The Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention - 2009

by Karen Hughes

We arrived at the new hotel at around 8:45 Friday morning. What a beautiful place! We walked around the dealers’ room, impressed as always at all of the wonderful things the vendors had to offer. It was great to see Hal Sampson again, and we chatted with Paul Rogers and, of course, Jim Skyrm. Martin Grams tried to help us think of ways to find recordings of Father Flanagan’s broadcasts (he was the founder of Boys Town and he broadcast a weekly message; I don’t know anything else about these broadcasts, but if anyone knows what they were called or how to get a hold of some of them, let me know!).

Talking with Jim Skyrm is always one of the best parts of the convention. He is one of the nicest men you will ever meet. He’s softspoken and friendly and always has a smile for everyone. He told me some wonderful stories about adventures he’d had (you’ll have to ask him about the time he met Forrest Tucker), and I told him about my little studentlings.

Lots of other great people were in the dealers’ room, and Peyton Powell was one of the first ones we saw. It’s always great to see Peyton, and he told me that he was hoping to try out for the role of Rochester in the Jack Benny re-creation.

At 10:00 we went to Martin Grams’ presentation of OTR-related film shorts and cartoons. It was, as always, delightful. A very sweet lady named Marlene sat next to me. After the films we talked to a very nice woman named Kristi and her husband Lyle. They had never been to the convention before and were very excited. It turned out that Marlene was Kristi’s aunt. Small world!

After the OTR films we ran to Burger King to grab a quick lunch (but not before seeing/chatting with the marvelously talented and kind Steve and Laura Jansen), then scurried back to the hotel. We had barely even gotten out of the car when Steve and Rene Thompson, their son David, and their “daughter” Bree appeared. Mass hugging ensued. The Thompsons are a wonderful extended family!

We all walked around the dealers’ room a little while longer, and I bought a copy of Union Station from Paul Rogers. (Union Station was filmed in Omaha, Nebraska, and this past summer I had the unique privilege of cleaning up a chocolate malt that I spilled all over the soda fountain that is now in the lobby of the station where Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea filmed the movie.) I also called one of my co-workers and asked him to put one of my students on the phone so that we could all sing “Happy Birthday” to him (birthdays are a big deal at my school).

Meredith Granger and Rick Keating both arrived around this time as well. Meredith is such a gentleman! It was great to see Rick, who of course generously brought Faygo to share with all of us (thanks, Rick!).

Auditions for the re-creations were at 4:00. We all trooped into the room where the re-creations would be, and Don explained which shows we would be doing and which parts were available. Everybody did a great job, as always (and Steve Thompson gave me a picture he’d drawn—he’s just as good an artist as he is an actor! And he’s a talented writer—is there anything he can’t do?). Daddy got parts in three of the plays! I was incredibly fortunate to be cast as Mary Livingstone in the Jack Benny re-creation. It is hard to describe how much of an honor that was. Having the chance to be a part of the show I’ve listened to and loved best of all my whole life was amazing. Don Ramlow is a very kind man.

Peyton was also cast in the Jack Benny re-creation! He got the role of Rochester, just as he’d hoped. He did a terrific imitation of Eddie Anderson’s voice.

We had a little bit of free time between the auditions and the evening’s performances, so we ran out to Deals to pick up some things to snack on in the room. We got back shortly before the performances started.

The evening show was a real treat: First, Bob Hastings and Esther Geddes-McVey performed an episode of The Bickersons. When they were finished, Randy Larson and Larry (can't remember your last name, Larry! I'm sorry) did an Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy/W.C. Fields skit. It was fantastic! There are so many talented people at the convention. (They’re both wonderfully nice, too, and Randy has a great license plate!)

The final performance of the evening was an episode of Suspense in which Jack Benny (or, in our case, Eddie Carroll) was the star. Before it started, Esther Geddes-McVey gave an impromptu recitation of The Shooting of Dan McGrew, much to everyone’s delight. The episode itself was fantastic. Eddie Carroll was unbelievable. He looks like Jack, sounds like Jack, and—perhaps most impressive of all—has perfectly captured every single one of Jack’s mannerisms. It is truly moving to see him perform and imagine what the real Jack would have been like up there (or what he must think about being so loved that we need to find people to continue his career for him!).

