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Hollywood Russell and The Case of Dead Air in Studio Two

25 Sep

September 25, 2015

We’ve got something a little different for you tonight. Please read the addendum at the bottom, and enjoy!

HR Dead Air

The radio studio was pitch black. The only window didn’t look out on the New York skyline but instead gave a view to a very small and cramped control room. The gauges and dials, which usually gave off a small electric glow even when the studio wasn’t in use, were invisible. The room was soundproof but the quiet was broken by the very slight creaking of a door hinge. Normally, leading to a broadcast studio, the doors would be oiled regularly to keep any stray sounds from going out over the air in a live broadcast. A hand groped through the doorway and found the light switch, which the hand flipped on with an almost, but not quite audible click. The station manager, Jim, walked in and stood just inside the entrance. “This is it,” he said. “Was it, I mean.”

Behind him walked a man in a trench coat and fedora. A private detective, he looked very much like a fictional shamus whose adventures had been broadcast from that studio for almost two decades.  “This isn’t how I imagined it.” Hollywood Russell took off his hat and laid it on a small wooden chair near the door.

“It’s not how anyone imagines it. You’re not supposed to imagine it. This isn’t a broadcast studio, it’s Fibber McGee’s closet. It’s The Shadow’s inner sanctum. It’s the Daily Planet.” Jim looked around. “It was my home for a long time.”

Hollywood stood among the double rows of folding chairs where an occasional audience sat. WJP wasn’t a large station and never hosted the game shows or big network programs that audiences flocked to. He paced the length of the small studio, mentally estimating the length and width, and stopped in front of the cluster of microphones, set upon a small stage, where the actors had yesterday performed their last show. It was an afternoon soap opera fittingly called “One Man’s Passion.”

The station manager let out a small sigh. “People want television. It isn’t enough to hear words from a box, they need to see things too. Whatever happened to imagination? All we’re raising is a generation of children who will have their eyes plastered to the images on the screens in front of them.” Then, more darkly, “I’ve heard that some families even have two.”

Hollywood, who didn’t own a television himself, merely grunted and sat down in the chair directly in front of the main microphone. It stood about 5 feet high, with a brass plaque that read “WJP” in art deco style. He shut his eyes and saw a somber man announcing that war had broken out in Europe. He saw a trio of sisters singing about a bugle boy in Company B. He saw a man of mystery in a beautiful black car. He saw another man, in shirtsleeves, feverishly working his Rube Goldberg-like instruments and franticly switching from one odd looking device to the next, all the while creating the sounds of a rocket ship about to take off as the countdown commenced from X minus three, two..

“I’m really glad you came, Russell. I’m not sure I’d be able to do this myself.”

Hollywood roused himself and looked around once again. For a second he was sure he was in a peaceful town where the great water commissioner was about to fall in love yet again, but just for a second. He blinked and it was back to the solid concrete walls and softly carpeted stage, but he was sure he saw a single page of a script fluttering to the floor, just out of his line of sight, and when he turned he was just as sure he heard, however faintly, a mocking laugh out of the shadows.

The manager glanced around. “I hear it too. I hear all of it. Everything.” He sighed. “And now it’s gone.” Jim turned his back almost angrily on the empty studio and his eyes fell on the wall calendar. It had a picture of Louis Armstrong, telling the world that a certain brand of cigarettes soothed his throat. With a “hrmmpf” Jim pulled the hanging page off the calendar. It was September 7th.

“Lock up for me, will you Hollywood? This is all too much for me. Shut it all down and lock it up tight. Kill the power to the microphones. I’ll meet you downstairs in the bar. Don’t mind if I start without you.” Jim tossed the key on a chair and without a glance backward, left the studio. “I’m never coming back here again” he said to himself as he slowly walked down the hall.

A small smile played across Hollywood’s face. “Well now, I wouldn’t say that.”

He took one last, slow look around. He made sure the switches were off, that the microphones were closed and that everything was in order. Jim didn’t need a detective, he just needed someone to do what he couldn’t. And isn’t that all that a guy like Hollywood Russell really did?

Hollywood walked to the door, grabbed his hat, shut the light and walked out. A couple of seconds ticked by on the clock, and the door reopened. In the darkness, Hollywood found his way to a small desk off to the side of the microphones. On one side stood a very old cathedral-style receiver, a relic radio; on the other a small gooseneck lamp. He turned it on and aimed its beam right at the WJP plaque. Its reddish-yellow letters gleamed like the sun in the blackness.

Lights out, everybody.

But not for Relic Radio.


This written in response to the sad news that the Relic Radio forum was shutting down. While the main site, www.relicradio.com, will continue providing a great selection of old time radio shows (and you can find them on iTunes), the message boards are now gone. This story is a tribute to Jim, who runs the whole show, but also to the shows we loved. And as such, there are a few tributes to Old Time Radio in the story. I’ve listed many of them for you.

