Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Passing of Two OTR Legends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018


Journalist Dan Rather was once quoted of saying, "An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger." For scholars and historians of old-time radio, it is difficult not to be reminded of radio station WXYZ, in Detroit, whenever a recording is played of the William Tell Overture, also known as "The March of the Swiss Soldiers." While the masked man and his faithful Indian companion rode the plains across all 50 states courtesy of line feeds and transcription discs, few across the nation knew the western dramas originated from Motor City.

Simplistically, the radio broadcasting industry worked like this: Radio stations across the country worked independently and produced their own local programming including music and news. Throughout the early 1930s, almost every large radio station across the nation formed its own repertory company to produce radio drama for evening entertainment. Some conceived and wrote original dramas. Others licensed radio scripts from other production companies. As "networks" were formed, including NBC and CBS, independent stations signed contracts to join the network and sacrifice prime time for national coverage of such luminaries as Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee and Edgar Bergen - the network paid the station for their coverage, thus eliminating hours of original programming sorely needed at the local station employing a minimum of staff. Most of the national network feeds originated from Los Angeles or New York City, with Chicago the third (but minor-league) hub of prime time entertainment. 

WYXIE WONDERLAND painted a portrait of a radio station responsible for such programs as Bob Barclay, American Agent, Ned Jordan, Warner Lester -- Manhunter, The Lone Ranger, Challenge of the Yukon, The Green Hornet and Ann Worth, Housewife. At the same time, author Dick Osgood painted a disheartening portrait of George W. Trendle, a lawyer, theater owner and businessman who, multiple times, attempted to pay his employees less than scale. Through historical hindsight, Trendle was not responsible for single-handedly creating syndication through transcription but the idea did germinate from station manager H. Allen Campbell, considered the business genius behind the station's profits. The Lone Ranger quickly syndicated across the nation in 1938, helping to pull WXYZ out of the red and became Trendle's cash cow. 

By 1954, when Trendle sold The Lone Ranger property to Jack Wrather for a historic $3 million, an inventory of the finances revealed Trendle made more than $300 million in the course of 20 years -- and that was only counting money garnered from The Lone Ranger!

Dick Osgood's book, WYXIE WONDERLAND, was published when many of the radio staff, writers, directors and actors, were still around to provide testimony to an industry each of them shrugged off on their day of retirement as merely a nine-to-five job. Historian Osgood benefited from this immense advantage, while research today is restricted to audio interview recordings that survive and circulate among old-time radio collectors. He had unfettered access to photographs, copies of employment contracts and other materials that would make the mouth water of any historian today. WYXIE WONDERLAND was a romantic look at a by-gone era -- the "Golden Age of Radio" -- when radio was the dominant form of entertainment. Not until a decade-and-a-half later was any serious scholarly research published in the form of reference guides. Osgood beat those to the punch.

Over the years, as historians continue to dig deep into the archives, the published reference guides tend to become obsolete. What was considered a fact at the time of publication becomes outdated with new information uncovered two decades later. Books like Tune in Yesterday, The Big Broadcast and On the Air have practically become obsolete as a result of thousands of errors discovered after the fact. With this introduction of new evidence and factual discoveries, as is not uncommon in historiography, a re-interpretation of record occurs, changing professional scholars' orthodox views about the historic aspect of radio broadcasting. This is no fault to any author who, at the time their book was published, assumed their information to be accurate.

Through the past decade, a great deal of archeological digging in public and private archives has unearthed tens of thousands of documents, providing indisputable facts behind the formation of numerous radio programs, including The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Careful review of these documents provided a perspective that is practically impossible to say about almost any other reference book written prior: Osgood got the facts straight. Perhaps there is no other book that has been so accurately written about old-time radio prior to 1990, even though Osgood relied mostly on memories from cast and crew without any paperwork to substantiate the stories. A rare feat indeed.

This is not to say the book is without error. Osgood relied on a story told by Al Hodge regarding the origin of the Detroit Local of AFRS, and the story of The Green Hornet overheard over a Canadian radio station, including a remark by H. Allen Campbell about recently losing sponsorship of the United Shirt Distributors. The Union was formed in 1937. United Shirt Distributors sponsored the program beginning in 1944. Osgood fact-checked the exact date of the Union formation as September 26, 1937, but was unable to verify sponsorship and therefore, reference to the United Shirt Distributors is incorrect.

Osgood relied on testimony from one actor regarding the whereabouts of Tokatoro Hayashi, the Japanese actor who played the role of Kato on The Green Hornet, following the U.S. entry in the war. According to Osgood in chapter 24, sometime in 1942 the U.S. Government sent official notice to the actor that he be sent back to Japan. The actor was promptly replace day actor Rollon Parker and, according to Osgood, Hayashi "disappeared, presumably to a concentration camp in the west." The truth about Hayashi became known only a few years ago. He went to the West Coast and became a gardener for a wealthy family who took him in. Hayashi lived to a ripe old age and was blessed with a large and loving family. 

