|The Continuing History
of the Original Old-Time Radio WWW Pages
and Old Time Radio on the WWW
Early in 1994, there were no special groups for discussions of collecting and preserving "golden-age" radio programs on the Internet. Similar groups existed on Compuserve, GEnie and other providers, but their discussions did not propagate outside of the "local" computer net. It was apparent that this deficiency should be soon corrected, both to help established OTR collectors have a meeting place on the internet, as well as to give potential / new collectors an opportunity to learn about the hobby.
Initially, I had thought of creating an OTR newsgroup, named "alt.radio.old-time" or "rec.radio.old-time". After several discussions with experienced Netizens (Internet citizens), the advantages of a mailgroup rather than a newsgroup were apparent. Mailgroups could potentially reach a broader audience (particularly those without direct access to the Internet), there is less "flaming" in mailgroups, and reading/writing email is somehow more personal than accessing newsgroups. Of course, this meant that knowledge of the Internet OTR services would be less widely spread (since newsgroups automatically propagate across the Internet), with both advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, at that time, my Internet Service Provider could not support a mailgroup. After some online discussions, I found an interested party that was experienced in setting up mailgroups.
The Internet OTR Digest (a freely available email newsletter) was initiated on September 14th, courtesy of Bill Pfeiffer, the creator and maintainer of the AIRWAVES series of electronic magazines, and the rec.radio.broadcasting newsgroup. The original OTR WWW page was initially released to the Internet on September 19, 1994, after on-line discussion and announcements in various rec. and alt. newsgroups. The OTR FAQ was approved as an "official" FAQ by the FAQ maintainers at MIT during the same time period.
The OTR - related services then included The OTR Digest via email; FTP of OTR archives and files from two sites, a Gopher, access to archived newsletters and informational files about OTR, and two WWW pages.
A separate endeavor by Bill Robie created the rec.antiques.radio+phono newsgroup during this same time period. r.a.r+p concentrated on the hardware aspects of antique electronics, while the OTR group concentrated on radio programming and programs of the period.
What was initially a tiny cadre of folks who enjoyed both OTR and Internet access soon grew to a much larger group of both young and older individuals with a common interest in OTR. Subscribership to the Internet OTR Digest burgeoned, and the friendliness and responsiveness of the subscribers made it an enjoyable "read" for anyone interested in old time radio programming. The WWW page was able to link to Barry Mishkind's OldRadio activities on FidoNet, and access his articles on historical radio programming and development.
As time progressed, several commercial organizations (such as RealAudioŽ) appeared, with OTR sections in their WWW pages. Some OTR-related museums (such as the Bellingham Antique Radio Museum) established sites, and several educational institutions (e.g. University of Memphis) created their own OTR pages. Jim Widner started an excellent site with a blend of radio history and soundbytes. Other private OTR collectors started to include listings of their libraries in their own WWW pages. (A fairly complete database of OTR-related pages is maintained at Jim's site.)
The Original Old-Time Radio WWW Pages have improved as Internet technology has advanced; from a text-only page created with a text editor and viewed with LYNX, to a graphically enhanced page with many visual and auditory attachments. Graphics were selected with care, so extra loading time would be minimal, and readers could access the megabytes of information as quickly as possible. Two of the objectives in designing the pages were informational content and ease of navigation rather than primarily a display of graphical designs. Eventually, The Original Old-Time Radio WWW Pages applied for and received the internet domain name, www.old-time.com
Subsequent to queries from commercial organizations, a sponsors' section was added to the WWW site, thus offering OTR fans more ways to contact on-line OTR clubs and vendors. This also offered frugal OTR clubs and vendors an inexpensive place to establish their presence on the Internet, without going through the hassle of learning and setting up their own WWW pages.
In 1996, Jerry Haendiges went on-line with his vast collection of logs. Since that time, he has steadily added log and other great material to his site.
In late 1996, Lois Culver promoted a new internet chat group, #OldRadio, which is visited by a solid cadre of regulars, welcoming others to share in the enjoyment of OTR.
In early 1997, the binary newsgroup, alt.binaries.sounds.radio.oldtime appeared. The intent of this newsgroup is to help distribute public-domain OTR shows encoded in Real AudioŽ or MP3 format. Also, some websites with full-length RA or MP3-encoded OTR programs started to appear (their URLs are posted elsewhere at www.old-time.com). In August, the newsgroup alt.radio.oldtime appeared on some servers. (Both alt.binaries.sounds.radio.oldtime and alt.radio.oldtime were created by Arnold Moy. More informaton on these newsgroups is available.)
