Monday, November 30, 2020

REMEMBERING CHARLIE SUMMERS (1956 – 2020)

Charles F. Summers, III, age 64, of York, Pennsylvania, died peacefully on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg. Known by family and friends as Chuck or Charlie, he worked for many years as an equipment operator for the York City Parks Department. He also owned and operated his own computer IT business and was the administrator of the Old-Time Radio DigestAt a time when the hobby needed communications and a transition to new collectors in the digital age, who was there? Charlie. He filled the need when others did not, would not, or could not even detect that there was a need. Remember radio scribe Elliott Lewis once had a coffee mug that said, "Where were you when the page was blank?" It was Charlie who picked up the baton when no one else did. That is the legacy he left behind. 

Charlie was a great guy and a technical and digital pillar in the hobby of old-time radio. In the late 1990s and the turn of the new century, everyone in the hobby heard of Charlie Summers before they met him. And that was the irony that we later found out. Whether you knew Charlie Summers as the administrator of the OTR Digest or the coffee drinker who hung out at old-time radio conventions, we all benefited from his contributions.  

In 1998, Charlie created the Old Radio Digest (which would be affectionately known as the OTR Digest  and the OTR Roundtable), a listserv providing Internet users with a platform to communicate and exchange information regarding old-time radio programs. Primitive as "listserv" and dial-up may seem in today’s social media world, this was difficult and dedicated work. Charlie confessed once that the internet served as a communication medium for personal relationships, which meant everyone with an opinion was bound to be more critical than praising. Such criticisms could be detrimental to the hobby so the role of an administrator meant extinguishing fires and serving as both judge and jury – which was bound to disappoint many users over the years and Charlie, sadly, took the heat by virtue of office. 

Through the OTR Digest, fans of vintage radio programs who had access to the Internet were able to learn about clubs, newsletters, fanzines, the discovery of lost radio programs, and get contact information for collectors who bought, sold, and traded old-time radio. When Bill Pfeiffer, the maintainer of old.time.radio Digest, died as a result of an auto accident in September 1999, a number of people cooperated to move the Digest to Charlie’s personal website. He reveled in the joy of old-time radio, and it was his desire to use the Internet to expose old-time radio to the masses.

In an era before Facebook and Yahoo Groups even existed, the OTR Digest was the most popular discussion platform for anything related to old-time radio. Subscribers shared information and opinions, reviews and the latest news from the hobby. The OTR Digest is credited for having contributed to the ongoing success of the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention and the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention. It was in the OTRDigest that people learned about the annual fan gatherings, OTR clubs, newsletters, and discoveries from radio’s Golden Age, thus widening the perspective of the hobby itself.


Hal Stone (left) and Charlie Summers (right)

Charlie began listening to and collecting old-time radio in the late 1960s. He grew up watching 1960s television (especially Star Trek), relished the 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, enjoyed listening to The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, shared a deep appreciation for independent coffee shops, considered himself a guru with computers, disliked blog spammers, and embraced the prose of radio commentator Bob Edwards. For years Charlie insisted he maintained the largest collection of Bob Edwards radio broadcasts in the United States. There is no reason to doubt his claim.


It was his presence at the annual fan gatherings where we all came to know the “ol’ curmudgeon” as he often referred to himself. With a jovial wit, wicked sense of humor and infectious laugh, no one could resist the charms of Charlie Summers. At one of the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Conventions, Charlie bragged that he knew every George Carlin routine by heart and when challenged to recite one verbatim, he did so flawlessly. As a frequent attendee at old-time radio conventions, Charlie became good friends with radio actors Harry Bartell and particularly Hal Stone, with whom he formed a close bond. For years Charlie debated going to conventions after the untimely death of Stone, questioning whether it was worth the travel to visit a hotel empty on friendship, in what he once remarked, “resembled a mausoleum.” But Charlie still went to conventions afterwards to see his friends and share some laughs.


