2008 Cincinnati Old Time Radio Convention -
A Report by Karen Hughes
It’s time once again for that thrilling annual adventure—the Hughes family goes to Cincinnati! After the usual night at Grandma’s, we hit the road early Friday morning and arrived at the hotel (known this year as the Cincinnati North) at around 9:00. Peyton Powell was the first person we met in the lobby, and he was enthusiastic as always, providing a delightful start to the whole weekend.
As soon as we had checked in, we headed to the dealers’ room to reunite with our beloved extended OTR family. Jim Skyrm, who writes and tells wonderful stories and actually saw Jack Benny perform in a USO show in Korea, was one of the first people I saw there. Jim gives such good hugs! Maybe it’s just a talent that comes along with being an OTR fan—everyone at the convention is good at giving hugs (as proven on my dad’s “Karen Gets Hugged” page).
After talking with Jim for a little while, I saw Derek Tague. Derek is a wonderful person who is endlessly knowledgeable about OTR (and a myriad of other things—the man is brilliant). I chatted with him and then wandered through the dealers’ room, which, as usual, had countless wonders.
I bought a beautiful Charlie McCarthy necklace from Hal Sampson and made several trips back over the course of the weekend to pick up a DVD of Jack Benny-related cartoons, the newest Jack Benny book (Well!, which features essays by Derek and the equally brilliant Steve Thompson), and some CDs to bring back to my students.
Bob Burchett was back this year! He always seems to be smiling. He is one of the nicest people you could possibly imagine, and it was absolutely wonderful to see him again.
At 10:30 we went to Martin Grams’ showing of OTR-related film shorts. He introduced and played a Burns and Allen sketch, an interesting film on how a microphone works, an informational clip about an amazing new technology known as “television,” and several other shorts. His collection of OTR material is amazing!
Meredith Granger and Steve Jansen sat near us at Martin’s presentation, and Peyton sat with us as well. Steve was later interviewed by Neal Ellis, who was doing a live remote broadcast in the dealers’ room (and was also offering a wonderful bargain on CDs). After the films, Meredith entertained us with a few knock-knock jokes (my favorite: “Knock, knock.”
“Objective case who?”
“No, objective case whom!”)
Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the dealer’s room and catching up with all of the wonderful people we get to see only once a year, like Mike Biel (whose daughter, Leah, was unfortunately unable to make it this year—we missed you, Leah!). At 1:30 Derek hosted an authors’ panel, in which half a dozen stars of OTR literature (including Martin Grams, Jack French, John Rayburn, Jim Cox, and two gentlemen whose names, I’m embarrassed to admit, are escaping me at the moment) shared their experiences researching and writing their books. Their insights and advice were very interesting. It’s amazing how much time and effort they put into their writing! Their books are truly labors of love.
Auditions for the re-creations were at 3:00, and Steve and Rene Thompson arrived shortly before then. Steve and Rene are, unsurprisingly, incredible people who are kind and funny and talented and just too delightful to describe adequately in mere words. They brought their son, David, and their good friend Bree (who turned out to be quite a good actress). Everyone had fun at the auditions. Mama and Daddy and I were lucky enough to be cast in a show together (Daddy was Hap, Harlow Wilcox’s partner, in the commercials, Mama was an operator and receptionist, and I was a martian in an episode of Suspense that originally starred none other than Jack Benny). Steve, Rene, and Meredith were also in the Suspense episode, with Steve playing the Jack role. Peyton won the role of a talking crow in Have Gun, Will Travel (and did an absolutely fantastic job—but I’m getting ahead of myself), and Mama got a second role, playing the announcer in Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Bree was cast as Missy Wong in Have Gun, Will Travel, and David Isaacson, who started coming to Cincinnati a couple of years ago and is an incredible actor, was Harlow Wilcox and a couple of bad guys. We were lucky to have some wonderful scripts this year!
After the auditions were over, we chatted with Bruce Raleigh for a few minutes, and Rick Keating arrived and introduced us to his friend, Brother John Moriconi. I’m afraid I’ll start sounding much too repetitive if I expound upon the profound niceness of these people; suffice it to say that they are just as wonderful as one would expect.
The evening shows started at 7:00, so we had time for a relatively leisurely dinner. Rick went to Xavier University, his alma mater, to drop off at their library a copy of a short story he wrote that was published in the Skyweb Cam magazine-on-CD earlier this year. Steve, Rene, Bree, David, Derek, Mama, Daddy, and I went to Golden Corral and had a lot of fun before scurrying back to the hotel for that night’s show.
John Rayburn opened the evening with one of his “spoonerisms,” which are always delightful. This was followed by a short Dragnet parody read by Ester Geddes and Rosemary Rice. Bob Hastings and Rosemary Rice then performed a Bickersons script, with John Rayburn as announcer. Wrapping up the festivities was an episode of Pat Novak for Hire. Steve Jansen played a character who was killed within the first five minutes of the show, but his facial expressions as the other actors discussed his demise afterward were priceless. What a gifted actor and comedian!
When all of the shows were over for the night, Derek, Rick, and Brother John came up to our room and talked with us for awhile. We all listened to the original broadcast of the Suspense episode that we were performing the next day (and I was reminded yet again of what an amazing talent Jack Benny really was). Meredith called and invited us for ice cream, and we all headed over to Graeter’s. It was a nice end to an amazing day.
The next morning we had the Suspense rehearsal. Rehearsals are almost more fun than the actual performances, because people ad lib sometimes and it’s very funny. After rehearsal, Mama and Steve and Rene and David and Bree and I headed out to Burger King for a quick lunch. We ran into George Huber and his friend (whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately) and Peyton. Peyton rode back with us, and we went to the afternoon performances. John Rayburn did another spoonerism, we performed the first half of Suspense, and then Peyton stole the show as the talking crow in Have Gun, Will Travel.
There was enough time between the matinee and the evening festivities that we were able to relax for a little while—after Daddy conducted the raffle. (When you pay your admission fee, you are automatically entered in the drawing for a door prize. If you want to, you can also purchase additional tickets that are drawn to award a variety of books, pictures, tapes, and CDs to people. Scripts of the re-creations, autographed by each cast--including the celebrity guests--are auctioned off as well.) The prizes were, as always, wonderfully generous donations from the dealers, and they covered the entire length of a very long table. Lots of people came away with treasures!
We spent some more time with Steve and Rene, ran a quick errand, and came back in time to gobble a quick dinner of leftover Burger King (I opted out of the dinner this year, though the buffet spread looked very elegant and the tables were beautiful), and bring some extra chairs into the performance room. I sat with Rick and Derek (stealing Brother John’s seat—sorry!).
Bob Hastings and Rosemary Rice performed another Bickersons script, then we did the second half of Suspense. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (with Mama doing an awesome job as the announcer!) brought the weekend’s re-creations to a close (sadly), and then awards were presented. Bob Burchett gave the Parley Baer Award to John Rayburn, who told a very sweet anecdote about how his mother taught him to love reading. Derek presented the Dave Warren Award to Rayburn, and then Ryan Ellett won the Stone-Waterman Award. So many talented people helping preserve this wonderful hobby!
There was one more impromptu event that wrapped up all of the formal programming: Bob Burchett announced, “Peyton wants to make a speech.” Peyton came to the microphone and made a beautiful speech, eloquently describing all the things that make the convention so special: the fun in the dealers’ room, the good feeling of knowing that you’re part of a huge extended family, and the joy of seeing so many friends year after year. It was the perfect way to close the evening.
The saddest part of the convention for me is when everything in the banquet room is taken down. After Peyton’s speech, everyone began gathering their things and all of the microphones and other equipment were taken apart and packed away.
Of course everyone lingered for awhile, chatting and laughing and holding on to that glorious feeling of being part of something so magical. Daddy led me around the room to be hugged by various people (thank you, everyone!). When they started taking down the tables, we all migrated out to the lobby. We ended up staying there until almost two in the morning: Steve Jansen told us about the trip he and Laura took to the Cincinnati Museum, Neal Ellis talked about the 1960s Baltimore Orioles with Mama and Daddy, Rick and I played the Fibber McGee and Molly game from the ‘40s (The Wistful Vista Mystery—essentially an OTR-themed mad libs game), Mike Biel and Terry Salomonson talked about their areas of expertise, and Derek (whose sister, Gwen, and nephew, Patrick, returned to the convention this year!) came down to tell us all good night. I finally went to bed at around 12:30, and Mama and Daddy came up later.
The next morning we got to continue the OTR conversations, but with a different group of people. Rick came by to say good bye, and then came down to the lobby with us while we talked to Joy, Penny, Mike (who is the driving force behind the Gildersleeve Project), and Dr. Bob. They told us all about their involvement in re-creations in Seattle, and we also learned some new terms for different kinds of rain (such as “mizzle,” something between a mist and a drizzle). OTR people are so wonderful!
At last, to our dismay, it was time to go home. It all flew by much too quickly, but we had an amazing time. It was, as always, inexpressibly fantastic to see all the people we care about so much who we get to see for such a brief time each year! We love you all and can’t wait for next year!
MONDAY - Addenda
P.S. In a happy epilogue, my students were very excited about the CDs they received as souvenirs of Miss Hughes’ trip, and two of them asked me to bring them extra copies of episodes of The Damon Runyon Theatre. Radio is so magical—it can reach anyone at all!