Sunday, September 30, 2012

It was fifty years ago today...

September 30th, 1962 was a pretty normal day for most people. The Cubs beat the Mets, but back then almost anyone could do that. I suppose most folks didn't realize that day marked the end of a truly momentous era in US history. September 30th, 1962 was the official end of the Golden Age of Radio.

It wasn't "the day the music died" or anything like that. It was the day the music almost completely took over the airways of the country. The final two episodes of the last two network dramatic radio programs aired on September 30th, 1962: Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Until the recent days of on-demand video on the Internet, there wasn't anything that came close to the entertainment, advertising, and informational value of radio. Radio was the first medium that touched almost every single American household at the same time. The raw immediacy of the form struck a nerve that soon formed a powerful industry out of a fledgling hobby.

The Golden Age of Radio, from the thirties to the early sixties, saw media and entertainment dynasties formed, many of which still exist today. Powerhouses like the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting Company (now NBC and ABC) down to fan favorites like American Bandstand owe their longevity and socio-economic impact to those glory days.

There was so much wonderful content produced back then: Comedy by the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and drama by Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and Orson Welles. You can still hear the report of the destruction of the Hindenburg, FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech, and Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series.

We're lucky that there is a large number of old-time radio programs that still survive. There are literally thousands of them that you can find on the Internet and listen to for free. But there is so much that either was not transcribed to record or tape, or that had the recordings carelessly or callously destroyed over the decades that it is almost criminal; A lot of creative people, a lot of daily events, a lot of life that deserves to be remembered is gone forever.

Perhaps this won't happen again. I'm constantly amazed at the old TV shows I can find lurking in dusty corners of the Internet. Maybe we're finally in an era where everything about our society will be kept, either for nostalgia's sake or whatever. When I think about the end of radio's Golden Age back in 1962, I have to wonder if that's something that could happen to radio again. Talk radio is still growing and pushing music stations off the air - political pundits are apparently much more soothing to people than pop music now. One would really hope that America has learned its lesson and will stand up and support free entertainment.

One would also think Honey Boo Boo wouldn't have become a hit either. We do seem to like to watch the train wreck instead of taking the logs off the tracks.

For those of you interesting, here are the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, courtesy of

Two other links I'd like to post in commemoration of this day:

WJSV Complete Broadcast Day: Also available on is this unique broadcast. WJSV in Washington recorded their entire day of programming on September 21st, 1939. I've always thought it was one of the truly unique moments of radio, as you can listen to how it was done, from 6am sign-on to the final sign-off at night. .

Lum and Abner Comic Strip: Lum and Abner was a popular program of radio's Golden Age, and one of the funniest. Artist Donnie Pitchford has created a syndicated comic strip based on Pine Ridge, Arkansas' premier citizens, which is posted every Sunday at  To my knowledge, it is really the only radio-related property being used in any form right now, and is a great strip to boot.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Why is what I think funny funny and most of the crap you see on TV right now just that – crap? I honestly have no clue.  I just know what makes me laugh.

I can guffaw at the right Three Stooges short, but really the Marx Brothers were THE movie comedy team for me. “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” is a song that always brings back memories of good times. Animal Crackers is up there with Cary Grant’s Father Goose as my all-time favorite funny flick.

You know what really makes me laugh? Let me tell you the three comedy masterminds that have most influenced what I perceive as "funny."

Monty Python. My mom took me to the drive-in once and it happened to be showing a double feature of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and And Now For Something Completely Different. How’s that for the proverbial defining moment. The prosaic humor of Happy Days and Mork and Mindy would never quite ring true again.

Buddy Hackett. Yeah, that Buddy Hackett, the short, fat little guy from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and numerous other movies and talk shows. You know why he’s on this list? Because of one routine. At one show, Buddy picked a very straight-laced-looking lady in the audience and proceeded to tell her a “dirty” joke that he said she could tell anyone. I don’t even remember what the joke was, other than it was quaint and almost syrupy. After the prerequisite laugh, he asked her if she’d like to hear another one. A nod and “Okay, there were these two fags fucking a dead alligator in the back of a bus…”  Yeah, yeah, not P.C., I know. But I know at least four people who watched it with me that were rolling on the floor laughing after the punch line. I mean, Buddy Hackett? C'mon!

Following that, there was only one option: Seek out the Master … the original shock comic. The “sick” comic. Lenny Bruce. 

The bastards fucked that man over so badly. Sure, some of it was his own doing, as part of his own marketing scheme gone awry, but as time went on there was no way to tell where promotion ended and Lenny began. His albums were blandly vicious, as a lot of things just could not be put to vinyl back then. Hell, half of his first album isn’t even Lenny – it’s some other comic that barely sounds like him.  The parts that are his are masterful; such as the bleeped-out Lawrence Welk auditioning an addict of a jazz man for his band, and Father Flotsky’s Triumph, a parody of thirties’ prison flicks, which are wonderful and funny bits that transcend most of the comedy that was available at the time.

