There are people, now in their 50s and 60s and older, who remember listening with fear and delicious anticipation to radio serials such as "The Shadow" and "The Green Hornet." They waited anxiously for the bad guys to lose.
They are the natural audience for the nightly radio show "KNX Drama Hour," featuring works from the golden age of radio and now approaching its 15th year on air.
But they aren't the only audience.
There are young working marrieds who go to bed early and, with lights out, let their imaginations wander over mysteries, westerns and comedies. And there are college students for whom anything retro is hip.
This broad appeal, explains Bob Sims, news and program director for KNX-AM (1070), is the engine that drives the success of the program. Seven nights a week at 9, "KNX Drama Hour" airs two half-hour serials, culling its material from a substantial library of recordings.
These days, Thursday nights bring "Have Gun, Will Travel," with John Dehner as Paladin, a western soldier of fortune, followed by "Suspense," with leading actors caught in "chilling life or death situations." (Tonight's "Make Mad the Guilty" episode features Hume Cronin.)
If it's Friday night, you can tune in to "Gunsmoke" with William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon and "The Third Man," starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime, a vagabond prince of knaves.
Saturday has "The Jack Benny Show" and "Our Miss Brooks," while Sunday offers "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar" and "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon."
If Jimmy Stewart's death this summer has reawakened interest in his work, don't forget radio. He did 39 episodes of "The Six Shooter" as frontier plainsman Britt Ponsett, which KNX is airing Tuesdays. It was Stewart's only radio series, though he did turns on other radio shows of the 1940s, including Lux Radio Theater.
In the most recent Arbitron radio ratings report, among those 18 and older (KNX says it doesn't do well with teens), the station ranked first with a 5.8% share of the Los Angeles market while Spanish music powerhouse KLVE-FM (107.5) was a close second with 5.7%. According to the standard measurement of listeners 12 and older, KNX ranks fourth with 5%, behind hip-hop KRWR-FM (105.9) with 6.3%, urban station KKBT-FM (92.3) at 5.2% and KLVE at 5.1%.
"Radio dramas are much more affecting than television," Sims contends. "The picture is running in your head. You can make the most vivid pictures. You know how to scare yourself much more [than any TV producer can] when you're lying in bed, and there's nothing but the dark ceiling to paint your pictures on.
"People forget how well-done those shows are," he says. "When they were made, it was radio and movies. There was no television. So all the really talented writers and performers and people were pouring into network radio: extraordinarily talented people producing and writing and acting. A top-run movie would come out, and then the same cast would do a radio dramatization."
Charles Michelson, a Beverly Hills distributor who has been in radio since 1938, leases KNX 40% of its programs and sells to about 170 other stations around the nation. He compares these golden-age productions to "fine wine. They improve with age. A good story, well told, will live forever."
In other news from KNX, General Manager George Nicholaw will receive the Southern California Broadcasters Assn.'s Lifetime Achievement Award during ceremonies Sept. 11 at the Hotel Sofitel.
New 'Shades': Yuri Rasovsky, executive director of Hollywood Theater of the Ear, has been awarded a $41,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a series of 13 hourlong national radio programs dealing with America's diversity. The series, a joint project with KPCC-FM (89.3), will be called "Shades of the Nation: Our Common Identity in an Uncommon Age."
It's an outgrowth of "Shades of L.A.," a 13-part series done in 1995-96 in the form of listeners' town meetings. Rasovsky was executive producer.
With "Shades of the Nation," Rasovsky plans a roving national town meeting. With provocative program titles--"Race and Biology," "Melting Pot Not" and "Whose Country Is This Anyway?"--he will have in-studio listeners and nationwide call-ins explore hot-button questions, like whether differences in physical characteristics correspond to cultural differences, and who benefits from illegal immigration, who suffers.
KPCC's Larry Mantle, who hosted "Shades of L.A.," will serve as moderator.
A leading radio dramatist of the 1970s and '80s, Rasovsky was co-founder of the critically acclaimed National Radio Theater of Chicago.
What prompted his turn from fiction to nonfiction? "Money," he said. "Funding opportunities for what I do started dissipating in the mid-'80s. I was trained as a journalist. I just love radio and want to stay where I know what I'm doing."
He anticipates that the $300,000 series, for which money has to be raised, will be ready in 2000. Meanwhile, Rasovsky is not totally gone from drama.