Friday, October 21, 2011

Friends of Old Time Radio: The Early Years

Paraphrasing Westbrook Van Voorhis from The March of Time, as it must come to all things, the Friends of Old Time Radio is coming to an end. The four day celebration acknowledging the Golden Age of Radio, featuring live recreations of classic radio programs with all-star casts, celebrity guests, memorabilia, music, and historical presentations is closing doors this October. And it seems only fitting, thanks to Jay Hickerson, to revisit (briefly) the early years.

Any familiar faces?
For 36 years, this event has been held in late October and ran from Thursday to Saturday. Over the years, the convention was able to secure appearances from such legends as Russell Horton, Arch Oboler, Carlton E. Morse, Margot Stevenson, Ken Roberts, Celeste Holm, Mason Adams, Jackson Beck, John Hart, Gordon Gould, Jerry Stiller, Will Hutchins, Ron Lackman, Art Gilmore, Gale Storm, Leonard Maltin, Bob Mott, Soupy Sales, Joyce Randolph, Fred Foy, Jimmy Lydon, Paul Peterson, Rosemary Rice, Bob Hastings, Elliott Reid, Hal Stone, Michael Gwynne, Noel Neill, Simon Jones, Frankie Thomas, Chuck McCann, Mickey Freeman, Peggy King, Bill Dana, and many others.

“Just as exciting as seeing the special guests perform is meeting them in person and finding out how many wonderful people were involved in old radio and are willing to share their time to swap stories of favorite shows and actors,” recalled Sean Doughtery. “At my first convention I was blown away finding myself at dinner with Rosemary Rice and Hal Stone. Years later, I had the thrill of introducing my parents to Dick Beals and Arthur Anderson… I remember marveling at how Fred Foy could reel off that Lone Ranger introduction just like it was 1948.”

Frequent attendees who have made the annual migration to the convention will substantiate how they made a number of life-long friends who shared the same enthusiasm for the hobby. Even with the advent of e-mail and the internet, friends still gather to shake hands, provide hugs and chat about their recent attainments. As Barb Davies once remarked, “It’s like a family reunion where no one is related.”

Jay Hickerson at FOTR in 1978.
The very first convention was held on Saturday, December 4, 1971 at the Holiday Inn Downtown, 30 Whalley Ave. (near Yale), New Haven, Conn., but was not originally called the Friends of Old Time Radio. That term would not be used until 1976. (Which means while the convention organizers celebrate 36 years, this October marks the 41st convention.)

“In the 1960s/1970s, as a pianist/entertainer, I often played radio theme songs and asked the audience to identify them,” recalled Jay Hickerson, the father figure of FOTR. “In 1970, at one of the parties, a guest told me of a friend, Sal Trapani, who had recordings of those radio shows, which intrigued me. I contacted Sal, and we subsequently met. After that initial meeting, Sal, gave me 100 shows on 4-¼ track reels. Thus, my collection of old-time radio shows began. This meeting also started a friendship with Sal, and in 1970 we tossed around the idea of having a radio convention.”

“A mini-convention in the form of a picnic was initiated and collectors in the New England area were invited to the home of Sal Trapani,” recalled Bill Smerckanicz. “The turnout was better than expected with more than 17 radio buffs from New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut attending. It was here that the initial plans for the first convention were decided. The group felt that Connecticut would be the central point for the convention and should he held there.”

“My newsletter, Hello Again, which was in its infancy, spread the word of this event,” recalled Jay. “The convention was held in 1971 and we called ourselves both the Lo-Fi Radio Buffs and The Golden Radio Buffs.” Jay Hickerson published the decision of the group in his publication. Jay also asked for a response from his readers and the favorable replies exceeded his expectations.

John Eccles gets an autograph from Bob Hastings.
“It is now a reality,” Jay Hickerson later wrote in a two-page flyer promoting the event. “A deposit has been made and a date has been set. Now all we need is you.” The 1971 event would be referred to as “The First East Coast Convention of Golden Radio Buffs.” Celebrity guests included Brett Morrison, Rosa Rio, Bill Youmans (Rosa’s husband), Mrs. House Jameson, Joe Franklin and Ron Lackmann. Walter Gibson, author of The Shadow pulps, was originally scheduled to appear as a guest. He was unable to attend but would make up for that years later.

