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CBS Radio Mystery Theater

The CBS Radio Mystery Theater (or CBSRMT) was a tremendously ambitious and successful attempt to revive the great drama of old-time radio in the 1970s. Created by Himan Brown, who had by this time become a radio legend due to his work on Inner Sanctum and other shows dating back to the 1930s, it began its long run on January 6, 1974. The final episode played on December 31, 1982.

The show was broadcast nightly and ran for one hour, including commercials. Typically, a week consisted of three to four new episodes, with the remainder of the week filled out with reruns. There were a total of 1399 original episodes broadcast. The total number of broadcasts, including reruns, was 2969.

The late E. G. Marshall hosted the program every year but the series' last, when actress Tammy Grimes took over. Each episode began with the ominous sound of a creaking door, slowly opening to invite listeners in for the evening's adventure. At the end of each show, the door would swing shut, with Marshall signing off, "Until next time, pleasant...dreams?"

Despite the series' title, Brown expanded its scope beyond mysteries to include horror, science fiction, historical drama, and even comedy. In addition to original stories, there were adaptations of classic tales by such writers as Edgar Allan Poe (no fewer than seven Poe stories were adapted in 1975 alone), O. Henry, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and others. Later in the series Brown even experimented with multi-part, five-episode adaptations of novels such as Les Miserables and The Last Days of Pompeii, as well as an original five-part story about Egyptian queen Nefertiti with Tammy Grimes in the title role.

A host of prominent actors from radio and screen performed on the series, including Agnes Moorehead, Joan Hackett, Mercedes McCambridge, Roy Thinnes, Kier Dullea, Fred Gwynne, Richard Crenna, Kim Hunter, Morgan Fairchild, John Lithgow, and even a very young Sarah Jessica Parker.

Actors were paid union scale at around $73.92 per show. Writers earned a flat rate of $350.00 per show. The production took place with assembly-line precision. Brown would meet with actors at 9:00 AM for the first reading of the script. He would then assign roles and recording would begin. By noon the recording of the actors was complete and Brown handed everyone their checks. Post-production would take place in the afternoon.

In 1975, CBSRMT won the prestigious Peabody Award, and in 1990 it was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. In 1998, the still-active Brown attempted a brief revival of the series, rebroadcasting selected old episodes with his own introductions replacing Marshall's.

CBSRMT remains perennially popular with collectors to this day, with numerous websites, discussion forums, and even a Usenet newsgroup devoted to trading MP3 files of episodes.

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