Dimension X: The 1950s SciFi Radio Show That Dramatized Stories by Asimov, Bradbury, Vonnegut & More

dimension x

Enthu­si­asts of Amer­i­can radio dra­ma usu­al­ly place the for­m’s “Gold­en Age” as begin­ning in the 1920s and end­ing, almost at the stroke of tele­vi­sion’s mass adop­tion, in the 1950s. NBC’s Dimen­sion X, which ran in 1950 and 1951, came some­what late to the game, but it did more than its part to give “old time radio” a strong last decade — indeed, per­haps its strongest. Oth­er famous “seri­ous” sci­ence-fic­tion pro­grams had aired in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, but Dimen­sion X made its mark by adapt­ing short sto­ries by acknowl­edged mas­ters of the craft: Isaac Asi­mov, Ray Brad­bury, Robert Hein­lein, and even a non-genre-bound lit­er­ary mind like Kurt Von­negut. All of these world-cre­ators knew well the val­ue of imag­i­na­tion, and radio, in its way, stood then and remains today the most evoca­tive, imag­i­na­tion-dri­ven medi­um of them all. At the Inter­net Archive (cer­tain­ly a more con­ve­nient old time radio source than the boot­leg cas­sette tapes I used to have to buy) you can down­load all of Dimen­son X’s “adven­tures in time and space, tran­scribed in future tense.”

If you don’t know where in this spec­u­la­tive field of time and space to begin, we’ve high­light­ed a few Dimen­sion X episodes drawn from works of the most notable authors. June 10, 1950’s “The Green Hills of Earth”, based upon the Robert Hein­lein sto­ry of the same name, relates the life of “Noisy” Rhys­ling, a blind space-age trou­ba­dour who real­izes he must pay trib­ute to the plan­et he long ago left behind. The very next week’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”, one of Ray Brad­bury’s many works adapt­ed for the show, describes the apoc­a­lypse through the process­es of the self-main­tain­ing high-tech mir­a­cle house. June 17, 1951’s “Peb­ble in the Sky” takes its theme from the epony­mous Isaac Asi­mov nov­el that thrusts a 20th-cen­tu­ry every­man into a com­plex future of a galac­tic empire, a radioac­tive Earth, and manda­to­ry euthana­sia at age six­ty. And in Feb­ru­ary 11, 1950’s “Report on the Barn­house Effect”, only the show’s third broad­cast, we hear the tes­ti­mo­ny of a tele­ki­net­ic — one who, giv­en that Kurt Von­negut wrote the orig­i­nal sto­ry, it won’t sur­prise you to hear the gov­ern­ment imme­di­ate­ly (and hap­less­ly) tries to weaponize.

“The Green Hills of Earth” (Robert Hein­lein)

“There Will Come Soft Rains” (Ray Brad­bury)

“Peb­ble in the Sky” (Isaac Asi­mov)

“Report on the Barn­house Effect” (Kurt Von­negut)

Relat­ed con­tent:

Orson Welles Vin­tage Radio: The War of the Worlds That Pet­ri­fied a Nation

The Rel­a­tiv­i­ty Series Fea­tures 24 Free Plays About Great Sci­en­tists and Sci­en­tif­ic Endeav­ors

Isaac Asimov’s Sci­ence Fic­tion Clas­sic, The Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy, Dra­ma­tized for Radio (1973)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • D. Conklin Affect says:

    Date giv­en for broad­cast date of “Report On the Barn­house Effect” is actu­al­ly date of the sto­ry’s pub­li­ca­tion, in Col­lier’s Mag­a­zine, pri­or to the first broad­cast of “Dimen­sion X” in April, 1950. Accord­ing to Wikipedia link the adap­ta­tion of Von­negut’s short sto­ry aired on April 22 of that year. The asser­tion that Von­negut was “acknowl­edged mas­ter of the craft” at this point is high­ly ques­tion­able, as “Barn­house Effect” was his first and only pub­lished story.BTW the author of the so-called “defin­i­tive biog­ra­phy” of Vonnegut,the self-pro­claimed “damn good researcher and writer”, Charles J. Shields misssed this aspect of his sub­jec­t’s car­reer entire­ly. But then he miss­es a lot.

  • D. Conklin Affect says:

    Just lis­tened to RONTBE.…They turned the Amer­i­can gen­er­al into a good guy (for one thing). Guess straight Von­negut was too much for the net­work, even before the Kore­an War broke out. No won­der he did­n’t talk about it much. Both the sto­ry and the broad­cast date from the peri­od between the dis­cov­ery of Russ­ian atom­ic bomb tests and the out­break of the Kore­an War.

  • karl Anglin says:

    Amaz­ing sto­ries!
    Amaz­ing series!!!!!!

  • Ward Deutschman says:

    Great! I was a ten year old kid on sum­mer vaca­tion in 1950 and remem­ber lying on my bed (we lived in Geor­gia), sweat­ing my brains out, and lis­ten­ing to Dimen­sion X each week. Just see­ing the names of episodes like “There will come soft rains” snaps back a mem­o­ry of the show! Thanx!!!

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