A journalist, jazz vocalist, and former club owner discuss the surprising new spots that are working to ensure that jazz remains a vibrant part of D.C.'s music scene.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Every Sunday evening, WAMU brings listeners the scratchy intimacy of westerns, mysteries and comedies from the golden age of radio. As WAMU’s “The Big Broadcast” celebrates 50 years on the air, we talk with host Ed Walker and radio historian Jack French about shows from a bygone era and the renaissance of storytelling on public radio and podcasts today.
- Ed Walker Host of WAMU's "The Big Broadcast"
- Jack French Old Time Radio historian; Past President, Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club; Editor of the club's "Radio Recall" journal
The Joy Boys Video
The Joy Boys, Eddie Walker & Willard Scott, host their final show at 4001 Nebraska Avenue on Friday afternoon, October 6th, 1972.
Who Is Ed Walker?
A longtime listener of “The Big Broadcast” asks a big question: Who is Ed Walker?
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. From the inner sanctum behind the crystal curtain of WAMU's glorious street front radio stage, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" takes you to a place where memories live and the voices of another era never fall silent. "The Big Broadcast" is a grand and fantabulous 50 years old, and its proprietor, the golden voiced Ed Walker, is here to transport us to the days before television.
MR. MARC FISHERWhen dramas like "Johnny Dollar" and westerns like "Gunsmoke" ruled the air. From the 1930s to the 1950s, radio nurtured the American imagination. And heroes like The Lone Ranger and Superman swept into living rooms across the land. For the last 50 years, old time radio has been a weekly staple here at WAMU on "The Big Broadcast," heard Sunday nights from 7 to 11. As the station gears up for the 50th anniversary celebration of "The Big Broadcast," we'll explore the history and power of vintage radio and the state of storytelling on today's airwaves.
MR. MARC FISHERJoining me is the host of "The Big Broadcast for the past 24 years, Ed Walker. He's been a foundation of Washington radio for nearly half a century, going back to his long running daily "Joy Boys" show with Willard Scott. And Ed, it's an honor to have you here in the studio. And ask you to talk about your lifelong passion for radio.
MR. ED WALKEROh, Mark, good to be here. And well, whoever wrote that opening, that was fabulous.
FISHERWell, thank you. You loved radio from a very early age. You even set up a small station at your home in Forest, Illinois, when you were what, eight-years-old?
WALKEREight-years-old. My folks gave me -- they used to have something they called a phonograph oscillator. And what this was was you could hook a phonograph into it and hear it on your radio all over your house with no wires. So I got one of those and I was a precocious little kid. And I thought, I wonder what would happen if I put an aerial on there. And I did, and I found out the signal was going all the way down the street. So I'd go down to the neighbor's house and say, I'm going on the air in a half hour, you know? That's how you got the audience.
FISHERWell, for our audience, if you'd like to ask Ed Walker a question, tell us about your old, your favorite old time radio show, or who's doing the best storytelling on radio today, give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And Ed Walker, one of the reasons radio was so important to you, from the earliest age, is that you were born blind.
FISHERSo, do you think you had a closer emotional bond with radio than your peers did?
WALKERI do. I think so. I know today, a lot of -- most blind people really get into radio. And I did, because it took the place of comic books and newspapers, funnies and everything like that. And so I've always enjoyed radio, all phases of radio. I would listen to the comedians, the dramatic shows and of course, the kids programs were dynamite. You know, The Lone Ranger and all that kind of stuff. And so I kind of grew up with it, and I thought, when I was a kid, I always wanted to be on the radio.
WALKERAnd I never thought I'd do that. But I dreamed about it when I was growing up, you know?
FISHERYeah, and so from Forest Illinois, you came to Washington in the 1940s to attend American University, where you started a studio -- a student radio station on the AM dial.
FISHERThat you called WAMU.
FISHERI think the name may have stuck.
WALKERI think it did. I think it did. Well, actually, I came to Washington earlier than that. My dad was caught in the throes of the depression and he came out here for six months. He had a temporary job, and it lasted over the years and we never went back to Illinois. So, I went to AU, I started in 1950, and that's where I met Willard Scott. He -- I was a year ahead of Willard. And I'd been there about a year. And we had a mutual friend who brought Willard on the campus to look over the school.
WALKERHe was thinking of -- he didn't know where he's gonna go. And we met, and this sounds hokey, but it's true, in the studios of the campus radio station. The first words I ever said to Willard were over a microphone.
FISHERWow. And it's continued for all these many years.
FISHERAnd you do you still have offices with him over at NBC?
WALKERI make phone calls for him. He's only on a couple times a month now, a week. And I make the phone calls from home. It beats trekking in to the NBC building. Since I moved, it's a longer ride than it used to be.
FISHERNow, of course, many people know Willard Scott as the weather man on "Good Morning America," but in the 1950s and 60s, the two of you hosted a destination afternoon radio show called "The Joy Boys."
FISHERAnd we have a cut from "The Joy Boys" right here.