The two examples above are the most significant blunders. Others are minor. In the grand scheme of historical revisionism, debate among scholars is not warranted, especially over controversial points-of-view. Osgood set out to document the history of the George W. Trendle empire, the formation of the Michigan Radio Network, the famous programs synonymous with radio station WXYZ (which employees referred to as "wyxie"), and the legendary icons who would have normally faded into the sunset without such acknowledgement. (John Lund, Martha Scott, Betty Hutton, James Lipton, Casey Kasem, Mike Wallace and many others got their start at WXYZ.)

The book was first published in 1981 through a University Press and over time became highly sought after by fans of The Lone Ranger. In many cases, especially through's marketplace and Abe Books, the average ransom price of the book was $85 -- more if the original hardcover contained a dust jacket. Thankfully, Rich Harvey of Bold Venture Press went to get expense to license the book and reprint Dick Osgood's book in paperback format. Formatted with an updated font and graphic layout, along with scanned photographs to ensure better replication of the same photos in the 1981 original, along with additional photographs, this improved version is now available for a retail of $29.95. 

If you are a fan of The Green Hornet, Sergeant Preston or The Lone Ranger, this is a must-have book. Whether you are a fan of The Lone Ranger or old-time radio in general, this is one of the dozen essentials for your bookshelf. A direct link for you to purchase a copy on is provided below.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Shape of Water (2017) Movie Review

Let me start off by saying I have never been a fan of Guillermo Del Toro, his directing style or his choice of material. The Shape of Water, written, produced and directed by Del Toro, dramatizing the story of a mute janitor who falls in love with an aquatic creature housed at a Government lab in the 1960s, will probably be regarded as one of his best films. A bizarre love story, this whimsical fantasy has a little of something for everyone and provides us with the best acting performance of 2017.

Sally Hawkins plays the role of Elisa, a mute woman working for a government agency in Baltimore, Maryland. Single and lonely, she found friendship among the oppressed -- a black woman who also works as a janitor at the same employment, and her next-door neighbor, a closeted gay man who tries to take back his job as an artist for an advertising agency in an era where photographs are replacing custom art. During her daily routine as a janitor, she sneaks off during lunch time to find solitude and companionship with an amphibious creature, brought to the lab under special guard. But when the military insists dissecting the gill man may provide the key to beating the Russians in the space race, Elisa, with assistance from her friends, sets out to free the creature and return him to his native habitat.

Everyone playing leads in this movie delivered fine performances but the Oscar-worthy contender here is Sally Hawkins, best known for Godzilla (2014) and the two Paddington movies. After watching numerous silent films featuring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy, she mimics the best of a silent screen actress by communicating through the use of facial expressions and emotion. For the benefit of the audience who did not understand sign language, subtitles were provided at times; actors reading her hand signals verbally communicated on screen as well. But no one needed either of these to read her thoughts as projected on celluloid. This was how Hawkins delivered what might be the best performance of the year. The actress will receive numerous nominations come awards season -- and deservingly so.

Many who saw the movie trailer promoting The Shape of Water might have suspected this was an updated rendition of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The costume of the gill man was clearly inspired by the 1954 classic. Michael Shannon's character says early in the movie that the creature was picked up in a river in South America, the same setting for the 1954 horror classic. But this creature has heart in a world where everyone privileged is being mean to everyone else. This may be why the relationship between Elisa and the gill man stands out through the movie.

Do not mistake this as a horror film. This is clearly a love story, inspired by the 1940s studio musicals (Betty Hutton, Alice Faye, etc.) so it comes as no surprise that the director initially wanted to shoot the entire film in black and white. Believe-it-or-not, it costs more to shoot a film in black and white these days and due to budgetary concerns, the film was shot in color with green motif. Watch carefully for numerous tip-of-the-hat references such as Jenkins' sketch of Audrey Hepburn on his drafting board in one scene -- Sally Hawkins' character was named Elisa, the character Audrey Hepburn played in My Fair Lady. Hawkins even mimics Audrey Hepburn early in the movie.

To enjoy this offbeat underwater love story, director Guillermo Del Toro set out to accomplish  suspension of disbelief -- an essential element to watching a fantasy similar to Mr. Peabody and the MermaidLost Horizon and King Kong. Even if the movie does not win a ton of awards in the coming months, it can be regarded among one of the best fantasy movies made.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

The way I look at it, if Sports Illustrated can have their own swimsuit issue, we can have one of our own to ring in the New Year!

Ann Rutherford
Clara Bow
Jane Greer
Olga San Juan
Cyd Charisse
Jennifer Jones still opening packages for Christmas.