When all of the performances were over, the Thompsons went home for the night, and we tried to decide what to do for dinner. I ended up going through the Steak ’n’ Shake drive-through with Rick, and afterward we watched the Jack Benny cartoon The Mouse That Jack Built. Then it was time to call it a night.

Saturday was insanely busy! Daddy and I had rehearsal for Richard Diamond at 10:00 (Daddy was the announcer, and I got to play the role of a secretary working for a crooked psychic). It ended at around 10:45, so I crept into the back of the room where Eddie Carroll was being interviewed. He had some amazing stories to share. It was really a privilege to hear about everything he’s done and all of the people he has worked with.

The afternoon shows started at 1:30. We saw the first half of The Saint and performed Richard Diamond. It was a lot of fun. When it was over, we chatted with Chuck Thompson who, we discovered, was not the announcer for the Baltimore Orioles (he said he gets that question fairly often). Shortly after the show, Daddy did the auction of the signed scripts and drew names for the raffle prizes. Chris Holm, Bruce Raleigh, the Oliver family, Mike and Leah Biel, and many other people won some really neat prizes—mostly OTR shows, but also some books and movies and a couple of actual antique radios.

After the raffle there was just enough time to figure out what to do for dinner (since we didn’t go to the banquet this year) and get ready for the evening’s performances. We ended up going to Golden Corral (Rick joined us), where they had cute little miniature chocolate pies. When we finished eating, it was time to scurry back to the hotel to change into nicer clothes and then head down to the re-creation room.

We found seats in the back of the room at a table where a very nice man from Wisconsin was sitting (unfortunately, I can’t remember his name—I apologize! It really was fun talking to you!). Meredith Granger came over and gave me an OTR shirt that he won in a radio contest (thank you, Meredith!), and then the shows started. First we saw the ending of The Saint, then the All Ears Radio Theatre group, Don’s group from Kalamazoo, Michigan, performed an original radio play that was a parody of 1950s sci-fi shows. It was very funny. The last show of the evening was The Jack Benny Show. Again, it is impossible to put into words exactly what it was like to be onstage with Eddie Carroll—or, for all intents and purposes, Jack Benny. It was certainly one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had at the convention. The rest of the cast was wonderful, too: Meredith made a great Don Wilson (Meredith is great in any role he plays, of course), Randy Larson was a fantastic Phil Harris, Daddy was a wonderful Mel Blanc (and did a marvelous job in his other roles—four in all!) and of course Bob Hastings was brilliant as Dennis Day. What a privilege to get to work with so many tremendously talented people!

The evening ended with the awards. Neal Ellis won the Parley Baer Award this year for all of his work in perpetuating OTR, and Steve Jansen and Mary Ramlow won the Dave Warren Award. Charlie Summers also received a belated Parley Baer Award and moved everyone to tears with his emotional acceptance of it. Steve gave a marvelous acceptance speech as well. It amazes me how well he can speak extemporaneously! Finally, Eddie Carroll was presented with the Stone-Waterman Award. At the very end of it all, Peyton gave a very nice speech about how he got into OTR and how much it means to him. Then the official convention was over.

It is always sad when all of the festivities are over and the hotel staff starts clearing away the tables. It helps that everyone sticks around and socializes until the wee hours. We called Derek Tague, whom we all missed terribly this year, and passed around the phone so that we could all talk to him. Rick and Steve and Laura and I played the Fibber McGee and Molly game, and then I joined Mama and Daddy for a little while as they talked with another group (including Penny from Oregon, whose last name I’m afraid I can’t remember). When I could barely keep my eyes open, I finally trudged back to the room and crashed. Everyone else was still going strong.

It was a fantastic weekend, as always. The presence of Eddie Carroll made it really special this year (it was almost as good as meeting Jack in person!), and it’s always wonderful to see all the extended family members we see only once a year. Thank you, everyone, for being so amazing and for making our April Christmas the highlight of my year!