The unfinished basement in our three bedroom house was my personal place of refuge as the middle child of a two older brother and two younger sister household. Rows of bookshelves aligned every wall and a dresser drawer housed the “good” comic books, the classic Avengers. Batman and Spiderman comics owned by Patrick, the oldest of the boys. Granted we spent more than our fair share of time outdoors playing pick-up games of WiffleBall, football or street hockey and occasionally we’d walk up to the elementary school to play a solid game of baseball when we had enough players and could challenge kids from neighboring streets but when the weather brought us in and certainly when my brothers became involved in other activities, I found the basement to be the place where my creative energies flourished. Somewhere lost to the ages are pages of my handwritten tales of the Land of Oz, based on the 14 books by L. Frank Baum more than the movie version. When I wasn’t writing in notebooks, I was drawing my own comic books and comic strips and my parents eventually purchased a professional angled art desk and brought it downstairs, placing it in the center of the “library” section of the basement. After every Christmas or birthday, I brought my new Bristol Board paper and Speedball Super Black ink downstairs and created stories.
In the far end of the basement was an eclectic record collection my parents had gathered over the years before the children were born; there was the High Society album with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly, there was a Robert Goulet record I never listened to, and, perhaps the most modern item one could find was John Denver’s Greatest Hits. My favorite vinyl treasure by far was Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One from Capitol Records in 1961. It was a latter day take on old-time-radio programs and included humorous skits, parody songs interspersed with faux commercials for fictional products. Like many works of entertainment, a modern ear might find that some of Freberg’s content does not weather the test of time well but most of it does and at that age I devoured each humorous tale and song with a happy familiarity and appreciation for the form.
At a young age I discovered the classic programs of the golden age of radio that my father enjoyed. I possessed audiotape collections of The Shadow, the Jack Benny program and many miscellaneous programs including Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Great Gildersleeve. My father sent away for an audio tape collection of The Cinnamon Bear and we listened to that series often around Christmas. With the stories on tape and my imagination I have a very clear picture in my mind of Jack Benny walking down the street at night carrying Ronald Coleman’s Oscar when he’s robbed and asked, ‘Look, bud, I said your money or your life!” and Benny replies, “I’m thinking it over!”
Audio entertainment was always important because it lent itself to the possibility of a personal entertainment experience. Tape players were portable and you could use headphones especially with a “walkman”. Television and movies were more often than not a communal experience. For the longest time in the house we had one television, a thick tube-based stand alone piece of furniture in the living room. Until the advent of videotapes and Blockbuster stores, except for Saturday morning cartoons, the children did not have the final say as to what would be on that one screen, if anything at all.
On one occasion I had done something that deserved a punishment and was sent to my room and couldn’t watch Happy Days. I kept the door open and listened to Mork From Ork face “The Fonz” and it was scary for me because it sounded like the intergalactic alien got the better of the coolest human on Earth. If I had watched the episode on the tv set I might have laughed and forgotten about it but I witnessed it instead only in my mind’s eye, and the event left a lasting impression. Such is the power of the theater of the mind. I have other stories like that but I’m sure you get the idea.
I told stories for 7 years in newspapers every day. My my first comic strip appeared in a newspaper, the now defunct Skaneateles Journal, in November 2010 and in February the daily comic strip printed in the Auburn Citizen. I added a few more papers into the mix but stretched myself a little thin because they were different stories in each paper every day. I enjoyed it and a seven year run is longer than some professionals who were paid more than a few dollars a week if at all for the effort get to enjoy.
By 2017 I had radio experience with Nutmeg Chatter, story writing experience from the comic strips and a little theater experience, mainly staged readings which are enormously similar to audio theater radio. I put out to the world via social media a question on Dec 20th asking if any of my friends
For my theater friends (directors and/or actors) as well as radio friends: If you see the idea of a modern “old time radio” style program ala Jack Benny/Fibber McGee and Molly/Allen’s Alley, etc, could have some public appeal, and/or if you think the structure of A Prairie Home Companion had some merit but you think it could be done better/differently could you please shoot me a FB message. I’d like to have a very informal (but fun) online chat!
A number of folks liked the post but I spoke to two individuals who actually expressed interest in the idea, Conrad Sienkiewicz and Robert C. Fullerton. So on December 28th, 2017, we met at WAPJ and Nutmeg Junction, the audio theater show was born.
More next week.