Cincinnati OTR Convention, Day I: Friday, April 13, 2012
When we arrived at the hotel at around 9:15 this morning, Bob Burchett was waiting in the lobby to greet people. What a wonderful welcome! Bob gave us big hugs and got the convention off to a perfect start. Bob gives terrific hugs! As we went down the hallway toward the registration table and the dealers’ room, we saw a group of fellow convention-goers down at breakfast. Inside the dealers’ room, we saw the always-delightful Hal Sampson, who offers beautiful posters and pictures and other OTR and nostalgia memorabilia.
The dealers’ room is such a magnificent place. Ken Borden, who performs in OTR re-creations for senior citizens in Canada, was there with his wife Norma and his daughter Jaye. I bought some discs of various programs (as gifts for my studentlings and co-workers) from Bob and his wife, who always have a great variety of shows. Chris Holm came by and gave us an update on life in Virginia Beach, and Randy Story showed us a picture of his beautiful new daughter, Daphne Rose.
Jim Skyrm is back! Jim, my pseudo-grandfather, is one of the sweetest people in the world. He just lights up the whole room, and he gives great hugs, too! It made me so happy to see him again. His booth has a variety of books and OTR programs.
At around 10 I called school to make sure my students were being kind to the substitute teacher, and then talked to Randy Larson and his friend Larry (who makes a very good Edgar Bergen!). We also talked to Laura Jansen, who is such a gifted, natural actress and comedienne. What a sweet lady! After talking to her, I went over to see her brother, Steve, who is also a brilliantly talented performer and terrifically nice person. They had set up a booth for “OTR-aoke,” and they have put so much work into it! What a brilliant, creative idea! Everyone who will be around for the second day of the convention should check it out.
After trying out the OTR-aoke, I joined my parents at Martin Grams’ presentation of Old Time Radio in the Movies. We enjoyed a variety of movie shorts that featured OTR performers or centered around radio-related themes. Meredith Granger, Chad Rinne, and lots of other wonderful people were there watching, and Ken Piletic was filming all of the festivities—it made me so happy to look around and see so many people I love who I get to see only once a year.
When the presentation ended, we unloaded the car and chatted briefly with Meredith (who told me that he has used the word “studentlings” twice in recent weeks!). Mama and I dashed across the street to bring back sandwiches for a quick lunch. When we came back, I took my annual front-and-back picture with Bruce Raleigh. In the elevator we mat a man named Mel, who is a first-time attendee, and then we went to Larry’s presentation on Jack Benny’s Longest Laughs. It was, of course, absolutely fantastic. He interspersed clips of the program with information about the writing of the jokes and “behind-the-scenes” stories. It was fascinating and very funny. (It was also fun to talk about Nebraska with Chad, who is a Nebraska native!)
Rick Keating arrived partway through the presentation, and when I went down to the lobby to help him unload his car, the wonderful Thompson family (Steve, Rene, and David) were there! There were, of course, hugs all around. We love the Thompsons!
After another buzz through the dealers’ room to pick up more shows, it was time for the auditions. There were lots of roles this year, and lots of people auditioning. Laura Jansen brought many fun personalities to Sam Spade’s Effie. Daddy was cast in The Shadow, and I was cast in Sam Spade. We went back into the dealers’ room again, chatted with Randy Story some more, and marveled at the fact that Chris Holm had a twin in Canada. They’re not really twins, or even related, but Dave Sword—who is here for the first time with his good friend, Sondra Piea, because they are the world’s biggest Peg Lynch fans—and Chris look remarkably like one another.
Lots of conversations with amazing people: more hugs from Jim Skyrm, lots of fun with Steve Thompson, a chat with the lovely Shirley (who will be performing a ventriloquist act tomorrow!), and meeting Joyce and Andrea Smith, who are tremendously devoted Bob Hastings fans.
Mama and I headed out to find a grocery store so we could grab something to bring back to the room for dinner before the evening’s festivities. We got slightly lost and had a fun adventure, but made it back in plenty of time for the re-creations. I got to say hello to the beautiful and talented Peg Lynch before the show started!
The show was great. The highlight was Peg reminiscing about her family history and sharing various humorous anecdotes about her life. She and Bob Hastings performed an episode of Ethel and Albert (the one where Ethel insists that two times zero is two). Peg received a standing ovation after her performance, and she left to talk to Dave and Sondra for quite awhile before going to bed. (We also found out that Bob Hastings had dinner with Joyce and Andrea. What thoughtful, generous people!)
After Ethel and Albert, there was an episode of Dimension X (Larry gave a very creepy performance as an evil “doll”!), and then Michael Shayne, starring Bob Hastings and featuring Meredith Granger as a murderer, Chris Holm and Rene Thompson doing impressive Cajun accents, and Steve Thompson being a dog and a werewolf.
The final official event of the night was the trivia bowl! There were only four teams this year, and everyone really knew their stuff! The final scores were all pretty close, but the Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters (Jim Widener, Dan Reedstra, Meredith Granger, and Randy Larson) were ultimately victorious.
The night ended with everyone breaking off into little groups and chatting. Penny, from Seattle, told me stories about her days as a first-grade teacher, and I eavesdropped on Daddy as he talked OTR with Ken Piletic, Randy Larson, and two lovely women in the hotel bar. What a fantastic day!
