Free Old Time Radio (OTR) for Your iPod | iLounge Article


Free Old Time Radio (OTR) for Your iPod

The past month’s focus on podcasting has finally brought audio communication full circle. Older listeners are finally witnessing a resurgence of voice as a medium for news and stories, and many view the return to the spoken word as one of the more positive changes to be wrought by digital technologies in a long time.

Radio was once the dominant broadcast medium in the United States, and perhaps around the world. In the days before television, a radio was the best way people could get up-to-date information, and sitting around the radio listening to now-classic drama, suspense and comedy shows was a nightly family ritual.

These days may be long gone, but these classic shows still exist, and now you can download yesteryear’s most popular entertainment content. Amusingly, some are even available as podcasts. So let’s take a quick trip back in time with our iPods.

What is OTR?

Old time radio (or OTR) is the general term for radio shows broadcast before television took center stage in the 1950s. The heyday of radio was in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but the creative opportunities afforded by the visual format and growing audiences quickly compelled broadcasters and writers to move their best ideas over to television and movies.

Consequently, many of the top names of the time may still be familiar from other media: Abbott & Costello, The Saint, The Shadow, Burns and Allen, Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon, Dragnet, Father Knows Best, and Charlie Chan were all popular radio shows, some adapted from books or later to become successful television shows or movies.  Orson Welles’ famous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, as just one example, created panic in many parts of the United States, as listeners thought this fictional reportage was fact. Today, it’s a movie - again.

OTR web sites, forums and mailing lists are surprisingly abundant, showing the great organization of fans of the classic radio niche. RadioLovers, Radio Days, or the Wisconsin Public Radio OTR site begin to suggest the breadth of recordings available for your enjoyment.

Many OTR sites offer files in MP3 format, so you can download shows and add them to your iTunes music library, then sync them to your iPod. You may feel like you’ve entered a twilight zone of entertainment, as you hear a different tone of suspense, drama and comedy, but, like many people, you might just get hooked on this old, yet effective story-telling style. The Old Time Radio - Free OTR Show Downloads site offers links to a variety of shows on other sites, and functions as a kind of portal for downloads. Episodes of shows such as Batman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and many more can be found by quick searches of this site.


OTR shows have jumped into the podcasting arena as well, providing an interesting marriage of old and new technologies. You can listen to Old Time Radio Rides Again!, Radio Memories, Vintage Radio, and botar’s old time radio. Radio Memories has the most extensive podcast, and actually contains a number of thematic podcasts, such as Western Wednesday, SciFi Friday, Radio Detective Story Hour and much more. This podcast alone gives you a thorough overview of the OTR landscape and provides dozens of shows for you to listen to covering every genre.


But is it Legal?

One should always be wary of “free” audio content on the Internet, and OTR is no exception. However, unlike music, radio shows (before 1978) appear not to be protected by copyright. While these issues are complex, and it is ultimately up to lawyers to hash this out, RadioLovers gives a fair explanation of why most OTR shows are not copyrighted. You can follow links on this page for more information, but it seems - and the lack of legal action seems to bear this out - that these old shows are indeed in the public domain.

Not So Old-Time Radio

Radio dramas went into decline after television came around, but one essential voice flourished in the 1960s and 1970s: Jean Shepherd. While Shep, as his fans call him, worked in a variety of formats from all-nighters to weekend morning shows, his best period of work was on the New York radio station WOR, where he would preside for 45 minutes every evening from 10:15 to 11:00. Shep would tell stories, talk about current events, comment on reader mail, and generally ramble, in what could be seen as a forerunner of many of today’s podcasts. But he did it better.

His unforgettable stories of growing up during the Depression and of his army days were some of the foundation of the 1984 movie A Christmas Story, about a kid who wanted a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Jean Shepherd has lots of fans, and the Flick Lives web site is a perfect portal for discovering this artist’s work. In addition, hundreds of recordings of his radio shows, made by listeners on home tape recorders, are available from the Shep Archives site, which currently contains more than 1,500 shows.


Jean Shepherd influenced another well-known storyteller, Garrison Keillor, whose stories in the Prairie Home Companion radio show have a great deal in common with Shep’s tales of youth.

