Radio Free Orson

I recently finished reading This is Orson Welles, which isn’t really a biography but rather a series of biographical interviews with Orson printed up in book format. Lemme tell ya, it was a lot more fun to read about Orson’s life and work in his own words than someone else’s, and I highly recommend the book to anyone who cares about movies as art.

BUT. That’s not the point. The point is, after I read all about Orson’s radio work in the 30′s I began wishing that I could hear some of the shows; somehow I just naturally assumed that all but “War of the Worlds” were lost. I was wrong, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong! I found quite a few sites where many of the Mercury Theater On The Air shows were available for download!

A little background: the Mercury Theater was Orson’s theatrical company that did many critically acclaimed shows on Broadway in the 30′s. It included Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorhead, and other who would remain Orson’s friends and collaborators through his life. Anyway, in 1937, CBS offered them a limited run on the radio acting out famous novels. It was only supposed to be a 9 episode stint, but it got such good ratings it was extended. Then it became so popular after “War of the Worlds” that Campbell’s soup gave it corporate sponsorship and it became The Campbell Playhouse where it ran for another year or two. The shows were on Sunday nights, but now thanks to the magic of the internet, we can listen to them whenever!

I downloaded them at There’s about 30 or 40 hours’ worth of stuff, but it’s only about 4GB for all of it. Maybe my hopeless Orson Fangirlism is clouding my judgement, but I think they are really great! They don’t seem dated to me at all, in fact they still seem as fresh and entertaining as the day they were broadcast. Makes you sad to compare what radio used to be with what it is now. (Did I mention that in the whole 1-hour Mercury show there were NO commercials?! Not ONE!!) Anyway, give them a listen and expand your narrow modern entertainment horizons!

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