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APRIL 2009

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear—My wife Babs and I went with the flow to the Newark, NJ, annual Friends of Old Time Radio Convention. Friends? Lovers is more like it, but that smacks of the illicit. For four days and three nights we basked in the glow—what a treasure trove of memorabilia at that gathering. Paradise found!

I’m glad I grew up on radio. As a wee lad I’d take the bus into Hollywood and scrounge for tickets to see my idols of the airwaves in action. Once I sat ‘neath an overhanging mike at CBS and laughed my head off. Next day my school chums told me they’d heard me on “Burns and Allen”—my showbiz debut.

Nighttime was magic time. Radio on, I’d lie in the semi-dark, listening. The amber hallway light kept the goblins away. I was transported to another dimension, the theatre of the mind. Radio provided story, actors, music and sound effects—I provided the rest. Budgets of my radio shows were limitless, for my dreams were boundless. My I.Q. skyrocketed like Burt Reynolds’ toupee in a nor’easter—imagination quotient, that is.

Drawing of Will Hutchins as "Sugarfoot" with law text book and six shooter by Bob DaleNow, I met my boyhood heroes and heroines up close and personal. What’s more, I got to work with them as well. Some of the scheduled stars were last minute no-shows, so I was enlisted to fill in on four radio show re-creations—I was sort of a utility infielder. Worked a few rodeos; never worked radio—easy roper, interloper, Sugarfoot. Shucks, those radio folks welcomed me with open arms—great people. Such camaraderie.

The radio stars of yore are now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s; but their voices still ring clear and true, and evoke countless memories. Radio actors can be of any age, color, height and look—the voice is all!

My biggest thrill was working on “The Return of Cavendish”, the 20th anniversary show of “The Lone Ranger.” I played a Western Union messenger and sat next to Fran Stryker Jr., son of the show’s creator. When the magnificent voice of Fred Foy intoned, “From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver,” and the William Tell Overture soared accompanied by hoofbeats and gunshots, well, I sure felt those icy fingers up and down my spine—I was a kid again. John Hart was a stalwart Lone Ranger, perennially young Dick Beals, Jackson “Cisco Kid” Beck, Sweet Elaine Hyman and Earl George, a Tonto for the ages, are all ‘Ranger’ alums. Sound effects experts Bob Mott and Ray Ellenborn played Silver and sundry horses. I sat directly, and somewhat uneasily, beneath their coconut horse hoofs. What jolly fun! The background music still gave me chills and the Lone Ranger and Tonto still grunted getting on and off their horses.

Every night was banquet night—good grub, good grog, good group, good gab, by gar. First night, Larry and John Gassman stole the show—sightless twins, they had the room rockin’ with their rendition of “Who’s On First” using braille scripts. They were a gas, man!

When Fred Foy originally announced ‘The Lone Ranger’ only two mikes were used. One was reserved for an actor in his 80’s who played Tonto. Brace ‘Lone Ranger’ Beemer worked one side of the second mike and all the other actors worked the other side. If not watched, Tonto would tend to drift off. Once, during a scene taking place in the bedroom on the second floor of a hotel, the Lone Ranger told Tonto to go alert the Cavalry. The befuddled actor playing Tonto replied, “Ti-Ye Kemosabe—Gettum up, Scout!”

Fred Foy also announced “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon”. On one show an actor’s lines read, “Wolves have us surrounded. Suddenly, silently, into the light of the campfire, the leader appears—That hair! Those eyes! Those fangs! That’s my wolf!” What the actor actually said was, “…That hair! Those Eyes! Those fangs! That’s my wife!”

On radio all becomes possible! In life I’ve had four regrets: never got to be a burlesque comic, never worked in Saturday matinee serials, never played alto sax in a Jazz band, never worked on radio—scratch that last one. Thanks to the wonderful Friends of Old Time Radio, for one shining moment, dreams came true—Adios!