Stroke of Fate

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

Overview

Stroke of Fate (1953) was an OTR drama series with each weekly episode exploring an alternate history based on fateful decisions or accidents.

Significance

A creative experiment combining alternate history, a mix of fact and fiction, and a break from linear narrative as a foundation for aural narrative and storytelling. Predates the use of hypertext and later computer-based combinatory practices.

Through their attempts to answer "What if . . .?" questions, these episodes provide grounding and inspiration for digital storytellers who seek to create and present immersive narratives in new and different ways.

By asking and answering "What if . . .?" questions and exploring alternate histories, Stroke of Fate was one of few mass media programs that attempted to foster knowledge development and critical thinking among its audience. Each episode was designed to make listeners think, to imagine a future driven by exemplary public service, public policy, and civic duty.

Background

Early radio broadcasters found it technologically difficulty, if not impossibile, to provide live, on-the-scene radio news reporting. So, early news shows were often nothing more than dramatized documentaries of events. Actors used newsreels in their attempt to exactly duplicate the voices of newsmakers.

The idea for a news dramatization series began in 1928 at radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Fred Smith obtained permission to use material from Time magazine in his broadcasts. Later, Smith and Roy E. Larsen, the first circulation manager for Time, developed their own program, called Newscasting. This program evolved into March of Time, broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 6 March 1931-26 July 1945. March of Time was the pioneer network news dramatization series. Learn more.

This excerpt is from the 5 October 1934 episode, "NRA/Lindburgh Kidnapping." It features dramatized interviews by Westbrook Van Voorhis with General Hugh Samuel "Iron Pants" Johnson, Director of the National Recovery Administration from 16 June 1933 until his firing by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September 1934, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, arrested 19 September 1934 for the 1 March 1932 kidnapping and subsequent killing of the 20-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Other exemplary episodes are:
"Pearl Harbor"
"Munich Crisis" (16 September 1938) Script available here
"Fascist Spain / Iwo Jima" (8 March 1945) Script available here.

Another, and perhaps the best, radio news dramatization series was You Are There!. A continuation of CBS Is There (23 episodes, 7 July 1947-21 March 1948), You Are There was broadcast 4 April 1948-19 March 1950 (ninety episodes). Each episode was a dramatized documentary and provided listeners the chance to be virtually present at significant historical events. CBS newscasters John Daly, Don Hollenbeck, and Richard C. Hottelet reported "live" from each event.

By 1940, such dramatizations were being phased out and replaced with news actualities. Stroke of Fate, broadcast 4 October 1953-27 December 1953, competed with live news broadcasts. Despite its creative concept and production values, both of which contributed to episodes that prompted immersive listening experiences, Stroke of Fate never landed a sponsor and was cancelled by radio network executives for its failure to achieve economic success.

I remember, at age 10, riding in the back seat of my parents' car between Detroit and Chicago, listening to Stroke of Fate on the radio and being completely engrossed in the storytelling. It made quite an impression on me. — Stephanie Strickland

Plot

The first half of each episode was dramatized historical fact. The second half, following a point of divergence, was dramatized historical speculation. A prominent historian, Professor Allan Nevins on most episodes, explained the divergence, the stroke of fate, at the end of each episode and how it might have changed actual history.

Cast

Ed Begley
Alexander Scourby
Hal Studer
Santos Ortega
Mort Lewis (writer)
George Faulkner (writer)
Fred Weihe (director)
Lionel Ricco (announcer)

Resources

Stroke of Fate radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library website
The Definitive Stroke of Fate at Digital Deli Too website
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website

Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 13
Surviving episode: 13

Timeline

4 October 1953-27 December 1953, Sundays, 8:00 PM ET
National Broadcast Company (NBC)

Surviving episodes
  • Episode 1

    Robert E. Lee
    Episode 01, 4 October 1953
    What if, at Winfield Scott's request, Robert E. Lee became General of the United States Army at the beginning of the Civil War, instead of later leading the Confederacy's?

  • Episode 2

    The Earl of Essex
    Episode 02, 11 October 1953
    What if Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, succeeded in overthrowing Elizabeth I of England?

  • Episode 3

    The Burr-Hamilton Duel
    Episode 03, 18 October 1953
    What if, during their duel, Alexander Hamilton shot and killed Aaron Burr, rather than being killed himself?

  • Episode 4

    Escape of Marie Antoinette
    Episode 04, 4 October 1953
    What if Marie Antoinette fled Paris during the French Revolution, and was not executed by guillotine?

  • Episode 5

    Lincoln's Consular Service
    Episode 05, 1 November 1953
    What if Abraham Lincoln obtained the consular job he wanted in 1841, and did not become President of the United States?

  • Episode 6

    Benedict Arnold
    Episode 06, 8 November 1953
    What if Benedict Arnold managed to hand West Point over to the British during the American Revolution?

  • Episode 7

    Caesar and Cleopatra
    Episode 07, 15 November 1953
    What if Julius Caesar wed Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 50 BCE?

  • Episode 8

    Germany Invades Rhineland
    Episode 08, 22 November 1953
    What if France used military force to oppose Adolf Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland in 1936?

  • Episode 9

    Battle of Quebec
    Episode 09, 29 November 1953
    What if France won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and retained Quebec, Canada?

  • Episode 10

    Our Neighbor in Alaska
    Episode 10, 6 December 1953
    What if Russia did not sell Alaska to the United States in 1867?

  • Episode 11

    Alexander the Great
    Episode 11, 13 December 1953
    What if Alexander the Great survived his illness in 323 BCE and continued his conquest of Asia?

  • Episode 12

    America's First Secret Weapon
    Episode 12, 20 December 1953
    What if David Bushnell's submarine, The Turtle, was used successfully to sink and destroy British ships during the American Revolution?

  • Episode 13

    Norman Conquest of England
    Episode 13, 27 December 1953
    What if the Normans failed to conquer England in 1066?