Category Archives: old time radio

Satellite Radio Reshuffling

A couple weeks ago one of my favorite satellite radio channels, Book Radio, disappeared, replaced with something called Rural Radio.

Here’s the official word from SiriusXM Radio: “As of July 15, SiriusXM Book Radio is no longer available on SiriusXM, but our commitment to books and authors remains high across many channels. Classic radio theater and stories continue on RadioClassics (SiriusXM channel 82), and audiobooks air on our “Late Night Read” show at night on SiriusXM Stars (SiriusXM channel 106).”

I would much rather have had a 24/7 channel dedicated to audiobooks, but at least something of what once was still exists in some form. Of course, that’s not the only worry I have had of late about satellite radio.

Those of you who know me, or are regular readers here, know that I am a huge Coast to Coast AM fan. Or at least a huge fan of some of the show’s content and some of its hosts. Due to ClearChannel and SiriusXM parting ways, C2CAM will be leaving satellite some time in August. Despite my problems with its content, it is, along with Opie & Anthony and Radio Classics, among others, one of the major reasons I subscribed to satellite radio to begin with.

My worries are over. This week, Art Bell, the original host of Coast, and innovator of that now much-copied radio format, has announced his return from retirement. Not only that, he will be returning to the microphone on SiriusXM Indie Talk Channel 104. Outside of C2CAM actually returning to its glory days, original programming, and hosts, this is a win-win situation for me. The show begins September 16th.

I’m happy, and I won’t miss George Noory falling asleep, doing crossword puzzles, or just not paying attention to a guest on air at all.

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The Lone Ranger 2013

The Lone Ranger ~ When the film was over I turned to The Bride and said that if Walt Disney was alive and found out his company had obtained the rights to make a Lone Ranger movie he would be so happy, and if he’d seen what his company had done with it – it would kill him.

I have a long association with the Lone Ranger, although I can’t remember where it began. I recall the cartoons of the 1960s by Format Films. The Ranger wasn’t quite a superhero, but the bizarre Ralph Bakshi meets “The Wild Wild West” style of these shorts mesmerized me. I also remember being introduced to the radio show at an early age, and seeing Clayton Moore in reruns of the 1950s series. And when I learned that he was related to the Green Hornet, to me, that just made the Lone Ranger even cooler.

In the superhero movie boom (a firecracker compared to recent decades) of the 1970s, they tried badly to put the masked man up on the big screen, but that ended horrifically with the mess known as The Legend of the Lone Ranger. That dud, along with the bad publicity of not allowing Clayton Moore to wear the mask in public, was enough to bury the character for years to come.

This 2013 movie production, starring Johnny Depp as a mentally ill, delusional Tonto, along with Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, his behind the scenes pals from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, just seems like a bunch of guys got drunk, had money to burn, and decided to ‘play’ Lone Ranger. And the kid who had all the toys wanted to play Tonto as an idiot.

I’m sorry. I just can’t abide this rape and mutilation of beloved childhood characters. First, we are meant to sit through another longwinded origin story. Let’s get this straight, if an origin story can be told in two sentences or less – we don’t need to see it. Just say it, and get on with the movie’s story. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with superhero films. Stop wasting time with origin stories. Superman’s origin was told in seconds at the beginning of every episode of the George Reeves TV series. DC Comics of the 1970s featured a one paragraph origin of the title hero on the first page of every issue. Let’s go back to that.

I can’t understand the premise of making this movie honestly. Was the point to destroy a lot of trains and ruin childhood heroes? Poor Armie Hammer is given very little to do, hardly any of it heroic, as the title character. What he does do is kill, which is something the real Lone Ranger would never do. The writers made Butch Cavendish into a cannibal, and not subtly either. I personally thought this should have had an R rating, just for that.

The only thing worse than Butch’s cannibalism would be the way Johnny Depp chews up scenes and spits them out like steaming vomit. Taking his character cues from Kirby Sattler’s painting, “I Am Crow” rather than the character Tonto, Depp is unforgivable. From his halting stereotypical speech to the dead bird on his head, his Tonto is an absolute disgrace.

I hated this movie, and I hated even more that my childhood heroes were destroyed in the making of it. I will get through it. There are still the movies, TV series, cartoons, and especially the radio shows to preserve the legacy. I will survive this travesty, but will the Lone Ranger?

The Twonky

This bizarre comedy science fiction gem from 1953 was directed, produced, and co-written by Arch Oboler, who was the genius behind the brilliant radio series “Lights Out.”

Hans Conreid has to contend with an apparently sentient TV set that is delivered after his wife goes away on trip. The TV lights cigarettes, does the dishes, creates money, even brainwashing, and much much more. And much like a woman, it will not be ignored.

