This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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LETTER FROM CINCINNATI
by Mark Anderson
MWOTRC member in Erie, PA
(From Radio Recall, June 2008)
The April 2008 Cincinnati Old-time Radio & Nostalgia Convention went as smoothly as Harlow Wilcox talking about Auto-lite. For this 22nd annual event, Coordinator Bob Burchett provided a nice venue for dealers, a variety of programs, and a wonderful closing night banquet which featured entertainment and awards. Mr. Burchett treated his returning headline guests Bob Hastings, Rosemary Rice, Esther Geddes McVey, and John Rayburn in grand style and enlisted them to perform in the on-stage OTR script re-creations.
All manner of enthusiasts were in attendance. OTR clubs, including MWOTRC, were well-represented. People from contemporary radio theatre, college radio, authors, researchers, professors, collectors and casual observers mingled in a congenial atmosphere. Neal Ellis, an audio engineer with National Public Radio, set up his audio equipment in a compact “studio corner” of the dealers room where he hosted full Internet audio-streaming coverage of the weekend on Yesterdayusa.com.
A stroll through the dealers’ room was a pleasure and an education in itself. The pleasant murmur of inquiring people, old friends renewing acquaintances and making introductions set a nice scene. I was struck by the variety and sheer volume of colorful inventory on display. At one table you could hear a recording of a BBC radio drama; at another you could gather around a monitor to see a clip from a film musical in crisp black-and-white. You could talk about comic books, reminisce about reel-to-reel, or flip through movie posters.
“Let’s talk format,” I said to one dealer, and we talked about MP3 compression rates and the transfer of 16mm to DVD. Several people elaborated on the theme of what’s new in the business: “It’s not just audio anymore.” And from table to table it was clear that films and television shows are helping keep the nostalgia business afloat. Love of the shows and the need for preservation make these evolving formats so welcome.
I talked to another casual collector who had come to browse the tables. In a nutshell, he loved Jean Shepherd’s old show, and the evocative sounds of trains, whatever the show. “It all comes together here,” he said, “whether you come at it from research or just your own experience.” True, indeed, I thought, as eventually I found a DVD of “Burke’s Law,” and bought a wonderful reference book: Martin Grams Jr.’s annotated log of DuPont’s long-running series “Cavalcade of America.” That’s the librarian in me, for sure.
The Author’s Panel on Friday afternoon was wonderful, and well-attended. Derek Tague was the moderator, and the six authors with him were an astute group, indeed. If Bob Burchett had given a nod to the credentials, biographies, and bibliographies of these gentlemen, he would have had to print up an 8-page glossy brochure.
Deserving of full advance profiles were: Francis M. (Mike) Nevins; Jim Cox; Martin Grams Jr.; Jack French; Michael Banks; and John Rayburn. With Derek’s excellent leading questions, these gentlemen entertained us with stories about research trips and curious interviews; about persistence and the sheer good fortune that are part of the fabric of writing.
There was no disguising the fact that writing about the entertainment business and the electronics industry is hard work. Thank goodness for publishers who bring this work to light. McFarland Publishing out of North Carolina, and Bear Mountain Media in Georgia are champions in this field.
“Talk to people, and get leads,” intoned Michael Banks. That’s how he found out that papers relating to his subject, (the Crosley company) were housed in Sarasota Florida. And off he went. Jack French, from Virginia, spent many an afternoon in a library in Thousand Oaks, California, which was the repository for the “Candy Matson” scripts, essential to researching his book Private Eyelashes.
Mike Nevins researched cheese-making at a factory in Wisconsin, for a mystery novel; and interviewed a fellow in Arizona for his book on The Cisco Kid. Martin Grams got nods of recognition when he said, “Be prepared to photocopy!” And, we learned, if the library won’t allow it, be prepared to take good notes. Hire a good research assistant, and above all, keep the inspiration. That’s the life of these writers; and the monetary return, all agree, is small. Our field of interest, though, is filled with avid readers who will seek out a well-researched subject, and these gentlemen gave us a wonderfully articulate look at the process.
The feeling of anticipation was palpable among the people who gathered to audition for the OTR script re-creations that would be featured during the weekend. The lure of the microphone is irresistible among some enthusiasts, and even though these airwaves would reach no further than the back of the room, the murmur among friends and the rustling of pages was respectful, studio-like, as though we were waiting for the ON THE AIR sign to flicker on.
Director Don Ramlow (All Ears Theatre, Kalamazoo MI) encouraged all of us to give full-voice to our interpretations, and the results were marvelous. Sometimes solemn, sometimes hilarious, we nursed our momentary lines with relish. True cacophony (caw-caphony, perhaps?) ensued as people read lines written for a crow. Ramlow, a veteran of the Cincinnati convention and other radio re-creation endeavors across the country, led us and listened with intensity, and chose an excellent mix of personalities and voices for the variety of roles.
Near-full houses sat in rapt attention, both afternoon and evening, as episodes from these shows were read: Pat Novak for Hire; Suspense; Johnny Dollar; and Have Gun Will Travel. Our four headline guests had the featured roles in three of the four scripts; Suspense was strictly a “Cincinnati Players” endeavor. Music and full live sound effects rounded out the studio atmosphere. Lead-in skits of The Bickersons were handled with great comic timing by Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings.
The Saturday evening Awards Dinner was a fine affair, with a sumptuous buffet, script re-creations, and the presenting of awards. Don Ramlow served as master-of-ceremonies, with the able assistance of Derek Tague. Over the years several awards have been created to honor current contributors to various aspects of old-time radio. Awards are named to honor the memories of people dear to the hearts of OTR people in general, and the Cincinnati Convention in particular.
The Parley Baer Award is given to a person instrumental in preserving and enjoying Old-time Radio. The 2008 winner was John D. Rayburn, headline guest of the Convention. The Dave Warren Award is given each year to honor amateurs in the hobby, as typified by the tireless efforts of Dave Warren, who contributed immeasurably to the Convention year after year. Derek Tague spoke movingly about Dave Warren. The 2008 winner was John Rayburn.
The Ezra Stone/Willard Waterman Award is presented annually to honor “efforts in the preservation of Old-time Radio.” This year two Stone/Waterman awards were given. The first 2008 winner is Fred Berney, who has been instrumental in preserving the history of OTR by transcribing and recording shows. He has likewise filmed both the Cincinnati convention and the FOTR convention in Newark, year after year.
The second 2008 Stone/Waterman award was awarded to the Radio Researchers Group, whose efforts are widely represented and greatly appreciated. The Group sponsored this Convention. The award was accepted for the Group by Ryan Ellett.
Thus did the curtain ring down on Cincinnati 2008. The jaunty piano renditions of Esther Geddes and the lively voices of the script readers were still ringing in our ears as we exited the hall. Too early to finish up, was the feeling among many attendees. And so, the mingling continued in the lobby, where chairs were pulled up, and any number of kind and gentle people sat and talked till all hours.