Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
I would like to state off the bat that I am not a fan of director Zack Snyder. Never have been. Sure, I enjoyed what he did with Watchmen, one of the best films of the year. But when he is behind the camera and supervising production, no other movie has impressed me. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was my hope that he had a love for the material and applied his best talents in the same manner he did for Watchmen. Warner Bros., responsible for a cinematic first (Batman and Superman sharing screen time together) made a bad judgment call... I was hoping Snyder would add a second film to my favorites list. What a major bat bummer. 

There is a running joke among fandom: Marvel movies are made by fanboys and DC movies are made by executives. Almost from the start I was deluged with product placement. Ben Affleck is dodging the crumbling rubble of buildings between the streets of Metropolis while driving a Jeep Renegade that exemplifies the durability and reliability of an SUV during Armageddon. Add to this Turkish Airlines, Sears, the Galaxy S7 smartphone, and others that were so obvious you could not avoid the closeup shots. (Reportedly Warner Bros. covered $170 million of the $225 million budget just in product placement.) Never since the fourth Transformers installment did I feel this was one long infomercial. Regardless, this movie will make a billion dollars in Asia.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
With the box office success of The Avengers, Warner Bros., owners of the DC Comics property, decided to establish the Justice League with the sequel to Man of Steel, incorporating Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. The recipe for success with Marvel was to tease the fans with a post credits sequence at the end of each movie, leading into an up-coming Avengers movie... and this was a lengthy five-year build-up. Was it worth all the hype? It sure was. For Warner Bros., the studio decided to take a shorter route. They introduced all of the characters (some very briefly) and will now branch out into individual Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies, then return with a two-part Justice League movie. Batman vs. Superman sets the stage for the shape of things to come. But The Avengers: Age of Ultron taught Disney (the new owners of Marvel) that more superheroes does not mean more money. Warner Bros. needs to be reminded of this lesson. Perhaps this is why they embarked on what might just be the most expensive advertising campaign leading up to the movie's release.

In the hobby of comic books, geeks know that the same story has been retold many times through various forms of artistic interpretation. Novels tell the story from the printed word and movies from a visual medium. Comic books are a combination of both art forms. And every few years some artist convinces DC Comics to allow them to create a mini-series or one-shot graphic novel retelling the origin and motives behind the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. Some people will no doubt watch the film and be disappointed: this may not be the same Batman or Superman you grew up with. But try to keep an open mind. Motion-pictures provide another artistic take on a familiar theme that might feel a slight case of over-saturation.

The script is excellent. The dialogue sharp. This is what I hope for when I go to the movies. The acting was two-dimensional, sadly, which can be blamed on the director who did not want this to feel like a comic book movie. The Flash and Supergirl, now on the CW and CBS, respectfully, are produced by the same company and are clearly comic book adaptations. Director Snyder should have taken a page from those productions -- trying to add realism to a genre that we have come to embrace with a suspension of disbelief is not a wise decision. Across the board, Warner Bros. wants to continue with a somber tone in order to differentiate DC property from the more fun-loving Marvel counterpart. (Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, publicly stated that Marvel movies originating from Disney will never have an 'R' rating, in response to Fox's decision to release Deadpool last month with a hard R rating.)

I grew up with the Justice League, only it was a half-hour cartoon series and they were known as the Super Friends. I am looking forward to seeing the movie in 2018 and 2019. Yes, it will be a two-parter... sigh. But I fear it will not be Super Friends

As for the movie itself, the entire plot builds on a climatic battle between a bitter and angered Bruce Wayne (in the same Batman persona as depicted in The Lego Movie and the up-coming sequel), who feels Superman is a threat to our world, and requires extermination. The Man of Steel is questioning his place in a society where he is obviously an outcast -- public protests, Congressional hearings, bronze statues in his image and wholesale destruction weigh heavily on his shoulders. More than anything, Superman is depicted as a God-like being and questions whether he is under the circumstances. Ultimately, he chooses to save a young girl from a burning building, rescue families stranded on their rooftops during a flood, and remain a role model for young children to aspire to. Lex Luther plays the role of a stage magician... maneuvering pawns in place so the masked vigilante and superhero will face off in the gladiator match of the century. Jesse Eisenberg is great as Lex Luther, who you know is secretly setting up his master plan with Batman and Superman across town working out their differences... and he plays the role clearly inspired by Mark Zuckerberg in what is referred to today as the "new workplace trend."

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther
The only redeeming part of the movie is the character of Wonder Woman, making her first big screen appearance ever (she was always relegated to television). Gal Gadot is a fanboy's wet dream and she has very large boots to fill under the circumstance. She plays the role with superior female independence, and an Amazon warrior's prowess to match. After all, female action stars usually parade around in sexy jumpsuits but Elektra and Black Widow have nothing compared to the most recognized female superhero in the world. She dominates the entire climatic battle sequence without deliberately attempting to overshadow her co-stars. It was how she was portrayed in the movie that makes me really want to see the Wonder Woman movie next year, the general opinion shared by everyone leaving the movie theater. (A friend of mine who also saw the film said people cheered when the heroes made their entrances but when Wonder Woman appeared in full costume, sword and shield, the crowd went wild.) Not a spoiler here but Wonder Woman not only saves the day -- she saves the superheroes. 

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Cautionary Measures
If you have children under the age of 10, you might want to watch the movie in advance before deciding whether or not they should see the film. If violence and two vulgar words (I only counted two; I expected dozens) is of no concern, my only advice is when you see Lois Lane turn on the tap to fill the tub, ask them to shield their eyes for a few minutes until her bath scene is finished. 

My regret is that the movie contains little -- if any -- redeeming values. There is no wisdom fiction and no lessons to be learned. The entire movie lays the groundwork for future installments. Is this a Superman sequel? Is this another Batman movie? A stand-alone movie this is not. I get the opinion that Warner Bros. simply wanted to take the best of three screenplay scenarios and combine them into one. And this is a bit too much.

Some will love it, some will not. That is how it goes. I was hoping it would be better than I was expecting. And I wasn't expecting much.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Collector's Item: The Shadow's Ring

One of the most popular premiums among adolescents was the ring. The Sky King program offered a Magni-Glo Writing Ring. Jack Armstrong had a Dragon’s Eye Ring. Captain Midnight offered an Initial Printing Ring. For The Shadow, there was more than one ring. On the broadcast of February 22, 1941, station WMT in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offered a special premium for the listeners of their Dialines radio program — a Shadow ring that glowed in the dark. (Dialines was a local WMT program that helped promote and market radio programs heard over the same station.)  