The cost of admission at the very first old time radio convention was $9.50 per person, $18 for couples. The hotel was then charging $14.75 for a room with one bed, and $22.50 for a room with two beds. Jay Hickerson mailed his two-page flyer to old-time radio collectors known in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was also mentioned in the October issues of Hello Again and Stay Tuned. Towards the bottom of the flyer, it clearly stated: “Only you can make this a success and ensure future get-togethers.”

Bob Prescott
The event began 1 p.m. in the afternoon and continued until midnight. Informal browsing consisted of vendors selling premiums, magazines, books, tapes, newsletters, old radios, records and other radio memorabilia was for sale or trade. Radio related movies were screened in a private room at the hotel. There was even a “listening corner” where attendees could walk in and sit down and listen to old time radio shows being played. Several headsets were available. Beginning at 6 p.m., hors d’oeuvres and cocktails were served. Beginning at 7 p.m., a buffet dinner followed by entertainment in the form of recreations, talks and panels conducted on the stage.

Committee members included Jay Hickerson, Mel Shlank, Sal Trapani, Dave Davies, Jack Miller, James O’Neal and Bill Smerekanicz. “The first inkling of a convention was born in the minds of two avid collectors of old radio, Sal Trapani and Jay Hickerson,” remarked Smerckanicz. “Together they hashed the idea of a convention and believed it would be the way to bring all the collectors together in a common interest.” Little did they know that the events held on that particular Saturday afternoon would become a standard for conventions yet to come.

Shortly after the first convention, the “Golden Radio Buffs” was dropped in favor of a more official title, Sal Trapani formed the Society of American Vintage-Radio Enthusiasts (SAVE). Through a charter, the purpose of SAVE was six-fold:
1. To perpetuate the great days of radio.
2. To establish a radio museum that can store the great programs of the past on tape so that they will not be lost forever.
3. To set up a radio hall of fame to honor the guests of radio.
4. To have an organization of collectors so that information can be exchanged.
5. To cataloge those great years of radio.
6. To make available a complete reference library of the years of old time radio that are in print.

Lee Allman at FOTR in 1977.
The first annual SAVE convention was held on October 28 and 29, 1972, at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in New Britton, Conn. The presentation was a salute to radio’s 52nd anniversary. SAVE, under the direction of Trapani, sponsored the next four conventions. Word of the East Coast convention spread quickly and other old time radio buffs began organizing their own. A group from the Mid-West headed by Rolly Roos, formed the Mid-West convention, held on May 6, 1972, in Oak Brook, Illinois. About fifty men and women were present to talk about old-time radio. Chuck Schaden, radio host of Chicago’s Those Were The Days, was guest master of ceremonies. A convention in Oklahoma was held this same year, centering on more than old-time radio – it included all forms of nostalgia.

The second convention was held in New Britain at the Howard Johnson. Personalities present included Raymond Edward Johnson, William Spier, Evie Juster, Charles Michelson, Jackson Beck, Mary Jane Highby, Peg Lynch, Roger Bower and Richard Dana. The attendance tripled in size. “At the second convention in Connecticut there was a session by a sound effects man who gave an amazing demonstration of footsteps,” recalled Prof. Mike Biel. “He started as one man walking, then two men, then three or more walking at the same time at different paces. He even could do women’s footsteps included. Watching him do it looked like he was tap dancing. I’ve never seen anything like it since.”

(L to R) Jackson Beck, Kevin Scullin & Ken Roberts
The third convention was held at the Holiday Inn in Meridan, Conn. On September 7 and 8, 1973. With Sal Trapani as Executive Director, Ira Shprintzen and Dick Wolfe served as Associate Directors. In memory of William Spier, who met an untimely death, the awards henceforth were known as the William Spier awards. For 1973, they honored Jack Pearl “Baron Munchhausen,” Minerva Pious “Mrs. Nussbaum” (who appeared in person) and Freeman Gosden “Amos” (the latter of which accepted the award via radio link). Saturday afternoon featured an informal buffet luncheon, all you can eat for $3 dollars. Live music was supplied by a radio organist. The 7 pm grand banquet featured a giant cattleman’s steak dinner with all the trimmings, $10 admission charge. From 9 am to 5 pm, the event held seminars on radio drama, free movies, listening rooms, exhibits, lectures by experts in drama, news, comedy, etc. and a sound effects demonstration. Other guests included Will Jordan, Jackson Beck, Peg Lynch and Evie Juster. Raymond Edward Johnson returned to keep the audience spellbound with a reading of The Steel Worker.

