My Brush with Radio Drama
Early in my career, I stumbled into a job producing audio programs for schools. In that role, I had the great privilege of working with some of the most talented people in the entertainment business: actors from the Golden Age of Radio. Most of them were in the twilight of their careers, while I was just starting out.
Years before, in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, they had been household names. Olan Soulé was Mr. First Nighter. Michael Rye was Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. Jane Webb had multiple parts on Lux Radio Theater. Virginia Gregg was Jesse Copperton, Miss Howell, and a dozen other characters on Gunsmoke (cast shown here).
These and other actors I met had the amazing ability, honed in hundreds of live radio episodes, to walk into the studio, pick up a script they had never seen, and read it flawlessly, with feeling. Sometimes they would read more than one part, each with a different voice or accent.
Two of the actors were especially memorable. Vic Perrin, besides roles in One Man’s Family, Dragnet, and Have Gun—Will Travel, starred alongside Virginia Gregg in the radio version of Gunsmoke.
By the time I met him, Vic was doing TV network announcing, milk commercials, and, most famously, the Control Voice in the original science fiction classic The Outer Limits: “We now return control of your television set to you….”
As I “directed” him for my programs, Vic was, gently and thoughtfully, training me. He was the kindest, warmest human being imaginable—and what a voice!
The second person was Marvin Miller, described in Variety as “Chicago’s one-man radio industry,” who appeared in an astounding 45 broadcasts a week.
Why were the broadcasts in Chicago? Because it was located halfway between the East and West Coasts, so shows could be broadcast live to both. Chicago was home base for the radio business. Later, when shows were taped, many of them moved to Hollywood.
One of my favorite recording sessions was for an audio play that was part of a reading program. The play had a cast of five, one of whom was Marvin Miller. During breaks, he and the other actors reminisced about their time in Chicago.
In those days, Marvin was so busy that he was driven in a limousine from studio to studio, where he would hurry in, get a script he had never seen before, and become Michael Anthony on The Millionaire, Dr. Lee Markham on The Woman in White, or literally all the voices and narration on the dramatic anthology Armchair Adventures. Chicago was famous for the draw bridges across the river, and the actors laughed to remember the stock excuse if they were late: “The bridge was up.”
Radio drama is gone, and so are most of those good folks. I remember them, though, and will always be grateful.