FISHERAnd "The Joy Boys" was a classic afternoon drive time show that really sort of captured what was going on in Washington in those days. You did all sorts of gentle spoofs. You had a spoof of the Huntley-Brinkley newscast called "The Washer-Dryer Report." There was a character called "Robin Hood of Rock Creek Park."
FISHERWho took pleasure in piercing the illusions and picking the pockets of the city's self-important. Did you guys write these bits together? How did they come about?
WALKERWell, we ad-libbed them mostly, Mark. You can't write a four hour show. There's too much material. So, what would happen, and Willard was good at making up names and things like that. So, we would discuss what we were going to do while the records were on. And they'd we'd just ad lib it. And, you know, we worked together so long and so much that we knew pretty much what the other guy was going to say.
FISHERAnd one of the long-running bits was a soap opera called "As the Worm Turns." How did that come about?
WALKERWell, there was a -- "As the World Turns" was the one on CBS. And we were on in the afternoon at that time, and we were trying to be topical. And we thought about that. Why don't we do a soap opera like that? And we'll call it "As the Worm Turns."
FISHERAnd here's what it sounded like.
FISHERNow, "The Joy Boys" were on the air from 1955 to 1972 on WRC and then moved to WWDC for two years. And the show ended up in 1974. What caused the move of stations and how did it all come to an end?
WALKERWell, the WRC changed their format, as stations as wan to do, so we got hired over at WWDC. But it was a rough trip for Willard to get back to do his weather on channel 4. So, he didn't last on that. We used to do the first couple of hours together, then we would record everything and play it back the last half of the show. So, then he got tapped to go to New York to do the weather up there. And that kind of marked the end of our show. I mean, we're still together friends and everything, but, you know, that was the end of a great relationship.
FISHERAnd "The Joy Boys" was a show that was copied in cities across the country by teams of comically minded radio guys. And I went, a few years ago, to listen to -- there's great archive of "The Joy Boys" shows at the Library of Congress. And I went over there to listen and there are bits that just take you right back to that time in Washington. There was one where you had a guy from the auto theft unit. An actual -- this was not a spoof, this was an actual detective from the Metropolitan Police Department Auto Theft Unit.
FISHERWould come on every now and then to report all of the stolen cars in the city, which you could do in a very short amount of time in those days.
WALKERBusiness is picking up, though.
FISHERIt has. You'd have to devote an entire format to that today.
FISHERBut from "The Joy Boys," you transitioned over to being host of "The Big Broadcast" here at WAMU in 1990. And what brought you back to WAMU?
WALKERWell, the show was originally started by a friend of ours named John Hickman. And I first met John when he was a teenager. And I was doing an old record show on WMAL at the time. I think it was M -- no, it was WRC. And he came by, he was interested. For a 14-year-old kid, he liked railroads, street cars and old records. How's that for a combination?
WALKERAnd he came to the station, brought me an old Paul Whiteman record, and that began our relationship. Then, he used to come around, hang around the station. And, as a result of that, he got a job with the station. And they were celebrating their 40th anniversary about that time. And they sent John up to New York to the NBC studios up there. They had a wonderful library of all these old radio shows, which are on 16 inch discs. So, that -- John got the bug. He got in to old time radio. And when he came back here, after he'd done his stint in the army, he got a job here at the station.
WALKERAnd the show was originally called "Recollections." It was a little half an hour show, once a week, but it went on and on and on, became "The Big Broadcast," and then around 1990, John had a premature stroke or something. He was much too young to have that happen. And they knew that I was in to old radio. And they called me, said would you fill in for John? I said, well, sure, I'd be happy to. And I kept saying I'm Ed Walker for John Hickman. I did that for a year. And finally, they said, you'd better knock off filling in for, cause he's not coming back.
FISHERThat voice, familiar voice of course, is Ed Walker, the host of "The Big Broadcast," here on WAMU. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And let's go to -- by the way, you can watch a live video stream of this discussion with Ed Walker at our website, wamu.org. And here, in Purcellville, Virginia, is Diana. Diana, it's your turn.
DIANAHi. Thank you so much for taking my call.
DIANAFor -- I -- my daughter and I listen to "The Big Broadcast" and we've been doing it since she was five. She's now 14, and throughout the years, you know, of course, brought us together, but she will like a different show for a year. Then like another one. Right now, she loves "Johnny Dollar." And I, of course, am stuck with "Our Miss Brooks." And I, when I heard about the show, a celebration, I rushed to the phone, or no, I rushed to the internet and I was able to get front row tickets. And I'm so excited.
WALKERWell, I hope I get to meet you then, Sunday afternoon, okay?
WALKERCome up and introduce yourself to me.
FISHERThat's this Sunday, November 2nd at three p.m. at Lisner Auditorium. The 50th anniversary celebration of "The Big Broadcast."
DIANAYeah. I'm so excited. Thank you so much.
WALKERYeah, well, thank you, thank you and your daughter. I appreciate it.
DIANAOh, it's wonderful to hear you even say that to me. I love your voice, and I feel so privileged. Thank you.
WALKERAll right, Diana. Thank you.
DIANAAll right. Bye.
