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Overview | Significance | Background | Plot | Cast | Resources | Episodes

Overview

The Columbia Workshop was an OTR dramatic series with a mission to experiment with different modes of narrative in order to discover, enhance, and evolve new forms of radio drama. With each episode, production, not story, was primary and provided interesting experiments with sound effects and voices. The results are considered by many as the finest examples of radio drama ever produced. The years 1938-1939 were particularly productive under the direction of Irving Reis.

Significance

Focus on sound effects and voices
Mission to evolve new forms of radio drama
One of the few radio shows given reign and resources to experiment with the medium

Background

The Columbia Workshop aired on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from 18 July 1936-25 January 1947 (324 episodes). Cancelled during World War II, the show was resurrected 2 February 1946, and cancelled again, in 1947. The idea of an experimental radio drama series was revived again on 27 January 1956, as CBS Radio Workshop with more flair and imagination. The series (85 episodes, 27 January 1956-22 September 1957), "dedicated to man's imagination—the theatre of the mind," began with a two-part adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Huxley himself narrated both episodes. The popularity of television, however, drained radio listeners, and CBS Radio Workshop ended 22 September 1957, after only twenty-two months and eighty six episodes. It has since been called the greatest show on radio.

Plot

Plots varied with episodes.

Cast

Cast varied with episodes and frequently included well known authors and actors.

Resources

The Columbia Workshop radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Episodes of The Columbia Workshop at the Internet Archive website
Episodes at the Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library website
The Definitive Columbia Workshop at The Digital Deli Too website
Columbia Workshop scripts at the Generic Radio website
CBS Radio Workshop radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
The Definitive: CBS Radio Workshop at The Digital Deli Too website

Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 379
Surviving episodes: 347
A number of The Columbia Workshop episodes are available at the Internet Archive website.

Timeline

18 July 1936-26 April 1947
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 379 episodes
27 January 1956-22 September 1957
CBS, as CBS Radio Workshop, 86 episodes

Exemplary Episodes
  • Episode 35

    The Fall of the City
    Episode 35, 11 April 1937
    "The Fall of the City" by Archibald MacLeish, about the collapse of a city under an unnamed dictator, provides a commentary on the growing fascism in Germany and Italy just before the start of World War II. Featuring Orson Welles, "The Fall of the City" is often cited as the best example of the artistic potential of radio broadcasting in terms of both stylistic innovation and social power. Learn more.

  • Episode 36

    R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
    Episode 36, 18 April 1937
    Written by Czechoslovakian writer Karel Capek, this radio drama is the first appearance of the term "robot." Learn more.

  • Episode 254

    The City Wears A Slouch Hat
    Episode 254, 31 May 1942
    A collaboration between John Cage and Kenneth Patchen, positions sound as a central narrative component, with very interesting results. Learn more.