Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reverend Robert Neily answers questions about his OTR habits and memories

Reverend Neily and I have conversed quite a number of times over the past month or so.  As you will see, he is a fan from way back, is an avid collector of OTR books and magazines and still has lots of his childhood promotional memorabilia.

There aren't many collectors and fans left from the earlier days of Golden Age of Radio, so I feel quite privileged that he would take the time to answer these questions and share his memories.

OTR BUFFET: Can you give us a little background on how you were first introduced to OTR?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: I've been a pastor for for nearly fifty years and an OTR hobbyist even longer. I'm now in my mid-70's, so was introduced to OTR in real time. We had only one radio in our home, often tuned to shows such as Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, Tom Breneman's Breakfast in Hollywood, Jack Benny, Bergen and McCarthy, Baby Snooks, Truth or Consequences or People Are Funny. As a boy I spent many daytime hours in my grandmother's kitchen where the two of us listened to THE SOAPS!!! With WWII restrictions on travel, those soap towns of Elmwood, Beechwood, Hartville, Simpsonville and Rushville Center became more real to me than the communities in my home state. I was more familiar with Ma Perkins, Lorenzo Jones, Stella Dallas, Just Plain Bill, Young Widder Brown and Front Page Farrell, and the members of Pepper Young's Family and One Man's Family than with my own relatives! Grandma had TWO radios in her small flat, so I had her living room floor model all to myself for my favorite afternoon heroes - Hop, Terry, Dick, Chick, Superman, Midnight, Armstrong and Mix. In 1946 my grandmother began giving me 25¢ each month to buy “us” Radio Mirror so I could “see” my radio friends! So I guess I could say I had my start in collecting OTR 65 years ago! … But it was between November 25, 1960 when Ma Perkins, The Right to Happiness, Young Dr. Malone and The Second Mrs. Burton ended and September 30, 1962 when Suspense and Johnny Dollar left the air I became a serious collector. I hit the used book stores throughout California and bought up all their old radio magazines (usually for only a nickel or a dime apiece!) accumulating more than 200 in the process. In 1962 Jim Harmon and I began our friendship of nearly fifty years. Neither of us had many recordings at that time, only fond memories. I lived in San Jose, Jim in Los Angeles. We corresponded, exchanged occasional tapes, traded premiums, attended a few Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters events together, and I contributed a few of my cartoons and an article on soaps operas to his Radio Hero fanzine. Jim was a gentle and generous man who kindly acknowledged me as his soap opera advisor in each edition of The Great Radio Heroes. Jim, along with Richard Gulla (an announcer and actor in Chicago during OTR's last days) and Roger Rittner (writer, producer, director of multiple series on NPR and other venues) provided the bulk of my early OTR recordings. A parishioner, Bernice Berwin (Mrs. Brooks Berlin) who played Hazel Barbour on One Man's Family for 27 years, introduced me to Carleton E. Morse who loaned me several tapes of I Love A Mystery. And while doing some on-air work at a San Jose radio station (Religion in the News, Sunday mornings at 6 a.m.!!!), I discovered some old transcription discs (Alan Prescott the Wife Saver, The Mark of the Eagle, Night Cap Yarns, MGM Theatre of the Air: Lee Bowman and Colleen Gray in “I Love You Again” with Howard Dietz as Host, an RCA recording of Sam 'n' Henry and a 1934 promo record for Harold Teen). The station engineer transferred these to tape for me (thus providing me with more trading material). In 1999 I became acquainted with Ted Davenport of Radio Memories who converted my many deteriorating reels of tape to cassettes and CD's. Ted also filled in some of the “holes” in my collection and provided me with long runs of several favorite shows. Certainly none of us back in the '60's would have believed that SO MUCH OTR would be at our fingertips fifty years later on something called the Internet! Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman) died in 1969, but in a letter to me in 1963 he wrote: “Sometime ago, I realized to my horror that I didn't possess one single recording of the old Superman series. I began inquiring around and to date have not found anyone who has one.” Wouldn't he be amazed at all the Superman episodes now in existence and readily available to any and all who care to listen!

OTR BUFFET: What are some shows you liked when you first found radio and what you like and listen to now?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: Early on I was thrilled to hear ANY old-time favorite, regardless of genre. But now with so many listening choices available, I lean toward series with long runs: Dragnet, The Saint, The Six Shooter, Harris and Faye, Benny, Fibber and Molly, Gildersleeve, Nightbeat, Broadway Is My Beat, Frank Merriwell, Let George Do It, Johnny Dollar, Nick Carter, Nero Wolfe, The Shadow – and even an occasional soap: Perry Mason, Ma Perkins, Young Widder Brown, One Man's Family, or Backstage Wife.