FISHEREd, is -- Diana talked about her daughter listening in. What's your sense of the age range of people who have become attracted to "The Big Broadcast?"
WALKERVery interesting, Marc. It's wider than you might think. I was telling somebody long ago that I get a lot of emails from -- all the kids have emails, you know? And I get emails from kids, who said, you know, I didn't hear these shows the first time around, but they like them. And some of them say, we don't even turn on television on Sunday night. They like to hear the old shows, and a lot of them do what I used to do when I was a kid. Take a little radio and put it under your pillow so your parents won't know you're not asleep.
WALKERAnd listen to the shows. Of course, when I was young, they had tubes in the radios and that gave it away, you know? But now with these transistors, nobody knows, you know?
FISHERRight. And do you think of yourself as having a great radio voice? I mean, obviously in those early years as we heard a couple of the clips, you did a lot of the spoof voices, the parody voices on the "Joy Boys" show. Has your delivery changed? Has your voice changed over the years?
WALKERYes, yes. I can't do the women's voices anymore. My voice has gotten lower for some reason I don't know. But it used to be that we could do a lot -- both of us did a myriad of voices on the show. For a two-man show, we had a cast of thousands, you know. And it was -- yeah, that was brutal the realization when you realize you can't do what you used to do.
FISHERWell, you did the characters on the show. And, of course, you did lots of commercials when you and Willard were on the air in the evenings.
FISHERAnd that left days free to freelance. Here's a commercial you made for Dick Hereman Ford (sp?) .
WALKERBoy, oh boy, oh, boy. Burt, boy, what's bugging you?
UNIDENTIFIED MANDick Herman Ford, sir.
WALKERYeah, well, what is it Burt?
MANOh boy, oh boy, oh boy.
WALKERWill you button up with the Oh boy bit, Burt, and tell me what it's all about.
MANThat's it, sir.
MANButtons. Hero buttons. I bought 10 tons of Herman hero buttons.
MANBut, Mr. Hereman, sir, we're going to need them, sir.
WALKERI know. You bought...
MANPeople are sending their friends to Hereman and they're all demanding hero buttons.
MANEspecially now with your fabulous Ford savings.
WALKERHero buttons? You're a jerk, Burt.
MANAnd we're giving them a heck of a bargain, sir.
WALKEROh, they did, low price?
MANLovely low prices, sir.
WALKERThey like my trade?
MANI love your trade.
WALKERAnd they like being a Hereman hero.
MANRight on the button, sir.
WALKEROkay, Francis, you can have your buttons.
MANOh, I got them right here in the closet, sir.
WALKERBe a Herman hero. Send a friend to Dick Hereman Ford on Leesburg Pike (unintelligible) 10-W or 11-S in Virginia. Let Herman send a hero button on you.
FISHERWell, complete with a whole bunch of reverb there at the end. And just classic radio commercial for that time.
WALKERI do not remember that commercial.
FISHERThere were probably quite a few of them. We're talking with Ed Walker, the host of "The Big Broadcast." And when we come back after a short break, we'll be joined by Jack French, an old-time radio historian and author, as we continue talking about "The Big Broadcast" and old-time radio, take more of your calls at 1-800-433-8850. I'm Marc Fisher, and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking about old-time radio with Ed Walker, the host of "The Big Broadcast" here on WAMU. And we're joined now by Jack French, old-time radio historian and the author -- he's an author, he's the editor of "Radio Recall" the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club. You can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850. You can also watch a live video stream of our discussion about old time radio at our website, kojoshow.org.
FISHERAnd, Jack French, in the mid-1950s, TV came along and the old radio serials began to move over to TV or to die away. What did those shows gain or lose when they migrated to television?
MR. JACK FRENCHWell, I think some of them became better and some not so.
FISHERNot so much?
FRENCHAnd of course the same networks were running both the radio drama shows and the TV shows. And the money and the advertising dollars flowed to TV.
FISHERAnd in some of those cases, I know NBC New York, the production of the radio show literally moved across the hall to a TV studio. And the actors went along and everybody else went along and it was this almost seamless transition, but it left radio with these enormous gaps, you know, what to put on the air.
FRENCHNot only that, but the scripts went with them, too. A lot of those -- particular the westerns that migrated from radio to TV, they just rewrote the radio scripts that became a TV show.
FISHERAnd Ed Walker, we have an email from Jonathan asking, "Who were some of the best voices in the golden days of radio? And what's your personal favorite among the various classic radio series?"
WALKERWell, William Conrad had to be one of the kings and Jack Webb...
FISHEROf "Dragnet" fame.
WALKERYep. And a lot of other shows. And as far as announcers, there are a few announcers who did the commercials like Ken Carpenter, Harlow Wilcox, voices like that. A lot of actors, too numerous to mention. But they were so versatile, they could do just about anything. And maybe Jack here has some favorites, I don't know.
FRENCHYeah, I'd second what you already had. Orson Welles certainly...
WALKEROh, that's right.
FRENCH...was one of the great radio voices. And on the women's side, Agnes Moorehead.
