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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This Day in Network Radio: A Daily Calendar of Births, Deaths, Debuts, Cancellations and Other Events in Broadcasting History
by Jim Cox
McFarland and Co., 2008. 251p., index, bibliography. $49.95. http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Reviewed by Mark Anderson
(From Radio Recall, February 2009)
Reference books love company. It’s great to see a shelf of books, shoulder to shoulder, slowly marching their way through a subject. Now, with this new book, Jim Cox and his formidable team of researchers take a look at the broadcast industry through another format, the calendar.
If Cox were a rhythm-and-blues man, this title would be his band’s collection of B-sides. Let me hasten to add that such collections are revered; they are the quirky, lesser-known pieces where the musician goes deep and the hooks are not readily discernible. And the music invariably whets your appetite for more. May not the same be said of certain volumes of the printed word?
As Mr. Cox anticipates in his preface, I read this book cover-to-cover, just not in that order. This is a book meant for dipping into, flipping pages, and following threads. First, my birthday, and then a day in winter, then a holiday, and so forth. Sometimes I struck gold; other times, I found information of a lesser note. But the key to this type of book is this – I kept reading.
The writing style has been adapted nicely to the short entry, citation format. Cox prefaces this, too, as lending immediacy and saving space. Not only the staccato rhythm of the words, but the wise-guy vocabulary evokes old-style newsroom transmissions, like waiting for information coming in over a teletype.
Some old-style metaphors, to wit: “tickling the ivories”; “moniker”; many things get “nixed”; “outfit” (as in a “Shakespearean repertory outfit”, p.91!); “wordsmith”; “halcyon days”; “primetime crimetime to drainboard daytime drama”(poor Agnes Moorehead! p.221); lots of combinations of “ether” and “aural”. Some of this made me wince, but it works. So shall we forgive the note that a fellow’s career started as “launched ethereal duties….”?! I think not, even if it was Washington’s own Eddie Gallaher!
Whatever approach you choose, pay attention first to the glossary items in the Preface and Jan. 1 of the Calendar (p.3-5). This information and abbreviations will help you jump in. The Sound Bites themselves make up a neat little history of broadcasting. Some favorites: January 1; May 10; May 23; August 16; October 1; December 9; December 18.
One cold afternoon in November I decided to warm up by reading the entire month of August. From the Sound Bite of Aug. 15 I was heading for August 16 when I read among the August 15 Deaths: “Will Rogers, Aug. 15, 1935, Point Barrow, Alaska.” A stark notice, indeed, since I had read elsewhere years ago that he died in a plane crash. So I went on a Will Rogers thread, flipping to Nov. 4, since “b. Nov.4, 1879” was included. Thus did I find a nice entry for my favorite “cowboy laureate.” This is just one of the fortunes of reading, since Rogers is not indexed. The Index remains extensive, though, good entries for people and shows. One way or another you will find items of interest.
I paused also for a lingering thought about death, or, any of the 868 Deaths included. Probably not all were peaceful and at home. A startling example would be Don Hollenbeck, about whom I knew nothing. His death is noted, June 22, 1954. The expansive and disturbing entry for him (b. March30) reveals his broadcast work in the McCarthy era, and his suicide.
Readers will find their own treasures and surprises. It is a tribute to the Cox Team that the book includes, among others, band leaders, announcers, writers, producers, and stock actors. This lends to the work, letting us know how so many people could cobble together a living in broadcasting. And, don’t forget the Bibliography, p. 237-239, web-sites included. You will be turning to those pages again and again.
Cox’s book will earn its spot on the reference shelf. However, at an eye-popping $49.95, a trip to a well-stocked library might be an alternative.