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Yours Truly, Old-Time Radio!

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Family Radio

For those who have grown up listening to radio as it is today, what we fans call “old-time radio” (OTR) is a revelation. Radio before 1962 had many great series shows, and they included comedy, drama, horror, soap opera, detective and other offerings. Many, like Dragnet and Gunsmoke, later became television programs as TV became available in the early 1950s. I know of one series (Have Gun, Will Travel) that was a television show first and then became a radio show.

If you have a long commute to work, there is no better way to pass the time than listening to OTR and it needn’t cost you a dime.

While in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a couple of times recently, I was lucky enough to visit the radio studio in the Scranton Times Tribune newspaper building, which still looks like it did when it was used in the 1930s. Here’s a great photo showing a radio studio in the 1940s:

Radio Studio 1930s

If you have XM or Sirius satellite radio, discovering OTR is easy. Just tune to channel 82 and listen to the offerings hosted by OTR wizard Greg Bell (his website is gregbellmedia.com). Greg provides interesting commentary and the shows on his Radio Classics channel have superb-quality audio. His content provider, RadioSpirits.com, also sells classic radio shows on disc. Many folks I know say Greg’s channel is the main reason they subscribe to satellite radio, and my wife and I agree!

If you want to download OTR, there are many sites, both free and subscription; just Google Old TIme Radio and download the files. Please know that the audio quality on many of these, uploaded by OTR fans and collectors, aren’t what you’ll hear on Radio Classics.

Now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s look at one of the best of the OTR series: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. This detective show lasted a long time; there were over 800 episodes from 1949 to 1962. Johnny Dollar was “the man with the action-packed expense account,” and the premise of the show was that Johnny Dollar was describing the incident while compiling his expense account to whatever insurance company had hired him that week. Johnny’s file on each case was usually referenced as a “matter,” as in “The Silver Blue Matter” or “The Forbes Matter.”

Johnny Dollar was the last of the episodic OTR shows, and over the years there were several actors who played the hard-boiled insurance investigator. My favorite was Bob Bailey, who had a world-weary and somewhat sarcastic delivery perfect for the part:

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Here are a couple of Johnny Dollar episodes for your enjoyment. The first stars Mandel Kramer as Johnny Dollar, and is a half-hour complete episode from the last couple of years of the show:

The Medium Rare Matter

Now, for comparison, here’s my favorite: Bob Bailey in an earlier version of the same show. This episode is part four of the five-part version of the show that ran for a while:

Part Four: The Medium Well-Done Matter

Those of you who remember the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger, Third Eye spoof of old-time radio will recognize a lot of Johnny Dollar in Nick!

A huge part of the attraction of these shows were the sounds effects, created by talented and inventive folks called foley artists, and here’s a YouTube video showing how these effects were created. It’s a hoot!

I’ll be discussing other great OTR shows in the days and weeks to come; be sure to TUNE IN!

My First Published Work!

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Sherman, please set the WABAC machine to 1962 and let’s look in on ten-year-old Jimbo Page, who’s family is spending that summer in Apalachicola, Florida.

His dad, who is a stern and unfriendly person, loves airplanes and little Jimbo decides that since his dad’s favorite magazine, Trade-A-Plane, publishes a little one-panel cartoon in the upper-right corner of every cover, he’ll draw something and submit it for their consideration and– maybe– they’ll publish it. They did!

As a fourth-grader, I was amazed to see something I drew in print in a national– if decidedly niche– publication!!! Trade-A-Plane is still being published, though I’m not certain if they still are a tabloid pub printed on canary-yellow newsprint, and I’m not certain they’re still published in Crossville, Tennessee.

My dad seemed astonished when the magazine came in the mail and my cartoon was on the cover. He soon got over that, I suppose.

A very gracious person at Trade-A-Plane was nice enough to find and scan my cartoon and send it to me this afternoon (thanks, Linda!!!). She’s even sending me a collection they published a few years ago of their best cartoons, and mine was one of the ones in the collection.

