Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Two Thanks

Two of the blogosphere have bathed your chronicler in kindness in recent weeks, and the return favour is slightly overdue.

Bather number one is Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. the author-proprietor of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, in which he affords equal shrift to vintage radio and television with equivalent affection and wit. He is also adept at culling genuinely forgotten veins, sifting between what deserved forgetting and what deserved remembering but deploying verve and not vitriol:

(The Doris Day Show)'s fourth season attempted to copy the single working gal concept popularized the year before by The Mary Tyler Moore Show--—so in order to do the same for Doris they had to make her single, too . . . and did so by rubbing out both of her kids and then administering a series of mind control experiments in which she forgot she had them. (You think I’m making this up, don’t you? It’s true—--those damn kids were never mentioned or heard from again. They’re probably pictures on milk cartons now, for all I know.) Poor Doris…season by season, her father . . . her kids . . . her friends…all of them disappeared.

---From "What a Difference a Day Makes," 4 December 2006.

Mr. Shreve did what some Happy Days fans (himself included, perhaps) might have thought impossible: with one swell foop (thank you, Mrs. Ace) he found that which out-grotesques Happy Days's whacking and disappearing eldest son Chuck Cunningham without even a DNA print to trace him. (Mr. Shreve has yet to exhume any suggestion that Chuck Cunningham ran secretly in circles squared by Jimmy Hoffa, but this is television, of course . . . )

He is no less affectionate to classic radio and strains to kindness toward the oftentimes horrible takes given some radio vintages on film. "Darkness, death, and dementia!", 3 December 2006, is a genteel re-examination of films derived from The Inner Sanctum, some of which actually prove on fresh viewings to have afforded more respect to their radio root than critics over time have allowed.

Mr. Shreve and I have had an occasional point of dispute but he is, on the evidence, one of those gentlemen to whom the occasional dispute enhances rather than emaciates the fellowship. Enough to the point that it would probably be some enchanted evening to break out the bourbon, light up, and swap good talk, soundtracked perhaps by Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman as any one of their vintage radio performances presented them---spiked with Fred Allen.

Which turns me to my second bather in kindness, a British gentleman naming himself after the Sage of Summerfield Himself and exercising a pleasant stream of commentary running the spread from British media today to British broadcasting from era to age and back, with sprinklings enough that it isn't just we Americans who savour our vintage radio. (And, in fairness, it isn't just he and his fellow Britons who savour England's vintages, too.)

Exactly why he chose the URL name of "ragtag" escapes, because Random Jottings of Gildersleeve is as anti-ragtag as a niche blog can become. He instructs, he delights, and he thinks aloud in unpretentious terms. He ponders the prospective mischief and majesty alike in such developments as British radio making room for "Smooth FM" (8 December 2006) while not entirely certain what does or doesn't constitute "easy listening"; he laments whether listeners today would get Fred Allen's topicality. (Hint: They would, if you consider that the topic isn't necessarily the thing above and beyond what it inspires. Especially when the topic is the reductionism toward which classic radio seemed to turn, heavily enough, during Mr. Allen's final three or four years as a host in his own right.)

Radio will tell you and pay tribute to many artists alongside today's performers and say about their place in musical history but then rarely play anything by them. Of course you have to promote and bring on new talent but there has to be room to appreciate the great performances of the past.

---From "Like a Virgin," 4 December 2006.

If you can argue with such as that, you're a better manperson than I, Gunga Din.

I really do believe that radio entertainment could've survived alongside television if the broadcasters and commercial companies could've stayed with the medium and had looked further ahead, he writes in his 9 December entry. Big "if," bearing in mind a few admonitions from the period in which classic radio's burial was no longer a question of "if" but "when."

[B]e mediocre . . . safe, routine, unspectacular . . . be willing to curb your imagination. [Radio now] is a trade outlet, not an art; it's a living.

---Norman Corwin, in The Writer, 1951.

---By 1948, critics had begun to despair of the creeping grayness that pervaded much of radio, and left it ripe for television's takeover. Suddenly it seemed that everybody was piling on. John Crosby expressed a growing exasperation when he wrote, "Radio's social position remains low---lower even than the movies, which is about as far down as the social ladder goes." James T. Farrell accused radio of producing a "counterfeit" mass culture and of siphoning off "a large portion of the literary talent in America" to produce soaps and sitcoms, a charge long leveled against movies and TV. Ring Lardner's radio columns in The New Yorker, often written from a hospital bed, regularly ridiculed radio's worst excesses.

---Gerald S. Nachman, Raised on Radio.