FRENCHAnd Mercedes McCambridge were two of the most popular and skilled radio actresses.
FISHEREd, when you're opening "The Big Broadcast" every week, you sort of set the mood by telling listeners to lay their troubles aside and settle in to enjoy the show. When you're doing that, who are you talking to? Are you talking to people who know these shows or people for whom this is...
WALKERJust people in general, because the show is on a perfect time of the week. It's the I'd say an island between the week just past and the week coming up. Most people are kind of cool and laid back on Sunday night and taking it easy. And I guess it's to the people who listen regularly. A lot of other people are watching television. But for my audience, I guess I'm speaking to them more than anybody. And...
FISHERLet's go to Kel in Washington. Kel, you're on the air.
KELHey, I got one quick question. I'm a younger listener so I'm just captivated by Ed every Sunday night that I was curious what your guest thought about early sci-fi radio shows? I love "Twilight Zone" so that'd be the most interesting. Thanks.
WALKERThank you. "Dimension X" was a sci-fi show and that was followed up by "X Minus One." And I don't know, but there were probably other sci-fi shows. There was a show back in the '40s and nobody can find it, Jack, maybe you know called "Latitude Zero." You remember that?
FRENCHI don't. But there's only one audio copy circulating of that show, I know.
FRENCHAnd there were kids sci-fi shows. "Tom Corbett Space Cadet."
WALKERThat's right, yeah.
FISHERAnd so, which brings up the question of what is the catalogue like? I mean, how large is the choice that you have to pick from each week? How much of the -- of what was on the air during all those years was actually saved?
WALKERWell, that's a question, too. New a lot of the shows were destroyed. They were (word?) and they were owned -- some of them were owned by the advertising agencies. And as they lost space, they just would throw those discs outs. And some of the personalities would have copies made for themselves to hear their own performances. And a lot of these old discs were on the Armed Forces Radio Services and the commercials were cut out of them.
WALKERA lot of those are preserved because radio stations saved those armed forces discs. And one of these days somebody would throw them in the trash bin and some engineer would save them. And so we have a big catalogue of old radio shows. And we don't worry too much about the royalties. I mean, there are some, but it's been so long, the networks aren't the same as they were, most of the artists are gone. And so, we just -- we just play them.
FISHERAnd, Jack, as a collector, tell us a little bit about that marketplace. Is there a large number of collectors around the country? And what are the main sources of these old recordings, old records?
FRENCHWell, it used to be independent collectors who would sort of become a quasi-dealer. And they were selling both by mail and on the internet. But the -- unfortunately for their businesses, most of these shows now that are available have been posted on the internet. Anybody can download them for free. So they...
FISHERTaking the value out of the...
FRENCHBut on the other hand, it's expanded the old time radio community to include a great number of people who never heard these shows, including the youngsters.
FISHERAnd, Ed Walker, tell us a little bit about the -- we're mentioning earlier those first days of television and how it affected your work when TV -- was there a moment when you knew that TV was going to basically suck the life out of the old version of what radio was all about?
WALKERWell, when you saw the networks and the shows kept dropping off, you know, one at a time, one at a time and the stations were converting to records, music and news and stuff like that, you knew -- you could read the writing on the wall. And the big money was in television. And there weren't too much going on. I remember that "Fibber McGee and Molly Show" was a big hit in the '40s. And so in the '50s it was down to 15 minutes a day, five nights a week with no studio audience. That was just a filler. So the big shows had gone. Too bad.
FISHERAnd you were, in those early days, you were I guess already doing the "Joy Boys" starting in the mid-'50s.
FISHERAnd then Willard Scott got the job as Bozo the Clown in 1961. And so that changed the nature of your radio show, I guess, for a while.
WALKERIt sure did. Now, we had to go in the studio a little early. As I said, he couldn't devote his whole time to our show because he had to go and get his Bozo costume on. That hairpiece, which he hated. I remember one time it tore and he patch it together with tape to go on the air. But anyway, that's another story. But he did that. And as a result of that show, he developed the character Ronald McDonald.
WALKERHe was the original Ronald McDonald.
FISHERI never knew that.
FISHERWow. Let's hear from Time in Columbia, MD. Time, you're on the air.
TIMEHi, good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a big fan. My inspiration and my love of radio started in my early teens when I listened to "Mystery Theater" with E.G. Marshall.
FISHERMm-hmm, on CBS Radio.
TIMEYes. And I was wondering if you had ever met him or spoken to him and has he influenced you in any way? Obviously, you probably preceded him.
WALKERNo, I never met E.G. Marshall. And as I said earlier on this show, that program was one of the last vestiges of old time radio. It was produced by Himan Brown, who before that had done the "Inner Sanctum Mysteries." Both shows used that squeaking door at the beginning and end of the show. So it was the last attempt to keep old time radio going.
FISHERThanks for the call, Time.
FISHERAnd let's hear from Frank in Wheaton, MD. Frank, you're on the air.
