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Knowledge Base .: Archives Fiction and Non-Fiction Reviews .: Archives General Non-Fiction (2004'-2008') .: Books Reviewed by Individual Reviewers .: Speaking of Radio: Chuck Schaden's Conversations with the Stars of the Golden Age of Radio

Speaking of Radio: Chuck Schaden's Conversations with the Stars of the Golden Age of Radio

Author: Chuck Schaden

ISBN: 0-9743180-0-0

"You wouldn't go to a theater on Sunday unless the manager promised to stop the
picture and let you hear the Jack Benny program." -Phil Harris to Chuck Schaden

"You're bringing back memories I thought I had forgotten.  Thank you." -Don
Wilson to Chuck Schaden

"Man, you got a book there, I tell ya!" -Phil Harris to Chuck Schaden

The 19th century had its sheet music and the 1950's had television. Sandwiched
between these two indispensable home entertainments was a phenomenon known as
radio.  First viewed as a mere toy for amateur mechanical enthusiasts, by the
1930's radio had become a multimillion dollar industry, broadcasting everything
from comedy, music and drama to the Allied landing at Normandy.

Chuck Schaden, who grew up during radio's golden era and who is the first and
only individual to be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame for listening to
radio, turned his passionate avocation into a career when, in the 1970's, he
began to collect and re-broadcast classic radio shows.  His current
Chicago-based weekly program (which is also available on the internet), "Those
Were the Days," not only airs thousands of previously broadcast radio programs
but also includes, on occasion, taped interviews of the stars and writers of
classic radio.  "Speaking of Radio," is a transcribed collection of these

What emerges from the pages of Schaden's book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes
look at the radio industry at its zenith.  Because radio's golden era directly
coincided with Hollywood's (which is why many of the films from the 30's and
40's had abbreviated radio versions which were broadcast on a radio show called
"Lux Radio Theater"), many of Schaden's subjects were involved, to some extent,
with film as well as radio.  Sometimes painting a picture of the manipulative
studio system - which would not allow its stars to simultaneously perform behind
the microphone without a demanding price -  "Speaking of Radio" also
occasionally portrays the cross-pollination of the two mediums.  For instance,
Agnes Moorehead's interview includes information regarding Orson Welles' Mercury
Theater of the Air,  which Welles and Moorehead co-founded.

Many of the interviewed actors also eventually became involved with television,
either because their shows were easily transferred to the small screen (such as
"Jack Benny," "Dragnet," and "Ozzie & Harriet") or because radio was simply
their springboard for whatever was next on the horizon. Most notable among these
latter was Tony Randall, who Schaden interviewed just as "The Odd Couple"
television show was making its debut.  Although Schaden - and most of his
subjects -- have a tremendous nostalgia for old time radio, Randall, one of
Schaden's younger interviewees, takes a more cynical view of the general quality
of the medium: "Of all radio, millions of radio shows, except for Fred Allen and
Jack Benny a few like that, there was one show that was genuinely good - good
writing and good acting - and only one, and that was "Vic and Sade."

Although one can hardy dispute Randall's program preferences, his general
cynicism for radio is rather arguable.  In some instances, radio had a distinct
dramatic edge over any screen, whether large or small.  A pointed example of
this is mentioned in Agnes Moorhead's interview, who, before she became Darrin
Stephens's worst nightmare in the "Bewitched" television show, had an
electrifying role in the radio version of "Sorry, Wrong Number," (broadcast
repeatedly on a program called, "Suspense").  While mentioning the Barbara
Stanwyck film of the same name, Moorehead attests that the radio version was
better able to "keep [the audience's attention] on the woman. . . . The whole
thing is all the woman and you should never break it for all those other things
[which were found in the film version]."

Containing fascinating quotes from forty six interviewees (everyone from Don
Ameche to Rudy Valley), Schaden's book also abounds with his own phenomenally
detailed knowledge of radio.  Occasionally remembering more than his
interviewees, Schaden is able to gently - almost reverentially -- prod precious
nuggets of information from the stars and writers of radio's golden epoch in
such a way as to make "Speaking of Radio" a truly captivating read.

The above review was contributed by: Kathryn Atwood: Click Here To View More Of Kathryn's   Reviews

Kathryn Atwood's poetry, reviews and essays have appeared in numerous online and print journals, including "The Aurora Review,", "Afterimage," "Void Magazine," "Wild Violet," and "PopMatters."  When she's not writing or driving her three kids around somewhere, she's usually teaching at a local music studio or givng vocal performances with her husband on the  subject of American and British song.

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