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FirstLines: StewartMessage

First Line Caveats
Stewart Wright

If done properly such an effort would be useful, however I have some major reservations on whether it will be done properly. Accomplishment of such a task correctly and accurately, will require a great deal of time and effort. Perhaps even a lot more than any of our members imagine.

If not done properly and accurately, First Line of Dialog information for a series will just provide more incorrect information. Something the Old-Time Radio Researchers are trying to avoid.

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The following information is not new. It is a compilation and condensation of information contained in posts I have made over the last 12 months to the various Old-Time Radio Researcher groups.

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The episode titles for many series were not announced during their broadcasts. OTR researchers and writers have found the actual episode titles (from the episode scripts) for a considerable number of series and have publicized them in books and articles and on the Web. Just a few of these series include Gunsmoke, 21st Precinct, Have Gun Will Travel, and Fort Laramie. Unfortunately, it takes time for this information to be widely disseminated.

We know that thousands of MP3 shows in circulation have incorrect labels. These incorrect labels not only include incorrect episode titles, but also frequently include incorrect Broadcast Dates. How can you accurately list the First Line of Dialog for an episode if it is incorrectly dated?

The problem of Mislabeled and/or Incorrectly Dated MP3 Files generally has a Major reason: many Collectors Don't Bother to Listen to their shows to determine that they are Correctly Labeled!

Before creating a First Line of Dialog Listing for each show of a series, researcher must make sure that Each Show in their collection Is Correctly Dated. To make sure an individual episode of a series is correctly labeled, a person must Listen to the ENTIRE SHOW. The show provides many clues to its correct date; see 1) below for some ideas.

How Do We Help Eliminate the Problem of Mislabeled Shows?
1) Gain a working knowledge of the series that you are researching and use that knowledge to ascertain if the shows are Correctly Dated. Use reference materials such as books and broadcast logs, to determine:

  • the actual broadcast dates of the shows
  • time period of its run,
  • main characters and who played them,
  • crew members, and
  • sponsors or network promos on sustaining show.

2) Actually LISTENING to your shows! Not just the first line of dialog, but the Entire Show!

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Many of our members were not alive during the Golden Age of Radio; they are from the T.V. generations who are quite familiar with that increasingly frequent phenomenon: the Prime-Time Re-run.

Believe it or not, during the Golden Age of Radio, prime-time Re-runs were not the norm. Many major radio series took the summer off. Summer was a time for networks to test new series and not airing Re-runs.

New Productions and Not Re-runs Or Repeats!

A common practice during Radio's Golden Age was the re-use of previously used scripts. When scripts were reused during prime-time broadcasting hours, it was Generally as a New Production and usually WAS NOT simply a re-airing of a previously transcribed show from the original transcription disc or tape!

A major shortcoming of the First Line of Dialog method is that for some of the scripts that were reused for new productions the First Line of Dialog was Not Changed.

Radio scripts were sometimes reused on the same series and on other series. Networks often had the option to reuse scripts on the original series or on another series. A reduced fee was usually paid to the writer for the multiple uses of a script.

If the script was used again on its original series, it was normally as a New Production and usually with at least a few cast or crew differences from the original production. Dialog and plot line changes might also be made.

Even the title could be changed! A few examples of title changes from Gunsmoke are: "Carmen" became "Good Girl - Bad Company;" "Feud" became "Twelfth Night;" and "How To Kill A Friend" became "Old Friend."

When the script was re-used on a different series, script changes could be minor or significant. At least the locale, characters' names, and minimal dialog alterations were made. Often the Title was changed.
Example: The Fort Laramie series scripts "Woman at Horse Creek", "Assembly Line", and "Hattie Pelfrey" were later produced on Gunsmoke as "Solomon River", "Busted up Guns", and 'Nettie Sitton", respectively. In all three scripts, modifications were made in locale, characters, and dialog.

If a script was re-used on another series and that newer series had a different air length than the original series, changes might be quite extensive, such as substantial dialog changes and scenes and characters being added or deleted.

More Examples of Script Reuse:
Examples of these previously mentioned practices abound in Old-Time Radio.
This was particularly true for series that had long runs such:

Many shorter run series also reused scripts for new productions. The most famous of these series are Escape and 21st Precinct.

Many scripts were reused for multiple productions on Escape. ("A Shipment of Mute Fate" was produced on Escape four times; five other scripts were used three times on that series such as "Leiningen Versus the Ants" and "Three Skeleton Key.") These were all new productions!

Also, approximately 30 scripts that were written for Escape were later produced on Suspense. These were all new productions! Suspense also did some new productions of its previously used scripts.

For information on the extensive re-usage of scripts on 21st Precinct, see the broadcast log for the series at:

The 1948 script, "The Prodigal Daughter," that E. Jack Neuman wrote for the half-hour series, Jeff Regan, Investigator, was expanded to five, fifteen-minute segments when it was used as the 1956 Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar adventure "The Pearling Matter." For the Johnny Dollar production, extensive changes and additions were made regarding characters, plot line, and dialog. Neuman used a pen name, John Dawson, for the 1956 effort. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.


Sometimes the first line of dialog in a show is only a word or two. Is one or two words enough to conclusively actually identify an episode? I think not. See example in the next section.


As with the Certification of series for distribution, I would recommend that the First Line of Dialog information for each series be checked by a Second Person before it is posted.

The reason: different people hear different things. It quite common for two people to hear different words and put them into different context. There must be agreement on what people have heard!
Here is a real-world example of the preceding premise:
Listener A
"Howdy Marshall, Allo mister big can i give you a hand. . . ."

Listener B
Character 1: "Howdy Marshall.
Character 2: Hello Mister Biggs. Can I give you a hand? . . ."

Notice the differences between the listeners.
Listener A is actually including the dialog from two separate characters.
Listener B has listed the dialog as from two different characters.
Listener A doesn't correctly recognize that the dialog "mister big" is actually referring to a proper name. Listener B correctly identifies the dialog as a proper name and has included the proper spelling, "Mister Biggs."

Alternative Method:
An alternate might be for two people to work as a team; each listening to all of the shows in a series and comparing their results.


The objective of the Old-Time Radio Researchers is provide Accurate Information.

Unless carefully and conscientiously done, First Line of Dialog Effort could well just provide more Inaccurate Information.

I am not saying First Line of Dialog Effort should not be attempted. What I am saying, that for the First Line of Dialog Effort to succeed, it must have a much more rigorous levels of checking and verification of information than is currently proposed.

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Page last modified on January 24, 2005, at 08:21 PM