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Archive | 12:23 am

The Old Time Radio Convention: Old Folks Enjoying Reruns.

27 Oct

October 27, 2010

Recently I attended the Old Time Radio Convention in beautiful Newark New Jersey. This convention boasted the most octogenarians per capita of any hotel outside of Florida. I was there as the token young man. I was the only one there under forty. In fact, I may also have been the only one there with laces on my sneakers instead of Velcro.

The hotel was located by Newark airport and directly adjacent to the Newark prison. In fact, the only way to the prison was a narrow road that was also the only way to the hotel. I drove past the hotel entrance because it looked closed, which it wasn’t, and went past the next turn because it looked like the hotel exit, which it was. My plan was to make a U-turn and go back to the entrance, but the only room to do it was about 20 yards down the road. I pulled ahead and wondered why there were large orange barrels blocking half the road. Then I saw the low brick buildings, barbed-wire fences, and angry man with a large rifle. So I slowly backed away from the prison, only then noticing the large KEEP OUT- NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTON sign that I totally missed.

I was at this same convention in 1994, sixteen years ago. All this time I’ve had a magnet on my fridge from the event with the year on top. I took it with me and when I paid my admission I pulled out the magnet and showed it to the old gent running the convention. I told him that I was last there with my father, now deceased, all those years ago. It was a heart warming anecdote, or so I thought. The guy looked at the magnet, and totally seriously, even a bit angrily, sneered “so where have you been all this time”? I took back the magnet and walked in. BTW- there were no magnets this year, but I did get a pen.

The convention attracted about one hundred people, and many of them were blind. It makes sense. Radio is for the ears, for the imagination. All of the blind people, except one, seemed very interested in the events of the day. There were many discussions of various old radio shows and people involved in OTR. One blind woman, however, was a total loudmouth who must have thought she was at Yankee Stadium.

PRESENTER: “So it was back in 1942 that I met Bruce Freedkin and-“
LOUDMOUTH: “Yay! Bruce Freedkin! We love you!”
PRESENTER: “Right, yeah, well, Bruce Freedkin and I were mixing tapes in the Brill Building when-“
LOUDMOUTH: “Brill Building!”
PRESENTER: Sigh “It’s going to be one of those days.”
LOUDMOUTH: “Yay!”

The days events were broadcast live over internet radio. Right in the back of the main hall was a table set up with broadcasting equipment manned by a guy who looked like he took some time off from following the Grateful Dead around and a young woman who may have had a date once in her life. She had a strange, almost alien looking face, with makeup that seemed to simply accent the alien-ness. Her T-shirt, reading, I brake for MGTJSPE didn’t help. And I have no idea what that meant. Over the course of the day I lost track how many times some old codger shuffled over and asked “what station are you from?”

So I sat there through interesting panels about old radio shows, punctuated by the occasional “Yay! Radio!” from the blind woman. There were demonstrations of sound effects, clips from old shows, discussions of how radio influenced the comics, and more. If you like adventure, the Scarlet Queen panel was for you. Like mystery? The Shadow discussion was up your alley. If you get a laugh out of white men pretending to be black men, the Amos and Andy panel was for you. Not for me, mind you, for you.

Eventually I left the old folks remembering their youth when they sat around and stared at radios the size of today’s refrigerators for awhile. I went to the dealers rooms, all eight of them, and if you went into one you didn’t need to bother going to the other seven.
They all sold nothing but bootleg old time radio show CD’s. No longer did fans of Phil Harris or The Whistler have to get their OTR fixes in dark alleys. Buck Rogers addicts and Little Orphan Annie junkies alike could get well with all the OTR they could imagine in one place. More than one Mysterious Traveler fan overdosed on $2 bootleg discs. TV wasn’t forgotten either. Every single lousy cartoon you remember from the 50’s or 60’s was there too, all cheesy off-the-air broadcasts, complete with static, bad editing where the tape was paused for commercials, and tons of picture degradation as copies were copied from copies of copies of copies copied from copies that were bad to begin with. On the other hand, who could pass up the complete Gigantor for $5?

The highlight of the day was the live performance of an old radio show and it is not as interesting or exciting as you may be imagining. Oh, I know it sounds so glamorous, but trust me, it is an actor’s wet dream to do this and get paid. Imagine a play. Now imagine you don’t need sets. Or costumes. You sit on a comfy chair until you have to speak, then you walk over to a mic and read your lines, then sit down again. Yes, I said “read” your lines, as this is radio so no one needs to memorize the script when you can just read from it. We all did the same thing in third grade.

Of course, there was a catch. The loud blind lady sat right behind me, just to the left, so that during the introductions she cackled out “we love you!” to every performer- right in my left ear- and screamed at every joke “that was a good one! HA HA HA!” Yes, she laughed just like that, HA HA HA.

The day ended and I left. The old folks stayed behind, as there was a buffet and more recreations to come- all at an extra charge, which I declined. I had already had my share of overpriced food- $2.50 for $1.25 bottle of orange juice, and a bag of fruit snacks for $3.25 that even my local newsstand is embarrassed to charge $1.75 for. I also later had a thin $6.50 tuna wrap and a $4 bottle of Pepsi. This is why there is a fence between the hotel and the prison- there is nothing the felons could steal in the area worth more than the Pepsi sold at the hotel. I’m sure it is a tempting target.

By 5:30 I was driving home, the hotel in the rearview mirror, some CD’s in the backseat, and half a bottle of soda that I was not throwing away at those prices right beside me. I had a good time, the shows were enjoyable, and the people who weren’t laughing in my ear were nice and friendly, if a bit dusty. I look forward to the show next year, where the people will be another year older and the blind woman a few decibels louder.

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