OTR BUFFET: How many hours of OTR would you say you listen to a week?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: On average, 8-10 hours, usually in my car. I don't listen on the Internet unless I'm doing some research on a particular show or shows.

OTR BUFFET: Do you have a favorite show(s) and who are your favorite actors and actresses?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: I still enjoy my boyhood favorites, especially Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger and I Love A Mystery, and never tire of listening to Jack Benny, Fibber and Molly, Gunsmoke or Johnny Dollar (with O'Brien, Bailey or Kramer as Dollar). Among my favorite actors and actresses are those with very interesting (or easily identifiable) voices, such as Peggy Webber, Lesley Woods, Mercedes McCambridge, Lurene Tuttle, June Foray, Shirley Mitchell, Eleanor Audley, Gale Gordon, Bob Dryden, Harry Bartell, Frank Lovejoy, Santos Ortega, Sheldon Leonard, Ed Maxx, John Gibson – and Charles “Chuck” Webster (a special favorite of mine who's often confused with another radio actor named Charles Webster!) Throughout the early '40's, Chuck was heard almost daily on one or more of Detroit's WXYZ trio of shows. Later he moved to New York where he was Tom Bryson on Backstage Wife, Paul Drake on Perry Mason, and heard on other shows such as The Mysterious Traveler, Gangbusters, Cloak and Dagger and Squad Room. His voice is very distinctive.) So many of these names could “play” their voices like a fine musical instrument!

OTR BUFFET: What is your favorite genre of radio and why?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: While I prefer listening to detectives, mysteries and comedies (not necessarily in that order), I still have a special fondness for any and all soap operas and kid shows because they remind me of all the pleasurable hours spent with my grandmother who spoiled me rotten, and my grandfather who helped me eat boxes of Ralston (Hot, Instant, and Shredded) and drank all the Ovaltine (which I couldn't stand!) so I could send off box tops, labels or inner seals for rings and badges and code-o-graphs. (When my grandmother died in 1972 and I flew East to officiate at her funeral I found she had saved a shoe box full of my radio premiums, PEP comic pins, etc., which I still have today!)

OTR BUFFET: Has listening to radio ever created any special moments that you won't ever forget?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: Specific radio moments included Arthur Godfrey describing FDR's funeral procession in April 1945, the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten in 1947, the Mr./Mrs./Miss Hush and Walking Man contests on Truth or Consequences, and annual World Series games. I was confined to bed for several months in 1949, as was Jim Harmon the very same year. Radio was a constant companion during that time. Daily I tuned in to Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, Arthur Godfrey Time, Tommy Bartlett's Welcome Travelers, two dozen daily soap operas, comedies, adventure shows, detectives and mysteries (especially the second incarnation of I Love A Mystery which returned to the air that year!) - and baseball broadcasts (both “live” and “re-creations”). As a gift, I received a bedside radio which certainly made those long months much more bearable.

OTR BUFFET: How do you listen to OTR? (Mp3 player, car stereo, etc?)

REV. ROBERT NEILY: Most often I listen in my car. My vehicle has nearly 150,000 miles on it, but I won't buy a new one until either the car collapses or the combination tape deck and CD player gives out!

OTR BUFFET: Do others in your family enjoy OTR? (explain either way)

REV. ROBERT NEILY: My wife (who was more a child of TV than radio) patiently lets me share with her my enjoyment and memories of OTR. When my youngest daughter (now in her mid-40's) was a teenager she enjoyed my tapes of ILAM and Let's Pretend and asked me for copies.

OTR BUFFET: You and I have corresponded some lately and you told me you have a large OTR book collection. Would you mind telling us something about that and some of the favorite books that you own?

