The National Lampoon Radio Hour

I was recently listening again to some tracks from The National Lampoon Radio Hour programs which ran from November 17, 1973 to December 28, 1974 and have been collected on some CDs.

It was a weekly broadcast carried on a few hundred stations (especially college stations) throughout the U.S.

It was a great radio comedy show. It introduced a bunch of people who would gain much bigger fame later. 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, and the musicians Flo and Eddie.

The show was hatched in the brains of folks from The National Lampoon magazine. Lampoon editor Michael O'Donoghue was the main man.

They had put out a comedy album called Radio Dinner and used that as the pilot for pitching a radio show.

The recording studio was actually built in the same building as the magazine's editorial offices in New York.

They moved a lot of the spirit of the satire and humor of the magazine to audio. It was a really slick radio show and included original musical bits.

Unfortunately, the radio show needed a lot of material each week and became too much for the magazine staff. They cut the show to a half hour after only 13 episodes.

They also had some trouble getting sponsors because the material was really out there.

When O'Donoghue had enough of all of it, he left in spring 1974 and John Belushi took over as creative director. That must have been interesting.

By the end of the year, it was over.

A bunch of the performers and writers ended up being the nucleus of the original Saturday Night Live (O'Donoghue was the head writer in its first two seasons).

Other Radio Hour alums were on Second City Television (SCTV).

The magazine National Lampoon was itself pretty innovative a few years earlier when it launched in 1970 as a spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon.

It had parody of every kind and frequently crossed the line making Mad magazine seemed old and tame.

There was fiction, crazy actual news items ("True Facts"), cartoons, comic strips and "Foto Funnies" which often featured nudity.

The humor was intelligent and showed it college humor - which is also, of course, crass and obscene too.

The magazine peaked in the late 1970s. Though the magazine devolved around the same time as the radio show's end, it also spawned films (most popularly Animal House and the Vacation series with Chevy Chase), live theater, and books.

SNL, Second City and a few other copycat TV shows probably hurt sales too.

There are some used Lampoon books and recordings available online, and some have been reprinted. There are also fan sites devoted to the Lampoon output like Mark's Very Large National Lampoon site which has a nice classifieds section too.