In mid-January 1998, a second OTR-related mailgroup was initiated in response to a growing number of questions from OTR fans about "the best" places to purchase tapes. The OTR Consumers mailgroup acted as a forum for OTR fans to learn which clubs and dealers offer the best products and services for their needs. Participating clubs and dealers frequently post specials for subscribers, and subscribers may post both good and bad experiences with various OTR vendors.
During this same timeframe, Ed Baker and Charlie Summers continued developing a massive FTP site for MP3 and RA encoded versions of a very large number of OTR shows. (The site has since been discontinued).
In March, 1998, the number of visitors to www.old-time.com increased significantly (possibly as a result of being mentioned in the American Association of Retired People's AARP Bulletin. As a result, an additional internet service provider was obtained, and services for OTR fans expanded.
Perhaps a measure of success of www.old-time.com can be seen by the recent proliferation of internet domains with very similar names; some associated with old-time radio, and some not. In any case, www.old-time.com remains the direct descendant of the Original Old-Time Radio WWW pages, established in 1994, and still hanging in there! Both www.old-time.com and Jim Widner's www.otr.com have stood the test of time, so far, and remain the longest-lasting and oldest OTR-related pages and domains on the net!
During the latter quarter of 1998, a large number of WWW sites appeared, whose main content was OTR in MP3. See the OTR FAQ for more information on how to find these pages.
On Fri, 4 Dec 1998, a second "general" OTR email discussion list made its debut. The OTR Digest / Roundtable had been experiencing connectivity problems, so Charlie Summers attempted to fill the breach with the OldRadio Digest. Although the OTR Roundtable resumed activity after several days, subscribers to the OldRadio Digest voted overwhelmingly to continue the mail list.
During 1999, the greatest number of new OTR-related pages were those offering free MP3 and RealAudio® files of various shows. This new technology seems to be a driving force behind making OTR quite popular among a whole new set of fans.
Bill Pfeiffer, the maintainer of The Internet OTR Digest died as a result of an auto accident in September, 1999. A lot of people cooperated to move the Digest to Charlie Summers' lofcom.com site, with only one day of downtime, and no loss of the subscriber list. The OTR Digest celebrates its fifth birthday in September!
The number of visits to www.old-time.com steadily increased, to an average of about 700 hits per hour in 1999. Although this number does not challenge that of the more popular computer-related or general interest WWW pages, most of the visitors appear to have a real interest in OTR, and many return for subsequent visits. Subscribership to the Internet OTR Digest has also grown, eventually well exceeding 1000 subscribers, even though there are few easily-available indices to mailgroups on the Web.
Early in 2000, Charlie Summers set up a new domain/network for his old-time radio activities, naming it "oldradio.net".
A Chicagoland OTR broadcaster and vendor, Don Corey (Remember When), returned to both the airwaves and the WWW after a long-running legal suit with Carl Amari (Radio Spirits) was settled.
Online interest in OTR continued to increase. The "hit rate" at the two www.old-time.com sites exceeded 1000 per hour. (www.old-time.com used two servers to host its pages until a single server was found that seemed to have both the bandwidth and additional programming capability to allow for further expansion of the pages.) In June, 2000, pages from the "original" www.old-time.com and its all-purpose annex at www.old-time.simplenet.com were combined. and moved to another hardware host.
My, how time flies! The Original Old-Time Radio pages are now seven years old!
During 2001, more OTR sites have come and gone. Several auctions of OTR material appeared at eBay and other auction sites, and visits to www.old-time.com exceeded 1500 per hour.
Interest in OTR seems unflagging, but fans' choice of storage medium seems to be shifting to CD and CD-ROM rather than tape. New, portable CD players can also play CD-ROMs containing dozens of MP3 OTR shows, and may be replacing the cassette as the medium of choice.
Several excellent OTR-oriented websites have appeared over the last few months; dedicated to specific OTR stars, synopses of certain OTR series, or pictures of OTR personalities. Hopefully those sites will remail on the web long enough to be found and appreciated by fans.
Some "traditional" OTR collectors/dealers considered expanding their offerings to include high-quality MP3s, but quickly rejected this idea in light of the probability that their restoration work would be ripped (and distributed) by others. Such redistributions would prevent the restorer from recovering the costs of restoration, and even remove the "name recognition" of the original restorer or dealer.
The number of FTP sites offering OTR shows has decreased dramatically. Fans are using alternate methods of distribution, such as Streamload and snailmail!
Some time in early July, 2002, the welcome page at www.old-time.com received its one-millionth visitor. Most return visitors, however, go directly to the Table of Contents or to their favorite pages.
