Stream 48 Hours of Vintage Christmas Radio Broadcasts Featuring Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ida Lupino & More (1930–1959)

The Gold­en Age of Amer­i­can Radio began in the 1930s and last­ed well into the 50s. That makes near­ly thir­ty Christ­mases, not one of which passed with­out spe­cial broad­casts by the major net­works. This Christ­mas, thanks to The World War II News and Old Time Radio Chan­nel on Youtube, you can expe­ri­ence the Gold­en Age’s three decades through 48 straight hours of hol­i­day broad­casts. Strung like an audio gar­land in chrono­log­i­cal order, these begin with an episode of NBC’s Empire Builders, quite pos­si­bly the first-ever West­ern radio dra­ma, first broad­cast on Decem­ber 22nd, 1930 — a rare year from which to hear a record­ed radio show at all, let alone a Christ­mas spe­cial. The com­pi­la­tion ends one day shy of 29 years lat­er, with a Top 40 broad­cast from WMGM in New York.

Through­out this all-Christ­mas lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence, old-time radio enthu­si­asts will rec­og­nize many of Amer­i­ca’s very favorite shows: Lum and Abn­erAmos and AndyFib­ber McGee and Mol­ly and The Great Gilder­sleeveThe Jack Ben­ny Pro­gram and The Char­lie McCarthy Show. For many sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate episodes of those series as well as one-off vari­ety broad­casts, net­works would wran­gle as many big names as they could into the stu­dio, from Bob Hope and Lionel Bar­ry­more to Gary Coop­er and Frank Sina­tra to Car­men Miran­da and Ida Lupino (direc­tor, film noir fans know, of The Hitch-Hik­er).

In 1947, CBS’ Lux Radio The­ater put on a full pro­duc­tion of It’s a Won­der­ful Life with Jim­my Stew­art and Don­na Reed, stars of the film that had come out just the year before. Even U.S. pres­i­dents like Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Dwight D. Eisen­how­er turn up to deliv­er Christ­mas address­es.

Open Cul­ture read­ers may well remem­ber CBS’ 1941 pro­duc­tion of Oscar Wilde’s “The Hap­py Prince” fea­tur­ing Orson Welles and Bing Cros­by, but even those of us who know our clas­sic radio will hear a good deal in these 48 hours of broad­casts that we’ve nev­er heard before. Though all of them cel­e­brate the sea­son in one way or anoth­er, they do so in a host of dif­fer­ent forms and gen­res, even beyond the broad divi­sions of dra­ma, com­e­dy, music, and celebri­ty chat. In grad­u­al­ly pass­ing from liv­ing mem­o­ry, the gold­en age of Amer­i­can radio comes to seem a longer era than it was. But through that rel­a­tive­ly brief win­dow, opened by the house­hold adop­tion of radio and closed by the rise of tele­vi­sion, came an abun­dance of cre­ativ­i­ty that can still sur­prise us — and indeed inspire us — here at the close of the year 2020.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear The Cin­na­mon Bear, the Clas­sic Hol­i­day Radio Series That Has Aired Between Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas for 80 Years

A Christ­mas Car­ol, A Vin­tage Radio Broad­cast by Orson Welles and Lionel Bar­ry­more (1939)

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas” On His Hol­i­day Radio Show (2006)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Henry Tchop says:

    This is the host of the WW II News and Old Time Radio Chan­nel. I know it’s a rather late date to com­ment on this, but I have just found it. I would like to tell you thank you for the won­der­ful arti­cle.

  • Henry Tchop (founder of the channel this article is about) says:

    Last Christ­mas Day our YouTube chan­nel got hacked and tak­en down. I have been putting up the Christ­mas pro­grams on Patre­on for the past sev­er­al days. Now we go through the Top 40 era as well as the old time radio years. Our page name is “World War II on the Air and in Print (old time radio and news). Access to the old radio shows is free, but you do have to sub­scribe to the page.

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