ON THE OTR CONVENTION CIRCUIT
by Melanie Aultman © 2009
(From Radio Recall, June 2009)
The Cincinnati OTR and Nostalgia Convention, April 24-25, had a new look this year with the closing of the Cincinnati North Hotel. Organizer Bob Burchett scrambled to move operations to the nearby Lexington Hotel, which, within a few weeks had changed names and became the Atrium!
Thanks to a good networking system and GPSs, attendees began converging as early as Wednesday night. Thursday arrivals picked up, as dealers set up and reconnected with one another.
With The Atrium clearly in transitional mode, some OTR fans endured a variety of inconveniences. Others experienced newly refurbished rooms. Staff did seem anxious to please, and responded quickly to any concerns. Ice machines are many and vending machines provide drinks and snacks. A business center sports two computers with free internet access 24/7. A hot tub and pool are in a large area for socializing. The morning’s included continental breakfast there. For lunch, everyone investigated surrounding restaurants, as the Atrium has none.
Friday morning found birthday girl Lennell Herbert-Marshall of MWROTC and LaDonna Kramer staffing the registration table and selling raffle tickets. The dealer’s room was ample, and provided for more opportunities to mingle. Neil Ellis conducted various interviews for yesterdayusa.com from there.
Martin Grams, Jr. kicked things off with a Radio in Film program which included some BW shorts and color cartoons. The Three Stooges’ Micro-Phonies and Bob Hope’s Watch the Birdie concluded this entertaining presentation.
This year’s presenter for the Old Time Radio Researchers group, Doug Hopkinson from Chicago, spoke next about recent activity involving the San Francisco originated show Cecil and Sally. He was assisted by Ryan Ellett. Larry Hirsh enlightened the group on recent developments in the OTRR website offerings and how to navigate them. Though well received and attended, these panels needed a larger space with more chairs, as not all who wanted to, could fit in the room.
Afternoon auditions gave all comers an opportunity to be cast in a re-creation. Looked forward to, this is part of the charm and appeal of the Cincy convention for many. Some “amateurs” have actually become regulars.
Friday night Don Ramlow directed Bob Hastings and Esther Geddes in The Bickersons, followed by a Bergen/McCarthy bit. Esther’s impromptu recitation of a Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam Magee,” was followed by a Suspense starring Eddie Carroll as Jack Benny.
Saturday morning, Charlie Summers, ably assisted by daughter Katie, hosted an informal gathering of a SRO crowd to interview Eddie Carroll. Questions rotated between audience and moderators and included such topics as how Eddie became the voice of Jiminy Cricket and how the quality of his one man tribute to Jack Benny won over Jack’s daughter, Joan. [A “for donation” DVD of this panel is available from organizer Bob Burchett, 10280 Gunpowder Rd, Florence, KY 41042.]
In the afternoon, OTR fans enjoyed re-creations of Richard Diamond and Part 1 of The Saint followed by the always popular raffle drawings. Saturday night’s catered buffet was served quickly, but with AC on the fritz, a “hot time” was literally had by all. Kalamazoo-based All Ears Theater presented an excellent original production to fill a void created by the cancellation of Ed Clute’s sing-a-long. Part 2 of The Saint followed, the evening’s entertainment concluding with a Jack Benny Show.
Charlie Summers picked up a previously won Parley Baer award. This year’s nod went to Neil Ellis. Stephen Jansen received the Dave Warren, and the Ezra Stone-Willard Waterman honor went to Mary Ramlow and Eddie Carroll. Peyton Powell, who followed up last year’s successful “crow” with a great “Rochester,” expressed his love for the hobby and thanked all involved.
Informal visiting went on into the night, some already planning CincyCon 2010. Next stop in the OTR circuit .......
The SPERDVAC convention, held in Los Angeles May 1-3, also had a new location - the Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn. Reports were favorable as to accommodations, food and quality of staff. There is a gift shop, pool and gathering area, restaurant, and free internet access.
Panels were conducted in a comfortable “theater.” Friday afternoon’s Author’s Panel participants all interviewed each other. Though there was no dealer’s room (a long-standing prohibition) some books were available for signing. Martin Grams, Jr. gave a very interesting talk about The Green Hornet.
Afternoon activities included a Bickersons re-creation and the presentation of a documentary Eleanor Vallee narrated about her husband, Rudy. She even brought his original megaphone!
As always, it was a pleasure to see so many honorary members. Those who couldn’t come expressed their thanks for being thought of and invited. More volunteers to transport them would be a big help.
One who did make it, organist Bob Mitchell, performed for the I Love a Mystery re-creation which was next. Following a happy hour and raffles were The Great Gildersleeve and a Maxwell House Coffee Time starring George Burns and Gracie Allen with special guest Star Jack Benny.
Saturday conventioneers could attend panels on The Lux Radio Theater, Radio Bloopers and Out Takes, I Love a Mystery, Talk Radio and Singers.
Afternoon re-creations were Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders and The Life of Riley. Evening performances were: Dragnet (60th Anniversary), The Lux Radio Theatre (75th Anniversary) with “Casablanca”, and The Baby Snooks Show.
“From Radio to Cartoons” followed breakfast Sunday morning, and folks begin heading for home, all hoping there would be a SPERDVAC convention 2010. Despite some acrimony, many dedicated people worked very hard to make this convention happen. With declining chances to visit with and honor OTR’s original movers and shakers, it would be a shame to let this gathering languish.
While each OTR convention retains a certain “flavor” all its own, those who have had an opportunity to experience more than one will note a strong love for and dedication to the hobby at each venue, particularly as numbers lower due to economic and other reasons. Convention organizers have gone “above and beyond,” and while purists will note an increasing TV presence, there is still much to laud. Let’s all do what we can to keep the hobby afloat.