FRANKYeah, I just like -- I've been listening for years and years. My -- I went blind 31 years ago with glaucoma. And I've heard Ed Walker for 31 years. And I'd like to know who he is. Is he married? Does he have children? Is he around my age, which is 84? I just would like to know Ed Walker. I feel like since I listened to him like he's my brother.
WALKERThank you, sir. Well, I'm a little younger than you. I'm married. We have one daughter and five grandchildren, and that's about it. What more can I tell you?
TIMEYou're a little bit younger than me. Okay, I appreciate that.
WALKERA couple of years younger.
FRANKI love your program. And for a boy, man, I hate it when they say, I am sighted impaired, you know. I'm really sighted impaired. I don't see anything.
WALKERIf you are blind, you're blind, right?
TIMEYou (unintelligible) this.
FISHERNo gradations, right.
TIMEThere you go.
FISHERYeah, that's right.
TIMEIt helps me to get through the day. Thank you so much.
WALKERThank you, sir. All right.
FISHERThank you. And we have an email from Kathy who asks, "Is it possible to get episodes of "Johnny Dollar" on CD? I love them." Jack, do you know?
FRENCHOh, yes. They're -- they're available from at least 10 different internet dealers. You can just Google "Johnny Dollar" audio copies and they're also available for free if you want to search a little further on the internet.
FISHERAnd "Johnny Dollar" of course is a mainstay of "The Big Broadcast." It sounds something like this.
MANI hope Saint Peter's listening. This report may one day help qualify me for that path through the pearly gates. This case almost rushed me up there. This is another adventure of America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator, Johnny Dollar. At insurance investigation, Johnny Dollar's just an expert. At making out his expense account, he is an absolute genius.
FISHER"Johnny Dollar." And, Ed Walker, tell us about Johnny Dollar. I mean, there are certain shows that you play a lot. "Johnny Dollar" is obviously one of them.
FISHERWhat's the particular appeal of that one and tell us about the others that you -- are kind of your favorites.
WALKERWell, the one that they played there was an early version of "Johnny Dollar." The ones that we run, though, with Bob Bailey who was the epitome of Johnny Dollar, I think. There are about five Johnny Dollars over the years. And the Bob Bailey ones were the best, I think. And we start the show out with that. And we're on the second go-round. We've run all of them and we're re-running them and about ready to start the third go-round, because there are only so many shows available. And so people don't seem to get tired of them. Same thing with "Gun Smoke."
FISHERAnd "Gun Smoke" is another show that you play pretty much every week.
WALKEROh, yeah, every week.
FISHERAnd how many of them are there out there? I mean...
WALKERThe show went on in 1952 and it ended in 1961, once a week with some reruns. How many would that be? I don't know.
FRENCHThere's about -- there's over 400 shows...
FRENCH...in circulation. And, of course, the advantage to collectors today and the fans is that that was a transcribed show. It wasn't done live. It was done recorded. The same as "Fort Laramie" was and the same as "Frontier Gentleman" and "Have Gun -- Will Travel."
FISHERAnd so, Jack French, when those shows were aired live, did that make it less likely that anyone would keep a recording of them?
FRENCHNo, they -- well, the early days -- we didn't really have a good method of recording shows until the -- after World War II. We actually got the technology from the Germans, tape. And the -- Bing Crosby was the first one to insist that his show be taped instead of live.
FISHEROkay, let's go to Sarah in the District. Sarah, you're on the air.
SARAHHi, there. I just wanted to let you know that I've been listening for a long time, but I'm really excited because I've got a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old and a four-year-old. And my nine-year-old I s really getting interested in "Gun Smoke" and "Johnny Dollar" specially. And it's really great to be able to pass it on to the next generation. We don't watch a lot of TV in our house. So he -- he loves it probably like other kids like TV.
WALKERThat's great. That's why we run those shows at the top of the show so that the kids can go to bed. That's why we run "Johnny Dollar" and "Gun Smoke" in the first part. That's the heavily -- most heavily listened to hour and a half of "The Big Broadcast," I think.
FISHERAnd, Ed, when you are choosing the shows, I mean, what's your sense of the future of this? I mean, obviously the number of people who remember the original broadcasts of these programs is dwindling. And so, do you think there's enough interest out there to keep this going for generations?
WALKERPeople like Sarah and get their kids indoctrinated in it, it'll last for a while. I do have some younger people in the Old Time Radio Club, don't you, Jack?
FRENCHYes, we do.
FISHERYeah. So it's perpetuated. I think people enjoy it. And as long as they can get involved with it and they can get the material, it'll last for a while, I think, I hope.
FISHERI hope so. Let's hear from David in Hyattsville. David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi. I just love that the big broadcast...
FISHERBless your heart.
DAVIDThank you, Ed. My brother-in-law, John Palmisano (sp?) introduced me to the show years ago. But you almost never play my favorite character, the Lone Ranger. Hi-yo Silver.
WALKERWell, there's a reason for that. And Jack knows all about "The Lone Ranger" being, you know, the right -- the copyrights and everything. That right?
