Live vs. Memorex, Book vs. Web

Title Live vs. Memorex, Book vs. Web
Description Hearing shows lives vs. the tapes, and books vs. websites
Message Text I just obtained my copy of Dr. Hand's book. It's depressing to realize how few books there are on OTR in general. I think I have them all-- stuff by Dunning, Gramms, and the Big Broadcast. There sure isn't much out there even after 50 years. America was THE place where radio drama reached the state of the art, and now, it's like trying to get your car bumper re-chromed. No one knows anything about it-- maybe if you send it to Cuba they can help...

Anyway, I've only started Hand's book. Why do we have to rely on someone from overseas to appreciate our own national art form enough to sit down, research, write and publish something about it? No offense to Dr. Hand, I appreciate the fact he at least "gets it". But I recognized OTR as a great art form as a college student in the early 1980s by sheer ACCIDENT. No one in school taught me anything about it, and society at large seemed hell bent on forgetting their OTR roots. They offer college courses on African jungle music, the effect of Rock n' roll on American culture, feminism in the TV shows of the 1970s, gay painters of the 17th century-- just about anything except OTR. I learned about it from late night CBS Mystery Theater reruns during the grave shift on KGO, and then from a box of Weird Circle tapes I literally found hidden in a secret vault deep inside KZSU's underground cellar. It's a heck of a way to learn about one of American's most popular art forms that dominated her culture for over 40 years! Maybe there was a scandal involving OTR that made America want to forget about it and drive it from our collective memory. At least that would help explain the shunning that seems to be going on.

And what were the stats I read in Hand's book? Out of 43 million American house holds during the golden age of radio, over 42 million of them had and listened regularly to their radios? Amazing. And they weren't gathering around the speaker each night to listen to Top 40 tunes and Superbowl radio commercials. They were tuning in for their favorite DRAMAS.

Fast forward to 2007. If you want to hear a new radio drama today, you have to fly to England and listen to it on the BBC. (Sigh...)

I loved the intro to Hand's book by David Kogan of Mysterious Traveler fame. I would absolutely love a book of essays by people involved in radio remembering how they put it together back then. Writers, producers, sound effects men, actors and even announcers. When they die, this lost art will truely be lost forever.

When I think about how Mr. Cole of THE WITCHES TALE fame must have felt in the 1970s when he threw away his complete collection of recordings of his show because the thought no one cared or would ever care to hear them again... it really kills me. I brt a lot of the OTR writers and producers felt that way in the last 50 years. It's a travesty, really.

Another thing that struck me was the emphasis on how the networks tried to avoid recordings, and wanted only live radio for so long. If the Nazis hadn't developed tape technology allowing them to fool the allies as to where Hitler was when he gave scratch free speeches all over the country on different radio stations, something our Intel guys couldn't figure out until after the war, who knows where radio drama would have wound up? I knew the man who took the tape formula from a dying Nazi scientist (they were both wounded and recovering in a German hospital after the war) and brought it back to the USA and got a patent on it. His name was Orr and he began the Ampex corperation. It's a fascinating story as he told it, but I digress...

My point is that as much as I love the tapes, and wish we had more of them, there was something very special about hearing these shows LIVE. It is a strange thing for us in the 21st century to understand, because very few of us have experienced it. Our complete OTR education comes from tapes and records. What we hear is old, often scratchy and clouded with various ambiant noises. When it was first aired, however, it was crystal clear and live, and no one knew (except those broadcasting it-- and sometimes they didn't even really know) what was about to happen. I only know about this rarely discussed but hard to forget energy because I ended up producing my own live radio horror shows back in the late 1980s, and I was reminded of the feeling recently when I heard the cleaned up XM (or whatever it's called) satelite OTR shows. Listening to what really sounds like live radio drama, or to be part of a live cast presenting a live drama on the air, is VERY exciting. But trying to explain that feeling to someone today is like Lewis and Clark coming to America today from a time machine and trying to tell people what an incredibly beautiful paradise America was before the invention of the bulldozer.

Sure, there are still a few live radio programs, but things like the Prairi Home Companion are not the same, because they are more "safe". If someone screws up, the audience laughs WITH them, whereas in a serious drama, if someone screws up live, it destroys the illusion and ruins the show. Every actor and technician on the set knows that and is terrorfied they could be the one who knocks over the mic or can't stop coughing. (You just try not to dwell on it!)

So that part of OTR is lost for now, and always will be unless folks go back to making more live radio drama, something not to likely.

Another thought I had while reading the book is how much fun it is to read it in a book instead of a web page. I enjoy this site a lot, but sitting in front of a computer is not the same thing as reading a book, especially a nice hard cover one, while in bed, on the beach, or in the airport. It just seems easier to teleport our imaginations back to the days of yore while reading a book, rather than a computer screen. After all, TV was to blame for KILLING radio drama, so there is something ironic (and maybe a little morbid) about reading about how great OTR was from a TV monitor!

Well, those are just some thoughts I'm having after reading the Forward, Prefex, and Introduction of the book. I imagine I'm in for a lot more to consider in the coming chapters. (Though I promise not to drone on about it as much as I have here!)
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Ownership monsterwax
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Submission Date Feb 10, 2007