This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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DISCOVERY OF LOST OTR SHOW
Press Release from Lyon College, Batesville AR
December 1, 2003
(From Radio Recall, December 2003)
It’s not everyday that someone stumbles across a rare recording of a program from radio’s golden age. But that’s exactly what happened recently at Lyon College. While working with some 50-year old reel-to-reel recordings, Brooks Blevins, Director of Lyon’s Regional Studies Center, discovered a five-minute segment of a radio series that went off the air more than half a century ago.
This segment was the first five minutes of an episode of “The Affairs of Peter Salem”, a popular detective show presented live each week on the Mutual Broadcasting System from May 1949 to April 1953. According to Jack French, editor of Radio Recall and past president of the Metro Washington Old Time Radio Club, “The Affairs of Peter Salem” starred Santos Ortega, a popular radio actor who also played Nero Wolfe, Charlie Chan, and Perry Mason.
The most incredible part of the discovery is that this five-minute clip represents the only known recording of the series still in existence. “Vintage radio collectors and archivists have been searching for an audio copy of this series for fifty years, with no success,” French stated in a letter to Blevins. And French isn’t the only one excited about the find. Elliot Vittes, whose father Louis wrote the scripts for “The Affairs of Peter Salem” and several other popular radio series, has been searching for audio recordings of his father’s shows since all of Louis Vittes’s scripts and materials were destroyed in a flood a few years ago. “The Affairs of Peter Salem” was the only one Elliot Vittes was missing, according to French.
As is so often the case with such discoveries, Blevins was working on something completely unrelated when he discovered the snippet of the lost radio program. The recording was on the reverse side of an old seven-inch reel-to-reel tape that contained recordings of Arkansas (now Lyon) College’s Holy Week programs in the early 1950s. The Holy Week programs were recorded and broadcast on KBTA, Batesville’s lone radio station at the time. These particular Holy Week recordings were donated to Lyon College about a decade ago by Fitzhugh Spragins, an alumnus and retired professor whose father, the Reverend John D. Spragins, had delivered the Holy Week devotionals.
Upon hearing the recording of “The Affairs of Peter Salem” for the first time, Blevins searched the internet for information on the show. A brief description of the series on Thrilling Detective website led him to Jack French. Blevins sent a copy of the recording on compact disc to French, who wrote to offer the “thanks of the Old Time Radio community for the kind offer to put it in circulation.” “Rare finds, such as the audio segment you uncovered, are a cause of great joy to all of us who painstakingly search for years, trying to locate missing radio shows,” said French. “That is precisely what makes your discovery so gratifying.”