Stick to what you know?

Are those words to live by? Stick to what you know? In my case, that might very well mean having to stay caught up in a mess of a square you could barely trap a fly with. There is something suspect about this piece of advice, as there is with any adage offered wholesale, which is, of course, just what makes an adage an adage. I have a tendency to stick; but I just as easily become unglued. I am glad to have escaped from much that I knew but knew to be not for me. Some bonds were harder to sever. Throughout, I have attached myself to what I learned to love, rather than know; that is, to what I want to know more about, or to what I understand even without knowledge. One such constant has been the radio—the medium that, before the internet, was the most inconstant if all-pervading source of news and entertainment around.  If I had stuck to what I knew, growing up with television, I might not gotten into this wireless act, suspended in the air they insist on having waves. As a matter of fact, I am still taking to those waves. And even when I am watching movies, I get tossed right back into them. The other night, for instance, I was watching Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in Wings in the Dark (1935), which features the voice of radio announcer Graham McNamee. That’s just as it should be, a disembodied somebody, a few words in your ears.

I am still catching up with myself after the recent crash of my Mac (see previous post). Looking around to find what defines me, besides my life online, I am taking inventory again—inventory in the literary sense that mirrors the metaphoric. Once again, I am compiling a list of the books in my library—all those books on that certain constant, the elusive radio. Once again, I am dusting off a few old volumes I have added to my shelves over the years. One such book is my first edition copy of This Fascinating Radio Business (1946) by Robert J. Landry.

My copy of it (pictured above) was once owned by one John G. Jones, who, I am pleased to say, has taken very good care of it. Landry, in turn, cared for radio and those at work in the to him—and me—“fascinating” business. Now that the writers’ strike in Hollywood has come to an end, just in time to stage the biggest event in motion pictures, I am reminded of Landry’s comments on the plight of radio writers during the 1940s, when radio was second to none in the business of entertaining, educating, or just plain manipulating the masses:

The Federal copyright statutes protect unproduced stage plays but they do not cover radio drama. In general the author and/or owner of a given radio property must rely upon common law.

Does not getting paid for your work, or not getting paid due respect, really cheapen the effort? Landry mocked the supercilious critics who measured radio by standards other than its own:

Radio is vaudeville. It is trivial. It is the market place. It concerns ordinary people and the things they think about. In short radio is educative in a practical and basic sense that disturbs those who prefer to think of education as one PhD dazzling another PhD.

I am one of those PhDs who got dazzled by radio; or, who got a PhD and little else for their state of bedazzlement. And I shall keep on recording and commenting on its successes and failures, without condescension or a sense of nostalgia. After all,

professional radiomen resent, and not without some justification, the habit of satire of all things radiogenetic which is typical of the modern intellectual. Certainly the educator and the superior citizen will have little influence in the betterment of radio—and that task goes incessantly forward—until and unless they descend from their platform of amused contempt.

Somewhat belatedly, I am stepping to the podium, addressing an audience long departed. Unlike them, I am going to stick with it. After all, like Mr. Landry, I find this Radio Business fascinating.

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