Category: Old Time Radio

A Week of Endings for Old Time Radio


Last week Norman Corwin passed away. Corwin was a pioneer in the Golden Age of Radio. A prolific multi-hyphenate in that field, he wrote, directed, and produced his own material. He was nicknamed “The Poet Leaureate of Radio” because even his prose plays had the heightened resonance of poetry, but they were anchored to earth by his humanism. Corwin was one of the last living legends of an art form that vanished from commercial radio in the United States, but there are those who keep old time radio alive by sharing or selling copies of shows, rebroadcasting them on small stations, recreating for contemporary audiences, and even writing new productions.

My husband and I spent time with such folks this weekend. We attended the 2011 Friends of Old Time Radio Convention, but not before I prepped. While I enjoy many old time radio programs, my overall knowledge of radio history has been superficial. I always plan to learn more, so I made myself read up on the subject. I started with Leonard Maltin’s The Great American Broadcast.

Maltin’s book took twelve years for him to write. Like Kevin Brownlow and his Hollywood silent film documentary, Maltin started his project when more old time radio stars and behind the scenes creatives were living. His book gives an overview of this golden age’s history peppered with quotes from those who were there. He delves into the jobs of all who made the programs and particular aspects of the shows like their sound effects and commercials.

In his book, he shares a quote from Corwin that illustrates what made old time radio so great. Radio is:

“at once both public and private. Radio is much more direct; it’s one to one, whereas [with] television you’re talking not to an ear, you’re talking to an eye–a mechanical eye. Also, the eye is a very literal organ and the ear is a part of the senses. The ear is the organ through which we receive, after all, the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and all the great composers, who don’t speak a word to us. It’s all said in symbolism, in symbolic harmonies and symbolic melody; even symbolic cacophony does something which enlists our collaboration, to the extent that we are required to collaborate as we are when we read a book. Then we are giving something. We are not just taking. Television, too often, puts the reader in the position of a passive receptor, of a spectator. This is less likely to happen in radio.

“There’s no set designer like your own self; you furnish the mise-en-scène, the wardrobe, the physical proportions of the actor, and the setting. Then radio is doing something that television very rarely achieves.”

Corwin’s death contributed to casting the pall over the convention as did Peg Lynch‘s absence due to poor health, but the real culprit was the knowledge that this was the last FOTR convention. With so many old time illuminaries passed away, there are not many that remain. They tend to be some of the former child actors and others who came in at the tail end of the Golden Age, and many of the event committee members have aged.

Still there was fun to be had. The live recreations entertained; the panels educated; and we made a couple of vendors happy with our purchases. The camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts was evident, and they were welcoming to first-timers like us. At least one old time radio featured guest was seated at each table. On our last night we had several at our table, and they were quite lively and chatty.

We were glad to attend finally, but it’s sad to think of past guests we missed and will never get the chance to meet. We were offered advice on what to attend next year. There are regional old time radio events like REPS in Seattle. Some recommended the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention and said it is likely to subsume the guests and groups performing at FOTR, while others could not imagine next year without the convention. They were hoping to bring it back somehow. Perhaps they will. After all, they are an imaginative crowd.

Happy Fourth of July!

Debbie Reynolds celebrating the Fourth of July

At Chez Gallagher, we’re very excited about the holiday. We may not be as hands on with the holiday celebrations as Debbie is above, but we’ve got a full slate of activities planned. One I’d like to share with you.  If you’d like to step back in time and experience a live old time radio-style Fourth of July broadcast, then you should tune into Maxwell DeMille‘s Club Cicada tonight.

Club Cicada is somewhere I’ve meant to go, but haven’t yet. It’s a Sunday night, retro-style night club, where the ladies and gents are always well-dressed. Even without the weekly party, how could they resist dressing up for the James Oviatt Building, which is a gorgeous art deco highrise?

Lucky for those of us whose geography distances them from the nightclub, it continues the tradition of live music broadcasts. The modern twist is that you only need a decent internet connection to catch their webcast, complete with video. Tonight’s program features Dean Mora and his 18-Piece Orchestra performing a tribute to the armed forces. It starts at 8:30 PM PST tonight.

Like Fibber McGee’s Closet

My husband couldn’t find his boots this morning, so I told him to check the front closet. He wanted me to check but I refused. I said it was getting to be too much like Fibber McGee’s, and he needed to wrangle it. He claimed not quite.

After reviewing that clip, I’d agree. His boots did not magically fall into his hands when he opened the closet door!

Happy Fourth of July!

We’ve been enjoying a comfy, cozy holiday at home today. It’s nice to take a time-out when we’re normally busy rushing about. We’ve been playing old time radio programs all day, some holiday-related. I was surprised when my husband found an episode of Yankee Yarns set in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, about one particular Fourth of July celebration.

Here’s Old Time Radio Cat‘s description of the series:

Yankee Yarns is an entertaining show about New England created by Alton H. Blackington. Touting himself as a storyteller, Alton weaves tales that are alternately amazing, eccentric, horrifying and comical. His “yarns” include stories of the sticky Boston streets of 1919, when a gigantic tank of molasses burst and coated the town, or of silly Connecticutians who gather a pool of $10 million to mine gold at the bottom of the ocean.

Yankee Yarns found themselves being told in many forms throughout the years, from radio to newspaper stories to lectures, and finally in a book. Radio listeners pestered Alton long and hard for scripts of his broadcast, so much so that he finally wrote himself a book in 1954. So whether you’re in the mood for a spine tickle or a throat giggle, Yankee Yarns will leave you satisfied.

This particular episode concerns a group of boys, one of them a Delano, who cannot abide by a fireworks curfew. Instead they construct an elaborate plan on how literally to shake things up for the holiday.  They build their own “bombs”, which they plant around town and set off at midnight, driving the local police crazy. The whole tale is narrated in an unmistakable New England accent, lending a bit of local color to the proceedings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

OTR Couple

Because of The Old-Time Radio Hour, my husband and I have been enjoying Thanksgiving themed old time radio shows while we cook our Thanksgiving dinner. I never realized the difficulty ordinary people had in securing a turkey for the holiday! That theme has been one of the running gags of some of the broadcasts, but all the shows are good fun, and each tackles the holiday in its own character-appropriate way. The shows include such classics as the Burns and Allen Show, The Great GildersleeveThe Jack Benny Program, The Life of Riley, and Our Miss Brooks.

To add to your home’s festivities, click here for program number one, here for number two, and finally here for number three.