Radio drama pioneer dies

Brown used sound effects to fire imaginations

NEW YORK — Himan Brown, who created dramas that used sound effects like a creaking door and a steam engine to enthrall listeners during the golden age of radio, died June 4 in Manhattan. He was 99.

The creative force behind radio classics including “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” and “Grand Central Station,” Brown grasped “how sounds would trigger the imagination,” said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media.

“Inner Sanctum Mysteries,” for example, used the sound of a creaking door as its signature opening and ended with the ominous sign-off, “pleasant dreams.” “Grand Central Station” included the sound of a steam engine.

“He was one of radio’s great storytellers,” Simon said.

Among Brown’s other creations were “The Adventures of the Thin Man” and “Dick Tracy.” He worked with stars like Orson Welles and Boris Karloff.

Brown “always believed in the drama of the mind,” said his daughter, Hilda Brown. He felt people could use their own imagination to create mental pictures to go along with what they were hearing on the radio.

The son of Russian immigrants, Brown was raised in Brooklyn. He graduated from law school, but decided to follow his creative passions instead, his daughter said.

He had good timing: The 1930s and 1940s were part of the years when radio was most popular. Shows of all kinds could be found all over the radio dial, and popular shows were must-hear appointments for many Americans.

Even as television came into prominence in the middle of the 20th century, Brown remained a firm believer in the power of radio. In 1974, he started “CBS Radio Mystery Theater,” a nightly radio program that ran until the early 1980s.

“Radio drama is the most potent form of theater I know,” he told the alumni newsletter of Grady College at the University of Georgia in 1994. “It gives you an experience no other form of theater — movies and television — can duplicate. It’s the theater of the mind.”

Along with Hilda Brown, he is survived by a son; two granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.

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