For many years, at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention, Charlie could be found in the panels/seminar room handling the camera equipment to capture the events for preservation. More than once, he dismissed the notion that anything he did for the hobby was monumental, firmly believing that acting as an administrator for the Digest was merely a laborious, but happy, job. His work was acknowledged on more than one occasion as a recipient of both the Parley E. Baer Award and the Allen Rockford Award. But no greater acknowledgement can one bestow Charlie Summers than one particular year when he paid a visit to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. “We decided to have lunch together,” recalled Fred Berney. “Just walking from the dealer’s room to the hotel’s restaurant he was stopped by a number of people who treated him like a celebrity. I doubt if there are too many people in the OTR hobby who didn’t know the name Charlie Summers.”


Anyone who knew Charlie personally would attest that old-time radio came third in his list of accomplishments. His wife, Annie, and his daughter, Katie, were the center of his world. Annie was the handlebars to his bike and Katie was their proudest accomplishment. Together with his daughter they co-hosted their own Internet radio program and contributed entries for Radio Rides the Range (2014, McFarland Publishing).


For Charlie, the computer and the Internet was his universe. The brightest star in the digital sky may be gone forever, but his efforts to widen our perspective will never be forgotten. The Old Radio Digest was his legacy to the hobby, and we will forever be grateful.

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Vintage Christmas Music You May Have Never Heard

Any flat disc record, made between (circa) 1898 and 1959 and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is referred to today by collectors as a "78." The materials of which these discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the most common of materials. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (which is why collectors also refer to them as shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited (used for the war cause), many 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac.

In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. It played for about 20 minutes per side. Then came the battle of the speeds. RCA in 1949 began offering records (and record players) that played at 45 revolutions per minute.

If asked how much these discs are worth, there really is no set guide to determine the value. Anyone with the correct record player can play these recordings and they are a dime a dozen at antique fairs and eBay.

After two months of cataloging more than 3,000 of the old 33s, 45s and 78s to CD format, and separating those with a holiday theme, I loaded more than 300 Christmas songs onto a streaming playlist for you to enjoy. In the spirit of of mixtape from years gone by, I found a modern way to bring these songs to the masses for the holiday season, without having to burn hundreds of CDs. 

If you are like me, every holiday you tune to a local radio station that traditionally plays the same Christmas songs over and over and over... and yeah, it gets tedious hearing the same recordings every year. Christmas is a time to establish a fond look back through nostalgic vocals and my frustration grows knowing that Gene Autry's rendition of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby's White Christmas is going to play on rotation... again and again.

What you will hear on this streaming radio station (accessible with a simple click of a button on your computer, iPad, tablet, iPhone, etc.) are vintage Christmas offerings all dated pre-1960 and chances are you haven't heard these renditions. Examples include:

