Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Remembering the joys of the old radio days

We were at the breakfast table the other day. It is my favorite meal, because then the lady of the house and I have a few uninterrupted minutes to relax, talk about the agenda for the upcoming day and partake of an enjoyable meal.

We can never begin until I am able to convince Ruby, our snow-white cat, to leave so that I am able to take command of my chair.

With a little urging, she leaves and I am able to sit down.

I was barely settled when the lady jumped up and headed for the kitchen.

“Wherefore goest thou?” I asked in a mock Shakespearian tone that the Bard probably would not have found amusing.

“I’m waiting for my coffee to come up,” she replied.

“Don’t ever say that to my brother,” I responded. “He would turn it into a joke that you would not enjoy.”

She knew precisely what I meant. “Not funny, McGee,” she said to me, using a quote from the old time radio show that was almost, but not quite, accurate.

“The exact line is ‘Tain’t funny, McGee,’ ” I said. I knew it well because I had heard it a thousand times as a lad.

Every time Molly McGee would become exasperated with Fibber, she would say, “Tain’t funny, McGee.”

Wasn’t there something else that happened on the program every week, without fail, the lady asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “He would open the closet door, thousands of things would come tumbling out, and he would mutter, ‘I’ve got to straighten that closet out one of these days.”

That, of course, was before television. Radio listeners were just as loyal then as TV viewers are today. But they couldn’t see what was going on. So they would have to use their imaginations.

Every time I heard Fibber McGee utter his classic line, I watched in my mind’s-eye as all that junk fell out of the closet.

One of the keys to radio humor was repetition, just as Fibber McGee and Molly used the same lines week after week, including him trying to make a phone call and saying to the operator, “Wistful Vista one oh oh oh ooh’s, that you Mert?”

Everybody on radio used the same ruse. How many times did I hear Jane Ace say to her husband, Goodman Ace, “You could have knocked me over with a fender.”

Jane was not quite as bright as her super erudite husband.

Red Skelton had a litany of well-worked over sayings that always got a laugh.

As Clem Kadiddlehopper, he would say, “Well, here I am, on my way to see Daisy June.”
He said it every week.

He also had a debate with himself every week when he was the Mean Little Kid.”
“Should I dood it?” he would ask.

After a moment of hesitation as he thought about the consequences and asked, “Or should I shouldn’t?” he always came up with, “I dood it.”

People liked the character so much I think Skelton made a movie titled “I Dood It.”
Bob Hope started every radio program the same way.

“This is Bob broadcasting from the LaBrea Tar Pits Hope saying...”

He filled in with the name of wherever he was broadcasting from.

When Jack Benny was sponsored by Jello he came on every week with, “Jello again, this is Jack Benny.”

At one point he changed sponsors — to Grape Nuts Flakes.

“What am I going to say now?” he asked his announcer, Don Wilson. “Grape again? Flakes again?”
“How about nuts again?” Don suggested.

I loved the old radio days. When I was in eighth grade I got hit by a car in front of the old Willoby Theater on Route 20 and spent six weeks in bed with a broken pelvis.

I listened to soap operas all day long. One after another they came along, until it was time for Little Orphan Annie, Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy, Tom Mix, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (Bob Goulding and Ray Elliot called their version “Mr. Trace, Keener than most persons”) and everybody’s favorite, I Love A Mystery, featuring Jack, Doc and Reggie.

But the afternoon was filled with Lorenzo Jones (and his wife, Belle), Mary Foster, the editor’s daughter, Mary Marlin, Just Plain Bill, Our Gal Sunday and others.

All of them were introduced with music adapted from classics. Best known was the theme music for The Lone Ranger.

Wish I could think who wrote the classical version of “This Is the Story of a Starry Night.” It was also a soap opera theme, I think for Mary Marlin. I can hear it playing in my head right now.

I try not to become consumed with songs I hear in my mind but can’t think of by name.

It took me three days to come up with “Bouncing with Bud,” until I thought of it one morning, like a bolt from the proverbial blue, as I was brushing my teeth.


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