A group of folks in our town work hard to produce old fashioned radio shows. They solicit and select thirty-minute scripts for a live production in a local church before a live audience for ultimate playback on NPR. As you might imagine there are a lot of moving parts from cast auditions, to tech crew and engineers, sound effects and musicians, announcer and director—an elaborate undertaking ultimately played-out before an audience trying to relive their pre-television years of listening to the likes of Jack Benny, and Amos &Andy and Bobbie Benson of the B-B.

I entertained the thought of escorting grandkids to my nostalgia fix on the premise that you can’t appreciate the present unless you can recapitulate the past. Now, I don’t plan to drag them through my dusty collection of 8mm film and 1/2” videos just to show them what they’d been missing in media evolution on the way to their ‘screens.’ To them, radio is probably like rodeo—entertainment based on skills from another time. They’re already familiar with books on tape—mere narration. I’d like them to experience the whole nine yards: narrator, characters, music, sound effects. Marshall McCluhan would say that radio was a ‘cool’ medium because the listener had to supply all the imagination and not just let ‘hot’ movies supply it for him. A live radio production would be a throwback visit to ‘cool’ in the making.

But back to our local church production. There is one big difference from listening to classic radio shows. We never saw the narrators. We certainly knew their voices…Only the Shadow Knows…while they all remained faceless speakers behind cartoon figures and world news announcers and sports casters. We didn’t know them, we imagined them. And if, one time or another, their picture popped up in the papers, it ruined our carefully fancied image unless it was the ubiquitous Roy Rogers or the Lone Ranger behind a mask. Who wanted to see a fat, bald guy saying, “Tttthat’s all Folks!”?

So, remembering myself glued to the radio, swept along with the plot, breathtakingly imagining the hero hanging onto the cliff till ‘the same time tomorrow’ I want to bring my grandkids to this throwback production. Beyond just sharing my past, I want to show them how the card trick worked—a glimpse at the smoke and mirrors of show biz. But should I? Would I be stealing their innocent wonder at the magic? It’s hard to unsee the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

4 thoughts on “Throwback Medium

  1. Love this one Joe and SO glad I chose to read it! I did not know about this hot and cool concept from McLuhan, though I immersed in his work and deeply revere the body of work he left us. “The Mechanical Bride, Folklore of Industrial Man” is a deconstruction thriller in many ways. I say children need any help they can get at deconstructing the pervasive media and ubiquitous gadgetry! Production itself (and learning how things are made) is perhaps the best way in that I have discovered….I almost signed up for this Radio show making thang (to try out as an actor) and have attended the sessions myself.


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