The fourth convention was at the Howard Johnsons in Milford on November 1 and 2, 1974. The William Spier Award was presented to Himan Brown and Sam Digges. Others attending were Mandel Kramer, Raymond Edward Johnson and Will Jordan. Hickerson will fix this.

Raymond Edward Johnson
The fifth and final SAVE Convention was held at the Park Plaza in New Haven. Awards were presented to Anne Elstner, Staats Cotsworth, Rosa Rio and Irene Wicker. “By 1975, Sal wanted to write shows to be broadcast in New York,” recalled Hickerson. “He then was working with Ira Shprintzen, in New York. Most of the other committee members wanted to continue what we were doing. As a result, Sal left the group and continued his ideas. We changed our name to the Friends of Old-Time Radio. In 1976, we held our first convention with that name. The flyer, however, didn’t list the new name until 1978.” The program guides simply stated the “Sixth Annual” and “Seventh Annual.” In 1978, the “Third Annual Old-Time Radio Convention” (note a new number) was “sponsored by the Friends of Old Time Radio.” It wasn’t until 1979 that the convention was officially named after FOTR.

Members of the original committee were Julie and Larry DeSalvatore, Ann and Peter Greco, Lora Palmer, Joe Webb, Stu Weiss, Carol and Bob Witte. 

Jackson Beck and Raymond Edward Johnson were present at this one day convention and loved it so much that they were present every year since. Jackson Beck, Evie Juster, James Maloney, Lee Stanley and Don MacLaughlin starred in a re-creation of The FBI in Peace and War. Ham O’Hara provided the sound effects. 160 fans and guests were present.

Rosa Rio provided organ music for the re-creations and would ultimately do the job for several years. Our Gal Sunday and The Shadow starring Mandel Kramer and Grace Matthews were presented. Ed Blainey provided the sound effects. Warren Somerville directed. Other new guests present were Court Benson, Fred Foy, James Monks, Vicki Vola and Blair Walliser. Ken Piletic joined the committee, and has been going to the convention every year since.

Radio actress Alice Reinheart in 1977
A re-creation of The Romance of Helen Trent starred Alice Reinheart. Front Page Farrell and Counterspy were also performed.  New guests who accepted FOTR's invitation were Lee Allman, George Ansbro, Ira Ashley, Bob Dixon and Betty Wragge.  Bob Prescott senior and junior helped Ed Blainey with the sound effects.

Bob Burchett began taking photographs of the convention beginning in 1978, and quickly became the official convention photographer -- a post he held for many years. “My wife had a 35mm camera so I used it that year and took six rolls of film,” Bob recalled. “Only when I got home did I discover only three rolls has been loaded right. But it gave me something to do and I enjoyed it. I might add that I never made that mistake again.” This was the last day the convention was held only on Saturday.

Beginning with this year, the convention began Friday evening this year.  The first Allen Rockford Award was given to Ken Piletic.  Anthony Tollin came for the first year and presented a slide show about The Shadow. Re-creations performed were Joyce Jordan, Mark Trail starring Jackson Beck and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar starring Mandel Kramer and Don MacLaughlin. Also present were Ralph Bell, Ward Byron, Bill Griffis, Art Hanna, Peg Lynch, Ted Mallie, Ian Martin, Ted Malone, Arnold Stang and Sybil Trent. FOTR began getting more fans from all over the country and Canada. Bob Prescott and his two sons, Bob and Pete were now doing the sound effects.

"The convention I met Peg Lynch stands out in my memory," recalled Bob Burchett. "I walked into the dinning room for breakfast and I saw Ron Lackman sitting with her. They were just about finished, so Ron left, but she stayed. It was like I was doing a script with her. I laughed my way through breakfast. Sunday morning Harold Zeigler wanted me to do an interview with her. No one was around, and we talked for an hour. Or I might say she talked and I laughed for an hour. I had two questions and never got the the second one. She called it the Peg and Bob Show. This was the beginning of a great friendship that has lasted to this day."

