Sunday, March 7, 2010

Playing It Forward






When I began collecting OTR (Old Time Radio) shows in earnest, about 15 years ago, my Internet connection was via turtle-slow 14.4K USR Sportster modem.  The phone lines where I lived often couldn’t even support that meager speed, and so downloading radio shows seemed to take forever.


Back then, it could almost take an hour to download a 30 minute show.


It took me more than a month of downloading to fill my first CD with about 100 shows (50 hours).  Today, with my broadband connection, I can download a CD’s worth of OTR in well under an hour.


I confess, the acquisition of these shows became a bit of a compulsion for me (much as collecting old TV shows has become for me today). I have well over 150 CDs filled with OTR programming, with somewhere around 10,000 shows. 


The best source of OTR back then was through USENET newsgroups, or by joining a Yahoo group that made - and distributed CDs - of old time shows.   I belonged to one such group that, over a period of years, enabled me to greatly expand my collection.  


About six times a year I’d get a package with 2 or 3 CDs of shows.  My job was to make a copy for myself (within 48 hours) and mail it on to the next person on the enclosed `distro list’.   


By `seeding’ a distro with a half dozen copies, which were then sent out with the instructions to copy and forward, a collector could share a portion of their collection with hundreds of other people in a matter of a few weeks.


These distros were always free (except the cost of disks and postage), and producing them was  a labor of love by all involved.  For the price of disks and stamps you could save yourself months of downloading. 


It was a heckuva bargain, and I’m very grateful to their efforts.


Over the years I’ve made dozens of copies of `sampler’ CD’s, or CDs of specific shows or genres, and have sent them to friends around the world as well.  One year, everyone at my dentist’s office got a Christmas CD of OTR shows, and I made nearly 100 OTR CDs for members of a Hurricane Tracking forum I belonged to back in 2004.


Much of my collection was acquired piecemeal over the Internet and was badly disorganized, with CDs often containing a few episodes of a dozen or more different shows.  All of my Jack Benny episodes, for instance, were strewn across a half dozen discs, intermingled with other shows.


Recently I spent a good deal of time consolidating and organizing my collection, and have winnowed it down to 25 well organized DVD data disks.    


Now, all of my Boston Blackies are in one directory, as are all of my Sealtest Shows, and Burns and Allen, along with scores of other shows.  


My old CDs are not headed for the junk heap, however.  Disorganized or not, they are filled with thousands of hours of terrific OTR.   So, as not to waste them, I’ve decided to spread them around.


I’ve taken about 3 dozen CDs of the `best of’ OTR  to give to a local rehab/nursing home to become a part of their audio/video library.   I’ve also provided them with a dozen DVDs of public domain TV shows as well.


The rest I’m dividing up between my sister, her two (grown) sons, and their (teenage) children.  I’m delighted to say, all of them have expressed interest in OTR, and my nephews are becoming avid fans.


Collecting OTR has never been easier, with faster download speeds and websites like Tennessee Bills OTR ,  The Internet Archive,  and Free OTR Shows providing repositories with 100’s of gigs of free shows.   


Collecting these fascinating and entertaining glimpses of our past is a great hobby.  But as you increase your collection, I would urge you to consider making some copies for friends, relatives, or those residing in nursing homes, rehab centers, or  hospitals.   


Not everyone has easy access to the Internet or the savvy required to download and burn CDs of shows.


You’ll find, I believe, that the pleasure you get from listening to these shows is magnified many-fold when you decide to play it forward.  


Those old enough to remember OTR when it was new will likely appreciate the return visit, and those who are younger may well find it every bit as enthralling as you and I do.


OTR is a historic treasure.  A nostalgic electronic echo of the past well worth preserving, and sharing with others.

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