REV. ROBERT NEILY: I currently have more than 150 books or booklets connected with OTR. Among them are the “usual suspects.” ALL of Jim Harmon's books, John Dunning's two amazing volumes, my college classmate Gerald Nachman's Raised on Radio, Leonard Maltin's The Great American Broadcast, Buxton and Owen's The Big Broadcast and also their initial effort, Radio's Golden Age (my copy is all dog-eared, marked up with notes, additions and corrections, and stuffed with cast lists clipped from copies of Radio Mirror, Radio Best, Radio Album, Movie & Radio Guide, etc.). Jim Cox's batch of books are “must haves.” (My four favorites are The Great Radio Soap Operas, Frank and Anne Hummert's Radio Factory and Say Goodnight, Gracie: The Last Years of Network Radio and The Great Audience Participation Shows. I continually marvel at the output of books by Martin Grams, Jr. (I often wonder if he, like you Jimbo, ever sleeps!) Of course, my favorite is his I Love A Mystery Companion! Another excellent resource is Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers by Thomas A. DeLong, McFarland 1996)). Raymond William Stedman's The Serials: Suspense and Drama by Installment (1971) explores serial drama on radio, in film and comic books. But half this book's 500 pages deal specifically with radio: Chapters 6-18 (220 pages) and Appendix A (35 pages) which is an extensive bibliography of books, pamphlets, periodicals, and newspapers. Five primarily pictorial volumes include Irving Settel's A Pictorial History of Radio (1960, 1967), containing the short oft-mentioned “A Lament for Old-time Radio” by Brock Brower, The Old-Time Radio Book ((1976) edited by Ted Sennet, The Great Radio Personalities in Historic Photographs (1982) by Anthony Slide, Blast From The Past: A Pictorial History of Radio's First 75 Years (1996) by B. Eric Rhoads, and Radio's Golden Years: A Visual Guide to the Shows and the Stars (1998) created by Frank Bresee and artist Bobb Lynes. Also several vintage volumes not always easy to locate, but often found in the stacks of public libraries: three volumes about Fred Allen (the original hardcover edition of Treadmill to Oblivion: My Days in Radio by Allen himself (1954), Fred Allen: His Life and Wit by Robert Taylor (1989), and Fred Allen's Radio Comedy by Alan Havig (1990), The Mystery of the Masked Man's Music: A Search for the Music Used on “The Lone Ranger” Radio Program, 1933-1954 by Reginald M. Jones, Jr., 1987 (the title is self-explanatory!). Three personal favorites include a 28-page booklet (with photos and related articles) from The North American Radio Archives First Annual Tribute Dinner of June 2nd, 1973 honoring Carlton E. Morse, also The One Man's Family Album: An Inside Look at Radio's Longest Running Show (1988) by Carlton E. Morse, (and what was REALLY radio's longest running show, 35 years!!!) Don McNeill and His Breakfast Club by John Doolittle (2001) which includes a CD with Breakfast Club excerpts. Seven books providing “insider” views of radio days include Before Television: The Radio Years by Glenhall Taylor writer, producer, director of shows including Burns and Allen, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Blondie (1979), Tune in Tomorrow or How I Found The Right to Happiness with Our Gal Sunday, Stella Dallas, John's Other Wife and Other Sudsy Serials by Mary Jane Higby (1968), This Was Radio (1975) by Joseph Julian? (whose career of over 40 years in radio drama also included appearances on over a dozen soap operas and who became an innocent victim of the “Red Channels” madness during the McCarthy era), The Quality of Mercy by Mercedes McCambridge (1981) who had one of the most recognizable radio voices, and It Only Hurts When I Laugh, by Stan Freberg (1988). (Jimbo, if you're not familiar with this one already, I know you'd like it. Stan whose father was a Baptist minister writes that “a lot of my sense of humor was shaped not only by Fred Allen, but by Vic and Sade” (pp. 24-25). WYXIE Wonderland (An Unauthorized 50 Year Diary Of WXYZ Detroit) by Dick Osgood (1981) is a biography of the Detroit radio station where The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet and Challenge of the Yukon (Sergeant Preston) came to life. Let's Pretend (A History of Radio's Best Loved Children's Show) is by longtime cast member Arthur Anderson? (1994) and a special favorite because Let's Pretend was a part of my childhood on Saturday mornings throughout the 1940's. I can't remember not listening to it – or singing along with the cast it's Cream of Wheat theme song. Faster than a Speeding Bullet: An Informal History and Quiz of Radio's Golden Age by Stuart Silver and Isidore Haiblum (1980) is a 240 page paperback which is not only informative but will tickle the nostalgia glands of any OTR fan. I'll end with three sentimental favorites: 200,000 for Breakfast with Tom Breneman (1943), with plenty of photos and belonged to my grandmother, also my own personal copy of The Breakfast Club 1949 Yearbook and Thou Shalt Not Fear (1962) which contains four sermons in verse written by Bud Collyer (announcer, actor on several soap operas - and radio's Clark Kent/Superman). Unknown to many, Bud was also a Sunday School teacher and lay preacher at his Presbyterian church in Greenwich, Connecticut. Jimbo, I hope there's something here that's of interest to you and your readers.

OTR BUFFET: Thanks so much for answering these for me! I appreciate your time.

REV. ROBERT NEILY: Thank YOU! I enjoyed doing it. Brought back many fond memories!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let me know what you think of this post or this site! It only take a few seconds and I'd really appreciate your comments...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...