Arthur Anderson

The highlight of the weekend was “Cinderella” from Let’s Pretend with Arthur Anderson, Gwen Davies, Don Hughes, Evie Juster, Bill Lipton and Sybil Trent. Jay Hickerson presented the first of several sing-a-longs. Also presented were Strange, hosted by Walter Gibson, and “Death Across the Board” from Inner Sanctum, hosted by Raymond Edward Johnson. Also present were Fran Carlon, Betty Tyler Karp and Rita Lloyd.

The conventions were now being video taped by Ken Piletic. They had up to this point just been audio taped. Re-created were My True Story, and Nick Carter, Master Detective with Lon Clark and Charlotte Manson. Arthur Tracy entertained with songs for the first of several conventions. New guests present included Nancy Douglass, Elspeth Eric, Teri Keane, Ann Loring, Arnold Moss, Bill Owen, Sidney Slon and a special appearance by Kenny Delmar.

Events/seminars included “OTR in the Community” and the first of what would become many panels centered on OTR authors. An Al Jolson special was presented by Ed Greenbaum and Herb Goldman of the International Al Jolson Society, Inc. This ultimately led to an Al Jolson Special every year from the same organization for a number of years. Johnson recreated “Cask of Amontillado.” Recording techniques was the focus of one workshop, while “Views of Collecting Experts” became a highlight.

“In 1981, as a boy of 14, I attended my first FOTR Convention, having accidentally learned of its existence due to an off-hand comment made during a visit to the OTR museum by Art Schreiber, the museum’s curator,” recalled John Eccles. “I was welcomes with open arms by all of the invited guests and fellow OTR fans. Imagine the excitement I felt after spending my childhood listening to these programs and then having the opportunity to actually see many of the actors, actresses, writers and directors who were responsible for them. Not only was I able to see them, but they were all so generous and giving of their time that I was able to meet and talk with them about many of their experiences during radio’s golden age.

Beginning in 1982, the convention was held at the Holiday Inn in Newark, New Jersey, where the convention has been held every year since. Re-creations included Aunt Jenny, and The Green Hornet with Dwight Weist, Ezra Stone, Jackson Beck and Lee Allman. Some new guests present were Don Buka, Jack Grimes, Abby Lewis, Dick Osgood, Frank Papp, Ruth Russell, Terry Ross, Jane Ward, Florence Williams and Alice Yourman. Terry Ross now handled the sound effects. Karen Hickerson entertained with a few songs for the first of several times.

Dave Warren supplying a voice coming from a long tunnel.
From now on until 1992, FOTR had at least 45 dealers. Parley Baer became the first West Coast guest. Up to this time, all of the guests originated from the East Coast, mainly New York City. Re-created were “The Brave Little Tailor” from Let’s Pretend, directed by Arthur Anderson with much of the original cast.  Anthony Tollin directed The Shadow with Ken Roberts, Margot Stevenson, Gertrude Warner and Jackson Beck.  Some new guests present were Joan Bishop, Nancy Coleman, Helen Coule, Cliff Carpenter, Ruth Duskin, Bob Guilbert, Pat Hosley, Ernest Ricca, Karl Weber and Miriam Wolff.  Rosa Rio and Ted Malone put on a musical program.  Anthony Tollin began coordinating the re-creations, something Joe Webb had done up to this time.

“Frank Nelson was an invited guest and agreed to come to FOTR that year as one of the first West Coast guests,” recalled Terry Salomonson. “What most people do not know was that Frank was also having some serious health issues and the closer the convention approached, together with his medical issues, it became apparent that he was not going to be able to attend at the last minute. Hoping not to disappoint the convention for the medical situation beyond his control, he asked Parley if he would consider going in his place, if at the last minute Frank could not make the trip. Eventually Frank couldn't make the trip and Parley stepped in at the last minute for his friend.”