Radio is no longer guided by research; it's enslaved by it . . . It has always seemed to me an imposition on the listeners to determine what is broadcast. The responsibility of providing good radio programs belongs to the professionals in the industry, not the amateurs outside it. No amount of slavish obesiance to public taste and no amount of complicated machinery will produce a good radio program or even a popular radio program.

---John Crosby, "Research and Hysteria," New York Herald-Tribune, 16 December 1947.

Now take the rating system. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard of. What do you think would happen if a drama critic said Finian's Rainbow was a good, solid 10.4?

---Goodman Ace, to Time, 8 September 1947.

I hope the fine won't be too expensive . . .


Blogger The Great Gildersleeve said...

This blog is a labour of love and your being able to dig out appropriate quotes and information and put it in context is a joy.

Do you think that radio had really become tired or that television being the new medium and probably offering more money to performers and broadcasters asking for more money from commercials took the best of Radio's talent away?

Or in those early days as television started were those working in the new medium earning less than we suppose because it still had to establish itself?

Did radio become complacent believing it was invincible.

In the UK if it wasn't for the BBC's Radio 4 there is little if any Drama or comedy output but that has reduced over the years and yet BBC7 a digital radio service that plays repeats of recent Radio 4 productions mixed with BBC programmes that have remained on the shelves for years is the most popular digital radio station in the UK.

But then we come down to the problems of programmes not cared for, mis-labelled, lost or incomplete series and whether performers/writers will release the material for rebroadcast and yet nowhere else is available to play the older material.

And though some people have suggested that some of the American OTR should share this station some people get very snob like at the thought that US radio be heard, they want to keep it British.

They even forget the idea that BBC7 is to play archive recordings and if music is included that again can get listeners worked up.

I see no problem if you are playing a variety programme or are trying to show performers doing the acts that made them famous. The format of some light entertainment in the UK in the 50's often used have approx 12 minutes of comedy, a musical act singing a song then back to the comedy, I suspect some listeners get worked up even to hear that one song.

And I haven't even come to the fact that BBC7 worried by the broadcast regulator or reaction of some listeners(possibly even due to political correctness)have had some one either pull an odd programme or take the scissors and snip a couple of words out.

And yes, even announce before a programme "This was produced in less enlightened times"

6:08 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

To answer you honestly, I'm still trying to figure out such questions as whether radio in the classic period became too tired or too complacent. One moment I think that maybe it did become too tired (or at least too smugly pandering, if you ponder, for example, the rise in the 1940s of the ballyhooing giveaway shows and programming of similar pandering---though one or two of those shows were actually very amusing); the next moment, I think that it was complacency more than exhaustion; the next moment, I'm not entirely sure what to think. Television may only have been part of the deeper problem for all I know (and still try to determine), though I think it was only when advertisers began to realise television wasn't just a neat new novelty that the money began to roll to a point where performers and writers and others making a program work, who proved themselves in television work, began to taste the greater fruits of television.

(Don't discount, too, what the early television stars meant toward making television an affordable new toy for most people---pretty much like any new technology, television as a consumer product was somewhat prohibitive in cost until it proved its popularity and, concurrently, came to where just about anyone could afford to buy a set. Depending on your point of view, we have among others Milton Berle to thank or to blame.)

But I ponder, too, another factor. I ponder, at least speaking of my own country. I ponder whether we didn't grow up too fast, whether we didn't come to a point where we became so sure of ourselves for advancing and growing and developing and creating that, somewhere in there, we didn't think about stopping long enough to savour what we already had long enough. I don't suggest we should stop advancing, growing, developing, and creating, but I do wonder if maybe we need to re-teach ourselves how to cherish what we have when we have it, the better perhaps to do it better when it does come time to advance, grow, develop, and create all over again. Maybe radio grew up too fast. Maybe after the classic period ended (there seems debate still over just when, in the U.S., though many I've seen cite the final broadcast of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in 1962), radio became as confused, clumsy, and even self-destructive as the child who was so desperate to reach and dive into his adulthood that he awoke in middle age, after a hash of confusion, clumsiness, and even self-destruction, to wonder where it went and how it went so fast, spending long hours re-teaching himself to cherish what he had all over again, the better to make the second half of his life a damned sight better than the first.

And maybe the survival of so many classic radio shows, for generations not even alive when they were first written, performed, and broadcast, will prove to mean something far, far more than just a sweet nostalgia or a fun way to dig into life before those generations' times, after all. The prospects and possibilities, some of which you adduce in your charming reply, would seem to be limitless. (Just don't get me started on political correctness! ;) ) If we're willing this time to accept them without failing to cherish them when we have them.

6:48 PM  

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