I just returned from a three-day old-time radio event known as the REPS (Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound) Showcase, held in Seattle, Washington. I look forward to this event every year in June. I give my time and efforts by preparing and directing recreations of classic radio shows for those fans in attendance and in return I get to feed my creative beast.
Among the things not to be neglected are the expressions that have been forthright and persistent in American history, expressions in which the common person is recognized; Walt Whitman’s sense of the importance of the individual.
He’s got a poem in “Leaves of Grass,” the sense of which is: the president is there in the White House for you, not you here for him.
It’s a poem that expresses the value and the almost sacred obligation to recognize, to give dignity to the individual. After all, nature does. Nature respects us.
There are billions of people on this globe. Think of it. No two of them have the same thumbprint.
My kind of radio is that which takes into account the intelligence of my audience. I do not believe in talking down. I also brought to the microphone my concerns; my feeling about society; my feeling about war and peace; my feeling about man as a species that is developing and for which we cherish hopes, frequently dashed, as they are at the moment. Certainly long delayed. We’re not speaking too long after the terrible event of September 11, 2001.
I really believe that had the great poets of yore been around today, or men of their caliber, they would opt for radio because radio is a medium that sets up the listener as a collaborator. Whereas television, which is by far the richest and more potent medium today, is very literal. Radio demands, requires the collaboration, just as a good book does: the collaboration being between the writer and the reader. Here it is between the writer and the listener.
What radio has the capacity to offer is an embellishment, is thoughtfulness, is an opportunity to express concepts, to witness a war, to comment upon its ramifications, its progress, its justice or injustice, its horror, its goals, with something approaching dignified language. I don’t mean that in the sense of starchy or high falutin,’ but something that is not a gutter, something that is more than a gut reaction.
Some day I hope that there will be enough of an audience so that radio, as you and I know it, can be revitalized, can return. It exists in small measure now. That kind of radio has retreated to higher ground, [at] work that is done by dramatists who are broadcast by NPR, by PRI. Public radio is the high ground.
My last six programs, done with the help and inspiration of Mary Beth Kirchner, were broadcast nationally and they enjoyed the kind of freedom that I had in the days of Bill Paley and Bill Lewis. They had pretty good audiences. I was surprised by the number of people who spent money to acquire cassettes of some of those programs. So it is not as though we’re talking about an extinct form of broadcasting.
I believe in promises, just a promise. Once we give up the sense of promise, we’re finished. I think that the future beckons us, that there’s a lot of work to be done. Right now, there’s cleaning up to do. The business of purging this world of the menace of sneaky cowardly, vicious, savage terror. I’m talking about anthrax and all of the goodies that appeal to the terrorist.
But any species that can weigh the very earth he’s standing on, that can receive and analyze light coming from a galaxy a billion light years distant from us, any species that can produce a Beethoven and a Mozart and a Shakespeare, and the extraordinary accomplishments of our species, sciences and in medicine and in the humanities, has an illimitable opportunity for promises to be delivered and met.
It’s the “now” that I wish to speak about…
beard works on a fishing boat… then… somehow he also saves a school bus from sinking and… then he’s in a costume (no beard) but under arrest and tells the woman that the letter “S” on his chest means “hope”… but the wise-ass woman deadpans that here it is just an “S.”
On May 19,2013 I was fortunate to be among the attendees honoring Frank Bresee and his wonderful wife Bobbie on the occasion of the generous donation of his vast personal collection of radio memorabilia to the American Radio Archives housed at the Thousand Oaks Library in Thousand Oaks, California. It is the same location that houses the collection of Norman Corwin as well as those of Rudy Vallee, Red Skelton, Carlton E. Morse, radio station KNX, and the Pacific Pioneers Broadcasters, to name only a handful.
First, it’s important to explain just who Frank Bresee is and why he is especially important to me.
When I was around ten years old my mother introduced me to the world of Old Time Radio with LP records and cassettes of some classic radio shows such as Jack Benny, Abbott & Costello, Lights Out, and The Shadow. I was hooked!
One year for my birthday I got a cassette called The Golden Days of Radio. It was hosted by Frank Bresee, and this episode featured highlights from radio comedy shows. For the first time ever, I heard Amos ‘n Andy, Lum ‘n Abner, The Easy Aces, Baby Snooks, Lucille Ball in My Favorite Husband, and much more. I wore the tape out! Later I discovered that Frank had hosted this radio series since the 1950s—including a phenomenal 29-year run over Armed Forces Radio (1967-1996). In fact, the show still airs over YesterdayUSA.com, a streaming Internet-based radio station.
You see, Frank’s voice had introduced me these radio comedies and fueled my interest in this mostly-forgotten epoch in entertainment. So, many years later, when I got to meet him in person, I was a bit star-struck. That’s unusual for me, actually. It must have been a deeply buried feeling of gratitude that welled up in me when I met him. He is the nicest of men and thoroughly a class act. On the occasions I have interacted with his beautiful wife Bobbie Bresee, I am charmed beyond measure.
Now about “Radio’s Oscar.” A few years ago I was visiting Frank at his Hancock Park home in Los Angeles and got a tour of his studio used for interviewing many of the legends of the Golden Age of Radio, the home theater his the basement where he and Monty Hall created “Let’s Make A Deal,” and the famous blackboard with signatures of many Hollywood luminaries who had visited and hung out, among them: Elvis Presley and Natalie Wood. But what I most remember about that visit was something I saw at the foot of the stairs leading to the basement. It was a strange metal device with a curved bar across the top. It was called, Frank explained to me with a gleam in his eye, “Radio’s Oscar.” It was created especially for Cecil B. DeMille to use on the “Lux Radio Theater,” broadcast every week from what is now the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood.
The strange apparatus was placed directly underneath the hanging microphone poised to instantly transmit the actor’s voices nationwide as
they guest starred on this high-rated series. The stars of these weekly adaptations of movie scripts were, naturally, movie stars. Some of them were terribly nervous about radio’s live quality and zero chance to redo a line or a scene. Additionally, the theater was packed with a live audience! The pressure caused actors and actresses to wander off-mike (too far away from the microphone) or worse, move in too close! So DeMille, the story goes, had this metal stand built and placed directly under the microphone thus keeping the actors at the proper distance from the microphone and give them something to hold on to! Bette Davis was known to grip the curved handle while giving a performance. Frank showed me a photo of Cary Grant at its side during a Lux rehearsal. Frank Bresee rescued this treasure of broadcasting history when he discovered that no one remembered or knew what it was used for and, during a period when a lot of history was trashed in Hollywood, it was relegated to the trash—literally in the studio dumpster. A tipoff to Frank and he saved the day!
All thanks to Frank Bresee.
I’m just saying…