“Parley arrived at the hotel in the evening during the night’s activities and after checking in and refreshing himself in his room, he quietly slipped in one of the side door to the convention room where Jay Hickerson was at the keyboard in the middle of an event,” continued Terry. “When Jay noticed Parley entering the room, he stopped what he was playing and started playing the theme music from Gunsmoke. Everyone in the room by this time noticed Parley standing threre, rose and started a huge applause.  For a moment Parley thought someone else had entered the room behind him and turned around to find no one else standing there, except himself. When the though occurred to him that it was for him, he was both shocked, touched and teared up at the moment and from the love and respect being offered to him from the entire room full of strangers.”

Re-created were Mr. District Attorney with Dwight Weist and Vicki Vola and Grand Central Station.  Coming from the West Coast were Frank Nelson and Veola Vonn. Eddie Layton provided the music. Some new guests present were Margaret Draper, Helene Dumas, Edith Meiser, Stella Reynolds, Adele Ronson, Joe DeSantis and Arthur Peterson.

“In Newark we always had a party in our room,” recalled Barb Davies. “One time Frank Nelson was there with Viola Vonn. I asked if he would take a picture with me. He said yes but only if I sat on his lap. So I did and he put his hand on my knee and moved my skirt up a bit. Then he said, ‘now you may take the photo.’ The next year he was there again and I asked him to autograph the photo, he did with the line: Better luck next time Honey.”

At the 10th annual convention, director Bill Robson and writer Lucille Fletcher watched a re-creation of “Sorry, Wrong Number.” Also re-created was The Adventures of Superman starring Jackson Beck. Leta Beemer Peterson, widow of Brace Beemer, received a posthumous award for Brace Beemer. Some new guests present were Lee Alan, Tony Caminita, Humphrey Davis, Tom Dougall, Fred Flowerday, Jim Fletcher, Ernie Winstanley and Whit Vernon.

“That was a special moment for me,” recalled Donald Ramlow. “I was always a fan of Suspense, as you well know. Well one day, after already having attended a couple of FOTR cons, I was listening to an episode of Suspense, “The Diary of Sophronia Winters,” when the character played by Agnes Moorehead asked why she was being threatened. She said ‘I’m just a woman from Kalamazoo, and my father works at the First National Bank,’ etc. I had already been a fan of Fletcher, but when I heard that dialogue, it made me want to find out more about her. I then started looking through reference books and articles, where I eventually discovered her address and phone number. I mailed her a letter, but she didn’t respond right away. I followed with a phone call, and she answered the phone. I introduced myself and explained why I was contacting her. She then went on to explain that a roommate of her's at college had grown up in Kalamazoo and that she included this in her story as an inside reference. We talked several times after that and she was amazed to find out about all the OTR fans out there. She eventually gave me permission to share her address with FOTR, which resulted in an invite to the convention. She attended, along with her daughters, and authorized the performance of “Sorry, Wrong Number” and she participated in several panels.”

The Lone Ranger was the center piece for this year’s convention. Fourteen people who were alumni of WXYZ attended and were involved in a special Lone Ranger presentation. These included Fred Foy, Michael Tolan, Jim Fletcher, Lee Allman, Ernie Winstanley, Whit Vernon, Fred Flowerday, Tony Caminita, Elaine Alpert and Harry Goldstein, among others. The 50th Anniversary celebration of The Lone Ranger included Leta Beemer Peterson, widow of actor Brace Beemer, who received a posthumous award for Brace Beemer.

Bob Burchett
Willard Waterman attended from California and starred in The Great Gildersleeve with Shirley Mitchell and Louise Erickson. Also re-created were The Aldrich Family with Ezra Stone and much of the original cast. Gilbert Mack entertained with songs and patter. Also re-created was The Whistler. Other new guests present were Vivian Della Chiesa and Sara Seeger. The Dave Warren Players made their initial of many performances with Tom Mix. Don Ramlow began video taping the events. The program guide grew in size this year, now featuring ads, biographies and pictures.

“Dave had a real knack for casting the right voice in the right role,” explained Gary Yoggy. “Soon there were well over 40 players in Dave’s company. Dave considered you a member of his acting group if you made a single appearance in one of his re-creations.”

Among the performers was Suzanne Barabas, Barry Hill, Ron Lackman, Bobb Lynes, Bill Nadel, Carolyn and Joel Senter, Charlie Stumpf, Maggie Thompson, Barbara Watkins and Dave Zwengler. Warren passed away in February 2001. In recognition for his devoted services, an award has been named after Dave Warren, which has been given away annually at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio & Nostalgia Convention.

