"

"Infinitely," I said, and it's the kind of haughty thing I said back then, partly because I was prone to clever words, and partly because I was on the verge of quoting Douglas Adams in every other sentence for the next three years.

There are whole worlds in there, carried along by compression waves propagated in a gaseous medium, broadcast via electromagnetic waves and received by superheterodyning circuits, and decoded by the human brain into something as wonderful as a story related with intensity around a crackling fire. Maybe I'm out of my time, but what journeys I've taken since my parents first rolled the television into the kitchen closet...

Great post, man. Farrah Fawcett's titties will have to wait.
posted by sonascope at 9:48 AM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

and there's this guy who's like real ordinary, and he's in a bathrobe


(By which I mean your entire comment is awesome)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:07 AM on October 28, 2011

I think it makes it into the later ones, but point taken. I was reading the book shortly thereafter, so the two sort of fuse in my memory in the same way that when I watch Star Wars now, I feel like big sections are missing because the NPR radio series was so much more detailed than the film. Everything merges [in] the night, at least in my brain, alas.
posted by sonascope at 10:43 AM on October 28, 2011

Seriously, that was an awesome comment, and you're absolutely right about it showing up in the later Dirk Maggs directed series and god why do I know all this also ZBS rules
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:54 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love this-thanks for posting!
posted by PHINC at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2011

I'm a little late, but you can get all the files at here.
posted by CarlRossi at 9:43 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went looking around, and am somewhat pleased to find people selling entire collections on hard drives, as well as other media.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:29 PM on October 31, 2011

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