Lessons for Old Time Radio

Old Time Radio: What is it?

Old time radio (OTR) broadcasts were a great form of entertainment before television programming came along. The are like a window in time that allow us to go back and enjoy great stories performed by a variety of talented voice actors and actresses. They also can give us a good idea of the culture from that time period (that wasn’t really that long ago). Due to where and when they were produced, many of the broadcasts were not protected by copyright law. For this reason, we as teachers can find a great deal of resource material that can be used in our classrooms.

Lesson Content

Writing, Historical and cultural research, and Presentation skills

Lesson Plans

Alright, Who did it?
With this particular mini lesson, you can have the students listen to mystery story taking notes (clues) as to what might of happened or who done it? Just before the ending is revealed, stop the broadcast and have students, using their notes, free write an ending to this particular tale. When everyone is finished, you can have them share their thoughts and then play the ending to see how close everyone was.

Video Killed the Radio Star
With this assignment, you can have the students listen to a OTR broadcast. Have the students note speech patterns, dialog and slang used, and specific setting characteristics. Discus with the students the time frame of the recording, identifying important events that were affecting that time. Use these as ways of explaining phrases the students may have found odd. Now have the students compare what they heard to their current forms of entertainment like T.V. or Video Games. How are they similar or different. What things in our society today might someone seventy years from might find odd?

The Art of Foley
This lesson has students researching the art of Foley in old time radio broadcasts. Some guiding questions would be: what was used to make sounds back then, is it still used today? How would you make these sounds if you were a Foley artist working for a radio company back then? With this lesson you can have the students research Foley artists and then have them write an informative report. You can also round out this lesson by having the students create and record their own Foley sounds.

Making an OTR broadcast
This project involves students researching and writing out their own old time radio show. The students need to keep in mind and recreate the settings and sounds of the original broadcasts. The broadcasts should range between the 15 and 20 minute mark. The project concludes with a group of students (using their script) performing and recording their radio play and then presenting their OTR broadcast to the rest of the class.








Just to get a little perspective in this controversy, copyrights do expire. Under the old copyright law, a copyright was good for 28 years from the date of first publication, renewable for another 28 years, for a total of 56. Under the 1976 act, those copyrights were extended to 75 years, provided they were renewed. Copyrights under the new law, which took effect on 1 January 1978, are good for the life of the author plus 50 years. Copyrights on anonymous works, works made for hire, etc. are good for 75 years after first publication. 

So, since OTR has just barely been around for 75 years, little or none of it is in the public domain yet by reason of having been around for a long time. The question of what constitutes publication, and the fact that sound recordings could not be independently copyrighted until the new law took effect add additional complications.  – A. Joseph Ross

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