I came downstairs at around 9:40, so there was some time to go through the dealer’s room again before the Sam Spade rehearsal. I made a beeline for Jim Skyrm (what a terrific way to start the day!). We chatted for a little while before I went into rehearsal, and he was able to come watch the rehearsal too! Found more treasures in the dealers’ room (thereby fulfilling my promise to bring gifts for the studentlings), then met Randy Story’s beautiful wife, Bonnie, his basketball-player niece, Megan, and his adorable daughter, Daphne.
At 11 Daddy had rehearsal for The Shadow, and I talked to Bob Burchett in the dealers’ room. He is such a kind, unbelievably accomplished man. The dealers’ room seemed quite active today: there was the usual Radio Once More live broadcast, Rick Keating (among others) enjoyed the Jansens’ OTR-aoke, and everyone was finding all of kinds of deals on MP3s and DVDs and books and memorabilia (I bought a biography of Lloyd Nolan from Martin Grams’ table).
There wasn’t time to go anywhere to get lunch, so Mama and I had a quick snack up in the room, then it was back downstairs where we talked to the delightful Thompsons again (and saw an adorable portrait of Meredith with Tyler McVey from a much earlier convention). Before going to the afternoon re-creations, I had to give Jim another hug.
The shows this afternoon were a lot of fun! Randy Larson did a terrific Shadow laugh, and my daddy made an excellent doctor and street person (named Limpy). When they ended, we drew names for the raffle prizes. Bruce Raleigh, Geoff Brittingham, and Frank Boncore won lots of good OTR programs, books on tape, and balloons.
Joy Jackson led a meeting after the raffle where everyone gathered to discuss the future of the convention. I have been refusing to refer to this as the last Cincinnati convention, because I frankly do not believe that it will be the last. It means too much to too many people to simply disappear. When discussing the wonders that Boys Town had worked on so many at-risk children, Father Edward Flanagan once said, “The work will continue, you see, whether I am there or not, because it is God’s work, not mine.” Perhaps it sounds like something of an exaggeration to refer to an old time radio convention as “God’s work,” but the same principle applies: whether Bob Burchett continues to be the official organizer or not, he has inspired so many people and created such a wonderful family that it will continue, in one form or another. This is not wishful or overly optimistic thinking; it is a statement of fact. We love old time radio and all of the wonderful people involved in the hobby far too much not to see them and revel in the glory of OTR each year.
The meeting, which generated dozens of beautifully creative ideas, ran long enough that dinner was a quick trip to the Subway across the street with the Thompsons, Rick, Chad, and Meredith. We gobbled down our food, then dashed back to the hotel to change into our finery for the evening festivities.
First up was the All Ears radio re-creation group performing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Partway through the show, Daddy came and tapped me on the shoulder and gestured for me to follow him. He led me out to the lobby, were a group of devoted Peg Lynch fans (including first-time attendee Gary Smith, and Dave who came here from Canada to meet Peg) were gathered around, listening to Peg’s stories. I sat down at her feet (we looked like a group of schoolchildren gathered around for storytime), and she asked me what I taught. When I said special ed, she told us a fascinating story about a friend of hers who worked as a speech pathologist in China in the 1940s, was sent to a concentration camp, survived, became a fan of Peg’s radio work, and opened a special school for children with learning disabilities. What an amazing woman!
Peg continued her wonderful stories in the re-creation room a few minutes later. She has had a truly incredible career and could write an amazing book full of her memories! She and Bob Hastings performed an absolutely hilarious Ethel and Albert, then she shared more of her marvelous memories.
The final re-creation of the night was Suspense. Meredith was absolutely perfect as the announcer, Bob Hastings managed to be both brilliantly creepy and very funny as the male lead, and first-time attendee Sondra P. was terrific as his wife.
When the official re-creations were over, Martin Grams surprised Bob Burchett with a beautiful slideshow of photographs that chronicled the history of the Cincinnati convention, accompanied by very touching music. I cried my eyes out as the pictures flashed on the screen: Parley Baer, Ed and Nana Clute, Derek Tague, Bob Newman, Rosemary Rice, and many, many more people than I could even begin to count. We really are a family.
The last official event of the night was the awards. Terry Salomonson made a beautiful, emotional speech about the Parley Baer Award (whose recipient will be announced in a month or two). Bob Burchett presented the All Ears group with the Dave Warren Award, then Don Ramlow presented Meredith Granger with the Dave Warren Award. Dave Zwingler, who was not in attendance this year, won the third Dave Warren Award. Finally, the Stone-Waterman Award went to Melanie Aultman, who not only writes articles about OTR, but brightens the convention with her lovely smile and keeps us all well-supplied with Moon Pies!
When the official festivities were over, Daddy auctioned off the three large lobby signs announcing the convention. I won the sign that had the schedule of yesterday’s events, and Chris Holm and Terry Salomonson won the other two. Bob Burchett made a lovely speech about the convention. We all broke into our groups to spend another evening talking and enjoying each other’s company. Chris Holm showed us some breathtaking pictures of his beachfront condo in Virginia, and Meredith and Daddy bonded over newly discovered similarities.
Sunday morning Daddy woke me up so I could go downstairs in time to take a picture with Peg for his Karen Gets Hugged Page (http://danhughes.net/khugged.htm). Afgter that, we packed everything up and got ready to take Chad to the bus station. We had our last conversations with the incredible Jansens, with Rick, with Penny and Joy, and with Paul Iverson and his wife, Mary. Paul was new to the convention this year, and he won a few prizes at the raffle. Welcome to the family, Paul and Mary!
This was not the last Cincinnati OTR convention; far from it! I look forward to seeing all of you next year!!