As I look at this effort now, I see stuff I didn’t see when I drew it. Being a kid, I didn’t realize that printers needed an inked, not pencilled, piece for printing (notice the signature of the person who kindly inked it at the publication for me in the bottom right of the cartoon). Also, I misspelled “Apalachicola.” The two people are drawn (from a World Book photo of Wright and a comic-book drawing as references) in two different styles. The microphone and reporter’s hand are awful. Most absurd is that I accidentally drew Wilbur instead of Orville Wright, which messes up the gag; Orville sported a mustache.

I guess I was just too excited and eager to mail it in to care about niceties, and I was just a ten-year-old kid.

As Conan Doyle once said, when someone pointed out a few mistakes in one of his best-loved Sherlock Holmes stories, “Sometimes one has to be masterful regarding details.”

Anyway, here’s the cartoon:

JamesPageCartoon

Batmobiles and Me . . .

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TV Batmobile

Today’s sale of the original TV-show Batmobile reminded me of my slight brush with the history of the various versions of the car.

A kid in the 1950s and ’60s could be a fan of both Superman and Batman, and I was, but Batman had a couple of extra things going for him: he had a cave and he had a cool car. The primary Batmobile of the 1940s was a good-looking unit, and no other comic-book character had anything remotely as cool as this:

1940s Batmobile

In 1950, the editors of the Batman comics decided it was time to update the Batmobile, and this one was born:

1950 Batmobile b

This 1950 Batmobile had a crime lab built into the back seat and still had the spooky and amazing front bat-face thingie and the neat swooping rear fin. Not a thing wrong with this baby:

1950 Batmobile a

But by the mid-1960s, even I had to admit that 1950s Batmobile, still used in the comic books, was dated-looking.

We had just moved down to Marathon, Florida, and I had time on my hands. So, I decided to create a more modern Batmobile. I chose the front end of a Pontiac of the era and the back end of a Chrysler; combining those was easy; then I added a couple of canopy bubbles like fighter planes had. And, to top it all off, I added a couple of hood and side scoops like Corvettes had. I made sure it had a bat face on the front and two bat-fins on the back!

I drew a really clean version of the design and sent it to Mr. Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics who seemed to encourage kids to become involved in the books.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, when a postcard came from Mr. Schwartz; he always wrote on postcards. He was going to use my Batmobile in the comic books! And– WOW– I would get a free one-year subscription to all the comics he edited. He edited a bunch of good ones, too: Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Justice League of America!

Here’s what my version of the Batmobile looked like when it appeared in the comic books:

JBP Batmobile b

JBP Batmobile c

JBP Batmobile a

I was so proud! Then the TV show came out, and the Batmobile on the show made mine look like crap.

Here are a couple of photos of the TV-show Batmobile taken before it even had its glossy paint job; it’s still wearing its flat-black primer:

Original Primered TV Show Batmobile

Rear, Primered Batmobile

I was devastated at first, but then figured, “Okay; they have pro guys designing TV-show cars and I’m just a kid! No wonder their’s looks so much better!!!”

One problem was that I could no longer tell my pals I had designed the Batmobile, because the first thing they’d say would be, “THE TV-SHOW ONE?!?!?!” And I’d have to reply, “No; the lame one they use in the comic books and comic strip.”

Eventually– and we’re talking over a year; maybe more– I grew sick of seeing my Batmobile in the books and strips and wrote to Mr. Schwartz again: “Why do you keep using my Batmobile design when the TV-show one is ten times better looking?!?!?!” And a few weeks later, a DC Comics postcard came with his response: “Yours is easier to draw.”

Oh, well. They’ve come out with a 1:43-scale Corgi die-cast version of my Batmobile, which is one of the rarest and costliest Batmobile die-cast models because it is lame-looking compared to the TV-show one and not much sought after. A very generous Batmobile historian and enthusiast in England was nice enough to send me one a couple of years ago; I darn sure wasn’t going to spend over $250 for it on eBay!!! Too bad they used a baby-blue paint for the color:

JBP Batmobile Corgi Die-Cast

Yes; I’m proud of my lame creation, but, to me, there is only one Batmobile, and it isn’t the one I dreamed up sitting on the side of my bed in Marathon, Florida, and it isn’t the ones in the comic books and strips and it sure isn’t any of the recent Batman movie Batmobiles; it’s this:

Batmobile On Set

It’s a Phone Phreak’s Life! Gaming Ma Bell . . .