“New York skyline.” This might be the first Hollywood Russell story to explicitly state that it is set in New York. I did it intentionally in this tale because NYC was the home base of the Mutual Network, broadcasting out of WOR (which still exists) and was where Superman and The Shadow, among others, originated.

“Slight creaking of a door hinge.” Inner Sanctum famously began with the creaking of a door hinge.

“Fictional shamus wearing a trench coat and fedora.” Take your pick- Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Richard Diamond, etc.

“It’s Fibber McGee’s closet. It’s The Shadow’s inner sanctum. It’s the Daily Planet.” Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, Superman.

“A trio of sisters singing about a bugle boy in Company B.” The Andrews Sisters and their most famous hit, “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”

“A man of mystery in a beautiful black car.” The Green Hornet and his car, the Black Beauty.

“The countdown commenced from X minus three, two…” X Minus 1, famous adult sci-fi program.

“A peaceful town where the great water commissioner was about to fall in love yet again.” The Great Gildersleeve.

“A mocking laugh out of the shadows.” The Shadow.

“Well now, I wouldn’t say that.” The Great Gildersleeve.

“Lights out, everybody.” Horror program by Wyllis Cooper and Arch Obler.

There is also a very slight and subtle Star Wars reference that you will either spot or you won’t. You may not think a Star Wars reference fits but it does because A- there was a fantastic radio version of Star Wars broadcast over NPR stations in the 1970’s and B- searching for info about that show was how I found Relic Radio.

I put in one or two personal touches that I’ll keep to myself, but, the date on the calendar- September 7th– was the last day of the forums. The call letters of the station mean something too, but I’ll leave that little wink and nod to the fellow forum members. And Jim.

The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of the N Train Sea Beach

27 Oct

October 27, 2011

It was Friday and I was heading home, and while that was a good enough reason to be in a good mood I was in a particularly good mood. The last hour and a half of work was largely work- and boss- free. I’d spent the last half hour at work hanging out with one wonderful coworker at her desk and was taking the train home with two others. It was fun.

Now I could be a namedropper and tell you their names but what good would it do you? You don’t know them. Unless you are a coworker of mine, in which you can figure it out yourself. And if you happen to be one of those people I spent the time with then you already know who you are so there’s no point in telling you your own name. Plus if this ends up on Wikileaks no one gets hurt.

We were on the N train and it wasn’t too crowded. Although we were standing it wasn’t packed. There was plenty of elbow room. As we were talking someone entered the train, as many other people did, and we took no notice of him. As I later saw, he was around 50, shorter than me, grey-haired and dressed cleanly, if not neatly. He was pushing some sort of wheeled luggage, or so I thought.

I was near the center of the car and suddenly from one end there came loud music, some sort of romantic ballad was playing from a speaker. The luggage the guy was pushing held a CD player and though I still could not see the man, I heard him.

He was playing a bugle. He was accompanying the music on the CD with his own bugle playing. And then I lost it. I was already in a good, slightly goofy mood, and I just started laughing, and that was bad because I was in most people’s line of sight. I was cracking up and trying to hide my face in my arm (which was holding the pole) and just couldn’t do it.

The man made his way through the car. He was pushing the luggage with one hand, playing the bugle with the other and, with the same hand that was pushing the luggage, waving a CD, presumably his. Try to picture this. With one hand. The CD was between two fingers and his other fingers and thumb were on the luggage handle. I know what you are thinking- how did he push the valves on the bugle if he was holding it with one hand? I don’t think he did. Now I know as much about music as the next guy, provided that the next guy knows nothing about music, but I don’t think he had to use the valves. The guy was actually pretty good, if kind of loud. But the whole thing struck me as absurd. We couldn’t talk over the music, and all my friends saw was me trying not to laugh out loud, and nearly failing. Suddenly this train, which was in a long stretch of tunnel so there wasn’t a stop right ahead, had become a lounge. Romantic mood music with a bugle (!) accompaniment was filling our ears.

I never considered the bugle a romantic instrument before and I still don’t. I was expecting him to burst into Reville or Taps any second. And either of those would have totally killed the mood.

As I said the man made his way through the car and where did he stop? In the middle, of course. Right in front of me. So there I am, right behind a guy playing the bugle to the subtle strains of romantic music with all eyes (those that weren’t looking straight down) looking at him and seeing me right behind him almost convulsing with restrained laughter trying to escape.

The music faded, the song ended, and I just as I was sure it was over, the guy yelled “Tango!” and a new track started.

OK, I lost it, I just laughed out loud and thank God when the man yelled “Tango!” he also started moving to the other end or I am not sure that he wouldn’t have brained me with his horn.

It didn’t help that my friends were laughing too.

At some point in the Tango (which sounded more or less like whatever he was playing before) he stopped playing and walked around asking for donations. At this point the CD was playing an accordion solo (seriously, an accordion solo in a Tango) and I pulled out my iPod and started tapping notes into it like a man possessed.

The train pulled into the next station, the bugler got off, my friend got a seat, and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way home.

Best train ride ever.

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