“Think how excited your son or daughter will be to have a ring like that to show his friends,” the announcer coaxed. Any radio listeners who sent in 10 cents and one Powerhouse Candy Bar wrapper to The Shadow in care of WMT would receive the ring by return mail. 

The offer was repeated two weeks later on the broadcast of March 8, 1941. The offer only extended until April when The Shadow went off WMT. Had the response been large, the station managers might have been convinced to continue the radio program behind April. To date, this is the earliest documented case of a free Shadow ring. (Blue Coal made the same offer for radio listeners until December 31). Premiums offered on children's radio programs were generally designed to gauge the size of the listening audience, often convincing sponsors to continue paying for the time slot.

A brief mention of the Shadow ring promotion appeared on the March 18, 1941 broadcast of Ned Jordan, Secret Agent. In the episode “Signals on the Sea,” Judy Medwick remarks that Ned is wearing his Shadow glow-in-the-dark ring. The product placement was the result of the Johnson Candy Company (Powerhouse Candy Bar), which was also sponsoring Ned Jordan on selected stations in the Midwest, in addition to the Iowa Network.

In what might have been considered a trial run, The Shadow ring premium was offered along the East Coast in the Blue Coal territory on the broadcast of November 23, 1941, titled “The Ring of Light.” Both rings were a one-size-fits-all (although it could be stretched by soaking it in hot water for five minutes). It was made of white plastic and glowed a bright green in the dark. The difference between the Blue Coal ring and the Powerhouse Candy Bar ring was a small lump of anthracite coal on top, the crowning pride for any Shadow fan. The “Mystic Shadow Ring” that glowed in the dark was offered for a dime to any listener who wanted to write to a specific address at Madison Square Garden at the conclusion of the March 8, 1942, broadcast. The reason for this one-time mention may have been to judge the size of the listenership near the end of the broadcast season. Another theory is that D.L.&W. had a large number of rings left over from the offer of a year ago and wanted to liquidate the rings from storage. 

Unlike other heroes of the airwaves, The Shadow did not have a ring that could be used to save him from deadly peril. Instead, the story concerned a small, valuable ring that was supposedly an everlasting charm against danger, but meant sudden death for its owner. Taking a script titled “The Circle of Light” and revising it to “The Ring of Light,” the scriptwriter was able to offer a show written around a finger-adornment which served to make The Shadow recognized by the initiated into the mysteries of the ring’s origin. The ring was one that glowed in the dark, and the Shadow cast some light on its “supposed” powers. A third glow-in-the-dark ring was issued by Carey Salt in 1945 and again in late 1947. Much plainer than the Blue Coal ring, it was created from the same mold as the Buck Rogers Ring of Saturn and the Jack Armstrong Dragon Eye Ring, but The Shadow version had a black stone in the center. This ring was promoted during the commercial breaks through both the 1945-46 and 1946-47 winter seasons.
Of course, The Shadow possessed a ring in the pulp magazines, as evidenced by the cover art and numerous novels. In The Romanoff Jewels (December 1, 1932), The Shadow reveals the ring contained a valuable and rare fine opal that was part of the Romanoff collection worn only by the Czars themselves and given to The Shadow as a gift by the last of them. Death Triangle (October 15, 1933) restated this point. Fans of the radio program who sought dramatic appeal by envisioning the character depicted on the pulp covers, rather than a non-costumed invisible figure, might have assumed he was wearing the mystic ring throughout his radio adventures.

Today, these collector rings are sold at auctions, mostly on the internet. Sadly, a number of replicas float about and are often mistaken as the real thing. Be aware of what is real and what is not!

Episode #172 “THE RING OF LIGHT”
Broadcast November 23, 1941
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU78410, November 25, 1941.
Renewal Copyright Registration #R449987, December 3, 1968.
Script written by Sidney Slon and/or Peter Barry. 
Plot: Centuries ago, according to the legend, the Genga family was blessed with the Circle of Light, a small ring with an everlasting charm against danger and sudden death for its owner. The strength of the ring passes on to each new owner, leaving only bitterness and defeat thereafter to the former possessor. After Mr. Genga of Genga and Cham, importers of precious gems, is found murdered, a mysterious woman named Kara Ling is the lead suspect. Ali Genga, son and heir to the family fortune, is found stabbed to death. Tracking down the whereabouts of Kara Ling, Lamont, Margot and Commissioner Weston are almost boiled alive in a death trap cleverly constructed in her residence. The Shadow applies practical reasoning to save their lives, but questioning Hassan, Mr. Grenga’s servant, Lamont discovers that Kara Ling and Ali Genga were in love. Mr. Genga was against the relationship and intended to give the ring to his business partner, Mr. Cham. Hassan plotted with Ali to kill his master so Kara Ling could get the ring for her fiancĂ©, unaware that Cham killed Ali’s father and beat them to the ring. Betrayed for committing a murder that he realized was unjust, Hassan struggles with Kara Ling and the two criminals fall to their death from the top of a tower. Confessing his murderous deed to Commissioner Weston, Lamont and Margot, Cham keels over dead after drinking a cup of tea laced with strychnine. Driving back to the station, Commissioner Weston decides to throw the ring out the window until he is mysteriously saved from what almost became a deadly car accident. He decides to keep the ring for good measure.

Trivia, etc. The script cover of the first draft states the title as “The Circle of Light,” the same title registered for copyright at the U.S. Copyright Office. The announcer, however, describes the title of this broadcast cast “The Ring of Light.”

The information above is an excerpt that originates from The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954 by Martin Grams. The author will offer a history of the radio program in the form of a slide show at the next Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, held at Hunt Valley, Maryland, September 22 to 24, 2011. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Lost 1933 LONE RANGER Radio Episodes

“The Lone Ranger,” Fran Striker recalled in later years, “always was a blood-and-thunder affair – with both a chase and a fight. In a way, it’s a morality play with good pitted against and overcoming evil. Of course, we tried not to let the plumbing show.” With but three exceptions in the first month of broadcasting, Striker was responsible for writing all of The Lone Ranger radio scripts over the first decade. Looking back with fond recollection, and romance on the eyes, Trendle, Jewell, Campbell and others involved since the very beginning insisted the program was created for young children. Historical documents found at archives over the years, and a review of the radio scripts verify the series was in fact produced for an adult audience, broadcast during a time slot when youngsters were generally fast asleep in their beds.