2003 saw a continuing evolution of OTR on the WWW and other digital distribution media. Some OTR was made available on the new satellite-distributed radio broadcasts. Also, several OTR webcast sites popped up and then disappeared. Cassette sales further declined, as audio CD and Digital (MP3) CD-R availability improved. "Public" FTP sites seem to have disappeared, and USENET MP3 posts seem to be mainly reposts of old material.
Private collectors, however, are still finding new material, and are distributing that material through more or less traditional channels. "New", digital OTR fans are learning something that "old" OTR fans learned back in the days of tape: audio quality and vendor's service are VERY important. Not all MP3s (or vendors) are equally good.
Wow - the Original Old-Time Radio pages celebrate their 10th birthday this year! Yep, some of the material you can see at www.old-time.com was originally published on the Web in 1994, when the number of internet-connected OTR fans could be counted without removing one's sox. We expected fans to remain interested about six months. Now, it is 10 years later.
Sad days for online-connected OTR fans. Several more OTR stars of the past have departed, to join their compatriots in heavenly(?) broadcasts.
Lois Culver (wife of Howard Culver), who started the longest-lasting OTR chat group on the net entered a nursing home, and has little chance to enjoy OTR on the WWW.
UPDATE: Lois is back home, and again can be found in her chat room!
On the brighter side, "quality" seems to be a word reentering the vocabulary of OTR fans. Many new fans, who experienced OTR via mediocre MP3s are now looking to find better audio quality for their auditory enjoyment. The first step seems to be replacing low-bitrate MP3s with high bitrate renditions. Unfortunately, many of these "upgrades" are merely resamples of the low-bitrate versions, and offer no true improvement.
The lack of posts here may be indicative of a general decline of interest in the history of OTR. Sales of OTR material have dropped considerably. Even the MP3 CDROM sales are not what they once were.
Some long-time vendors are transferring great sounding, very low-generation analog audio to high-bitrate MP3 files. This preserves most of the available audio quality. Unfortunately, the conversions are time consuming, and have relatively little financial return, as their MP3s are redistributed by "rippers" soon after the files appear.
Sub-specialty interest groups have been appearing on the internet. Great for folks with very narrow interests. However, those groups have a relatively small membership, and get relatively few hits. Reminiscent of the local OTR clubs in the early 70's.
old-time.com moved to another hardware host, offering more space and reliability. Just for grins, we bought a new internet domain, too: "oldtime.us". You should be able to reach these pages by using either www.old-time.com OR www.oldtime.us. The latter name is shorter, and doesn't have the hyphen that confused some ;)
The first quarter of 2006 has passed fairly uneventfully. However, both "traditional/tape" and digital OTR vendors are disappearing from the web. Apparently collectors still like analog tape, but listeners are switching to digital formats. Traditional tape vendors who attempted to transfer their low-generation analog material to high sample rate digital media seemed to have ceased work, since their tedious efforts were both unrewarded and quickly redistributed on USENET.
Digital formats strongly preferred over analog formats by today's listeners, but sales continue to recede from the peak of a few years ago. Online and offline OTR clubs maintain a cadre of closely-knit members, but "previous generation" members are disappearing. The names of some well-known OTR actors, playwriters and tech folks were seen in the obituary columns over the past year.
Distribution of public-domain OTR seems to have migrated to the large digital repositories, such as archive.org. Very few traditional OTR vendors or clubs maintain active websites. USENET groups still provide downloadable MP3s, but seem to be shifting to new-time radio such as recent BBC offerings. OTR MP3s are now being provided in a higher sample rate format (64/44 rather than the old 32/22), but many of these seem merely to be reencodings of the original, more lossy format. MP3 recordings from original Electronic Transcriptions (ETs) or 1st generation tapes still exist, but are not widely distributed en masse.
Wow, how time flies! What ever happened to 2009? 2010 marks the 16th year that we have been online! Shucks, some of the material here is older than some of the folks that read it!
A quick scan of the links at www.old-time.com show that several are "broken". More OTR sites have disappeared, but some of the remaining ones have undergone a facelift. I have allowed the broken links to remain, for historical purposes. If you have a suggestion for a replacement link (or know where the original webmaster moved his/her site), let me know.
In addition to disappearing links, several "traditional" OTR dealers have ceased operations. MP3 sales temporarily buoyed their business, but the ease of copying such material (and resultant loss of funds) caused some of these sellers to terminate transcribing their tapes to digital media. As part of our austerity program, we dropped the domain name "oldtime.us", but will continue to support "old-time.com".
Three years have slipped by, without an update to this page. That, perhaps, is somewhat indicative of the loss of interest in OTR on the WWW.