In the 1950s, the "golden age" of radio drama gradually died out, as television took over as the predominant medium. In the USA, the era is generally considered to have drawn to a close on September 30, 1962, with the last surviving network radio dramas — Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense — ending their runs on that date.
However, this didn't prevent there from being nostalgia years later, which led to a brief revival of radio drama in the '70s. The longest-lasting series of this revival was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which aired every weeknight from 1974 to 1982. It was created by Himan Brown, a veteran of such earlier radio shows as Inner Sanctum Mystery and The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, and was hosted by E. G. Marshall for most of its run, with Tammy Grimes taking over in the final year. Brown himself narrated a brief rebroadcast in 1998. Of course, as time continues to march onward there is now nostalgia for CBSRMT (as it's known by fans) itself.
The series was a one-hour program, with commercials between three acts. It had a variety of genres, though it leaned towards suspense and horror. A total of 1,399 episodes were produced. The series has not been released officially in any form, but it was widely recorded by fans and there are no Missing Episodes. Needless to say, it remains a popular choice for unofficial distribution in various digital formats. You can listen to most episodes online here.
This series is an example of:
- Abusive Parents: Otto Kramer in "Tattooed for Murder" is an especially vicious piece of work. He kept his two daughters prisoner in his home all their lives, disowns his eldest daughter as a "freak" when she escapes to join a traveling carnival as a tattooed woman, is hinted to have amorous feelings towards said daughter, and beats his emotionally wrecked younger daughter with a walking stick to assert his "authority."
- All for Nothing: "The Ripple Effect." Emerson Maitland is an ambitious congressional candidate who previously had an affair. Maitland becomes obsessed with the idea that his former mistress will blackmail him with the love letters he wrote to her, and hires a burglar to break into her house to steal them. However, the burglar accidentally kills the mistress and himself threatens to blackmail Emerson, which leads to Emerson killing him next (along with an Innocent Bystander) to tie up lose ends. It turns out that Emerson's disgruntled wife burned the letters long ago after they were given to her by the mistress, which means that Emerson killed three people for no reason.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Expected, given the type of anthology this show is. Notable examples include:
- "The Deadly Hour." Martin Jerome finds his wife cheating on him, resulting in what Marshall calls a "mutilation of the soul." Martin is so devastated that he doesn't speak to anybody for 25 years, spending two-week "vacations" alone in a remote cave by the sea. Then he comes to the cave to find a young couple already inside. Martin is angered about how they remind him of his unfaithful wife and her man, so he seals them in for more than a week and listens in as they gradually lose their minds. He only lets them out after one is about to eat the other. Martin succeeds not only in utterly destroying their relationship, but in putting the young man, George, into the same catatonia he was once in.
- Batman Gambit: "The Ripple Effect" is about Emerson Maitland, a political candidate whose obsession with getting back several scandalous love letters leads him to murder three people. Unbeknownst to him, the letters — the only clues to the killings — were actually burned by his wife years previously. The girlfriend of one of Maitland's victims, aware of the truth, devises a ruse where she visits Maitland and baits him into confessing by threatening to leak them.
- Bedlam House: "Ward Six," adapted from the Chekhov short story.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- "Tattooed for Murder" — Katherine frees her younger sister from the clutches of their abusive father, but is hinted to have sacrificed her soul/morality by allowing him to die.
- Briefcase Full of Money: Two suitcases, actually, in "Strange Company."
- Buried Alive: The main plot of "The Deadly Hour."
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: In "The Ghost at the Gate," the ghost of Charles Emery tries to carry on the affair he had in life with his wife Alice's best friend, Connie. It is established that the ghost needs constant assurances of love from both women to have the ability to visit the world of the living. So when Alice learns from Connie about the affair, the two banish the ghost by refusing to "love" him.
- Door-Closes Ending: Opened and ended with the creaking door.
- Elder Abuse: Charles in "Strange Company" seems like an aversion, until he learns about Aunt Belle's money.
- Hallucinations: "Strange Company." An old woman lives alone with her sister, who unexpectedly dies, leaving her basically alone in the world. Then she starts seeing people who may or may not be there, and her only living relative starts stealing from her.
- He Who Fights Monsters: "Tattooed for Murder" ends with the tattooed lady in a carnival freak show withholding medicine from her Asshole Victim father and allowing him to die. The story ends with a depressing moral that living in an environment of hatred like the father's household can rub off on the victim.
- Hypocrite: Henry runs someone over and flees the scene at the start of "The Beast", then later on as he repeatedly shirks responsibility for the crime asks who would be so callous as to run someone over and flee the scene.
- I Reject Your Reality: After committing a fatal hit-and-run, Henry immediately denies what just happened and pressures his wife (who was in the car and saw a man in front of them) into believing they hit a rock in the road.
- Inheritance Murder: "Strange Company."
- It's All About Me: Henry of "The Beast" is outright characterized by Marshall as selfish in the episode's intro, and he quickly proves it by pressuring his wife and his friend to help him cover up his hit and run, clearly only concerned with saving his own hide.
- Named by the Adaptation: The Judge from The Diary of a Madman is given the name of Frank Wallace.
- Pet the Dog: The ghost of Real Life female pirate Anne Bonny helps a scared little girl navigate a boat away from dangerous rocks.
- Public Domain Character: Necessary because the show was very low budget.
- Recycled Soundtrack: Some of the background music is from The Twilight Zone (1959).
- Sadist: Martin Jerome in "The Deadly Hour." Let's just say being cuckolded royally screwed him up. When he discovers that two young lovers are inside the remote cave he occupies during his "vacations," and finds himself repulsed as they express love for each other, he seals them inside with rocks and leaves them to die. After more than a week, he comes back just so he can hear them gradually go mad from hunger and desperation. Then he taunts them by leaving them a box of matches simply reading, "I am here." He only lets them out when the young man is on the verge eating his girlfriend. After being released from the hospital, the young man – now completely shattered from the ordeal – is taken in by Martin and enters what sounds like a bizarre co-dependent relationship with him. JEEZUS.
- Signing-Off Catchphrase: "Pleasant dreams!" [SFX: CREAKING MAUSOLEUM DOOR SLOWLY CLOSING]
- Sky Heist: In "King Bankrobber", the thieves fly off the entire bank and relocate it to the top floor of the robber's mansion.
- Speaking Like Totally Teen: Scriptwriter Ian Martin's attempts to emulate '70s youth slang. ("Don't let her give you no run-around, Dad!" "I think bein' around here's gonna be kicks!" "I dig a man who's far out!")
- Two Decades Behind: In this case for The '50s.