            The practice of recording of The Lone Ranger did not commence until 1938, so the first five years of the radio program have been virtually unexplored – and undocumented – over the decades. (The only three exceptions in the last 60 years are brief mentions in Dave Holland's book, Terry Salomonsson's broadcast log, and a recent article in SPERDVAC's Radiogram.) The relationship between the masked man and Indian included a comfortable barrier of privacy – with Tonto never seeing the face of The Lone Ranger without his mask. The earliest radio scripts depicted the title character expressing a laughing-at-danger approach commonly found in the masked avenger/pulp fiction lore, when confronted with a challenge or confrontation. (This personality trait was toned down considerably by the time The Lone Ranger gained its first sponsor in late 1933.) It has also been proven that Jewell was in fact revising the scripts Striker mailed him so the trademarks of a blood n’ thunder adventure may not have been as prevenient as historians observe when reading the radio scripts today. With no extant recordings, the scripts are the only time capsule that remains from this era. It is clear that by early 1934 Trendle’s influence dictated a more wholesome character who never shot to kill and sought retribution through trial and law. Because The Lone Ranger was broadcast from WEBR and KOIL in late 1933 with local stock companies, The Lone Ranger may have been dramatized in those areas of the country with a rough edge over the tamed rendition originating from Detroit.

            Fran Striker initially visualized The Lone Ranger as just over six feet fall and weighing around 190 pounds; a good working build for a Western hero. Such a man, riding a super horse with silver horseshoes, would naturally have the finest possible equipment, including ivory handled guns. In a radio script from his pre-WXYZ years, Striker identified Robin Hood with silver-tipped arrows – so he passed this idea on to The Lone Ranger with silver bullets and silver horseshoes. In a number of 1933 broadcasts, The Lone Ranger was quickly identified not by his cry of “Hi-Yo, Silver,” but rather the silver horseshoes and/or silver bullets. Tonto did, on occasion, shoot to kill and he left an identifying trademark of a silver-tipped arrow. And so it is these early radio scripts from the calendar year of 1933 that today spark the greatest interest to fans of The Lone Ranger. It would come as no surprise to historians well-versed in the field that the first year of the radio program depicted a different rendition of The Lone Ranger and Tonto than what we are familiar with today.

            The first episode indicating Tonto’s savage brand of justice was during the broadcast of April 15, 1933. A gang of rustlers from Snake River are stealing cattle from all the neighboring ranches: The Lazy A, the Bar Lone, the Crossed T, and Carol Hawkins’ Circle X Ranch, where an emergency meeting is held. Two murders were foretold by the mark of a snake cut into the saddle of the riders. Carol deduces the leader of the Snake River Rustlers is employed on her ranch, and The Lone Ranger introduces himself to Carol late that evening. With her help, the foreman of the Circle X Ranch, Peters, is exposed and shot dead with an arrow that came out of nowhere. Peters had a place fifteen miles away where he was hiding all the stolen cattle. The drama concludes with Mr. Hawkins remarking, “If Peters was shot with a silver bullet, I could dope it out. But an arrow, by gum, that’s a new one to tell them other ranchers about…” The announcer closes the broadcast: “The arrow seems to be the work of the funny little half-breed. Perhaps Tonto has had an active part in this affair of The Lone Ranger. There is so much mystery about the strange rider on the white horse, that we can do no more than guess.”

            In the broadcast of June 13, 1933, an Indian attack on Phil Weston and his young wife, Helen, is thwarted by The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The masked man shoots and kills eight Indians before taking an arrow to the back. After his wounds are mended, The Lone Ranger pays a visit to Tonto.

RANGER:   Tonto, whose knife is this?
TONTO:      It mine.
RANGER:   Umhum. That’s what I thought. Did you kill that Indian?
TONTO:      Ugh.
RANGER:   Threw the knife, eh?
TONTO:      Him bad Injun. Him need killin’.

            Throughout the calendar year of 1933, Tonto displayed a strong dislike towards Mexicans and Gypsies – especially Mexicans. For the episode of May 9, Tonto gets worked up when he talks of Mexican Pete, a notorious outlaw. Perhaps no dialogue exchanged between The Lone Ranger and Tonto can best exemplify Tonto’s hatred than the following reprinted from the broadcast of April 18.

TONTO:       Here guns.
RANGER:      Alright.
TONTO:       Tonto take um out bullets of silver. Put in lead.
RANGER:      Eh? What for?
TONTO:       Silver... no waste on greasers.
RANGER:         (LAUGH) You thrifty old scoundrel you. 
                  Put those silver bullets back in, or… never mind, I’ll do it.

            Throughout the 1930s, vigilante behavior and frontier justice was the meat and potatoes of pulp fiction, dime novels and movies. Frontier justice, even when undertaken with the most peaceable of intentions, involved various degrees of violence. With knowledge that the story itself was pure fiction, suspension of disbelief granted each person their own interpretation of the law based on the scenario that played out. Allowing the lynching of a man inferred with guilt, when exposed in front of a crowd of townsfolk, was commonplace on the printed page. The Lone Ranger, allowing justice to be served outside a court of law, was just as guilty as the man who constructed the noose – and this was demonstrated many times throughout the radio broadcasts of 1933.

At the close of the broadcast of April 11, a dishonest sheriff pays the supreme penalty. One of the men in the posse shouts, “I reckon we got all we need boys. Let the hanging’ go right ahead with a different guest o’ honor.” The Lone Ranger picks up the young lady who was an eyewitness to the crime, responsible for cinching the sheriff’s guilt, and puts her on top of his horse. “I’ll take you back to your place girl,” the masked man remarked. “This won’t be good for you to see.”

During the broadcast of May 2, 1933, The Lone Ranger does not think twice about the judgment sought against Dryden, a killer hired to kill the cousin of Curt Boskins.

