Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Passing of Two OTR Legends

One hell of a way to start the new year, or any new year... On the morning of January 2, we lost two legends who practically changed the landscape of the hobby of old-time radio: Bob Burchett and Frank Buxton. While we spend hundreds of hours a year listening to old-time radio recordings, and reading magazine articles and scholarly journals, we often forget the trendsetters of the times who made the hobby what it is today. 

Bob Burchett at the Cincinnati OTR Convention
Bob Burchett was a guiding light in the hobby and as Rodney Bowcock so aptly mentioned on Facebook: "Bob was never afraid to take the initiative and do things himself. He wanted a convention in Cincinnati? He got some folks together and started one. Someone wanted to form a club where members could trade shows? He started Hello Again Radio. Fan magazines drying up? No reason not to keep printing The Old Time Radio Digest. He did that for years."

Bob Burnham of BRC Broadcast Services recalled the time Burchett, inspired by a recent visit to the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention in Newark, New Jersey, wanted to replicate the same in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Bob called me up outta the blue and said, 'If he put on a convention in Cincinnati, would ya come?' Cincy is only about a five hour drive from Detroit and that would begin the first of my many treks to Cincy. I only missed one or two out of a couple decades worth. The last one, I think, was 2012. Bob seemed in good health and his usual upbeat spirit that made those trips so much fun. In 2006, he presented me with the Stone-Waterman Award basically for my efforts and support. But the award should go to him, and I believe he did get one in Newark."

Bob Burchett played a larger role than most people in the hobby know. He was, for many years, the official photographer of the Friends of Old-Time Radio convention, preserving the image of fans meeting their idols such as Jackson Beck, Fred Foy, Carlton E. Morse, and the great Hildegarde. Few photos can be found of Burchett at those early convention years because Bob was behind the camera, not in front. And he tended to forget to have his own photo taken with the legends. For decades he maintained a bi-monthly magazine devoted solely to old-time radio, The Old Time Radio Digest. Those early issues are gems and Bob was responsible for selecting articles with meat and substance. Some of the earliest documented findings of Duffy's Tavern, Suspense, The Adventures of Superman and The Great Gildersleeve can be found within the pages. He was blessed to meet Ezra Stone and help preserve Stone's legacy as the Henry Aldrich of radio fame. In recent years he was also the editor of the OTRR magazine, reporting of recent discoveries from archival finds.

"Bob was the moving force behind the Cincinnati radio conventions," recalled Terry Salomonson. "I attended every one of the conventions from the beginning. He was a long term, and very good friend. Bob was the first person to receive the Parley E. Baer award. He also was the only one that received it from Parley's hands to his."

Jim McCuaig, a Canadian collector of old-time radio, added: "Bob's dedicated work with the Cincinnati OTR Convention led to my meeting many American friends for the first time, and boosted my interest in OTR, classic television and nostalgia conventions in general. I owe him a great deal." Indeed, we all owe Bob a great deal. We can take comfort in knowing he is sharing laughs with Willard Waterman, Rosemary Rice and Ezra Stone, among others.  

Larry Albert and Frank Buxton at REPS in Seattle.
For years Frank Buxton served as a board member for the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which seems ironic when you consider among his accomplishments a book about old-time radio -- a medium consisting primarily of sound. In 1966, the same year Erik Barnouw introduced us to A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Frank Buxton teamed up with Bill Owen for a book of their own: Radio's Golden Age: The Programs and the Personalities (Easton Valley Press). This ultimately led to an expanded version in 1972 titled, The Big Broadcast: 1920-1950 (Viking Press, Inc.). The dust jacket even promoted the encyclopedia as "A new, revised and greatly expanded edition of Radio's Golden Age." For years The Big Broadcast, compiled in an era before the Internet, was the only encyclopedia about old-time radio available to collectors.

John Dunning's Tune in Yesterday went a step further by providing more content about the programs, and published in 1976 made a perfect companion with The Big Broadcast. Possibly because word on the street was that Dunning was revising and expanding his edition for Oxford University Press, in 1997, a second edition of The Big Broadcast hit the shelves, this time as a red hardcover and published by Scarecrow Press. Dunning's expanded version, re-titled On the Air, was published a year later in 1998. Again, both revised editions compliment the other.

John Tefteller, a collector of old-time radio and frequent convention attendee, shares the same admiration others have expressed: "When I was very young, like ten or eleven, my mom brought home Frank Buxton's book on old-time radio. I devoured it and it was the first book on old-time radio I ever read." It was Buxton and Owen's encyclopedia that established a cult fan base for old-time radio programs, providing reference material that would be consulted for countless magazine articles.

Buxton's other accomplishments included hosting and producing the ABC television documentary series, Discovery, from 1962 to 1966. Teaming up with Hal Seeger, Buxton provided the voice for all 100 Batfink cartoons. He hosted a game show, Get the Message, for ABC in 1964, later to be replaced by Robert Q. Lewis. He played supporting roles in such movies as What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Overboard. As a writer, producer and director for Paramount Television, he is credited for Love, American Style, The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Mork & Mindy

Buxton's love for old-time radio never diminished. A frequent attendee of the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention, REPS and SPERDVAC, he participated in panels and radio re-enactments. His contribution, though minor compared to what has evolved over the decades, cannot be forgotten. The Big Broadcast book is considered by fans as the first encyclopedia ever published on old-time radio, and while some might debate that statement, few can argue. Frank Buxton also passed away on January 2. He was 87. Perhaps no better compliment could be provided than the casual reminder that fans back then, as they do today, refer to The Big Broadcast not by the title, but as "the Buxton and Owen book."

1 comment:

Steart Wright said...

From 1996 thru 2015 Frank Buxton also appeared in 52 of Jim French's radio dramas.

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