Saturday, July 02, 2005

More Wadio Waves

(Originally run 1/17/04 on our old site)

Ann Shannon Snodgrass

Well, being a bit younger (ha!), I don't remember all those shows. But, I do remember my mother listening to Stella Dallas and, best of all, the shivers down my spine when I heard the "creaking door" that introduced another show. What was it called? When I was eight or nine, I won a small diamond, probably a call-in answer for Name That Tune (foggy memory), and can still almost see that diamond where it's embedded in one of my mother's rings.

Don Thompson

There is one radio program jewel that was a big favorite of mine that hasn't been mentioned. Hawaii Calls came on about 11 p.m. Searcy time and it was broadcast live from Waikiki Beach on Oahu.

I would listen to the strums of the Hawaiian guitar and the crooning of Kalani Kinimaka through a pillow speaker given to me by James Hershel Wyatt when I worked for him at his Radio and TV shop on Pine Street, just a short distance from our high school. I was so enthralled with the sounds of the surf and wind and dreamed of going to beach places like Hawaii. In the last few years Paula (Windsor Thompson) and I have made up for lost time by going to as many beaches as we can.

Hawaii Calls, Inc. traces its origin to July 3, 1935, when the first Hawaii Calls radio program was broadcast from the Banyan Court of the Moana Hotel on the beach at Waikiki. Hawaii Calls, created and hosted by Island radio pioneer Webley Edwards, successfully showcased top Hawaiian music and artists. In its heyday, the show was heard on over 600 radio stations in North America, and scores of other stations in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South America, Africa, and on Armed Forces Radio throughout the world.

Over the years, Hawaii Calls made a number of songs world famous, including “Lovely Hula Hands,” “Beyond the Reef,” “Little Brown Gal” and “The Hawaiian Wedding Song.” “Sweet Leilani,” which made its debut in a 1936 broadcast, became the only Hawaiian song to win an Academy Award, after Bing Crosby's powerful but gentle rendition from the movie Waikiki Wedding thrilled people throughout the world.

Tom Pry

The “Hawaii Calls” program may’ve been heard here at 11 p.m. but, in Honolulu, that translated to about 5 or 6 in the afternoon, when the entertainers were up and around and available, but not quite ready to go to their regular club jobs yet. Sound quality for most of the show’s history left a great deal to be desired, since phone lines were used to get the show to the Mainland.

Ann, that “creaking door” show was called “The Inner Sanctum.” Extremely popular, and just a wee tad more listened-to than its chief rival, “Suspense.”

By 1953, the nighttime shows were starting to bite the dust, beaten down by television. By 1956, when I was working at KICK (“Owned and operated by the Kickapoo Prairie Broadcasting Corporation) in Springfield, MO, the old Mutual Broadcasting Company was about the last one left still carrying them. Still, they had their listenership, people tuning in to hear such audio epics as “The F.B.I. In Peace And War.”

Daytime radio shows held out a bit longer. ABC was still carrying “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club” in 1965 (it was the last of such shows to go), complete with band and singers, plus a live audience. The show came out of a hotel in Chicago. I can still remember their singing jingle, “Good Morning, Breakfast Clubbers, it’s nice to see ya …” and the show itself provided the title for a teenage angst film of the same name quite some years later.

In 1959, in Korea, I had the pleasure of meeting Jon Sparkman, host of the last network daytime kids’ show on radio, “Big Jon and Sparky.” The network had finally cancelled the show, and he’d gone to work for the Economic Aid Agency office in Seoul, where we met.

Jon carried his entire career in his pocket. It was a small rubber covered metal wheel that went on a Magnecorder, the most ubiquitous tape recorder in broadcasting (the Ampex was the Cadillac of that crowd, but few stations could afford them). The wheel changed the tape speed from the normal 7.5 ips (inches per second) to 10 ips. By recording Sparky’s stuff at normal speed, then playing it back at the higher speed, Jon had a totally different voice. Likewise, there was another character (name forgotten, unfortunately) that he’d record in his regular voice at 10, then play back at 7.5, and have a low-pitched character.

He, as he said, made a whole career out of that wheel.

Possibly the finest contribution Jon made was the tag line on every program: "You go to your church and I'll go to mine, and we'll all walk along together." ...

As for the Hawaiian material, it was big stuff for a long, long time. Who, for instance, can forget Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters’ almost unpronounceable Christmas song in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” and Les Baxter/Martin Denny's "Quiet Village" carried the fad into the 70’s, and there it died.

Radio was starved for anything Different. One of the stranger things on Sunday morning was the “Hartz Mountain Canaries,” lush music played while a room full of canaries trilled mindlessly along behind the music. Hartz Mountain was the biggest maker of canary seed, cuttle bone, and cages, and a natural for the show.

The canaries came to a sad end, though. I showed up for our Saturday morning show in early 1952 in the Merchandise Mart to discover that the high-rise warehouse across the street had burned up during the night, turning the Hartz Mountain Canaries into multi-mini-squab. The show, like the canaries, was never revived.

(I remember this especially strongly because the weather in Chicago that morning was rotten in a way that only Chicago garbage weather can be. Between that and the fire, not enough kids’ parents got them to the studio to really do a show, so we all gathered in a smaller studio, passed out all the prizes to all the kids, and made a party out of listening to a show that we had pre-recorded some months before and kept on the shelf for just this type of situation. That marked the very first time I’d ever heard my voice on the air … and damn near ended my radio career right then. I was mortified. Hugh Downs assured me I’d survive the experience. As always, he was right).

Remind me to tell you sometime what went in to getting one of those live studio shows on the air. Make it sometime when you’re REALLY bored.


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