ANNOUNCER: To a small narrow bridge, that spanned a deep Canyon that was 
                  known as Miners Leap, went The Lone Ranger, with Dryden across 
                  the saddle.  Here, at one end of the flimsy bridge, he reined the great 
                  horse Silver, and allowed Dryden to stand down, lame, and angry with 
                  his arms still bound tightly to his side.
RANGER:   Just like you killed the Stage driver, eh?
RANGER:   (LAUGH) I heard all about it Dryden, and that’s one reason I am here. 
                  The other reason is an agreement that is in your pocket, signed 
                  by Curt Boskin.
RANGER:   There are many laws out here Dryden, and you are going to see one 
                  of them enforced right now. You are going to meet a new kind of justice.
                  ME SQUARE...YUH DON’T DARE TUH LET ME DRAW...
RANGER:   I’ll undo this rope at once. A coil like this... this… this and this 
                  and there you are. Now you are free to draw if you want to.
SOUND          (shot)
RANGER:   You’re very slow for a man that talks as loud as you do Dryden. 
                  There is your gun, still tumbling down the canyon. 
                  Just the way that Jim Greene was going to tumble.
RANGER:   Because, you were going to bring him here and have him go 
                  across that bridge, AHEAD of you.
DRYDEN:   WAL... It’s one way tuh his place ain’t it?
RANGER:   Yes, but now YOU will go across, AHEAD OF ME!
RANGER:   What are you afraid of? Cross the bridge and you’ll be safe. 
                  I won’t chase you any further.
SOUND          (clumping of hoofs)
                  SO’S IT’LL FALL!
SOUND          (more clumping)
                  I CAN’T GO ON THAT BRIDGE!  I’LL CONFESS… 
I                  CHOPPED IT MYSELF!
SOUND          (bridge cracks)
SOUND          (wood splinter, stop hoofs)
SOUND          (far distant crash of wood)
RANGER:   (AFTER SHORT BREAK) Well Silver… it’s justice. 
                  I thought he would back up, at the last minute, but... 
                  well, we just HAD to get the man that shot old Johnny Drews.

During conversation between Tonto and The Lone Ranger on the broadcast of May 11, our heroes discuss what to do about Rem Purdy, an outlaw wanted for the murder of his wife in El Paso, and the death of two Indian babies. “Tonto, if there ever was a man that deserved killing, that is the man,” The Lone Ranger remarks. Tonto offers to kill Purdy himself. “No, there are things that are harder for him to stand, that will do better for our purpose than killing him,” the masked man explained. “He has a scheme of sort. We’ve got to find out what they scheme is. He’ll be killed someday, sure enough, but not by us.” Tonto then suggests that tar and feathers would be a “good thing for coyote like him.” As it turns out, Purdy’s scheme is exposed in the presence of the mob of angry railroad workers, and justice is promptly served at the hands of the men with tar and feathers. Only afterwards Purdy feels like a fool to discover he was coated with molasses, not tar.

What I find amusing is the fact that 80 years following those early radio broadcasts, very little has been documented. The radio scripts have been available to the public for reading and review but maybe few wanted to take the trek or expense to travel to the archive. It may give readers of this blog post a great feeling to know that almost every radio script dating from 1933 to 1937 have been read and fully documented into a database. This project has been going on for the past year and will doubt be completed in the next month. What you read above is just a sample of what was unearthed and I can assure you there were virtually hundreds of surprises. If the stars align properly, all 770 plus pre-1938 radio broadcasts will not only be documented in book form, but details regarding the purchase of said book will be made public. In the meantime, should you want to know more about the early adventures, I recommend you subscribe to SPERDVAC's monthly magazine, Radiogram, which costs $20 a year. There will be a more in-depth article about these recent discoveries later this year. You can subscribe to the newsletter at and visit the "Membership" page.

On March 11, at the Williamsburg Film Festival, I will be presenting a slide show presentation on such discoveries for a full hour -- most of the photographs originating from archives across the country, the majority of them never seen by the public in 60 to 70 years. If you live within travel distance and want to check this out, I can assure you it will be worth the effort. You can find more information about the festival at

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Something of a milestone occurred on the weekend of February 26 and 27, 2016. A national conference with one agenda: to gather together some of the most important and influential people involved with radio preservation and discuss the direction of archival holdings. The Radio Preservation Task Force was created early in 2014 and grew out of the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan (December 2012). According to the RPTF, and I am quoting them verbatim, the organization seeks to (1) support collaboration between faculty researchers and archivists toward the preservation of radio history, (2) develop an online inventory of extant American radio archival collections, focusing on recorded sound holdings, including research aids, (3) identify and save endangered collections, (4) develop pedagogical guides for utilizing radio and sound archives, and (5) act as a clearing house to encourage and expand academic study on the cultural history of radio through the location of grants, the creation of research caucuses, and development of metadata on extant materials. (To emphasize the importance: C-Span and CBS Sunday Morning covered the event.)

The conference was held at the Library of Congress and at the University of MD, and was open to the public. There was an estimated 200 to 250 people in attendance, all of whom were a virtual who’s who among the field. While sitting in the audience I discovered I was rubbing elbows with museum curators, archivists at university libraries, and well… the most influential people in the country who are involved with the management of audio preservation at vast archives.

During the opening keynote address of the RPTF in Washington, D.C.
Fans and collectors of old-time radio might wonder how this event relates to them. For the newcomer who feels this article reads like Greek stereo instructions, bear with me for a moment and you will see where this is going. (Apologies in advance for the lengthy essay but I promise by the end you will be rewarded.) 

They say the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there is one. For both librarians and museum curators, handicapped with red tape, legal concerns, lack of necessary equipment, staffing issues and budgetary limitations, the two day-conference gave those individuals an opportunity to address those concerns and – with sincere intentions – explore potential solutions. The event could best be described as a “meeting of the minds.”

The Panels
            Among the 20 individual panels were such topics as “Radio Preservation: The State of the Nation,” “Surprising Archives/Archival Surprises,” “Material Practices in Archives,” “Metadata and Digital Archiving,” among the others. (For future reference, metadata is data that describes other data, an underlying definition or description, which summarizes basic information about data. In other words, a recording of a radio broadcast is data, the title of the program and broadcast date which is used to name that file is metadata.)

