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.
If you were a radio nerd in the 1940s, this was your dream set. Built by Kluge Electronics in Los Angeles, the “California Kilowatt” could not only send and receive messages, but it came with all the bells and whistles — including built-in speakers and an illuminated map of the world, all housed in a sleek fold-down desk.
The term California Kilowatt was slang in the ham radio community for a transmitter with a power input that exceeded the legal limit. The slightly misleading part? This radio only transmitted at the legal limit. I guess even the coolest radio ever can’t have it all.
From the ad in the March 1946 issue of Radio-Craft:
Kluge Electronics, Inc., is the first to conceive, design and produce this remarkable contribution to modern radio. Among the special Kluge features designed into the CALIFORNIA KILOWATT are:
A California Kilowatt transmitter with an amazing new tube development — 5 band operation with variable frequency control in each band — phone or CW at the throw of a switch — 110 or 220 volt operation;
Provisions for your choice make of receiver;
Built-in speaker — (high-fidelity remote speaker also available);
Built-in world time clock;
Illuminated world map with cork backing;
Price — the complete CALIFORNIA KILOWATT Station costs far less than you would expect to pay for a transmitter alone.
Sadly, the ad doesn’t mention how much this thing was going for exactly. But I can’t imagine it was cheap.
Image: Scanned from the March 1946 issue of Radio-Craft magazine
American comic book writer, editor, publisher and former President of Marvel Comics Stan Lee died Monday at the age of 95.
Lee gave us over six decades of work like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man — superheroes we could identify with, characters that allowed us to suspend our disbelief because they reacted to bizarre situations like you or I might.
In a 1998 interview, Lee said, “Before Marvel started, any superhero might be walking down the street and see a 12-foot-tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and eight arms breathing fire, and the character would have said something like, ‘Oh! There’s a monster from another world; I better catch him before he destroys the city.’