FOTR Program Guide
Barney Beck and Ray Erlenborn now worked with Terry Ross on the sound effects. FOTR did the first of three Gateway to Hollywood re-creations. Winners this year were Carolyn Senter and David Zwengler. Joining FOTR from California were John Archer, Les Tremayne and Bill Zuckert. The Thin Man was re-created with Les Tremayne reprising the title role. Also re-created were Young Widder Brown with Les Tremayne and Adele Ronson and Big Town with Fran Carlon, Mason Adams and Dwight Weist.  FOTR started giving donations to worthy organizations, this lasted only for a few years. Some new guests were Eric Arthur, Judith Bublick, Laurette Fillbrandt, Joseph Kahn, Joseph Nathan Kane, Elaine Kent, Joyce Randolph and Bob Steel.

“Alice Reinhart was about to do a read-through of a Thin Man script,” recalled Bill Nadel. “She kept chuckling while Les Tremayne was reading his lines. ‘What’s wrong?’ someone whispered to Alice, ‘Those lines aren’t funny.’ ‘No, but Les and I used to be married!’ was her reply.”

The convention now began on Thursday evening. About 600 people attend the convention. Arnold Moss was featured in the re-creation of Cabin B-13. Carlton E. Morse attended from California and watched the re-creation of I Love a Mystery with Bob Dryden and Alice Reinheart. Also from California were Bob Hastings, Jackie Kelk and Richard Wilson. Jackson Beck was featured in another re-creation of The Adventures of Superman. Arthur Anderson directed a third episode of Let’s Pretend. Robin Fields and Bill Daugherty entertained the audience. Some new guests present were Jeanne Harrison, Hildegarde (who only attended the dinner banquet), Robert E. Lee, Jan Miner, Larry Robinson and Joan Shea. During the evening festivities on Saturday, the dinner guests were interrupted by an updated version of “War of the Worlds.”

Hildegarde at the dinner banquet in 1988.
Child stars were honored with a panel on “Growing Up in Radio.” Participating were Ray Erlenborn, Charlie Mullen, Ezra Stone, Jean Gillespie, Arthur Anderson, Bob Hastings, Teri Keane and George Ward. Re-creations included Nick Carter, Private Detective with Lon Clark and Charlotte Manson; Archie Andrews with Bob Hastings and  Charlie Mullen; Mandrake the Magician  with Raymond Edward Johnson; The March of Time with Arnold Moss and Dwight Weist. New guests present also included Lee Falk (the creator of The Phantom and Mandrake), Earl George, Ross Martindale, Charles Woods and Margaret Whiting. The convention became international with the attendance of Barry Hill from England. FOTR started inviting authors and Robert Taylor talked about his book, Fred Allen: His Life and Wit. Since then, dozens of authors have attended to promote their books.

Although Jack Benny never attended, his daughter Joan made the first of three visits. You Can’t Take it With You was re-created with Margot Stevenson, Abby Lewis, Ezra Stone, Rosemary Rice and Florence Williams. Other re-creations included “Dracula” from The Mercury Theater (actually, First Person Singular. The series would eventually be re-titled The Mercury Theater on the Air) with Elliott Reid, Richard Wilson, Arthur Anderson, Bill Herz and Burgess Meredith. Norman Corwin directed “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas” with Burgess Meredith, Dwight Weist and Arthur Anderson. The first variety type of show was also presented with “A Tribute to CBS.” Other new guests included Hendrik Booraem, Jr., Phyllis Creore, Betty Mandeville and Betty Winkler.

“I remember I got off the elevator on the 9th floor and Burgess Meredith was slowly wandering in the hall, looking for his room,” recalled Don Aston. “I made a phone call from my room and found out he was on the 4th floor. I took him there. That night this frail old actor was given a part in a recreation. What a change came over him when he was given a script. He became positive, aggressive, clear headed and a complete opposite of what I met in the hall.”