            Because multiple panels were held at the same time, no one person could possibly attend them all. Friends of mine worked out a scheme whereupon we would each attend a different panel and collaborate notes and exchange recordings made on our iPhones. While these panels were diverse in subject matter, with each of the panelists representing a different library/organization, the best of them were those that essentially involved (1) a brief five-to-ten minute summary or slide show sample of an archive housed at said library by each of the panelists and (2) a question posed by each panelist that would aid them in their research with the hopes that the “minds” in the room could propose solutions. This would be the equivalent of detectives from various metropolitans getting together, each briefly explaining a crime they have been unable to solve, and hoping another detective in the room could suggest a solution.

Among the slide show presentations was history of an obscure 1937-57 radio program.

Of the panels I attended, one librarian posed a question about intra-archival discovery. While researching Subject A for his project, he came across another collection in the same archive that contained what might be valuable information for another historian. But how does he make it known that Subject B is available for another researcher? (The solution involves reporting this discovery on the internet (almost any website would do) so a researcher, using google, will stumble upon the notation and thus the problem is resolved.) 

Another question posed at a panel: “We have no doubt that there are public citizens sitting on archival materials that need to be donated for preservation. How do we bring to their attention that our facility would gladly accept that collection for preservation?” One challenging question plaguing researchers: “If there are virtually little or no recordings in existence, should radio scripts be taken as the gospel? And if both exist, which is more reliable?” It was agreed by most in the room that reading a radio script can be different than listening, because emphasis on specific words and delivery can change the meaning of the words. Not to mention the time frame between rehearsal and broadcast can result in script revisions. (One could go into a lengthy essay about this but I will reserve this for a future blog post later this year, derived from experience.)

One concern addressed was the subject of sensitive materials. A historian discovered that a specific producer of radio programs in the 1940s was deeply involved in homosexual relations. Would there be legal ramifications if she disclosed this in her published findings? Would the family of that radio producer approve? How exactly do you define the moral ground when history is history and facts are facts? Publish or not to publish, that was the question. If you ask any journalist who writes for a major metropolitan newspaper, you will more than likely be told that it is better to celebrate than expose. More importantly, if the purpose of your research is to document and preserve a radio program, would exposing this factoid distract the readers from the initial agenda or overall message your book or magazine article was meant for?

A librarian who confessed their holdings have not yet been digitized and explained the reason for the holdup is confusion. “We do not have proper information about the recordings. (Titles, broadcast dates, etc.) We need proper metadata first before we transfer the recordings, else we cannot title the audio files properly.” In defense, a second librarian pointed out that time was against them. The stability of the archival formats is breaking down. The transfer of at-risk audio-visual material is essential. Metadata, the second librarian rationalized, can be applied to the audio files after transfer. The first librarian, however, was a wet blanket: “Oh, no. Library policy is that we have to identify the recordings first.” The second librarian rationalized that at his facility they have so many recordings that they have four units running at the same time, eight hours a day. They admitted the con to their process: “We cannot have an intern listening to four recordings at once to identify what is on them and label the files accordingly. The transfer process is primary. We can then have all the time needed to listen and identify the recordings.”

One librarian questioned whether it was essential to transfer thousands of hours of Arthur Godfrey radio broadcasts, or would it be better to transfer one for each calendar month to best represent the progress of his radio delivery over the years. The library has 800 plus recordings from Godfrey’s 90-minute morning program and not enough interns to do the transfers before the wire recordings go bad. Many argued that all of those recordings were historic and all of them should be converted to digital. (Others disagreed simply because the host was Arthur Godfrey.) But wouldn’t recordings of Grandma Jones, a local radio host in Chicago, less known to radio historians, be just as important as a national figure? Who is to judge what recordings are more culturally significant than others? The answer to that last question is relative. As stated many times in this essay, there is no black and white, only grey.

These were among the challenges and concerns that librarians hoped solutions have been found at other institutions, so they can return home, report and either influence the powers-that-be to initiate revised policies, or at the very least be motivated to take the first steps in removing the barriers of red tape.

During the slide show seminars there were cool treasures revealed.

The Definition of a Collector
The fact that librarians and curators were gathered in one place to discuss and address their concerns, shared by mutual interest, is a public confession that the preservation, access and education of radio broadcasts of our past is endangered. For the most part, all of the libraries represented are suffering from the same problems. For most, the transfer of recordings needs to be done in-house and cannot be staffed by external volunteers – only interns. The reason for this is not just library policy but libraries have to maintain integrity and out-sourcing removes complete control of where the recordings go after they leave the library. Most volunteers are sincere but the hidden motives of a few have tarnished what potential possibilities there are with out-sourcing.

If I may inject personal commentary here: If policies are preventing or handicapping preservation methods, then policies need to be revised. But archivists are staff, not policy or lawmakers. No policy is constructive or advantageous if that very policy is the center of the problem. A few librarians confessed that they found ways to break past the barriers by establishing exceptions to library policy and most of those acknowledged their solutions, with pride, applying the adage: “the ends justified the means.” No policy is carved so deep in granite that an exception cannot be made.

             Most of the good folks reading this article need to understand three classifications: the collector, the historian (also known as the researcher), and the archivist. The collector seeks copies of recordings to hear, shelve, catalog, label and inventory what they own. The collector buys, copies, swaps and downloads. More serious collectors will buy transcription discs, wire recordings and cylinders from eBay and other collectors, and will transfer from these master recordings for personal use (often for trade purposes). Less serious collectors download. No fault to either collector; their taste and preference is all dependent on how much -- or little -- they appreciate old time radio.

The historian is focused on gathering metadata from various archival sources, to help identify recordings, broadcast dates and the history behind the performers, writers, directors and of the program itself. They research (i.e. travel and do the legwork) and publish their findings. (And yes, historians have a collection of recordings in their possession but that does not make them solely classified as a collector.) And you might be surprised to know that a recent study discovered 55 percent of all extant sound recordings remain undated. Historians contribute to lowering that percentage. You can thank one historian for having reviewed all of the Popeye, the Sailor radio scripts during the past year. You know those four Popeye radio broadcasts that have circulated among collectors over the past few decades? We now have broadcast dates, cast list and official episode numbers! Collectors who forget the role researchers play can momentarily thank the historian for that task. It took him two weeks to read all those radio scripts just to identify those four broadcast dates.

