In 1940, a new invitation to learning was on the air. Dr. Stringfellow Barr, president of St. John’s College at Annapolis, extended the bid to those who would listen to learn Sunday afternoons. Pointing out that for more than 2,000 years Western civilization had drawn sustenance from liberal education, he took to the wave lengths on a coast-to-coast network of more than eighty stations. By exploring classic literature, which gave “culural background to the nation’s founders,” as Dr. Barr explained, he aimed to strike a new keynote in liberal education through the medium of radio.
In its twenty-four-year span of existence, Invitation to Learning had acquired a variety of descriptive epithets. M. Lincoln Schuster, lively and peripatetic president of Simon & Schuster, called the CBS program “CQ – Civilization Quotient.” Rival broadcasters once good-naturedly labeled it “Columbia’s Hour of Silence.” An irritated savant charged it with being “Imitation to Learning.” A radio columnist described it as “the only program that uses a lorgnette instead of a microphone.” South Jersey farmers voted it their favorite Sunday listening.
More importantly, the radio program was heard for more than 24 years and celebrity guests included Norman Corwin, John Houseman, John Carradine, Herbert Hoover, Eva LeGallienne, Hans Conried, Lillian Gish and many others. It’s virtually an overlooked Hollywood who’s who program that very people talk about because so few recordings are known to exist. This book received a limited printing of 500 in 2003.
“Invitation to Learning is arguably the most unusual show ever to be presented on radio. Invitation to Learning was a half-hour show that was never rehearsed, never had a sponsor, had very low ratings, and yet enjoyed a twenty-four year run presenting over 1,200 episodes… The basic premise was that a group of three or four diverse people would come together to have a spontaneous discussion about a particular book… for 24 years, from 1940 to 1964 this forum continued to bring discussions of great literature to the radio audience. This books includes a brief history of the show, a discussion of tis’ continuing appeal, and a complete episode guide covering all 1,218 shows. Overall, this is a very welcome addition to any OTR collector’s library.”
— The August 2003 issue of Return With Us Now
“With Invitation to Learning, Grams focuses his considerable energies on a program that had a long radio life (over 24 years) but probably would not make any OTR fan’s list of top 50 shows. More than likely, even an OTR fanatic may never have heard of the show. Grams says as much in his introduction. He contends that all programs contributed to the overall history of OTR and, just because a program didn’t have the listener base of say a Jack Benny or I Love A Mystery, it still deserves attention and documentation for posterity’s sake, if nothing else… Grams notes the purpose of the program was to encourage listeners to read, think about and then discuss the classics, particularly those that influenced our founding fathers and the traditions they fostered that help form American intellectual concepts and traditions. This is an interesting treatment for a program that deserves some attention and, if not for the Grams touch, would likely be consigned to the nether world of OTR broadcasts, gone and all but forgotten”
— Charles R. Sexton, the September 2003 issue of The Illustrated Press
“If anyone ever accused me of trying to profit from writing books about old-time radio, instead of preserving old-time radio, I need only mention Invitation to Learning as an example. If I wanted to write a book that would sell thousands of copies, I would have chosen a subject other than Invitation to Learning. Few even knew the show existed. Most people I met never heard a single recording. That was why Morris Publishing and I agreed on a limited run of 500 copies. Each title page individually numbered. Almost ten years later I still have a case or two of books in stock, but that seems to be about all there is left… The biggest compliment I ever received from the book was when my friend, Neal Ellis, who has been in the hobby longer than I have, read the book. He later told me that after he finished reading it he was fascinated by the series and admitted he was never more engrossed in a radio program than Invitation to Learning.”
— Martin Grams, July 2012
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Audio Classics: Invitation to Learning CLICK HERE
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