Ed Herlihy
The convention now started at 2 p.m. on Thursday. During the earlier conventions there had been trivia contests. Dave Zwengler presented the first of several quiz shows this year. Re-creations included The Bickersons with Shirley Mitchell and Sam Edwards; Buck Rogers with Adele Ronson; Ethel and Albert with Peg Lynch and Bob Dryden; The FBI in Peace and War with George Petrie and John Archer; The Great Gildersleeve with Willard Waterman, Shirley Mitchell and Louise Erickson; Gunsmoke with Jackson Beck as Matt Dillon and Parley Baer as Chester.  Ray Kemper provided the sound patterns. Other new guests present were Harry Bartell, Bob Bell, Vivian Block, Oscar Brand, Bob Bruce, Lillian Buyeff, Harry Fleetwood, Ruth Last, Tyler McVey, and Francis von Bernhardi.

Bill Nadel recalled a story when George Petrie was vehement. “I can’t read these crappy lines. No radio writer would have written this and no actor would read this,” remarked Petrie, in the midst of a run-through of The FBI in Peace and War. Barney Beck, ace sound-effects man responded. “Then George, write the way you want, but leave the cue lines in place.” Petrie did just that, even though it had been the exact same script that he did decades before and the recording of Petrie clearly had him doing the questionable lines. Barney turned around and whispered to Bill, “I did say it was a bad script!”

The convention now opened Wednesday evening with complimentary wine and cheese for the overnight guests, which would continue until the the final convention. The convention, since 1976, has gone from a one-day event to a three-day event with the Wednesday evening added. Dealers could now open 9 a.m. on Thursday. There were two panels Thursday afternoon. FOTR also started having children of performers give a special presentation Thursday evenings. This year Chris Costello, Bud Abbott, Jr. and Paddy Costello Humphreys attended. Re-creations included “Chain of Command” from X Minus One; Archie Andrews with Bob Hastings and Hal Stone; Dragnet with Herb Ellis, Harry Bartell and Peggy Webber; Street and Smith Detective Story Hour with Adele Ronson, Dick Osgood, Ken Roberts and Lon Clark; Inner Sanctum Mystery with Raymond Edward Johnson; and John Rayburn presented his first of many spoonerism. Other new guests present were Dick Beals, Vanessa Brown, Fred Collins, Win Elliot, Don Hastings, Corinne Orr, Eleanor Phelps, Clive Rice, and Anne Sargent.

Carlton E. Morse speaks to his friends.
Arthur Godfrey was saluted with Lee Munsick leading two separate panels with such guests as Lee Erwin, Bill Murtough, Ward Byron, Sy Shaffer, Carmel Quinn and others. Al Jolson was honored on Thursday. About 700 people attend the convention. The Boogie Woogie Girls of Company E entertained for the first time, in the same costumes worn by the Andrews Sisters. Re-creations included Doc Savage with Fred Foy and Earl George; Sherlock Holmes with Frankie Thomas and Earl George; Tom Corbett with the original cast including Frankie Thomas, Jan Merlin, Ed Bryce, Al Markim, Jackson Beck and George Gould; The Mysterious Traveler. Everyone was also entertained with Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Other new guests included Elaine Hyman, Florence James, Maxine Marx, and Lucille Mason.

“We met Frankie Thomas on an elevator,” recalled Dick Olday. “I asked him about his role in the Nancy Drew movies, specifically about the time they were throwing milk cans. I asked if they were props and he said no. They really hurt if you were hit by them.” 

If you live within driving distance of the Friends of Old Time Radio Convention and can attend, or have been meaning to attend and never had the opportunity, consider coming this year. You won't get another chance and I assure you it will be fun. Information about this year's events (along with summaries of past years) can be found at This year, FOTR will be offering a special commemorative book (about 40 pages) documenting all 36 plus years of the convention, similar to what you see here. Memories from attendees, tons of photos, a list of all the award winners (FOTR has been giving away at least three different awards every year) and much more. For more information, contact Jay Hickerson at after November first. (He cannot give one away before the convention.)

All copyrighted photos in this article are provided courtesy of Ken Piletic and Joe Webb.

One small note: After 41 years of celebration, the party continues. The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention has been growing every year. Many (if not most) of the yearly die-hards who still want a yearly get-together, will be making plans to attend MANC. After attending FOTR this October, consider attending MANC in Hunt Valley, Maryland.