I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas (1954, Betty Johnson)
Frosty the Snowman (1950, Guy Lombaro and his Orchestra)
Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop (1954, Art Carney)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Mae Questel as Betty Boop)
All Around the Christmas Tree (1940, Raymond Scott and his New Orchestra)
Barnyard Christmas (1952, Spike Jones and The Bell Sisters)
The Birthday of a King (1949, Judy Garland)
Jingle Bells (1935, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra)
It Happened in Sun Valley (1941, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra)
Christmas in Killarney (1950, Dennis Day with The Mellowmen)
The First Noel (1942, Nelson Eddy and Robert Armbruster's Orchestra)
Let's Start the New Year Right (1942, Bing Crosby)
Hello, Mr. Kringle (1939, Kay Kyser)
Jingle Bells (1934, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, and Harriet Hilliard)
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (1949, Danny Kaye and Patty Andrews)
Yah, Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree (1953, Mel Blanc)
Silent Night (1921, Florence Easton)
Silver Bells (1938, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys)
Christmas on the Plains (1949, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans)
The Night Before Christmas (1952, Gene Autry and Rosemary Clooney)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (1938, Frances Langford)
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (1950, Patti Page)
Happy Little Christmas Friend (1953, Rosemary Clooney)
Ol' Saint Nicholas (1949, Doris Day)
A Ride in Santa's Sleigh (1953, Judy Valentine)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934, Harry Reser)
Santa Claus is on His Way (1941, Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra)
Silent Night (1940, Kate Smith)
Suzy Snowflake (1951, Rosemary Clooney)
Auld Lang Syne (1939, Erwin Bendel with Tiny Till and his Orchestra)
Baby, It's Cold Outside (1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan)
Christmas Day (1952, Eddie Fisher)
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (1941, Dick Roberston)
Merry Christmas Polka (1949, Guy Lombardo and The Andrews Sisters)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1947, Eddy Howard)
Five Pound Box of Money (1959, Pearl Bailey)
The Man with the Whiskers (1938, Hoosier Hot Shots)
March of the Toys (1939, Tommy Dorsey)
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (1938, Kenny Baker)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Russ Morgan)
The Kissing Bridge (1953, The Fontane Sisters and Perry Como)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952, Molly Bee)
Here Comes Santa Claus (1949, Doris Day)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1955, The Mills Brothers)
Little Sandy Sleighfoot (1957, Jimmy Dean)
The Man with the Bag (1950, Kay Starr)
Merry Christmas Waltz (1949, Gordon MacRae)
Christmas Alphabet (1954, The McGuire Sisters)
Let It Snow, Let It Snow (1946, Bob Crosby)
I Saw Mommy do the Mombo (1954, Jimmy Boyd)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1948, Primo Scala and The Keynotes)
My Christmas Song for You (1945, Hoagy Carmichael and Martha Mears)
Christmas Night in Harlem (1934, Todd Rollins and his Orchestra)

Among the highlights you will hear "I Want a Television Christmas" by Mindy Carson (which happens to be a 1949 RCA sales promo), the 1953 Christmas Dragnet spoof with Daws Butler and Stan Freberg, a 1953 commercial recording of Amos and Andy's popular "The Lord's Prayer," Basil Rathbone narrating a musical rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1942), Bing Crosby's 1942 version of "White Christmas" (not the 1947 re-recording you commonly hear on radio today), Jerry Colonna's 1953 take on "Too Fat for the Chimney," the 1934 version of "Winter Wonderland" performed by Richard Himber (the first recording ever made of that song), and other rarities.

Of the 300 plus recordings, you will no doubt hear the same song (such as "Winter Wonderland" and "The First Noel") performed multiple times but each rendition with a different singer.  

Many familiar songs but with unfamiliar renditions from your favorite singers. (Believe me, I will have this radio station playing all day at home, and streaming through my iPhone when I travel during the holiday season.) I hope this musical yule log not only suits your palate, but many of these songs become a favorite of yours. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

THE HOLLY JOLLY HARDCOVER

Great out the candy canes! If you are looking for something to read this holiday, check out Mark Voger's hardcover book, Holly Jolly, recently published. This is a 192-page full-color glossy book covering so many aspects of Christmas from the by-gone era as it pertains to retro pop culture. 

As described by the official press release, "Holly Jolly is a colorful sleigh ride through the history of Christmas, from its religious origins to its emergence as a multimedia phenomenon." In short, the book covers LP records, old 78 releases, Christmas comic books, children's books, vintage toys, advertisements, and the history behind them. The section about 1950s silver aluminum trees was fascinating and I never realized Santa was a superhero in a healthy run of comic books. Sample pages can be found below but you can also find more samples from the link below, where you can also place an order. Mark Voger wrote two other appreciations, Groovy and Monster Mash, which also come with my recommendation.






Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Bear Manor Media Holiday Sale

For anyone who is not familiar with Bear Manor Media, the publishing house responsible for probably more books about retro television, classic Hollywood, celebrity biographies and old-time radio than any other publishing company, you may want to check out their website at www.BearManorMedia.com

The publishing company has a 25 percent off sale going on right now which is applied automatically during checkout. Even if you cannot purchase books right now, browsing their website is like window shopping at your favorite book store. But with winter coming, who couldn't use a few books stacked to the side to read on a cold winter night?