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Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, subscribing to magazines was a big deal. Every family took pride in having a slough of magazines arriving at their home and reading them was a pleasant way to stay informed and pass a lazy afternoon.

My mom subscribed to McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Vogue and some other fashion magazines; my dad, who was a pilot, subscribed to a bunch of different magazines. There was Trade-A-Plane, a tabloid showing planes for sale across the world printed on yellow newsprint. It always had a sixth-page sized single-panel pen-and-ink cartoon on the first page/cover, and that publication printed a cartoon of mine in 1962.

As a fourth-grader, this was an enormous deal for me (I was now a published cartoonist!!!) and my dad was stunned when he saw it in his magazine. He also got Flying magazine and whatever else was available concerning airplanes, along with Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, True, Argosy, Reader’s Digest, and, of course, National Geographic. The family also got Life, TV Guide, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. We loved them all.

I don’t recall my brother, Jeffrey, subscribing to anything, but I subscribed to Mad, American Heritage and a couple of Superman-family comics. My favorite was the magazine put out by the folks at the Boy Scouts of America: Boys’ Life.

Boy's Life Covers

The Boys’ Life of my day was a terrific read. Not only did it have stories about hunting for fossils in the Far West or what it was like to be a cadet at West Point or what was happening next at NASA; it also had some top-notch comic-strip features that I looked forward to seeing every month.

Space Conq2

Several cartoon features were promotional comic-strip-type ads by big companies. My favorite was the adventures of Chip Martin, College Reporter, which was sponsored by Bell Telephone and had art by the young Neal Adams, who went on to revolutionize the look of comic books in the late 1960s. His slick, clean style really caught my eye.

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt2

One unanticipated result of all this info pouring into the homes of kids of the early 1960s was that it gave some of us naughty ideas. We may have been Boy Scouts, but we were still boys with time on our hands and vivid imaginations and we came up with some creative ways to have fun, as you will see.

Most of my readers weren’t around in the days of no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone when most telephones had rotary dials and were wired to a wall and there was one big phone company that made certain that long-distance phone calls cost a fortune, so the following may be hard for them to imagine: Many of us kids, including a couple of brainiac nerds named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, got interested in computers by way of our attempts to hack free long-distance telephone service from the Bell telephone monopoly. We proudly called ourselves phone phreaks, and that little community, with its mimeographed newsletters passed around schools or head shops on the sly, is where I first heard of Jobs and Gates, years before Apple or Microsoft were even dreamed of.

Here’s a grainy picture of future Apple computer founders Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak playing with their phone-hacking toys.

Jobs and Wozniak

In the early 1970s, we all had trick homemade electronic blue- or black-boxes that could get us into a Bell long-distance trunk line for free; they were made of pilfered organ keys that could replicate the duotone sounds that controlled a telephone switchboard. We scoured the local Radio Shacks for little goodies that might be put to creative use.

We were astonished when we discovered that a freebie plastic whistle that came in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal could get you into the free long-distance circuits, too, and those whistles were much sought after and in the pockets of many a phone phreak in those days. We loved getting something free from Ma Bell! Just blow your Cap’n Crunch whistle– mine was a baby-blue one– into a telephone handset microphone and you can call anywhere in the world for free! Take that, Ma Bell! Want to talk for hours to a girl who goes to school several area codes away for free? NO PROBLEM!!! Just use my handy blue Cap’n Crunch whistle, my friend!!!

Capn Crunch whistle

Enough true confessions; here are some Bell Telephone comics from the very early 1960s, drawn by Neal Adams, that show the phones of the future! WOW!!!

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt2

Chip Martin 1962-11

Chip Martin 1962-11 pt2

Of course, all that Up Ma Bell! stuff was very illegal, but we felt as though a monopoly like the phone company was fair game. And it was a game: Bell Labs employed short-haired smart guys in suits and ties and we were long-haired smart guys in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts matching wits with them. Many phone phreaks later worked for the many phone companies that came into being after the government shattered the Bell Telephone monopoly. Those ex-phreaks knew phones and how they worked.

