The National Lampoon Radio Hour ran from November 17, 1973 to December 28, 1974, and was broadcast weekly on hundreds of radio stations throughout the U.S. It was one of the best radio comedy shows ever produced, and introduced many talented and now well-known perfomers to a national audience for the first time. Among the performers that appeared regularly or irregularly were Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Michael O’Donoghue, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Gilda Radner, Harry Shearer, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Richard Belzer, Tony Scheuren, Windy Craig, Flo & Eddie, George Coe, Gary Goodrow, Norman Rose, and Alice Playten, just to name a few.
The show was the brainchild of NatLamp editor Michael O’Donoghue. After the success of the comedy album Radio Dinner, he was able to convince publisher Matty Simmons to let him do a weekly radio show. Teaming up with producer Bob Tischler, the talented engineer who had worked with O’Donoghue and Tony Hendra on Radio Dinner, the show successfully transfered the humor of the magazine to a radio format. The show was initially recorded at Bell Sound, but within a few months, a recording studio was built several floors above the magazine’s editorial offices on Madison Avenue in New York. Like the magazine, the show had a highly professional, understated style which hightened the effect of its often shocking sense of humor.
The show used up an incredible amount of material each week and strained the resources of the magazine. As a result, it was cut to a half hour after 13 shows. It also had a hard time retaining national sponsors, partly due to the content of the show, and consequently did not do very well financially. O’Donoghue, drained of energy and patience, left the show—and the magazine—for good on Easter Sunday in 1974. John Belushi took over as creative director of the show for the remainder of its run.
The difficulty in sustaining the show is evident in its increasing reliance on rerunning bits and even entire shows. Some of the later shows also feel more improvisational, with performers doing their favorite stock characters. This in itself wasn’t bad, but it made the show feel less varied as it wore on. I was still shocked and disappointed when, at the close of the December 1974 Christmas Show, Bill Murray, doing his “evil Santa” character, announced that the next show would be their last. The final show reprised the best bits from its entire run, ending with Michael O’Donoghue’s cryptic inside joke, “Honk! Honk! Why, it’s Wobbles the Goose!”
After the show ended, many of the performers and writers went on to both Saturday Night Live (where O’Donoghue was the head writer in its first two seasons) and Second City Television. Among the original cast and writers on SNL were Radio Hour alums Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Anne Beatts (writer), and later on Bob Tischler (producer for four seasons), Brian McConnachie (writer), Bruce McCall (writer), Brian Doyle-Murray, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest. It would not be far-fetched to say that early SNL was, for all intents and purposes, the National Lampoon TV Hour, with no credit given to the magazine for blazing the trail. As for SCTV, its original cast and writers included Harold Ramis and Joe Flaherty. (It should be noted here that many of the NLRH cast were hired from Second City Comedy Clubs in both Chicago and Toronto—so the connection goes very deep.) Tischler also went on to produce the Blues Brothers albums.
Much of the material from the show was released on LPs by National Lampoon. Records released by NatLamp consisting either entirely or in part of NLRH material were The Missing Whitehouse Tapes (1974), Gold Turkey/Radio Hour Greatest Hits (1975), That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick! (1977), Greatest Hits of the National Lampoon (1978), and National Lampoon’s White Album (1979). Most of these have been released on CD or are available as digital downloads. Some of the shows were rebroadcast in the ’80s by the King Biscuit Flower Hour in a somewhat different format (i.e., with more commercials and with some shows combined and abridged). Two of these broadcasts are listed here. Also released by NatLamp in the early ’90s were three volumes on cassette called National Lampoon Radio Hour: The Lost Tapes, though they are very difficult to find. In 1996, Rhino released The Best of The National Lampoon Radio Hour. This 3 CD/cassette boxed set is the largest single collection of material from the show. It has great liner notes, but unfortunately has more than a little previously released material, not to mention a photo of someone misidentified as Brian McConnachie and a few factual errors.
About the Show Listings
In 1999, thanks to the efforts of Dave Meredith, Mark’s Very Large National Lampoon Site added complete show listings for the entire run of the Radio Hour. Dave had been collecting recordings of the shows for years, and compile nearly all the information in this section. (Thanks, Dave!)
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the broadcast dates do not consistently fall on a particular day of the week. This is because local stations set the broadcast time. The date listed reflects the broadcast date of the particular recording that the listing came from.
In the listings, commercial breaks are noted. These were either national or local sponsors. Only commercials produced by National Lampoon are identified. These were often as entertaining as the rest of the show, and had the same writers, cast and high production standards. It’s interesting to note that these “house” ads became more frequent in the later shows due to the failure of the show to retain national advertisers and local stations’ inability to sell the left over air time. Presumably, “house” ads were produced throughout the run of the show, but many of the earlier ones probably never made it to the air waves as the air time had been sold.