The TV, called the Twonky (something you don’t know what it is) by Conreid’s friend, Coach Trout, played by Billy Lynn, annoys the heck out of Conreid by being helpful. The coach is an added source of amusement, for me at least, because he keeps comparing women to French fried potatoes, and as you may or may not know, I also write French Fry Diary.

The Twonky is a nice little movie with a good cast that manages to stay the fun and whimsical side of creepy. Fun, worth watching.

Mike Wallace Dead at 93

Over the weekend one of television’s pioneers passed away. Multiple award-winning journalist, TV host, and media personality Mike Wallace is dead at the age of 93 from natural causes.

While best known as a correspondent on the long-running news program “60 Minutes,” Mike Wallace has worn numerous and varied other hats such as narrator on the “Green Hornet” and “Sky King” radio series, game show host, actor (under the name name Myron Wallace, although he played himself in one of my favorite films, A Face in the Crowd), and he also hosted several other news shows before landing “60 Minutes.”

Wallace had semi-retired in 2006, but appeared throughout 2008. He garnered at least twenty Emmy Awards, had written two autobiographies, and was perhaps the last of the real television journalists (just my opinion). We have lost one of the greats.

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RIP Peter Fernandez

Award winning actor, voice actor, author, lyricist, writer and director Peter Fernandez passed away Thursday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83.

Peter Fernandez was the guiding force behind the Americanization of such anime classics as “Speed Racer,” “Gigantor,” “Astro Boy” and “Star Blazers,” and also live action imports from Japan like “Ultraman,” “Space Giants,” “Mothra” and several of the Godzilla films from the 1960s. His early career was in radio on shows like “Gangbusters,” “Mr. District Attorney” and “Superman.”

More recently he had a small part in the big screen version of Speed Racer and a featured role in the newest incarnation of the animated series. Other recent work included “Kenny the Shark” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog.”

I had the opportunity to interview the man at the New York Comic Con a few years back and it’s one of my most cherished memories. I was nervous as hell but he was a very kind and generous, and understanding interviewee. Some of that interview is available here.

I have lost another huge chunk of my childhood, but I’m glad I was able to meet Mr. Fernandez, and at least tell him how much his work meant to me. He will be missed.

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The Legend of the Lone Ranger

The Legend of the Lone Ranger ~ 1981, at a time when other heroes of yesteryear were being brought back from the dead and onto the big screen, like Superman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Little Orphan Annie – the Lone Ranger might have seemed like a natural to the folks trying to cash in, but somehow I think the project may have been cursed from the start.

Much like the very recent Sherlock Holmes, the Lone Ranger suffers a recognition problem. You might know the name but there are clearly multiple generations that have gone by without knowing what that name is about. And of course, director William A. Fraker also made the tragic mistake of all superhero movies – boring the audience to death with the unnecessary origin instead of just telling a good story. Also at the time of the film, actor Clayton Moore, who had portrayed the Ranger for decades on television and in movies was banned by the Wrather Company, owners of the character, from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger. If the film had any audience interested in seeing it, this action alone alienated them.

The string of bad luck did not end there. The young unknown hopeful-soon-to-be-superstar set to play the Lone Ranger, Klinton Spilsbury, was not only a terrible actor with bad seventies hair, but also had to have his voice dubbed throughout the film by the uncredited John Keach. He never went anywhere after this, his only acting role, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Spilsbury is probably better known as an obscure trivia answer than actually portraying the Lone Ranger.

Now that’s not to say that it’s all bad. The film has an old school 1950s-60s American western feel to it, except for the violence which alternates between excessive and over the top to fake and ridiculous (sometimes the blood is obviously strawberry jam). Christopher Lloyd does a surprising turn as villain Butch Cavendish and Jason Robards is as ever excellent in his role of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Michael Horse, also a bad actor here as Tonto, is still miles better than Spilsbury in the title part. And for the most part the movie is more Tonto than Ranger, which acting-wise was a good idea, but an epic fail for a movie about the Lone Ranger. For the record, Horse became a better actor and went on to a recurring role on “Twin Peaks” and a career doing voicework in animation.

There are too many unintentionally funny moments. One, in what should be the most dramatic and triumphant moment, where John Reid finally puts on the mask and rides off into the sunset with Tonto to the beats of the William Tell Overture, is completely ruined as they ride past the mountain where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn. I know I laughed out loud.

And forgive me, but I love the theme song “The Man in the Mask” sung by Merle Haggard with lyrics by Dean Footloose Pitchford, someone else who went on to better things. This tune is the best thing about this movie in my opinion. This one is a miss unless you’re curious or a hardcore Lone Ranger fan.

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The Price of Satellite Radio

I love my satellite radio. I love it so much that I rarely listen to terrestrial radio any more. Maybe some WXPN and maybe some NJ 101.5 FM, but let’s face it, my favorite terrestrial programs like Coast to Coast AM and some of the NPR stuff are all on satellite now. Not much reason to turn on the old fashioned radio any more.