Other ex-phreaks, like Jobs, Wozniak and Gates, used the skills they learned by soldering electronic phone-phreaking gizmos to create the first personal computers. This ex-phreak used those computers to change how folks made maps or colored comic books. At some point, even the weird turn pro.

They Say It’s Your Birthday! Happy Birthday To You!!!

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One of my best friends in the world is having a birthday tomorrow! Our Boston Terrorist, Murphy, turns five!!!

Murphy, 12:20:12

“How can you refuse my plea for more chicken?!?!?!?”

If you detect a woe-is-me expression on Murphy’s face in this photo, it’s because I wouldn’t give him another piece of the Kentucky Fried Chicken that Patty brought home tonight. Murphy would eat a herd or flock or whatever they’re called of chickens if he thought that he could get away with it!

Our everlasting thanks to Lori and Kevin, Murphy’s original parents, who are such wonderful people. We keep in touch and Lori reports that when she asks her children where Murphy is, they respond, “He’s with Jim and Patty!”

Thanks also to Christine, director of the Old Dominion Boston Terrier Rescue, who arranged for Murphy to join our lives on October 29, 2011, after Patty and I became part of their foster program. Thanks, also, to two wonderful people, Dani and Elizabeth, who saw me moping around the office daily and convinced me to take a chance on loving another dog.

It has been a wonderful fit and Murphy has brought such joy and fun into our lives. Our granddaughter Maddie loves Murphy and he loves her in return; when they play together my face hurts from laughing so much. That’s unusual, because my face normally only hurts other people.

Murphy The Storm Dog, 10:29:12

Murphy Chews a Toy During the Recent Hurricane

Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Murphy!!!

Jim’s Nature Corner: Know Your Moths, Part 2

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My son, Aaron, creates skillful digital imagery, as a previous post spotlighted. Below is the first photography I’ve seen from him. It’s a photo he took of the outside of our basement door with a Luna moth (actias luna) perched on the window:

AA's Moth

It’s a pleasing photo; I like the soft colors and the different textures. The weathered doorknob and the bare wood where the knob has rubbed the old door over the years add interest and contrast. It also provides a sense of scale; everyone knows how large a doorknob is.

As in my earlier post about moths, I have to provide a little bit of background info: Lunas are silkworm moths, and one of the largest moths of North America; some can have a wingspan of four inches. They only live for a week. Seems a pity. The round markings on their wings are said to resemble eyes for scaring off predators.

Nice photo, Aaron!

Coordination Is a Beautiful Thing . . .

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. . . if and when it exists!

Street Activity

Lurching into its third month, the Ingraham Street construction in Hyattsville continues.

Having put in spanking-new sewer-feeder pipes, which required tearing up the street that had been newly paved two years ago, the WSSC’s contractors are hard at work today. They’ve replaced a lot of the concrete curbing that had been damaged in the last two months. They’re replacing driveway aprons that were messed up (including ours). They plan, by the end of the week, to have a newly paved street for us, curb to curb, as they put it.

Isn’t that nice? I think so.

New Apron 1

What strikes me as bizarre is that the following week, the Washington Gas contractors plan to tear up a chunk of the brand-new street to replace the gas lines damaged last month; these lines serve the house next door and one across the street.

Honest to God. Tearing up a week-old street.

Hyattsville’s mayor, Marc Tartaro, who is a hard-working and intelligent person, responded to some of us in an email that the city has little control over what the public utilities do to our streets. Marc promised to try to get the utilities to coordinate their efforts to avoid having to patch a brand-new road surface, but I got the sense that he may not be able to do it.

Hyattsville Communications Director Abby Sandel with Mayor Marc Tartaro. Photo by Chris Suspect.

City Communications Director Abby Sandel, Mayor Marc Tartaro. Photo: Chris Suspect.

Sometimes you just have to laugh because crying does no good. Updates to follow!

UPDATE; TUESDAY MORNING:

This is good news!

Getting To The Gas

It appears to me that our mayor, Marc Tartaro, has managed to do what I frankly thought was impossible: The contractors are digging on the street this morning, which implies to me that the gas main is being repaired before the street will be totally repaved!