Many fans criticized him for never doing most of the bits from his albums in his shows. I could never understand that. Why would you pay to see someone recite comedy shticks you’ve already heard? Maybe you can enjoy the five hundredth millionth “You might be a redneck” routine, but I’ve got better ways to spend my time and money rather than hope for one new gem out of a dozen of rehashed throwaway lines.

It is the live performances that strike the nerves. We’re lucky in that several of them still survive unedited. The Carnegie Concert and The Berkeley Concert are available in audio, and you can probably find the Lenny Bruce Performance film around. Lenny Bruce was the master of observational humor, and he didn’t really tell jokes or do shticks. He made observations and brought forth a lot of basic truths in a manner that made them both understandable and got them right in your face. The Berkeley Concert’s opening bit about religion and the growth of society is masterful in its simplicity. And then he’d throw a counterpoint out like wondering if Bela Lugosi liked smelling his own armpits when he lifted his cape to scare someone. Lenny just talked to his audience, and had them eating out of his hand.  One of my single favorite observations he made was “Everyday people are straying away from the Church and going back to God.” If that isn’t prescience, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, the many legal problems Lenny Bruce had, as well as his addiction to drugs took their toll on him. His concerts, as somewhat evidenced in the Performance film, became personal indictments leveled at the system that had attacked him, and Lenny became the joke rather than seeing it. Once that happened, there really was no alternative to his eventual fate. He was a product of a changing time that changed a little faster than he was allowed to follow. His death by overdose was preordained; as much of a waste as it was, I would like to think it was his own choice - to end things on what was left of his terms rather than let the forces against him take even that from him.

Lenny Bruce once said “The only honest art form is laughter … comedy. You can’t fake it. Try to fake three laughs in an hour – ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha – they’ll take you away, man. You  can’t.”

Funny doesn’t have to make you laugh. Funny can also make you think, and usually that’s the very best kind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Week 12 The Next Big Thing Blog Tour

Here is Week 12 of The Next Big Thing Blog tour. And you get the privilege of me. 

Okay, these blog tour things ... meh. I got tagged by Laurie E. Boris. If it hadn't been someone I knew, I probably wouldn't have done it. 

I'm not the kind of person who blogs just for the sake of blogging. Too many people think they have to yammer every day about anything just to keep their name in the search engines and on Twitter. Bleh. I don't have to feed that kind of ego. 

Why is there a pic of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs here? If you have to ask...

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Blog and keep your name out there! Exposure is the key!" Well, I try to blog only when I have something somewhat reasonably interesting to say. I'll go months without posting, or post every day for six weeks, but never just because I want to read myself talking. 

So on that note, here we go with das questions! Too-dah-doo-doot! Huzzah!

1.      What is the working title of your book?
I'm currently working on six books semi-actively:
  • Ruby's Story, an illustrated children's book based on the recent adoption of my blind kitten.
  • Lost Voices, a cyclopedia of information and trivia about 101 near-forgotten old-time radio programs. 
  • A sci-fi superhero novel that I'll probably call Pandora City
  • And three of my ubiquitous quiz books, Horror Movies, Comic Books and a general one with ten separate subjects. 

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
They all just seemed like good ideas at the time. I was inspired by a couple of Facebook friends and their children's books for Ruby's Story. I'm a lifelong fan of old-time radio and do what I can to make sure that the wonderful programs from that era aren't lost to the winds of time and memory. Pandora City is a super-hero tale that I've been working and re-working in my head for several years now. I keep starting it and then decide "no, that's hokey" and restart it. It's gonna be a tad derivative, at least to me, but then what isn't?

The quiz books are quickies ... usually I can write a hundred good questions in a day, so even my longest books take less than two weeks on average. 

3.      What genre does your book fall under?
Children's, Reference, science fiction/superheroes and Games/Puzzles

4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No bloody idea. Wouldn't really care, either, since once somebody would buy my work, it's out of my hands.  

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ruby's Story: Life through the experiences of a kitten who born blind.
Lost Voices: A compendium of information about old radio shows.
Pandora City: A team of super-powered heroes battle an ancient thaumaturgist to stop all time from falling apart.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published. Only fools use agencies in this day and age.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Two hours (not counting the artwork, which will probably end up making it two months), two years, and two to ten days, respectively.

8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Not really sure yet. . 

9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Kat Brooks and Dvora Swickle's children's books, my enjoyment for old-time radio and hatred of incorrect anecdotal information, my life-long enjoyment of comic books and super-hero squabbles, and my fascination of trivia and spending money, respectively.

10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think all of them will be interesting, family-friendly, somewhat enlightening, all in different ways. Ruby's Story and Pandora City I hope will be as fun to read as they will be to write. 

Next Week, the Next Big Thing Blog Tour will be going to the much more urbane and upbeat blogs of Aaron Speca and Stephanie Brown Myers. Be sure to give them a look-see!


Rules for the Next Best Thing Blog Tour
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) ***
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. It’s that simple.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing
1.      What is the working title of your book?
2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
3.      What genre does your book fall under?
4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?