The archivist is responsible for the preservation aspect. The archivist converts sound recordings to a digital medium, usually in broadcast wav format (BWF), from the original cylinders, wire recordings, transcription discs and other formats. The archivist catalogs and inventories, scans archival documents and photographs, and performs all of these tasks using the best equipment and software available. A collector generally maintains his or her collection from private residence using standard hardware and software. An archivist generally works from a library that is federal, county or state funded, working with industry standard hardware and software. An archivist would never consider working from compressed mp3 files circulating on the internet. An archivist is concerned with the state of the original source material and working directly from the original source material.

            As explained by the keynote speaker, Paddy Scannell, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, “Collectors are generally not concerned about the historical aspect of radio broadcasts. They are not content driven.” A collector hears the radio and a historian listens to the radio. “Hearing and listening to radio is not the same,” Scannell explained. A historian listens to the content of speech and voice, how words are spoken, and will decipher the meaning and context. The collector hears Bob Hope tell a topical joke and chooses to laugh – or not laugh – with the audience. A historian listens to what Bob Hope said and laughs with full understanding of what the joke was referring to. The success of Kate Smith and Arthur Godfrey, as Scannell demonstrated, spoke not to an audience of millions but to one person – you, the radio listener. The plea to purchase a War Bond was scripted and anyone could have delivered the message... but it was how Kate Smith delivered that plea that helped her sell more than $40 million to aid the war cause.

            The RPTF conference was open to the public but I observed no collectors in attendance. I met Jeannette Berard of the Thousand Oaks Library in California, who I communicated with by e-mail and phone many times over the years. Now I can put a face to the e-mails. I was introduced to Gene Fowler of the Border Radio Research Institute. I shared lunch with Jack French, editor of Radio Recall for the Metro Washington Old-Time Radio Club and author of Private Eyelashes. I chatted briefly with Jason Loviglio of the University of Maryland, who is digging deeper into the history of Judy and Jane (1932-35). I since sent Jason some material pertaining to Judy and Jane that will aid in his search for more information, and a researcher friend of mine has also sent him material as well. I talked briefly with David Weinstein of the National Endowment for the Humanities about a book he is working on, focusing on the career of Eddie Cantor, and his efforts to unearth discoveries never before documented in prior publications. Others I exchanged brief conversations with: Frank Absher of the St. Louis Radio Society, Wendy Shay of the Smithsonian, David Hunter of the University of Texas, Mary Huelsbeck of the University of Wisconsin, Laurie Sather of the Hagley Museum and Library, and Jerry McBride of Stanford University. I chatted briefly with good friend Dr. Michael Biel, one of the most knowledgable historians in the field. Ruta Abolins from the University of Georgia answered a question that puzzled me for years. In short, while the event was open to the public, all of the attendees were scholars, historians and archivists. There were virtually no collectors.

Chuck Howell of the University of Maryland talks about Vox Pop.

Clearing Up Misconceptions
            Anyone who attends conventions (fan gatherings to be specific, the majority of attendance being collectors) is aware that collectors in the hobby of old-time radio exchange common misconceptions. Facebook has given people a social platform to speak from a soap box and sadly, many collectors have used this podium to spread those misconceptions to a broader audience. On Facebook, regardless of what accuracy is provided by historians to correct those myths, many of these collectors feed off each other until, twenty comments/responses later what was an assumption is now misconstrued as a fact. Dave Thompson wrote in the introduction of Sherlock Holmes FAQ (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013), "While chroniclers of modern pop culture insist the Internet has democratized the art of criticism, allowing every user to voice his or her own in a public forum, the truth of the matter is somewhat different. Rather than voice a personal opinion, many people regard the Internet as a place to insist that their opinion is hard fact, will not acknowledge any contrary viewpoint, and actively spend their time trolling other sites in order to harshly dismiss any they might find. And for many of these sad and lonely middle-aged men who still live with their mothers, the Internet is the center of their universe."

To set the record straight on one of these misconceptions, libraries housing archives of radio programs are in the service of patrons. Libraries are not hoarding recordings. With but one or two minor exceptions, there is no vast treasure trove of non-circulating radio broadcasts in private collector hands. There is no old man in California sitting on 4,000 "lost" radio broadcasts of Og, Son of Fire. Truth be known, libraries want to make their recordings and archives available to the public. That is the service they provide. If it was not for red tape or policies, and if budgets would allow, they would make their archives available for download from their websites. So the next time a collector wants to start accusing archives and libraries and other private collectors (of which they themselves don’t know the names of those they are accusing) of hoarding, they may want to be cautious: criticizing the very people and organizations that are making recordings available for free to the masses is not exercising good judgment.

            Evident from attending this weekend conference was the general consensus among the field that the archivist works for the benefit of the historian and researcher, deemed larger importance than that of the patron. This is because the historian and researcher provides a service in return. During a recent trip to a public library half way across the country, my secure relationship with the staff and reputation as a historian and author granted me permission to scan over 500 archival photographs pulled from storage. Normally the library charges a fee per photo. But since my project was archival and for research purposes, they granted the exception. At one time during my two days at the library I observed a woman who sought a newspaper article about her great-grandmother. The patron found what she was looking for and asked the librarian if she could have the photograph of her relative scanned because laptops and scanners were not permitted in the reading room. She was provided a form to fill out and told the fee would be $36, which helped cover the cost and labor, and the photo image would be e-mailed within 72 hours. The patron asked why she had to pay a fee to get a scanned copy of a photo of her great-grandmother (as if she was putting a dollar value on what was obviously a treasure) when “that young man” was scanning all those photos with his laptop and scanner and not filling out any forms or paying for it. That young man, she was referring to, was myself. The librarian made up the excuse that “he works here”… and so the patron paid the $36. If the patron had explained that she needed the photograph for genealogy and research purposes, and been polite about the matter, the librarian might have granted her an exception.

            While it may be discouraging to report that such diversity exists in the academic field, it should be noted that the gift of an archive has been taken for granted many times. Policies are placed into effect for a reason; the donor may have had stipulations regarding how the recordings and photographs are to be used. Collectors sometimes seek recordings for personal gain and take advantage of the libraries; thus causing revisions to the policies. Preservation is not illegal. Streaming, file swapping and downloading recordings, for profit, is illegal if the recording is still protected under copyright. And just because the recording is old does not mean it has fallen into the “public domain.” Dropbox and other on-line file swapping software provides an element of privacy that cannot be monitored by the copyright holders. True, file swapping is the modern-day equivalent to what collectors used to do in the 1980s and 1990s – copy audiocassettes and CDs and swap disc-for-disc. Many people have gotten away with modern-day accumulations for such a lengthy period of time, and know of others who do the same, that they forget that they are still liable for what they do on the Internet... downloading included. 

