As I lie alone in bed, a voice creeps into the room from afar, a voice that sounds like it could only be heard in the dark – Orson Welles from foggy London or deepest Hollywood.
Radio was invented for Welles. Unfortunately, I can only tune in Those Old Radio Shows crackling across hard-to-capture AM 900 out of Hamilton on my kitchen radio. The shows air from 11 pm to 2 am most days, with a weekend schedule that’s later or earlier depending on the vagaries of the AM band.
Better listen while you can. The AM slate I recommended a while back has already been wiped out. Having my little Italian folk music show to look forward to each Saturday was just too much pleasure to be allowed. It’s been replaced by Latin American Christians whose music is truly a penance to hear.
After only weeks, Those Old Radio Shows have begun to suffer cruel and cavalier cutoffs to make way for Broadcast News. The selection of old shows is obviously random. Sometimes they play the same one twice in a week. Refreshing in this world where people only listen to their planned, personally chosen tracks.
Tedious shows are worth waiting through to reach a sublime half-hour of Jack Benny congratulating himself and dreaming that Churchill, the Queen and Jimmy Cagney all honour his unprecedented donation of 50 cents to a man on the street.
An episode of The Mysterious Tra- A lot of the characters on Those Old Radio Shows are what you might call “hard-boiled.” Everyone smokes, drinks and plays the horses. And you just know they all wear hats.
Those Old Advertisements alone make a subject worthy of a PhD. Talk about product placement! Without warning, characters suddenly begin extolling the virtues of Lux soap as though it’s integral to the action. Top celebrities claim they serve Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at home. In-joke references to sponsors abound. I think I’d buy Rinso if I could, and, yes, a glass of Roma California muscatel would be nice right now.
A whole thesis could be written on wartime ads. A gasoline that is fuelling bombers will be available “when war needs end” to give flying horsepower to your car. Camel sends 300,000 free cigarettes to troops to honour the Soldier of the Week.
Radio requires concentration. A lapse during a tightly scripted drama can leave you wondering who got shot or how Rusty got away. Mending clothes goes with radio. Knitting is even better. Reading is too distracting, but playing solitaire could be OK. You can always do the dishes while Abbott and Costello are on. Baking is a perfect accompaniment to chords of terror on a Wurlitzer organ.
But the absolute best would be something slightly nefarious – like painting forgeries of scenes by semifamous artists.
The static on AM900 can be pretty thick when three other stations play underneath. A sensitive tuner (human or machine) might pull in the syndicated series somewhere else on the radio dial. The art of twiddling and fiddling has largely been lost in the impatient digital era. Just hope that The Black Museum or The Third Man is on while you’re searching, and the genius who convulsed America with his War Of The Worlds will draw you in.