Overview

Stroke of Fate (1953) was an OTR news dramatization series. Weekly episodes explored alternate histories based on fateful decisions or accidents. The first half of each episode was dramatized historical fact. The second half, following a point of divergence, was dramatized historical speculation. At the end of most episodes, Professor Allan Nevins, a prominent historian, explained the divergence, the stroke of fate, and how it might have changed actual history.


Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 13
Surviving episode: 13

Surviving episodes

Robert E. Lee
Episode 01, 4 October 1953
What if, at Winfield Scott's request, Robert E. Lee became General of the United States Army at the beginning of the Civil War, instead of later leading the Army of the Confederacy?

The Earl of Essex
Episode 02, 11 October 1953
What if Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, succeeded in overthrowing Elizabeth I of England?

The Burr-Hamilton Duel
Episode 03, 18 October 1953
What if, during their duel, Alexander Hamilton shot and killed Aaron Burr, rather than being killed himself?

Escape of Marie Antoinette
Episode 04, 4 October 1953
What if Marie Antoinette fled Paris during the French Revolution, and was not executed by guillotine?

Lincoln's Consular Service
Episode 05, 1 November 1953
What if Abraham Lincoln obtained the consular job he wanted in 1841, and did not become President of the United States?

Benedict Arnold
Episode 06, 8 November 1953
What if Benedict Arnold managed to hand West Point over to the British during the American Revolution?

Caesar and Cleopatra
Episode 07, 15 November 1953
What if Julius Caesar wed Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 50 BCE?

Germany Invades Rhineland
Episode 08, 22 November 1953
What if France used military force to oppose Adolf Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland in 1936?

Battle of Quebec
Episode 09, 29 November 1953
What if France won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and retained Quebec, Canada?

Our Neighbor in Alaska
Episode 10, 6 December 1953
What if Russia did not sell Alaska to the United States in 1867?

Alexander the Great
Episode 11, 13 December 1953
What if Alexander the Great survived his illness in 323 BCE and continued his conquest of Asia?

America's First Secret Weapon
Episode 12, 20 December 1953
What if David Bushnell's submarine, The Turtle, was used successfully to sink and destroy British ships during the American Revolution?

Norman Conquest of England
Episode 13, 27 December 1953
What if the Normans failed to conquer England in 1066?

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Background

Stroke of Fate was a creative experiment combining alternate history, a mix of fact and fiction, and a break from linear narrative as a foundation for aural narrative and storytelling. The dramatic radio series was broadcast by National Broadcast Company (NBC), 4 October 1953-27 December 1953, Sundays, 8:00 PM ET.

By asking and answering "What if . . .?" questions and exploring alternate histories, Stroke of Fate was one of few mass media programs that sought to create and present immersive narratives in new and different ways, and attempted to foster knowledge development and critical thinking among its audience. Each episode was designed to make listeners think, to imagine a future driven by exemplary public service, public policy, and civic duty.

The recurring cast included . . .
Ed Begley
Alexander Scourby
Hal Studer
Santos Ortega
Writers (Mort Lewis and George Faulkner)
Director (Fred Weihe)
Announcer (Lionel Ricco)

Early radio broadcasters found it technologically difficulty, if not impossibile, to provide live, on-the-scene radio news reporting. So, early news shows were often nothing more than dramatized documentaries of events. Actors used newsreels in their attempt to exactly duplicate the voices of newsmakers.

The idea for a news dramatization series began in 1928 at radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Fred Smith obtained permission to use material from Time magazine in his broadcasts. Later, Smith and Roy E. Larsen, the first circulation manager for Time, developed their own program, called Newscasting. This program evolved into March of Time, broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 6 March 1931-26 July 1945. March of Time was the pioneer network news dramatization series. Learn more.

This excerpt is from the 5 October 1934 episode, "NRA/Lindburgh Kidnapping." It features dramatized interviews by Westbrook Van Voorhis with General Hugh Samuel "Iron Pants" Johnson, Director of the National Recovery Administration from 16 June 1933 until his firing by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September 1934, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, arrested 19 September 1934 for the 1 March 1932 kidnapping and subsequent killing of the 20-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Other exemplary episodes are:
"Pearl Harbor"
"Munich Crisis" (16 September 1938) Script available here
"Fascist Spain / Iwo Jima" (8 March 1945) Script available here.

Another, and perhaps the best, radio news dramatization series was You Are There!. A continuation of CBS Is There (23 episodes, 7 July 1947-21 March 1948), You Are There was broadcast 4 April 1948-19 March 1950 (ninety episodes). Each episode was a dramatized documentary and provided listeners the chance to be virtually present at significant historical events. CBS newscasters John Daly, Don Hollenbeck, and Richard C. Hottelet reported "live" from each event.

By 1940, such dramatizations were being phased out and replaced with news actualities. Stroke of Fate, broadcast 4 October 1953-27 December 1953, competed with live news broadcasts. Despite its creative concept and production values, both of which contributed to episodes that prompted immersive listening experiences, Stroke of Fate never landed a sponsor and was cancelled by radio network executives for its failure to achieve economic success.

Listeners, however, remember the radio series fondly. Stephanie Strickland says,
"I remember, at age 10, riding in the back seat of my parents' car between Detroit and Chicago, listening to Stroke of Fate on the radio and being completely engrossed in the storytelling. It made quite an impression on me."

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Resources

Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library website
Stroke of Fate radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
The Definitive Stroke of Fate at Digital Deli Too website
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website

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