The Faint Glow of Harbor Lights

Harbor Lightswas an early dramatic radio program that aired across NBC between 1929 and 1931. Originally airing at 10:00 on Tuesday nights, it eventually moved to Sunday evenings. Originating from the network’s WEAF studios in New York City, Harbor Lightsfocused on stories of the sea and each week’s episode dramatized an adventure told by the show’s central character, Captain Jimmy Norton, to a young friend. The Norton character was portrayed as a crusty old ferry boat skipper who plied the waters of New York Harbor, providing the scriptwriters with an endless well of ocean-going fare around which they could build scripts. Every week the NBC announcer intoned to his audience, “All aboard! The Harbor Lights are beckoning!”

Considerable credit was given to the series’ lead writer, Burr Cook, who was both a former seaman himself and who was also willing to spend time in the haunts of Sailor’s Snug Harbor on New York’s Staten Island. Sailor’s Snug was a privately bequeathed and funded home for old seafarers who had no better retirement prospects. Though the facility hits its peak in the late 1800s, in 1931 there was still a large number of salts living there who were willing to share their experiences and tales – real or imagined – of lives spent on the ocean. Burr Cook was also behind the Friday feature The Eternal Question but his contribution to radio is overshadowed by the career of another Cook, his brother of Phil Cook who was a prolific voice actor busy in the industry through the 1930s.

Edwin M. Whitney was the lead actor of Harbor Lights, bringing to vivid life the character of Captain Jimmy Norton. Whitney had a considerable theater background and was very busy in New York radio productions at the dawn of the 1930s. Whitney claimed Parma City, NY, as his home and sang with the Whitney Brothers Quartet (Alvin, William, and Yale Whitney) when he was younger. Whitney recorded a number of songs for Victor between 1908 and 1910, the bestseller of the lot bearing the cringe-worthy title “Darky and the Boys.” Perhaps Whitney’s most memorable role was that of Judge Whipple on Real Folks, though on the same show he also played Gran’pa Overbrooks, Bill Perkins the station agent, Colonel Weatherbee, and a dog named Prince. Other radio credits included various roles on Death Valley Days and The Esso Hour.

Harbor Lights was noted for its sound effects, and NBC director Vernon Radcliffe was given credit for their detail and realism. He created the unique opening aural sequence of vehicles driving onto a ship, gates closing behind them, the tinkling of bells, followed by the great blasts of the ferry’s whistle and the sound of its mighty engines. Other performers on the program included Leslie Joy, Walter Soderling, Ray Carter (announcer), Helene Handin, and Tom Moore.

Unfortunately, recordings of Harbor Lightsaren’t known to circulate among collectors chances are probably slim that any will turn up of such an early program. However, interested readers can access a recreation of a Harbor Lightsepisode that was originally broadcast during the last ten minutes of the January 12, 1941 episode of Behind the Mike. Similarly, one full script can be read in Peter Dixon’s 1931 book Radio Writing, a copy of which can also be found online with a little searching.

Looking Back: The Old-Time Radio Hobby from 1959 to 1971, Pt. 3

This article originally appeared in The Old Radio Times, March 2007.

Before I head back to the yellowed, crumbling fanzines, I leave you with some interesting notes and tidbits I culled from my oldest issues. I point out names of folks who, I believe, are still active today, 35 years later. I also note publications mentioned in their pages in case any of you have old memories (or issues) of them to share. 

The Old-Time Radio Researchers continue to save as many of these fanzines as we can, and scanning them to make them available to everyone ( If you have back issues you’d like to donate or loan so that photocopies could be made, please contact me ( We are not scanning issues of currently published fanzines; however, we still welcome back issues for research purposes. 

* Jay Hickerson’s Hello Again is the granddaddy of all OTR publications, beginning publication in 1970. Though not the first, it is by far the longest published. I have six issues of this mag so far, though I’ve been assured we’ve gotten a couple years worth that haven’t been sent on yet. [Update: OTRR has 224 issues scanned and available for download on its site!] A side note: be careful in reviewing these issues: I have three different issues with the same cover, and two others with the same cover. Either Jay used the same cover for a few successive issues, or an owner of these issues at some point stapled on any cover they could find. 

My run consists of July, August, September, October, and November, 1972 and April, May, June, and July, 1973. In 1972 Jay reports about 300 subscribers to Hello Again. Buxton and Owen’s newly released The Big Broadcast gets a short review; it’s hard to believe this was once the primary OTR reference, predating Dunning’s first effort by four years. The intro to Big Broadcast refers to a book called The Golden Age of Radio as the first encyclopedia of old time radio. I don’t think I’m familiar with this book; what can you tell me about it? 

He mentions a collectors list supplement with 30 more traders; unknown is how many traders were already on this “list.” This proves a healthy trading circuit already existed by 1972 (probably years earlier, as well). Every month Jay includes a list of stations around the country rebroadcasting OTR programs. 

Other publications Jay mentions: Remember When . . ., Hero Hobby, Broadcasting Bibliophile’s Booknotes, Echoes of the Past, and Radio Nostalgia.
Some familiar names that show up in Jay’s mag: Jay Hickerson (go figure), Dave Siegel, Jim Harmon, Paul Urbahns, Ken Pitelic, Charles Stumpf, Stu Weiss, Bill Knowlton, Chuck Schaden, and Marvin Bensman (who recently announced the closing of the radio archive at the University of Memphis). 

* Epilogue began publication in the fall of 1970, published by George Jennings. I have issues 1, 3, and 4; anyone know how long it ran? These issues ran a healthy 20+ pages, much larger than Hello Again’s 4-8 pages. Publication frequency, of course, would have been a huge factor. Circulation of at least the first couple issues was small, around 150 copies, though demand was greater. It’s much more similar to later fanzines in that it contained longer articles and essays than Hello Again. It also featured nice original artwork.
George mentions the following publications: Radio Dial, Stand By: On the Air, Hero Hobby, Radio Hero (Jim Harmon’ s).
It also mentions a SAVE convention and Jay’s East Coast conventions, as well as a NARA tribute dinner. I hope to further investigate all these events. 

Names you’ll recognize: Dave Goldin 

* Stay Tuned probably began publication in late 1970/early 1971. I have April, May, June, July, Aug, Oct, Dec, 1971, and January, February, 1972. I also have Vol. 2, No. 3 (no date, I assume March, 1972.) [Update: OTRR has 12 issues scanned and available for download on its site!] Stay Tuned was published by Sound Tapes of the Past, Inc., (STOP) out of Webster, NY. Interestingly, my copies of these mags are in solid shape, compared to the other series discussed here, many of which are literally crumbling as I turn the pages.
Notable readers included Carlton Morse, Frank Bressee, and Chuck Schaden (May 1971), the last of whom “has grown as an unofficial expert on the golden days of radio.”
Clubs mentioned: Radio Collectors Club of America was organized in November 1970, to preserve classic radio programs.
Publication mentions: Reminiscing Time, published by the Nostalgists Mutual of America, out of Atlanta. The Radio Hero Journal (Jim Harmon’s?). Chuck Schaden’s Hall Closet. Pictorial Guide to Old Time Radio by Jim Harmon. Stand By . . . on the Air, published by Bob Vito (publication ceased as of July, 1971). 

* Radio Dial, published by the Radio Historical Society of America, Cloquet, MN. Charles Ingersoll, publisher and editor. We have issues from spring, summer, and autumn 1970. [Update: OTRR has 14 issues scanned and available for download on its site!]
Members included Frank Buxton, Parker Fennelly (Titus Moody on the Fred Allen Show), and Bill Knowlton.