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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There’s Good News Tonight!

The title of this entry is an allusion many of my readers will miss.  It was the on-air greeting of Gabriel Heatter, a Mutual Broadcasting System radio commentator and reporter during the 1930s and 1940s.  Since Susie and I were in Cincinnati at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention today (technically, yesterday, since it’s now 1 a.m.), I thought this would be a good title for the entry.

My friend Steve Palm-Houser, whom I know from church, attended his first OTR convention this weekend.  I had talked it up to him all year, and he was sufficiently fascinated to make his first trip.  This was Susie’s third convention, and (at least) my seventh.  It was at a new location this year, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blue Ash,  a Cincinnati bedroom community.  Annually, I say this year I will audition for the broadcast reenactment, and I’ve batted zero on making good that vow.  (They use authentic working equipment, but the final product doesn’t go out over the air.)

We arrived late in the morning.  The Crowne Plaza is a totally new hotel to me.  Since Blue Ash has almost no public transit service, I may have been there twice in all the years I lived in Cincinnati.  When we came in the lobby, the ballroom immediately off the lobby was very full, but very quiet.  The easel just outside the door said that it was a pinochle tournament sponsored by the Cincinnati Yellow Jacks Pinochle Club.  The room had almost a churchlike, monastic silence about it, like I’ve heard can happen at chess and bridge tournaments.  The OTR people were quite boisterous.

I spent less money than I have in the past.  Most of the programs available on MP3s, or tape cassettes, or compact disks are now available free of charge, mainly from The Internet Radio Archive and other sites.  I bought a two-DVD set of ABC News’ coverage of the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt.  (The day it happened, I was watching CBS, so I am looking forward to seeing the late Frank Reynolds, on camera, blow his stack at his staff when he kept getting conflicting reports about whether Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, had died of his injuries.  I have never seen that, except for an out-of-context clip on YouTube.)  I bought a CD-ROM which featured Spider-Man’s first 10 appearances (in 1962; Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first nine issues of The Amazing Spider-Man).  That’s out of character for me.  I was never a big superhero fan, but when I was, I was more loyal to DC than Marvel.

I even managed to resist the usual stray impulse purchase of something I knew I couldn’t use.  It only took me 15 seconds to decide not to buy an old radio transcription disk.  This was a 16″ acetate recording disk, and radio stations used them extensively until magnetic tape emerged after World War II.  There was a time when I would have bought this disk (and more in the box), regardless of the fact that I have no phonograph that can play it.  The tone arm pivot would get in the way, and the grooves are wider than on a standard LP, which means the needle would skate constantly.

For those who think I’m still speaking in tongues, here is a picture of a transcription disk I downloaded from http://www.auldworks.com.

From Bob Gardner of Vintage Publishing, I bought a disk called News Program Collection.  Other than the fact that there are 134 episodes, I don’t know what is on it.  I’m just praying the files are labelled properly when I load the disk.

Susie didn’t come away empty-handed, but she was disappointed that the vendor who sold Archie comic books at previous conventions didn’t come.  She bought some MP3s of Fibber McGee and Molly.

Steve showed incredible restraint; for a moment, I thought he considered it a wasted trip, but he said he was trying to be prudent.  He bought Cornell Woolrich’s posthumously published Into the Night, which featured an Afterword by my friend mystery novelist Francis M. (“Mike”) Nevins, Jr.  That was it.

Many people tuned into Internet radio heard Susie a little after noon.  Neal Ellis and Ken Stockinger of Maryland broadcast live from their table at the convention, on their Radio Once More Website.  (In 2008, when I casually mentioned to Neal that Susie was the youngest person ever to attend the convention, he immediately stopped broadcasting Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and interviewed Susie.  Here is the link to my LiveJournal entry of that day:  LiveJournal Entry, April 12, 2008.  In it, I did err and say Neal was playing Boston Blackie when he made the snap decision to interview Susie.)  Susie took her place at the microphone just as the live broadcast was beginning, and she was much more at ease and much less tongue-tied than when she spoke in 2008.  Frantically, I tried to get onto Facebook through Steve’s Verizon Wireless phone to post a notice Susie would be on the radio at noon, but I couldn’t connect to my account.  I managed to text a few–very few–friends by cell phone about 11:53 (per the phone’s log) and send them the URL.  As far as I know, only Ivan in Vermont was successful in hearing the broadcast.  He texted me back: “I’m tuned in listening to Sus.  She sounds really grown up!”

Susie during the interview.  Across the table from her is Neal Ellis
(with the beard) and Ken Stockinger.

Susie reunited with two members of the Riverdale delegation.  In the hotel’s food court, we saw Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings sharing a booth.  Rosemary Rice played Betty Cooper in the NBC radio program Archie Andrews, based on the comic books.  Bob played the titular role.  At an earlier convention, I met the late Hal Stone, who played Jughead.  Susie interviewed both Hastings and Rice for a school project in 2008, using a microcassette recorder.  Bob told her of his day-to-day working life in radio, and spoke in his Commissioner Gordon voice to her.  (He voiced Gordon in The Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Animated Series.)  As I was never a fan of McHale’s Navy (where he portrayed Lt. Elroy Carpenter) or General Hospital (Capt. Burt Ramsey), the first time I saw Bob on TV was as Tommy Kelsey, the barkeep on All in the Family.

Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings (both from NBC
Radio’s Archie Andrews), with Susie in the food court
of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, May 8, 2010.

Tangent alert: This YouTube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zY7HqCYgpM&feature=related is from “Judging Books by Covers,” a first-season episode of All in the Family.  Bob Hastings, as Kelsey, is behind the bar, most clearly visible beginning at 3:18.  This is an “ABC soap opera” episode.  Both Bob and Anthony Geary (Roger) would appear on General Hospital.  Geary would play Luke Spencer (as in “Luke and Laura”), America’s sexiest rapist.  Philip Carey’s (Steve) long career as One Life to Live‘s patriarch Asa Buchanan ended only when he died in 2009.

Steve loves bookstores as passionately as I do, so when we decided we had seen enough of the convention, we drove into Clifton, my erstwhile neighborhood.  The neighborhood is a lot less shoddy than it was, but it has become so brand-named and cookie-cutter sterile, and is losing what made it vital and unique.  It is not the Clifton that I loved.

One of the holdouts against the big brand names taking over (or property seizure by eminent domain) is Duttenhofer’s Book Store.  I moved to W. McMillan St. for the express purpose of living near it, and I was there constantly, and I visited about a dozen times for each time I actually bought something.  Russell Speidel, the current owner, is a very good man, and was generous with me when I was broke, either loaning me small sums, or buying books of little or no value so I wouldn’t be totally broke.  There were quite a few times, I’m sure, when he thought of himself as Mr. Wilson and me as Dennis the Menace.

I was disappointed not to see him behind the counter.  I actually bought something, so that may have been too much for his heart.  I bought a Fawcett Crest paperback of James A. Michener’s Centennial for $.50 and two other books.  I got a kick out of the fact that a thick hardcover of The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, which I sold him when I lived on W. McMillan, was still on the shelf, untouched for at least 15 years.  (I knew it was my copy because of a phone number I had penciled in the margin of one of the earlier pages of the book.)

All three of us were home by late afternoon, and I’ve maintained my good mood ever since, save for a battle with Facebook when I tried to load pictures I had taken in Cincinnati to my photo album.

It’s almost 3 a.m.  Susie and I are leaving for church a little after 8, since she’ll be singing at the 9:15 service.  I’ll be sleep-deprived, and I feel a little bad about neglecting the holographic diary, but I wanted to post my impressions here while they were still fresh.