The 25th annual Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention will take place May 13 and 14 at the Crowne Plaza hotel, located off exit 15 from I-71. The convention will feature as guests radio actors Bob Hastings, Rosemary Rice and Esther Geddes. Hastings and Rice portrayed Archie and Betty, respectively, on Archie Andrews, and Rice also starred in I Remember Mama. Geddes appeared in Magic Garden and Talk of the Town.
Hastings, who also made a lot of appearances on X Minus One, was a regular on TV in McHale’s Navy, and more recently was the voice of Commissioner Gordon in Batman the Animated Series.
All three are regulars at the convention, which is a casual affair. The radio actors mingle freely with other attendees. I first attended the convention in 1999, having been unaware of its existence before that. An irony, given that I lived in Cincinnati for four years.
The convention features recreations of classic radio programs, and on occasion, performances of original scripts. I wrote an original script that was performed in 2003. Performances aren’t just limited to the radio actors, however. Other attendees are welcome to audition for roles.
The casual nature of the convention can lead to some fun moments. As I said, Bob Hastings portrayed Archie on Archie Andrews. One version of the opening had Archie call up Jughead (the late Hal Stone, who also was a regular at the convention) and tell him something or other was “a matter of life or death.” Jughead would reply, “relax, Archie. Relaaaaax.” A few years ago, Hastings was performing as the lead in a re-creation of a detective program (I forget which), and when he demanded some information or other, one of the other performers ad libbed “relax, Archie. Relaaaaax.”
Hastings gave him a look that was beyond priceless, but pro that he is, continued on with his lines, unfazed.
As was the case in the days of actual radio broadcasts, the actors stand before microphones with their scripts, while music and sound effects are provided by others. In one of the accompanying photos, Hastings (left) and the late Fred Foy performed in a re-creation of Richard Diamond, Private Detective at the 1999 convention.
Although actors on radio programs read from their scripts, I should make it clear that they were not reading the scripts. They were acting, portraying whatever emotions were called for. In fact, at past Cincinnati conventions, I’ve observed radio actors marking up their scripts to put emphases on certain words or phrases.
In 2003, Hal Stone, who, along with Hastings, performed in the script I wrote, explained that by the time they went on the air, most good radio actors were familiar enough with the dialogue that they only needed to glance at the script for their cues. They could therefore deliver their next lines while looking at another actor. He also said that helped the OTR actors relate to each other’s characters, and that facial expressions and body language helped add nuance to the vocal performances.
As paradoxical as it may sound, some actual radio performances were done before live audiences, just like the convention re-creations. But that didn’t necessarily spoil the illusion. I wrote a magazine article on the continuing appeal of old-time radio a few years ago, and one of the people I interviewed was Richard Beemer, son of Lone Ranger actor Brace Beemer. He told me that even though he’d see the actors perform in the studio, it didn’t keep him from using his imagination when listening to the show at home.
Imagination, of course, is one of the biggest pluses of radio as an entertainment medium. It has been called— quite accurately— “the theatre of the mind” because the listener uses his or her imagination to determine what people and locations might look like.
Radio during its heyday was like TV today. There were shows in a variety of genres, including mysteries, soap operas, game shows, science fiction, detective and/or police shows, westerns, comedies, and news programs, among others. As I’ve said before, I’ve been a fan of old-time radio since 1978, and currently own more than 3,100 radio shows, excluding duplicates. Just a few are in the other accompanying photo.
But back to the Cincinnati convention. In addition to the re-creations, there’s also a dealer’s room, where people can purchase tapes, CDs or MP3s of radio shows, books about specific shows and/or the medium in general, and other items of interest.
In recent years, panel discussions about various radio-related topics have become part of the convention. Last year, for example, Hastings and Rice took questions from the audience about their careers. There was also a presentation about a couple of obscure shows from the early days of radio. Personally, I think adding the panels was a good idea. It gives yet another facet to the convention.
And, of course, the Cincinnati OTR Con is an opportunity for friends to get together and for folks who like old-time radio to enjoy a casual atmosphere with like-minded people. Some attendees liken it to a family reunion.
If you’re interested in old-time radio— or even newer efforts to create stories using words, music and sound effects— then you should check out the Cincinnati OTR convention.
Copyright 2011 Patrick Keating