The rumors of large collections of historical papers and archival materials being tossed in the dumpster does have a basis of truth. When a new station manager walks through the door, their first decision is to chuck the history in the dumpster because they do not know how to monetize it. When the question comes up as to who is responsible for the discarding of radio preservation, the answer usually falls on corporate decisions. (Remember when David Letterman retired and CBS ordered the destruction of the studio props, which today would be considered museum pieces by tens of thousands of people? People were literally dumpster diving because they wanted to save a piece of television history.) Collectors, historians and archivists cringe when they hear such stories. But what happens with the archival materials that is saved from the dumpster is dependent not just with the individual who had the foresight to rescue the materials, but what they do with the materials. And collectors who store these archives in their basement, attic or garage with careless disregard for preserving them are just as guilty as the people they claim are “hoarding.”

Which brings me to the last aspect of clarification. A "hoarder" in this subject of conversation is defined as someone who acquires archival materials, including recordings, and does nothing with them except to serve as bragging rights. They are not saving or preserving history through this method. We are not discussing mp3 files downloaded off the Internet; those are considered “copies” and downgrades from archival maters. What we are discussing are transcription discs, photographs, radio scripts, scrapbooks, and other materials that are archival in nature and considered original source material. If permanent loss for all of time occurs as a result of flood or fire, the greed of the hoarder is solely responsible for that loss. If, however, someone rescues a transcription disc from the dumpster and arranges for the transfer to digital files, and off-site backups to ensure the recording will never vanish, then they are not – and should not – be classified as a hoarder. In fact, the defense should be made that they truly rescued the material and deserve respect and acknowledgment for taking the time to make sure such recordings are preserved. The pattern of behavior that stems from excessive acquisition and the unwillingness to preserve original archival materials will cause more than significant distress to the community. Among collectors, the words “hoarding” and “hoarders” is branded about too often and with little basis of knowledge.

Closing keynote speech of the first day by Sam Brylawski.    

Closing Observations
            At the close of the two-day seminar a number of questions remained unanswered. For some of these concerns, technological or theoretical, there is no black and white; only grey. Transferring recordings from archival masters offers archivists the opportunity to improve the sound quality better than the equipment used throughout the 1930s and 1940s. But is that an alteration or a restoration, and is that a good thing? If an archive has more recordings than they have both expense and staff at their disposal, what is considered historically and culturally important, and who determines which recordings to salvage first? Are local voices just as important as national voices?

            So what conclusions were formed after the weekend? There were multiple reminders that there is no one archive that houses a collection focusing on a particular subject. If you plan to research and perform an archeological dig and publish your findings about any given subject, there is more than one archive to visit. A scholarly committee agrees in general that radio broadcasts from the 1950s is widely underestimated. Half of the solutions proposed involved a uniform and one-stop source for metadata – including, I kid you not, the proposal of having every collector in the country log and document their entire holdings so everyone knows where every recording exists. (Anyone with an I.Q. higher than room temperature can think of half a dozen reasons why that proposal would never succeed.) At least four such proposals were mentioned along similar grounds: unifying databases that involve countless factors that would not make such a thing possible. There were three questions that have no black and white answers and anything that resembled an answer was acknowledged as subjective. Time could have been better spent avoiding those subjects.

There is “contested authority,” a growing divide between archivists. It was unanimously agreed that much of the subject matter involving radio broadcasts is hardly exciting, but historically significant and necessary for preservation and there were differences of opinion regarding methods of transfer, format and storage. What was unanimously agreed was using the best software and hardware available to make those transfers – which of course, requires the largest budgets. (Someone during the conference joked that maybe archivists could turn to collectors for assistance because collectors commonly use freeware downloaded off the Internet to improve those inferior mp3 files downloaded last week off the Internet. The response from another was, “Why not buy a used Ferrari and then go to Wal-Mart and buy the cheapest tires?”) As someone once described, collecting mp3 files is the equivalent to collecting pine needles. 

            Oral recorded history entertains the collector but for historians, while they fill in gaps, interviews and recollections are still suspect and unreliable. Also concluded was that every institution believes they are under-staffed and not well-funded. And these were decided unanimously, and are now considered uniformly standard.

            It was generally agreed that scholars and historians are needed for preservation and libraries should collaborate with historians and scholars. This is probably why libraries service historians before patrons/collectors. It was also pointed out that historians worked with both collectors and the archives, forming a working relationship, a conduit between the two. One woman, working on a biography about Jack Benny, having never written a book before, now questions the motives of half the collectors she talked to and the reliability and accuracy of information provided to her by the collecting community… and this she picked up from experience. She admitted that the Internet led her down the wrong road too many times, found hundreds of errors on multiple websites, and the only true accuracy stems from major discoveries found in archives across the country. This proves that if you go to the source, you can avoid third-hand unreliability scattered across the Internet. It was also agreed by the majority that the Internet was not self-correcting, but self-evolving.

Libraries agreed that it is a disservice to amass, shelve and store more material than they can catalog. For many libraries, polices dictate in-house transfers and a lack of staffing due to limited budgets. During one panel, I witnessed an archivist, representing the library she worked for, waving about a wet blanket – she confessed they did not have the staffing (interns) but when it was suggested by other librarians how they sought and acquired exceptions to library policies to get the job done, she insisted that the heads above her would not make an exception. Certainly not a proactive position.

Established more than once was the fact that research of old-time radio contributes to a genealogical resource. This includes someone seeking the exact date of broadcast when her grandmother was a contestant on a radio quiz program in the forties, or someone seeking the extant audio of their father who was a guest on a radio interview program such as Vox Pop.

