Hear Aldous Huxley Read Brave New World. Plus 84 Classic Radio Dramas from CBS Radio Workshop (1956–57)


We are, it appears, in the midst of a “pod­cast­ing renais­sance,” as Col­in Mar­shall has recent­ly point­ed out. And yet, like him, I too was unaware that “pod­cast­ing had gone into a dark age.” Nev­er­the­less, its cur­rent popularity—in an age of ubiq­ui­tous screen tech­nol­o­gy and per­pet­u­al visu­al spectacle—speaks to some­thing deep with­in us, I think. Oral sto­ry­telling, as old as human speech, will nev­er go out of style. Only the medi­um changes, and even then, seem­ing­ly not all that much.


But the dif­fer­ences between this gold­en age of pod­cast­ing and the gold­en age of radio are still sig­nif­i­cant. Where the pod­cast is often off-the-cuff, and often very inti­mate and personal—sometimes seen as “too per­son­al,” as Col­in writes—radio pro­grams were almost always care­ful­ly script­ed and fea­tured pro­fes­sion­al tal­ent. Even those pro­grams with man-on-the street fea­tures or inter­views with ordi­nary folks were care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed and medi­at­ed by pro­duc­ers, actors, and pre­sen­ters. And the busi­ness of scor­ing music and sound effects for radio pro­grams was a very seri­ous one indeed. All of these formalities—in addi­tion to the lim­it­ed fre­quen­cy range of old ana­log record­ing technology—contribute to what we imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize as the sound of “old time radio.” It is a quaint sound, but also one with a cer­tain grav­i­tas, an echo of a bygone age.

That gold­en age waned as tele­vi­sion came into its own in the mid-fifties, but near its end, some broad­cast com­pa­nies made every effort to put togeth­er the high­est qual­i­ty radio pro­gram­ming they could in order to retain their audi­ence. One such pro­gram, the CBS Radio Work­shop, which ran from Jan­u­ary, 1956 to Sep­tem­ber, 1957, may have been “too lit­tle too late”—as radio preser­va­tion­ist site Dig­i­tal Deli writes—but it nonethe­less was “every bit as inno­v­a­tive and cut­ting edge” as the pro­grams that came before it. The first two episodes, right below, were drama­ti­za­tions of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, read by the author him­self. (Find it also on Spo­ti­fy here.) The series’ remain­ing 84 pro­grams drew from the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, James Thurber, H.L. Menck­en, Mark Twain, Robert Hein­lein, Eugene O’Neil, Balzac, Carl Sand­burg, and so many more. It also fea­tured orig­i­nal com­e­dy, dra­ma, music, and This Amer­i­can Life-style pro­files and sto­ry­telling.

Hux­ley returned in pro­gram #12, with a sto­ry called “Jacob’s Hands,” writ­ten in col­lab­o­ra­tion with and read by Christo­pher Ish­er­wood. The great Ray Brad­bury made an appear­ance, in pro­gram #4, intro­duc­ing his sto­ries “Sea­son of Dis­be­lief” and “Hail and Farewell,” read by John Dehn­er and Sta­cy Har­ris, and scored by future film and TV com­pos­er Jer­ry Gold­smith. Oth­er pro­grams, like #10, “The Exur­ban­ites,” nar­rat­ed by famous war cor­re­spon­dent Eric Sevareid, con­duct­ed prob­ing inves­ti­ga­tions of mod­ern life—in this case the growth of sub­ur­bia and its rela­tion­ship to the adver­tis­ing indus­try. The above is but a tiny sam­pling of the wealth of qual­i­ty pro­gram­ming the CBS Radio Work­shop pro­duced, and you can hear all of it—all 86 episodes—courtesy of the Inter­net Archive.

Sam­ple stream­ing episodes in the play­er above, or down­load indi­vid­ual pro­grams as MP3s and enjoy them at your leisure, almost like, well, a pod­cast. See Dig­i­tal Deli for a com­plete run­down of each program’s con­tent and cast, as well as an exten­sive his­to­ry of the series. This is the swan song of gold­en age radio, which, it seems, maybe nev­er real­ly left, giv­en the incred­i­ble num­ber of lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ences we still have at our dis­pos­al. Yes, some­day our pod­casts will sound quaint and curi­ous to the ears of more advanced lis­ten­ers, but even then, I’d bet, peo­ple will still be telling and record­ing sto­ries, and the sound of human voic­es will con­tin­ue to cap­ti­vate us as it always has.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Free: Lis­ten to 298 Episodes of the Vin­tage Crime Radio Series, Drag­net

How to Lis­ten to the Radio: The BBC’s 1930 Man­u­al for Using a New Tech­nol­o­gy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Brian Oldham says:

    This is won­der­ful, thank you for post­ing this.

  • mike breen says:

    What a fan­tas­tic resource your site is,we are so lucky to have it. You deserve my eter­nal thanks for an embar­rass­ment of riches,it’s hard to know where to start.

  • Gary DeWitt says:

    Open Cul­ture has enriched my life. Learn­ing and enter­tain­ment abounds with each edi­tion. Since I’ve dis­cov­ered this site bore­dom has become a thing of the past. I’d like to thank each and every­one of you who makes Open Cul­ture pos­si­ble.

  • Exterminate says:

    Thanks a lot! I had no clue he nar­rat­ed his own book. I like lis­ten­ing to audio­books on my com­mute, so this will come in handy. Greet­ings from the UK :)

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