Radio, Reunion, and Rain

Many black-and-white “B” horror movies from the 1940s and 1950s concluded with the words THE END filling the screen in big runny capital letters.  These words would then disappear, and then a huge ? would dominate the screen.  While Susie, Steve, and I were headed down Interstate 71 yesterday for the 26th Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, all the while I was composing a fitting tribute to the convention, its denizens, and the many times I have attended.

Definitely, the atmosphere at the convention was more funereal than I have ever seen.  Soon after the flyer appeared online, all of us on the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio email list received word this would be the final convention.  Susie and I had discussed the possibility of going on Friday, auditioning for the broadcast re-enactment, and spending the night.  I finally decided against that because I did not want to spend the extra money for a hotel.

Around 10:30 Saturday morning, Steve, Susie, and I pulled into the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blue Ash, the convention headquarters.  We headed straight to the dealer room, which is the nucleus of the daytime activity.  (There are workshops and talks held in conference rooms here and there in the hotel, but the dealers are the heart and soul of the show.)  There were a lot of people greeting each other, many people moving from table to table, and laughing, joking, and reminiscing.  However, it did not escape me that the festivities were more akin to a wake, than to a reunion.

Susie did quite well.  Many vendors were looking to unload lots of merchandise, so she came away with several books and DVDs at below sticker price.  One man is sending her a complete set of all the Harry Potter movies, since she did not have enough cash on hand.  He said try ’em out for a few days, if you like them, send me a check.  I anticipate mailing him a check really soon.

Even in misunderstanding, there was charity and good will.  A man laid out a table of free goods, including eight-track tapes (which I ignored; I never owned an eight-track player even when they were in vogue), albums (mostly 101 Strings and Mantovani), and even a prerecorded cassette or two.  (I took Neil Diamond’s soundtrack from The Jazz Singer and a Liberace tape.)

On the adjacent table, the man had an assortment of cassettes, of everything from my beloved CBS Radio Mystery Theater to The Catholic Hour to Journey to Freedom.  I grabbed a handful of several tapes, including Nick Carter, Master Detective.  (I have a personal connection, a <6 degrees of separation situation with that show.  Its star, the late Lon Clark, had lived in my W. McMillan Street apartment in Clifton during his years as a studio musician for WLW-AM and his job at the Cincinnati Summer Opera.  (Mutual hired him for Nick Carter during World War II.  Another WLW studio singer, Doris Day, once played gin rummy in the same apartment.)

A little while later, I took another tape to give Susie, and the man told me the tapes were $.50 apiece.  I apologized, and began unloading all the tapes from my bag, explaining that I thought the freebies extended to both tables.  He put up a hand.  “Keep the ones you already have,” he said.  I thanked him.

Cassette sales got cheaper and cheaper the last few years, especially with the advent of MP3 disks.  Why pay $1 or $2 for a single episode of a show, when you can pay a dollar or two more and get the show’s entire run on a single disk?

Steve bought the complete run of Night Gallery, and I surprised myself by getting two MP3 disks of a radio game show, Information Please.  (I remembered the title because my parents had given me an Information Please Almanac for 1974 on my tenth Christmas.)  I had heard excerpts from the show before.  A panel of experts discusses questions mailed in by the listening audience, and if they could not answer the question, they relied on humor and double entendres instead.

All three of us posed for pictures with one of the Radio Convention’s demigods, Bob Hastings.  Bob has had a long career in radio and television.  His most memorable radio performance was Archie Andrews, where he played the title character.  (The late Hal Stone, who played Jughead, attended the convention annually until his death in 2007.)  The first year Susie went to the convention, she borrowed my microcassette recorder and interviewed Hastings for a school project.

Your faithful blogger and Bob Hastings.

Bob Hastings is also in this 1971 All in the Family episode, “Judging Books by Covers.”  He plays Tommy Kelsey, the bartender.  (The episode is memorable because three ABC-TV soap opera stars are in this scene: Hastings, who would play Captain Burt Ramsey in General Hospital; Steve is portrayed by Philip Carey, who became Asa Buchanan on One Life to Live; and Roger was played by Anthony Geary, who played Luke Spencer, America’s sexiest rapist, on General Hospital.)

Part of the joy of the radio convention is the excuse to venture into Clifton, the neighborhood near the University of Cincinnati where I lived in the early to mid-1990s.  Susie was excited because we would be seeing her friend Cynthia, whom she met at a Unitarian youth conference at our church two years ago.  Cynthia lives in Westwood, and she and her parents braved the rain (which was almost constant by this point) to come to Clifton and meet us for lunch at Chicago Gyros.  Susie and Cynthia were overjoyed to see each other, and it was a good time meeting her parents.
Steve headed back to Columbus because he had a meeting to attend, so I flipped open my laptop and bought Susie and myself two seats on the 6:30 bus back to Columbus.  The bus ride was a comfortable one, heading north under gray and wet skies.  Susie was frustrated because the bus’ Wi-Fi seemed to be DOA, so she listened to her iPod and I dozed a little.
I am glad I checked my email once we were back in Columbus.  At the convention’s closing ceremonies, Bob Burchett, the founder, announced that he has decided there will be a convention next year.  The board has been very active with discussions and debate about logistics, finances, etc., but the consensus is that no one wants to see the tradition die.
I was very happy to receive this news.  So, I predict that an April 2013 entry will talk about the next convention.  Stay tuned.

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