FRENCHYeah. "The Lone Ranger" is still under total copyright in which you can see these horrible "Lone Ranger" movies that come out every two or three years. But you'll be able to enjoy a recreation of "The Lone Ranger," it's a parody, at the WAMU 50th anniversary at Listener Auditorium on November 2nd. We'll be doing a parody of "The Lone Ranger" with full manual live sound effects done on stage.
FISHERAnd that show, of course, is Sunday, November 2nd, as Jack mentioned. It's at the Listener Auditorium at 3:00 pm. It's the 50th anniversary of WAMU's longest-running program, "The Big Broadcast." And it's a salute to Ed Walker in partnership with the Metropolitan Old Time Radio Club. There will be sound effects demonstrations, vintage microphones, a history of old time radio in which Ed will be speaking with Rob Bamberger, the host of "Hot Jazz Saturday Night" here on the station. And for ticket information, you can go to wamu.org.
WALKERThe question that guy had about "The Lone Ranger," there are unlimited number of shows that are -- fall under that category. Most of them are -- I don't want to say public domain, they're not really. But George Trendle was -- had enough foresight, I guess, to copyright those shows and his estate has them. Same thing with Himan Brown.
FISHERSo the -- does that mean that the networks that originally produced or aired a lot of the series that you run on "The Big Broadcast" no longer own the rights to those shows?
WALKERA lot of them. And those networks hardly exist anymore. Like NBC Radio, there hardly is an NBC Radio. They gave all of their old radio shows to the Library of Congress and Mutual is gone. CBS is different -- under different ownership. It's all different.
FISHERSo that enables you to air those...
WALKERWe take a chance.
FRENCHAnd the copyrights ended on most of them because at the time that these shows aired, they had copyright protection for 49 years.
WALKEROf course now it's -- well, a multiple of that.
FISHERYeah, pretty much. And so, are there other programs other than "The Lone Ranger" that we don't hear because of rights issues?
WALKERCBS "Mystery Theater," we don't run them because it's Himan Brown show. We have run "The Lone Ranger" occasionally. We take a chance. "Inner Sanctum" we've run. I can't think of any other ones.
WALKER"The Shadow." Yeah.
FRENCHYeah, still under copyright. It's owned by Conde Nast Corporation now.
FISHERAnd "The Shadow" was one of the last shows to be revived. I know there was an attempt in the '70s to put it out on radio.
FISHERSo our guests are Jack French, old time radio historian and author. And, of course, Ed Walker, the host of "The Big Broadcast." When we come back after a short break, more of your calls at 1-800-433-8850 and we'll talk about some of the other shows that are part of "The Big Broadcast." I'm Marc Fisher. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi and we are talking about "The Big Broadcast," and old-time radio with Jack French, an old-time radio historian and author and Ed Walker, WAMU's host of "The Big Broadcast." And we have an email from Mary Jo, in Bethesda, who says, "I lived in Cincinnati and listened to old radio shows on WVXU. And when I moved here in '99 I was so happy to hear 'The Big Broadcast.' Ed Walker is such a gem. We're lucky to have him and his vast experience. Best wishes." Similarly…
WALKERThank you, Mary Jo.
FISHER…from Virginia, "I'd like to know if Ed has ever heard 'Cabin Pressure,' from BBC Radio with Benedict Cumberbatch."
WALKERNo. Jack, have you ever heard of that?
FRENCHNo, I have not. But BBC, of course, enjoys the luxury that we don't have here in America…
FISHERThey still have…
FRENCH…in that they still have dramatic radio on several channels on BBC.
FISHERAnd there is something of a resurgence of at least some of the old styles of storytelling on -- even on American radio. "This American Life" comes to mind. They now have a serial program that is a podcast called "Serial." These are not fictional scripts, but rather nonfiction presented in that old style of storytelling, in a sense. Is there much…
WALKER"Prairie Home Companion" is another one.
FISHERExactly. Yeah, yeah.
WALKERThey have skits in their show where they have the lives of the cowboys and stuff like that. And they recreate some -- not recreate, but they do old radio shows.
FISHERAnd they do it in…
WALKEROld type radio shows.
FISHERYeah, they do it very much in the style of…
FISHER…old time radio in live in performance on a stage with a live audience. That sort of thing.
FRENCHAnd manual sound effects.
FISHERExactly. And manual sound effects, obviously, one of the most charming aspects of old time radio. And, Jack French, tell us about how those shows were put together with -- who's there on stage, beyond the actors?
FRENCHWell, we're going to do on Lisner Stage pretty much what you'd see in an old time radio studio of the '40s. And that is you have the actors around vintage microphones with their scripts in their hand. And most of the audience will probably be watching their sound effects table because they have all sorts of unusual and interesting tasks in order to create the sounds that are needed. I mean, the traditional one of course is the horse's hoof beats with coconuts. But we've got a number of other manual sound effects that I think will delight the audiences.
FISHERAnd do you have sound effects artists who worked back in the day or are these newly trained people?
FRENCHWell, they're newly trained. They're not that young, but they haven't worked actually on radio, but they've been doing this for about 20 years for both our Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club and also, you know, giving advice to community theaters who are putting on old radio shows.
