This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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FAVORITE CHRISTMAS RADIO PROGRAMS
by Jack French © 2010
(From Radio Recall, December 2011)
Most of my friends in the hobby usually have a consensus about their favorite radio programs with a Christmas theme. Any Christmas Carol with Lionel Barrymore (and there are several versions) usually tops the list, followed by the Amos 'n Andy program, repeated many times after first airing on 12-24-41, entitled "The Lord's Prayer." Another one with nearly universal praise is "The Ambulance" from Grand Central Station. And if we are to reach outside the period of the Golden Age of Radio, few programs can top Jean Shepherd in his "Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" which was first on WOR on Christmas Eve, 1974. Folks from later generations will instantly know this story from seeing the movie version with Ralphie being told repeatedly that he'll shoot his eye out if Santa brings him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
While I like all the above programs, especially in the Yuletide season, I have a few others that I enjoy even more. My first choice is "Cowboy Christmas Carol", the 12-20-53 episode of The Six Shooter. This is a remarkable retelling of the Dickens classic with the lead, James Stewart, finding a runaway boy on the trail who is trying to avoid Christmas. Around his campfire, Britt Ponset spins this tale reset in the west of that era, but manages to convey the exact feeling that Charles Dickens did to his original London audience. It's truly a wonderful broadcast.
"Miracle on 34th Street" as aired by the Screen Director's Playhouse (12-21-50) does justice to the movie and Edmund Gwyn gets to reprise his role at the microphone. The rest of the cast was not selected from those screen actors who starred in the film, but instead some excellent radio actors took both leading roles and supporting cast. Lurene Tuttle is Doris and David Ellis plays Fred, with Ralph Moody, Bill Conrad, and Herb Rollinson backing them up. It adds up to one enchanting hour of radio.
If some of my choices seem a little quirky, so be it. And my next one is certainly not everyone's cup of tea....er, ah, mulled cider. In the early 50s, when Fibber McGee and Molly had been reduced to daily 15 minute programs, they had an interesting lineup of consecutive Yule Season shows that aired the week leading up to Christmas 1953. Each one of these shows had something entertaining to recommend them to their audience, including the Christmas Eve show when Fibber tells Teeny the story of the lopsided pine tree. But my favorite in that week's lineup was the one on December 22nd, because Jim and Marion Jordan were joined in this program by two unusual voices that were very well known to radio listeners because of their leading roles in two other great programs. In supporting roles were Natalie Masters, our own Candy Matson,YU 2-8209, who portrays a Christmas tree salesperson whom Fibber contacts for a bargain. Also in a supporting role is Jack Moyles, a great actor who would later be "Major Dagget" on Fort Laramie.
Another show that won't appear on many lists was the Suspense program of December 1958 in which Raymond Burr (returning to his villain roles of the past) plays a felon who seeks revenge at Christmas time but fortunately ends up with a change of heart. If you like more Christmas shows that are offbeat, let me refer you to two that aired as part of The Shadow series: "The Stockings Were Hung" (12-24-39) and "Joey's Christmas Story" (12-22-40.) I'm not going to give away the plot or outcome of either, but both are in fairly common circulation if you wish to sample something in that venue.
As for Christmas comedy, few shows can best the writers on the Jack Benny Show and many of them were variations on Jack's Christmas shopping, exploring the ways a frugal man can fulfill the Yuletide expectations in gift giving. I'm sure all of us in the hobby have two or three of these programs they would pick as Benny's best and I won't quarrel with any choices. As for me, the 12-19-53 episode where Jack is in Palm Springs buying dates for Don Wilson is certainly as funny as any other....and maybe more so. The usual suspects are all in this program: Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson, and Sheldon Leonard. Give it a listen this Christmas time.....
NOTE: This article was originally published in “Chattanooga Airwaves”, Editor: Thomas Swafford