The History of Radio as the Future?

Listening to some of this old time radio makes it hard to avoid speculating on the relationship between podcasting and the classic radio medium. While most OTR available is dramatic in nature - stories - the majority of podcasts are either individuals talking about things that interest them or people interviewing others. Jean Shepherd is closest to the individual podcaster, with his unique way of talking directly to each of the listeners out in radio-land. Many podcasters would do well to listen to his techniques and learn from one of the great masters of radio, and those who have been enjoying the existing content of podcasts might want to check him out as well.

In the meantime, a huge selection of old shows is available if you want to vary your listening. From Sherlock Holmes to Abbott & Costello, Flash Gordon to Dragnet, the variety of radio shows from the Golden Age is astounding. Tune in and see how your parents or grandparents spent their evenings. You might just end up filling your iPod with a new - well, old - type of audio.

picKirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.

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EXCELLENT article, thank you for highlighting these gems!

Posted by stark23x on July 25, 2005 at 3:21 PM (CDT)


I’d also hope to see people create new podcasts of serial dramas, comedies, science fiction, etc. along the lines of the old radio shows… using state-of-the-art sound FX, taking advantage of stereo, etc.

Posted by jgarbers on July 25, 2005 at 5:17 PM (CDT)


I’ll be sure to check out the Jean Shepherd stuff!

I always enjoyed the TV versions of his stories (and the infamous movie, although I’ve see it one too many times).

Posted by Nagromme on July 26, 2005 at 2:05 AM (CDT)


Jean Shepherd’s first movie (for TV) was, I think, “The Phantom of the Open Hearth.” It was on 1976, maybe on PBS. It was directed by Fred Barzyk of WGBH in Boston. I think it is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on TV.

If anyone knows how to get a copy of it, I’d love the info.


JR / vidsonic

Posted by vidsonic on July 28, 2005 at 9:54 PM (CDT)


Download hundreds of free old time radio shows in MP3 format at

Posted by kmax1940 on February 18, 2006 at 8:43 AM (CST)


I love a site called Vintage Radio Shows at Vintage Radio Shows no spaces in the address.  The podcasts are very good… outstanding audio quality and shows about 3 a week

Posted by Michael Morrison on June 15, 2006 at 12:19 AM (CDT)


I check daily - they have new episodes every day of the week which I never miss for my old time radio fix!!!

Posted by lamontcranston on October 29, 2006 at 9:42 PM (CST)


One of my favorite radio shows was “yours trully Johnny dollar” I found a great site with what is claimed to be the entire collection. You can see it at You can’t use a credit card on this site but I did use a postal money order. Service was very fast.

Posted by Mike on June 20, 2008 at 10:04 AM (CDT)


I am not really an iPod user but just the pure mp3 players. I have a boat load of old time radio mp3 files and you can see them at However, my favorite is the mystery catagory.

Posted by OtrBuff on July 2, 2008 at 1:04 PM (CDT)


Are all these downloads free?  I grew up in the 40’s 50’s and remember old radio all too good.

Posted by James S Gamble on September 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM (CDT)


Love the old time shows, love to listen to them at nightlike when I was a kid

Posted by R E Neves on November 25, 2008 at 10:53 AM (CST)


I’ve designed a “webapp” specifically for OTR on the Iphone.

There’s quite a few complete collections of entire shows, sorted by title, and the year they aired.

All available for instant free streaming.

I add new Shows Daily

Posted by WidgetPhreak on January 10, 2009 at 6:09 AM (CST)


Thank you WidgetPhreak, that is a very handy app.
I just wanted to mention (The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.) has many complete collections of OTR which are completely free.

Posted by dex on April 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM (CDT)


I neither have ITUNES installed and I’m not sure what an Ipod is,,the question is can I download these otr shows to my audio cassette player? I have done that successfully on other otr sites. Thanks in advance
Chet Norris

Posted by CHET NORRIS on July 13, 2009 at 12:43 PM (CDT)


I would like to let you know about the radio entertainment network podcast on Itunes. We put on 5 hours of free old time radio a week.
Also we stream continuous old time radio at

Posted by james dolan on January 3, 2010 at 2:58 PM (CST)

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