FISHERLet's hear from Nora, in Tacoma Park, Md. Nora, you're on the air.
NORAThanks. I'm such a big fan, Ed Walker, of your show. And I appreciate this. I wanted to ask more about the voices, especially women's voices. Because I've become such a big fan of Virginia Gregg, who's on "Johnny Dollar," a lot.
NORA(unintelligible). And I wonder -- maybe Jack knows this, too -- if there's resources more about these women and their careers and how they fared sort of in the TV era, as well.
WALKERLook them up on Google. There'll be a lot about Virginia Gregg. No. I'm serious.
WALKERVirginia Gregg was a very prolific actress. She was everything. And very versatile, too. I've heard her on "Gunsmoke," where she's an old woman. And on "Richard Diamond," she's a sexy girlfriend of Dick Powell's, you know.
FRENCHYour question is almost a lead-in for my first book, which was "Private Eyelashes: Radio's Lady Detectives." And if you get a copy of that you'll read of the careers and lives of 40 or 50 women on radio.
NORAOh, fantastic. Thank you.
FISHERGreat. Thanks for the call, Virginia (sic) -- I'm sorry -- Nora. And we have an email from Lynn, who says, "Thanks for 'The Big Broadcast' shows, especially the coverage of D-Day." And…
WALKERI'm sorry about this.
FISHERThat's okay. We've got a phone going off. Ed Walker, tell us about how that coverage of D-Day came along on "The Big Broadcast."
WALKERWell, there was a lot of recordings of that. And that "D-Day" was -- most of the networks did a great job on it. And the interesting thing about that was the NBC coverage -- I know that Robert St. John, who I happened to meet shortly before his death, ran all night reading bulletin after bulletin. And the thing about the news then, everybody was very hesitant to say the invasion is underway. They were saying, "We think," you know. They don't do what they do now.
WALKERBut all of the networks did great coverage on that. And so we put it together one year. We did the whole four hours on it. And it seemed to go over very well. People wanted to relive that. That's back in 1944. That's a long while ago, but we should never forget it.
FISHERAnd here's Burt, in Bethesda, Md. Burt, you're on the air.
BURTThank you. I have two -- one comment and one question. I'm very surprised at all of the parents calling about their children being fans because everybody says that children no longer have the attention span that they used to. Second, there was a show called "Monitor Radio."
BURTIt was on in the '50s and '60s. And it was my introduction to "Fibber McGee," "Abbott and Costello," "Duffy's Tavern," "Jack Benny."
WALKER"Bob and Ray."
BURTAnd by coincidence it was on your station at WRC.
BURTI'm wondering if those are still available and if originally they were originals or old clips?
WALKERNo. I think they were originals. "Monitor" was created by Pat Weaver who did the "Today Show" and "The Tonight Show." He was kind of a genius in that regard. And there may be some "Monitors" still available -- I think they have a website on the internet. I don't know. Originally -- in the original format was 40 hours. It started on Saturday morning, all the way through Sunday night. And it was designed for little stations who, you know, little stations, local stations, who couldn't afford to keep people on duty all weekend. So they would carry "Monitor."
FISHERThis was on NBC Radio?
FISHERAnd "Monitor," continued well into, I think, into the '80s. Isn't that right?
WALKERYeah, it changed formats over the years, but yeah. It lasted a long time.
FRENCHEverything you'd want to know about "Monitor," was compiled in a new book under that title, by a friend of mine, Jim Cox.
FRENCHSo if you want to Google Jim Cox and his book on "Monitor," that should answer practically all of your questions.
WALKERGood. And Jack has written a couple of books, too, Marc, you know.
FISHERHe has. Tell us what's your focus of the latest book?
FRENCHMy latest one is "Radio Rides the Range," which is a discussion, encyclopedia style of every Western radio drama from 1929 to 1967.
WALKEROh, boy, what an undertaking. Oh, boy.
FISHERHere's an email from Ursula, saying, "I've loved 'The Big Broadcast' for years, however I've missed 'Lawman Abner.' When I think about why a show might retire though, I wonder if sometimes the content is dated, in a bad way, not in a nostalgic way. Some of these shows are from a time when women and minorities got worse than a raw deal." Ed, when you're selecting programs, do you think about sort of how standards have changed over the years?
WALKEROh, yeah. I have that problem. And "Lum and Abner," I have mixed feelings about that. There are those who love it and those that say, "I'm glad it's over." And it was -- we're thinking of bringing it back, but a case in point, a couple of years ago -- Indians are not treated very well. Like on "Gunsmoke," they're referred to as savages and so forth and so on. And I got a letter from an Indian representative, who said "That's in very poor taste. You shouldn't do that."
WALKERSo I called this person on the phone and explained. I said, "That's the way radio was 50 years ago." And they said, rightly so, "You should do a disclaimer." Well, I've started doing that. And the same thing with the black people -- "Amos and Andy" is the one program that WAMU won't let me run. And I…
FISHERBecause blacks are portrayed in a very…
WALKERBut I thought "Lum and --" or "Amos and Andy" was a hilarious show. And they had beautiful Christmas program, but I can't run it. But they were on television and, you know. I don't know. I don't know why we won't do it here, but it was a good show.