Just got a notice from XM (yeah, they merged with Sirius, but they’ll always be XM to me) that my subscription rates are going up. The reasons cited are as follows:

”Music royalty rights were established by the U.S. Congress as part of the Copyright Act. This Act requires payment of copyright music royalties to recording artists, musicians and recording companies who hold copyrights in sound recordings.

“These royalties have recently increased dramatically, principally as a result of a decision made by the Copyright Royalty Board, which is designated by the Library of Congress to set royalty rates for sound recordings. Beginning on July 29, 2009, a “U.S. Music Royalty Fee” of $1.98/month* for primary subscriptions and $.97/month* for multi-receiver subscriptions will be effective upon your next renewal. This fee will be used directly to offset increased payments from XM to the recording industry.”

Now really, that’s fine. As a writer, I’m not someone who’s ever going to begrudge anyone royalties, that’s just how things work, and furthermore should work. I don’t have a real problem with the price hike, as long as my favorite stuff remains on the XM. What irked me was what I found when I went to the XM website and took a survey.

The survey was about my listening preferences, but seemed to mention little of what I actually listen to on XM. I stopped finding Howard Stern funny some time before he left terrestrial radio, so that’s not for me. I can count on one hand the number of times in three years I’ve listened to any of the nearly hundred sports channels, and Oprah barely amuses me even when she’s on TV. The big guns don’t interest me.

Most of what I listen to is talk radio. I’m addicted to Coast to Coast AM, which while occupying nearly eleven hours of programming per day, was not mentioned by the survey. Opie and Anthony get a brief mention, probably because they bitch on air about Sirius’ prejudice mercilessly. But nowhere did I see other things I listen to faithfully like the old time radio shows on Radio Classics and the wonderful audiobook variety at Book Radio. All there was in the survey was the rather vague description of ‘talk entertainment.’ That covers a lot of ground, and a lot of stuff I really don’t like. How can this survey really tell them anything?

The XM world has been getting smaller and smaller since the Sirius merge – mostly because it was more of a takeover than a merge. The mega-powered Sirius, with the ratings powerhouse (apparently) Stern behind it appeared to change everything on the XM dial as if they and they alone were calling the shots. We lost truly entertaining music stations in favor of the inferior Sirius versions of them.

My point is that for the price increase, how about some verification we’ll keep the programming we enjoy? How about it, XM? Sorry, I mean, how about it, Sirius?

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The Guiding Light Fails

CBS announced today that they were canceling “Guiding Light,” Proctor & Gamble’s soap opera that had been on the air since 1952 and began life as a radio drama, then called “The Guiding Light,” in 1937. It remains the longest running serial program in radio and television history. The network cited low ratings and the economy among the reasons for the cancellation.

“Guiding Light” was always a leader in its field, the first serial to feature African-American actors in lead roles, the first to podcast their episodes to internet. It dealt with hard topics and storylines that raised social awareness of such things as alcoholism, depression and AIDS long before other media. Storylines also dealt with pop culture and other trivia, even Marvel superheroes.

CBS says that “Guiding Light” will leave the airwaves on September 18th of this year, but will that be the end really? Sources say the producers have not given up yet, searching for cable networks or internet broadcasts. Only time will tell, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow and see – as always.

Quickies 1-17-2008


Skidoo ~ Nope, it’s not a water or snow vehicle. This forgotten Otto Preminger flick from 1968 is a cross between a mob comedy and a generation gap morality play. Great performances by notably Mickey Rooney and also by Groucho Marx as a germaphobic mob boss named “God.” Carol Channing is fun as an old bimbo and you have to see to believe Jackie Gleason on acid. Speaking of drugs, rumor has it Grouncho first tried marijuana on the set of this film. Also look for cameos by Otto’s (Mr. Freeze) fellow “Batman” baddies Ceasar (Joker) Romero, Burgess (Penguin) Meredith and Frank (Riddler) Gorshin.

Voice of the Whistler ~ I was surprised by this B-flick based on the old radio program “The Whistler” as it was directed by William Castle. You can see the beginnings of the man’s skills and gimmicks even here. Nice surprise.

Stay Alive ~ This was another surprise as I expected yet another mindless serial killer flick in the mode of Final Destination or Jeepers Creepers. This flick by writer/director William Brent Bell has a group of teenagers playing a game that kills you in real life when you are yoinked in the game. Much cooler than it sounds. Look for “Malcolm in the Middle” all grown up and nerdy.

Incident at Loch Ness ~ This one is the evil opposite of the above, nowhere near as cool as it sounds. It’s a mockumentary following director Werner Herzog as he tries to make a movie about the Loch Ness monster. Reality TV at its worst.