Mercury Theatre Web Site Frequently Asked Questions

Who owns the copyright on these shows?

Copyright on old radio shows is an extremely hazy area. Nobody seems to know who owns the rights to these broadcasts, and a good argument could be made that they’re public domain. A couple obnoxious individuals over the years have claimed that they own the rights to certain shows and have threatened to sue collectors and webmasters that have made episodes of the shows available. Tellingly, they’ve never actually taken anyone to court, and have only relied on bluster to assert their ownership.

For further exploration of these issues, please see the OTR Law Journal. Please don’t write me asking how to get clearance to use The War of the Worlds in your project; I’m sorry, I just don’t know.

Are you planning on adding show X?

I plan to have all the Mercury Theatre/Campbell Playhouse shows that still exist here at some point. I believe that I have all the existing Mercury Theatres, actually, although I’d love to be proven wrong. I’ll add the rest of the Campbells as time and money permit. If you’d like to speed up the process, feel free to send me copies of shows I haven’t put up yet. One generous fellow, Gene Ward, has done this so far, which is why you can enjoy Mutiny on the Bounty.

Why do you only have some of the shows in MP3 format?

Sigh... this is a long story. The original concept for this site was a streaming archive of Mercury Theatre radio shows. At the time, RealAudio was pretty much the only streaming format that anyone could handle. So I made all the shows RealAudio format, and set them up to stream off my server. Later, as an afterthought, I made them available for download as well.

Some months later, I looked through my logs and found to my surprise that far more people were downloading the shows than were streaming them. So I said to myself, “well, if they’re going to download and keep them, I might as well make them MP3 format”. So from that point on I encoded every new show in both MP3 and RealAudio format.

Here’s the sad part, though. After I encoded that first batch of shows, I put the tapes in storage in northern Michigan. I rarely get up there, and the last time I was there I couldn’t find them (I have a lot of stuff). So I haven’t made MP3s of them yet. One of these days I will. In fact, once I have every show on here in MP3 format, I’ll probably remove all the RealAudio files, because Real Networks is annoying and their software is intrusive and crappy.

Why can’t you just convert the RealAudio files to MP3?

Because that would sound really bad. Since both are compressed audio formats, a conversion amounts to uncompressing it and then recompressing it, which means you lose a lot of data. Besides, my MP3s are encoded at a much higher bitrate than the RealAudio files (64 kbps vs. 22 kbps); again, this is because I realized people weren’t streaming them, so they didn’t have to be so small.

Why do the MP3s take so much longer to download than the RealAudio files?

Because they’re much larger. See above.

Can I link directly to the shows on your site?

Please don’t. I put a lot of work on the HTML and design and I want people to look at it before they download the shows, and I want them to know where they’re getting them from.

Also please note that this is not a copyright issue; I can’t stop you from taking the shows and making them available on your own site (or on Gnutella or whatever), and I wouldn’t even if I could. It’s not like I own the copyright on them, either (although I did encode most of them). But if you link directly to the shows from my page, you’re using my bandwidth to benefit your site. And that’s obnoxious.

Why am I getting a “Forbidden” error when I try to download shows from your site?

Too many people hammer this server, trying to download every file at once, so I’ve had to limit it so that you can only download one show at a time to keep the server from being overloaded. So if you’re trying to download more than one show, that’s why.

Sometimes people get this error even though they’re only trying to download one show. I’m not sure yet why this is happening, but if it happens to you, try right-clicking on the link and selecting “Save As”. That usually solves the problem.

Finally, to stymie sites that link directly to the shows (see above), I’ve made it a requirement that you must have clicked on a link on my page to download or stream a show. The server knows this by checking the “referrer header” that most browsers send. If your browser doesn’t send a referrer header, or sends a false one, you won’t be able to get the shows even if you are coming from my site. For instance, the server thinks you got to this page from “(none)”. If it says “none” in between the quotes, or says you came from a different page then you did, then your browser isn’t sending correct referrer headers.

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