FISHERWell, let's hear from Hamid, in McLean. Hamid, you're on the air.
HAMIDHi. Just wanted to make a comment that we used to listen to "Johnny Dollar" in Iran, dubbed in Farsi, back in the '60s and the '70s.
FISHERWow, so is it the actual American broadcast of "Johnny Dollar," and then you would hear the Farsi on top of it?
HAMIDWe would hear the Farsi -- the version of it. And we used to call my mother Johnny Dollar because we could never get away with anything. She was (unintelligible).
FISHERThat's great. Oh, dear. Thank you. Thanks for the call, Hamid.
FISHERAnd here's Ted, in Washington. Ted, you're on the air.
TEDI have a strong recommendation for Ed Walker. My favorite radio show of my youth was the comedy show "Allen's Alley."
TEDFred Allen and his wonderful character -- I can't (unintelligible) characters.
TEDThe only thing comparable to it today that we have was the Republican candidate's debates of 2012.
TEDIt reminded me -- reminded me of Fred Allen. Can you bring him back?
WALKEROh, we've run "Fred Allen." That -- "Allen's Alley," was a segment of his show, with Senator Claghorn.
FISHERWho was based on Everett Dirksen, I think. Is that right?
WALKERWell, it could be. Kenny Delmar did it. He did a beautiful job. And then Titus Moody was a guy named Parker Fennelly. And he was terrific. And Minerva Pious and other people were the fourth member. And it was a great comedy bit.
FISHERIs it harder to bring back those sort of variety shows, than it is the dramas? Are they -- is there -- do they feel more dated, those variety shows, because they're more topical?
WALKERWell, they are dated, but when you're doing a show like mine, you're dealing in the past anyway. So it doesn't really matter that they're dated. That's why -- for one reason Jack Benny's humor is timeless. It's dated to a point, but it's still funny. And some of those shows, yeah, are dated. And Bob Hope always managed to keep his shows kind of timely, although he would -- his monologs would talk about the happenings of the day and so forth. But I think people want to hear that.
FISHERAnd, Ed, here's somebody who I think says he knew you way back when, Orel, in Washington. Orel, you're on the air.
WALKEROh, yeah. Hello?
WALKERHello, Orel. How are you, buddy?
ORELHow are you today, Ed. I want people to know, I met Ed first…
WALKERHere we go.
OREL…when he was a senior in high school.
FISHERWhere was that?
ORELHe was into the radio bit already because Ed was -- Ed, you were in your senior year at the Maryland School for the Blind. And so that (unintelligible) when you went to college.
ORELSo, you know, this is obviously the late '40s. And he was a member of the wrestling team there. And he made a trip to take part in a tournament in far away -- at least in those days -- far away Louisville, Ky.
ORELAnd the thing that really impressed me was the fact that before the tournament and even after the tournament all the fellows who were there from both that school and other schools would gather around him because he was always standing in the corner somewhere, mimicking, you know, the Lone Ranger, portraying the Lone Ranger or the Green Hornet or some of the other really popular radio characters of that day. And just, you know, practically doing a story right then.
WALKEROh, boy, well, Orel, you remember the old days. Yeah, I guess I was sort of a ham, even then.
ORELWell, it was entertaining and the fellows all loved it. And then, my goodness, the years slipped by and after I went through college and law school and came to Washington to work, turned on the radio, who did I hear, but Ed Walker.
WALKERSee, Orel's a lawyer. He amounted to something.
WALKERI'm on radio.
FISHERWell, thank you for the call, Orel. And quickly, here's Hank, in Arlington. You're on the air.
HANKYes. Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Ed and Jack both know me.
HANKI'm kind of a ringer because I'm a volunteer at WAMU and a member of the Old Time Radio Club. I wanted to give a shout out, not only to Virginia Gregg, but also to June Foray.
HANKOne of the most talented ladies. And I think she's still around.
WALKERShe is still living.
HANKAnd also, I wanted to give a shout out to Bob Elliott who's still around, because he…
WALKEROf "Bob and Ray."
HANK…he and Ray Goulding did some of the most hilarious things that I've ever heard.
WALKERYes, they did.
HANKIncluding send-ups of active TV -- radio shows from the time.
FISHERThanks, Hank. And, Ed, just in the few seconds we have left, what was the influence of "Bob and Ray" on…
WALKERWell, that -- well, I guess we kind of got our encouragement from "Bob and Ray." They were -- when they started, they were kind of unique. And Willard and I kind of developed our pattern after "Bob and Ray," not that we copycatted them, but they were terrific. They were great.
FISHEROur guests have been Jack French, old time radio historian and author. He's an editor of "Radio Recall," the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club. And of course, Ed Walker, the host of "The Big Broadcast," Sundays from 7:00 to 11:00, here on WAMU. And a big 50th anniversary broadcast is coming up, the celebration at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, at Lisner Auditorium. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks very much for joining us.
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