There were three different archivists over the weekend providing brief ten-minute slide shows about subjects they were presently working on, pleased to have an audience that appreciated the subject matter. Each of them seeking sources of information and leads to further their investigations, but none of them were aware of the first four essentials all researchers of old-time radio use as a starting point when beginning any project. This came as a surprise to me until a colleague, over dinner that evening, mentioned his observation, “Archivists are not researchers.” This is not to downgrade archivists in any way… remember, they were there to ask for leads and take notes. If I can offer an observation of my own: the panelists did a good job keeping the panels and comments moving smoothly and ending on time. But resolutions to concerns and questions were conducted during an exchange of notes and e-mail addresses between panelists and members of the audience, following each panel, not during the caucus itself which could have benefited multiple people at the same time.

Historians and researchers during the weekend clarified the difference between a web search and an archival search, local newspapers vs. trade papers, and recording ownership vs. rights ownership. It was mentioned by one panelist that the average public citizen have little access to scholarly resources. Sadly, she was mistaken. What services are provided today by local libraries is not only staggering but beyond anyone’s expectations if they know what specifically to ask for and what to receive. (When a friend of mine said he was unable to find information on a given subject, I suggested he visit his local public library. “No, they don’t offer that service,” he told me. “Wanna wager a box of donuts on that?” I asked. He was dumbfounded when he discovered his public library gave him free magazine subscriptions, complimentary access to portals that used to be available only from university libraries, and access to free recordings that make Netflix and Redbox obsolete.) If anyone thinks having access to the Internet from their home computer is a vast countryside of websites, they have no conception of how many equivalents to the Internet are available at their disposal thanks to their local library.

Also clarified was the undisputed agreement that the Internet should never be used as reference, but rather as a tool for reference. No serious scholar, researcher or historian uses Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, but they will explore the links at the bottom to learn the whereabouts of archives, gather contact information and discover titles of published reference works they did not know existed. The Internet both compliments and challenges the scholar/historian. The Internet has added confusion and spread myths. This was agreed unanimously.

The Diogenes Syndrome
The Internet opened the door for what I term as “The Diogenes Syndrome” among collectors who download free radio programs by the tons, disrespecting quality for numbers, obsessed with the “more is better” mantra. They claim ownership of tens of thousands of audio files, not radio recordings (I had to clarify the difference). Statistically, these collectors have more programs than they have hours left in their life, and without proper education unjustly gripe on social media that hoarders are responsible for the reason why they do not have more. (If you ask them who these hoarders are, they can rarely name names.) They consider themselves among the hobby of old-time radio; nothing can be far from the truth. Many of these individuals do not buy or read books on the subject, are not members of old-time radio clubs, and do not subscribe to the club newsletters. Even fewer attend conventions (fan gatherings).

“That carried me back maybe 15 or 18 years to my first trip to the home of the aging founder of the KRA (Kentuckiana Radio Addicts) club in suburban Louisville,” author and historian Jim Cox told me. “I was absolutely appalled out of my wits not merely by the sophistication and range of his recording equipment but, far more, by the bookcases, closet shelving, tables, desks, boxes, drawers, and floor space appropriated for hundreds of thousands of shows. I had never seen anything like it in a private collection. So surprised was I that I inquired, ‘Have you listened to all these programs?’ He stunned me with his retort: ‘No, and I won’t live long enough to do that.’ I couldn’t let it pass. ‘Then why do you have so many?’ I asked. ‘So I’ll have them,’ came his instant reply. Here was the best example of the Diogenes Syndrome I ever saw. That man died three or four years hence. And his wife made a deal with a distributor in another state to clean out the house a short time afterward. It all seemed like such a waste of time and money.”

While the limits of collecting is relative, the first indication that someone is suffering from this syndrome is not compulsive, but the decline of living quarters. If a collection extends beyond book shelves and wall space, and starts taking up floor space, restraint is required. Sadly, there are many who sacrifice their living quarters (or a section thereof) in exchange of owning recordings they may never listen to in the first place. Burdened widows have thrown much in the dumpster after their spouse passed away. In the long run, children and grandchildren gain disrespect for "that old stuff" as a result of the inconvenience. 

Bill Kirkpatrick of Denison University delivers his slide show.

In Closing
For the most part everyone spoke with respect and proactively throughout the weekend. Though collectors in the hobby were practically non-existent, this may have been a blessing. The RPTF was neither the time or place to gripe about “hoarders” or brag about the size of their – ahem, collections. There were no egos here. Challenges and concerns were explained both clear and concise, and suggested resolutions were proposed from both experience and from a “meeting of the minds.” If I could be critical for a brief moment, I believe more could have been accomplished if the panels that featured five or six speakers were limited to three. The time allotted for discussion and proposals for resolving concerns were limited. Most of the resolutions, from what I observed, happened during break times.

One concept revisited during the weekend included the “Black Hole Factor,” where libraries (thankfully only a few of them) sit on vast collections for a lengthy period of time and do practically nothing but debate when and how they are going process the collection. One solution proposed by a library that boasts a successful track record was “a ten-year window policy” from the date of donation to the completion of archival and cataloging. It would seem private individuals who hoard collections should follow this advice.

I can name two other examples that occurred in the past two years where, everyone agreed a digitization process was essential for preservation, and volunteers donated both time and money to accomplish the task that decades-old policies and red tape prevented. From experience, obstacles are overcome when exceptions are made and volunteers – and out-sourcing – is embraced with open arms. And what better public relations could an institution ask for than a national magazine reports how decision makers formulated a plan to temporarily cut red tape and allow private donations and volunteers do the job that everyone agrees, “the ends will justify the means.” Would this not be inspirational, trend-setting and set precedence for others to follow their lead?

If the RPTF holds a second conference next year, my hope is that a seminar offers three historians and researchers the chance to demonstrate what obstacles and firewalls they have experienced from libraries and archives. 

If anything was accomplished through the seminar that weekend it was the general acceptance and acknowledgement that libraries housing archives need to do better. And they want to do better. And these archivists acknowledge the challenges they need to overcome to find immediate solutions. No one was pointing fingers; no one was blame-shifting. There was a positive outlook throughout the entire weekend. Challenges were defined: digitizing, inventory records, costs and funding, targeting and inclusion, metadata, and the suggestion of establishing intern programs to resolve staffing issues. And everyone was taking notes on notepads, iPads and laptops throughout the weekend, hoping to return with possible solutions to such challenges. But I guess the only way to judge whether the weekend was truly a success is whether progress reports are delivered at next year’s conference.

For more information about the Radio Preservation Task Force, visit: