At the 2013 Cincinnati Nostalgia Expo With Karen Hughes

May 31 and June 1, 2013


We got up at 2 A.M. today (Illinois time) and told all the kitties we love them. A little over an hour later, we were on the road! We came through some pretty intense rain, but by the time we arrived at the hotel—around 8:20 Cincinnati time—it was bright and sunny (although the rain returned later in the day).

The first person we saw when we arrived, apart from the sweet lady at the hotel reception desk (the employees here are so nice!), was Mike Wheeler. After Bob Burchett retired from running the convention last year, Mike took the metaphorical reins and put together this first annual Cincinnati Nostalgia Expo. He has done a brilliant job! The registration table offered wonderful packets for those who pre-registered—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Randy Larson, Phyllis Larson, and several of their friends were eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant when we passed by. The lovely Lennell Herbert-Marshall was at the registration table, and Mama and I signed up for a two-hour shift later in the morning. We headed to Panera for breakfast, where a very nice man saw the back of my shirt and asked, “Who is this ‘Benny’ whose name is worth repeating so many times?” I turned around and explained that it was Jack Benny, and he was very excited to learn about the convention.

“Is it open to the public?” he asked, and a little while later he stopped by our table to get more information. (It is important to note here that everyone is welcome at the convention and that you will have an absolutely wonderful time if you come to it!)

When we arrived back at the hotel, Jim Skyrm was standing in the doorway of the dealers’ room! Jim gives terrific hugs. He showed me a picture of his beautiful Kentucky family (he has other relatives out in Maryland).

 After we chatted with Jim, Lennell explained everything we would need to do at the registration table. Having been educated about the various responsibilities, we took our seats and had a ball chatting with everyone who arrived. J.R. Cooprider greeted us, and we were sad to learn that Hal Sampson passed away. Hal was a dealer who specialized in t-shirts and Western memorabilia. He was a very kind, friendly person who has been at the convention ever since I can remember.

Charles Niren arrived, and Bruce Raleigh and Terry Salomonson. A hotel guest stopped by the table to ask about the convention, explaining that he had grown up in Cincinnati and was interested in radio. Tom Monroe talked to us about all of the wonderful work he does in sending books to soldiers overseas and donating books on tape to people who are blind. Chad Rinne dashed in after Martin Grams’ “Radio in the Movies” presentation so he could pick up a schedule of events. Andrea Smith and her mother, Joyce, told us about the adventures they’d had thus far on their trip. The ever-delightful Melanie Aultman brought us Moon Pies. Shirley Coe told us about a ventriloquist’s convention she will attend in Cincinnati in July. Bruce Raleigh came back and we took our annual front-and-back pictures. There are so many amazing people here!

At 12:00 Larry Youngberg came for his shift at the table. By that time a room was ready at the hotel, so we unloaded our car and checked in. Chad was in the lobby, working diligently on re-writing sheet music (or, more accurately, writing the notes a little smaller) that he would be playing in the re-creations. I went through the dealers’ room and talked to Jim again (I love Jim!). Andrea and Joyce Smith were in the room too, and we chatted about re-creations and, of course, about Bob Hastings.

Charlie and Katie Summers’ interview with Bob Hastings started at 1:00. The room was packed! The interview was fascinating, and I learned a lot about his career. It is very exciting to be in the same room as someone who knew Ernest Borgnine so well that he refers to him as “Ernie.”

When the interview was over, I went back downstairs and saw Rene and David Thompson in the lobby! Steve joined us a few minutes later. It was wonderful to hear about all of the fantastic work that Rene is doing, all of the writing that Steve is doing, and all of the brilliant things that David has done in school. The magnificent Steve Jansen greeted us and reminded us that he had his OTR-aoke booth set up again. (I can’t wait to do it tomorrow!) He is so creative. We were sad to see that his lovely and talented sister Laura was not with him this year. We miss you, Laura! (Also, Chris Holm was unable to attend this year. We miss you, too, Chris!)

After one more quick trip into the dealers’ room to buy a Gene Autry ring I’d noticed earlier, it was time to audition for the re-creations. As always, there was a lot of talent in the room, and it was fun to listen to all the different voices and characterizations. We sat with the Thompsons, Steve Jansen, and the awesome Meredith Granger. Daddy and I both got roles in Night Beat, and I also got a role in Sam Spade (thank you, Don!). Rick Keating arrived at the end of the auditions and gave me a copy of some letters to the editor that ran in his local paper and that had to do with teachers.

There was just enough time between the auditions and the rehearsal for Night Beat to talk to Don Ramlow about finding scripts for OTR re-creations and muddling through copyright permission and then grabbing a quick bite at Subway with Mama, Rene, David, and Rick. We gobbled up our sandwiches and rushed back for the rehearsal.

 Bob Hastings and Ivan Curry (who worked with Jack Benny!) starred in the re-creation. Daddy was the announcer and I was a follower of Bob’s who got to sing a campaign song to the tune of “Camptown Races.” It was a great script. Randy Larson played a scary, corrupt politician, Phyllis Larson played Bob’s overbearing wife, and David Isaacson played one of Randy’s bodyguards.

There was an hour between the end of rehearsal and the actual performance. All of the dealers had already covered their tables for the night, but I talked to Jim again. Melanie Aultman called Derek Tague and we got to say hello to him and tell him we miss him and are thinking about him. At 7 we performed Night Beat for the audience, and then Randy Larson directed an original radio script entitled Let Me Tell You About My Operation. It was very funny, and the cast was great.

The fourth annual trivia contest was the last of the evening’s scheduled festivities. This year there were questions about early television as well as radio, since the focus of the convention has expanded. The Blue Coalers (Neal Ellis, Mel Simons, Ken Stockinger, and Gary Lowe) won this year. Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson were our judges. The teams all had a great time, and I enjoyed running around collecting their answer sheets.
It was, as always, a magical day. Tomorrow will be full of even more adventures!


Our wake-up call at 7 A.M. got us up and we had breakfast at Golden Corral before coming back for the 10:00 Sam Spade rehearsal. Lots of wonderful people were in the cast: the man who played the title role was a terrific actor with a fantastic voice; Meredith Granger and Steve Jansen are always amazing; a petite lady named Glynnie from the Michigan group did a great job as Big Flora, a tough bar owner.

When rehearsal was over I went to the dealers’ room, and Bob Burchett was there! It made me so happy to see him. He is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, and we are so lucky to have had him as our convention leader for so long. He gives really good hugs, too!

Melanie Aultman was in the dealers’ room, and she gave me an absolutely beautiful Jack Benny shirt. Jim Skyrm chatted with me for a little while. Steve and Rene Thompson introduced me to their lovely friend Dee. We all headed up to the Johnny Dollar presentation at 11.

Back downstairs after the presentation, Daddy and Chad Rinne and I got to talk to Ivan Cury for a little while. I missed Ivan’s interview on Friday and was very mad at myself, because I learned later that he had worked with Jack Benny! When Jack came to New York for the occasional broadcast, he would call Ivan if he needed a child actor. He has certainly had an incredible career!

Chad and Ivan had to go to rehearsal, so I went back to the dealers’ room and bought some OTR to bring back to my friends and co-workers. Before I knew it, it was time for the 1:30 re-creations.

Sam Spade went well and was a lot of fun. It was followed by an excellent performance of an episode of Broadway Is My Beat. When the re-creations were over, it was time for Daddy to begin preparing for the door prize drawing and the auction. There were several very long tables completely covered in prizes that dealers had generously donated for the prizes—many, many thanks to Jerry Randolph, Steve Jansen, Neal Ellis, Tom Monroe, and all the other people who made the drawing and auction possible!

It is always fun to be a runner and deliver the prizes to the people whose names are called (hooray for Frank Boncore, Shirley Coe, Bruce Raleigh, Joy Jackson, and all of the other people who bought lots of tickets and won lots of prizes!). Near the end of the drawing, Tom Monroe suggested that everyone who had bought a ticket but not yet won a prize go up to the table and choose something. It was a wonderful idea, and no one came away empty-handed. (Thank you again to everyone who bought raffle tickets!)

Steve Jansen’s OTR-aoke booth was the only remaining one in the dealers’ room. I recorded an episode of The Strange Dr. Weird in which I got to play the villainess. (Those of you who have never tried the OTR-aoke should absolutely do so next year; it is a blast!) There was time for a quick dinner at Subway with Mama and Rick, then we rushed back to the hotel to change for the evening festivities.

The first of the evening’s re-creations was the All Ears Theatre Group’s performance of Box 13. This was followed by a performance by the Seattle group. They performed The Pawn Shop, and original script by Kay Lutz and directed by Joy Jackson. The final re-creation of the convention was Bobby Benson, starring Ivan Cury (reprising the role he played as a child). It is very difficult to describe the joyous energy with which Ivan opened and closed the program as he called out, “B bar B!” He was joined by a spectacular cast. Rick Fontaine stole the show with his dual roles of Windy, a grizzled character with a high voice, and another character with a very deep voice. He had a few moments during which he talked to himself. It was hilarious.

The final event of the night was the awards ceremony. We were all thrilled when Derek Tague won the Dave Warren Award. Derek has been unable to attend the convention for a few years, but he has been a dedicated behind-the-scenes participant. It was very exciting to hear his name called for an award that he so richly deserved. Joy Jackson received the Stone-Waterman Award for her work in organizing the Seattle convention, and Mike Wheeler also received a Stone-Waterman Award for keeping our beloved convention going strong. There was no Parley Baer Award this year. Mike Wheeler presented framed certificates to Don Ramlow, Martin Grams, and Bob Burchett for their work in keeping the convention alive. It was a beautiful ceremony.

Although the official festivities were over for the year, the family reunion was still going strong. Daddy and I stayed in the lobby and chatted with Neal Ellis, Rodney Bowcock, Rick Keating, Ken Stockinger, Jim McCuaig, and several other folks for awhile. When I went up to the room to join Mama, the lobby was still full of conversation and laughter.

This morning we had planned on leaving right away to come back home, but there were so many wonderful people at breakfast that we stayed and ate and talked with them. We saw Randy Larson and the rest of the Chicago group, and we ate with Meredith, Steve Jansen, Rick Keating, Justine McKenna (a great actress from the Michigan group), and Mickey Sikes (another fantastic Michigan actor). We lingered in the lobby to chat with Meredith, Steve, Rick, Joy Jackson, Mike Wheeler, Ivan Cury, and “Dr. Bob” for a little while, then finally hit the road at around noon.

As always, the convention was the highlight of the whole year. It is full of the most wonderful people in the world, and it helps keep an important part of our history alive. I can’t wait to see everyone again next year!