The Passing Parade: A Fat Tuesday Hangover

Perhaps I should not have been quite so surprised; nor pleased, for that matter. For twenty-four hours or so, broadcastellan ceased to be practically invisible—and it was all due to my tribute to video star Don Knotts. In an effort to be timely, for once, I dispatched the previous post before sunrise on Monday morning while those across the big pond still clung to what was left of their weekend. When next I checked for signs of life on this blog, I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of visitors, nearly three times as many as on an average day. Most of them found their way here through a topics exchange rather than the common traffic generators on which many e-diarists rely. Now, I won’t stoop to pinning my hopes of boosting my low voltage scribblings on the passing of aged celebrities with more or less marginal careers in old-time radio. Still, waking up to a Fat Tuesday hangover after this intoxicating surge in circulation, I decided that I’d rather give up cocktails than topicality for Lent.

Though it should not take an actor’s death to make others alive to a neglected dramatic medium, a revival of interest cannot take place if the world is dead to the subject you go on about. So, in effort to adhere to my own dictum, I must keep on trying to relate the presumably out-of-date to our present everyday. Not enough of this is being done elsewhere. As a result, radio drama is mostly appreciated as a font of nostalgia or camp.

In my current poll I ask, not for the first time, just why old-time radio drama does not enjoy the status granted to old movies. Even as video stores are slowly being replaced by online libraries, the shelves of the major DVD retailers are still stacked with copies of classic Hollywood films and, increasingly, not-so classy television fare. Saunter over to the CD section and try to find the radio plays of Norman Corwin. You might as well be browsing for recorded mating calls of the dodo, despite the fact that Corwin’s seminal works are the subject of one of the documentary shorts nominated for an Academy Award this year.

Sure, there is less demand for non-musical, non-visual dramatics; apparently, people would rather gawk at a giant squid on display than pay a few quid to take in a well-directed audio play; but, as we all know, demand is being created and kept alive through advertising, and old-time radio, with its uncertain copyrights and complicated commercial ties, has little chance at being thus promoted. Or is it just that much of radio ain’t any good?

As I am trying to push my own study on radio—and to push it forward—I am at times as disillusioned as the anti-hero of Frederic Wakeman’s best-selling novel The Hucksters (1946). “There’s no need to caricature radio,” he opined. “All you have to do is listen to it. Or if you were writing about it, you’d simply report with fidelity what goes on behind the scenes. It’d make a perfect farce.” I am going to refrain from scoffing, however; encouraged by the ongoing podcasting revolution, I defiantly if cautiously concur instead with Mr. Corwin, who, some sixty years ago, observed: “Seems Radio Is Here to Stay.”

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