So, our snazzy new street might stay snazzy looking for a while.

Thanks to Marc, his staff, Washington Gas, WSSC and all the contractors! Good work!

FURTHER UPDATE:

As impossible as this is to believe, today’s giant hole in the street is being dug by the WSSC contractors exactly where the Washington Gas folks need their hole to be dug, but the gas line isn’t being replaced today. This particular hole is to repair a sewage line not the gas line.

So, I spoke too soon! The new street will be torn up according to the original schedule, one week after being totally repaved.

Bureaurocracy wins! How could I have doubted it?!?!?

Sheesh!!!

The Best-Looking Car I Never Had

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Jaguar XKEOne of the unintended consequences of the gasoline shortages of the early 1970s was that cars with big engines could be had cheap. For those who weren’t around in those days, gas in most localities could only be purchased on the odd/even system based on your auto tag numbers, and that’s if it was available at all.

Dash looked like an airplane cockpit!

In Naples, a few of us found a way to avoid the lines and didn’t suffer too badly. But across the U.S., folks might spend an entire day in line to get five dollars worth of gas, only to be refused at the end of their tedious wait.

In 1974, I had moved to Tampa and had just met my future wife, Patty. A block or so north of where I worked was a used-car lot that sold high-end cars. Having saved up a few thousand dollars and ready to buy a car, I stopped there and fell in love with a 1967 burgundy Jaguar XKE convertible with the enormous gas-guzzling V-12 engine. Hey; this gas crisis can’t last forever, can it?!?!?!

V12 Jaguar E Type

What a plant!!!

What a plant!!!

I took Patty by the lot to show it to her, and she immediately balked, saying she wouldn’t be seen in such an ugly car. I was astonished; the Jag was gorgeous but so was Patty and I made the obvious choice.

Still needing a car, I bought one of the worst ones I ever owned; a brand-new Dodge Charger Special Edition. What a lousy car that was; a real POS. It also had a huge engine (a hemi, for you motor-heads), but it ate fan belts three at a time, constantly overheated and to top it all off, wasn’t very quick. I drove that bomb for two years, buying fan belts every month (you had to replace all three if one failed) and thinking of that Jag engine that had metal chains instead of rubber belts.

Here’s exactly what my Charger looked like:

Yuch!

Yuch!

A couple of weeks after buying the Charger, Patty, her younger brother Billy and I were going somewhere and an XKE Jag went by us. Patty remarked, “What a beautiful car!”

WHAT?!?!?!? I slammed on the brakes so hard the Charger did a 180 on Busch Boulevard, and asked, “What did you say?!?!” She meekly replied, “I said ‘What a pretty car.’ ”

I was frosted. “Just two weeks ago you stopped me from buying one of those because you said it was so ugly!!!”

Patty burst into tears and said, “You are such a terrible driver; if you drove a car like that Jaguar you’d kill yourself in a week.”

As we sat in that horrible Dodge Charger facing the wrong way on Busch Boulevard,  traffic beeping and honking as it passed us, I had to admit that Patty was correct.

I still wish I had bought that Jag, though!

Jaguar XKE Comin' At Ya

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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Been busy and haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to wish you all a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday!

–Jim

Dora Rocks!

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As a grand-dad, I have had a chance to watch children’s television programming and I have to say it’s impressive. No, I’m not in my second childhood; I never left my first childhood, thank you very much. It’s just that the programming I’ve seen is gently instructive as well as fun and musical, and that’s a good thing.

No one in the world struggled with learning Spanish as much as I have. My parents even hired a private tutor for me for a year or so, and for whatever reason, learning a different language was just was beyond my abilities. I have always been awed by those who could master other languages; my daughter, Colleen, showed a real knack for that early on and I was so proud of her.

My grand-daughter Maddie absolutely loves Dora the Explorer, and has learned a lot of Spanish from watching the show. There are other shows that involve math and other things that kids benefit from knowing, and the animation styles are often impressive.

When I was Maddie’s age, weekend broadcast television didn’t even start till about 11am, and the shows were almost all adventure series. Captain Kangaroo, shown during the week, was somewhat educational, and I loved him, but the shows I liked the best were Sky King and The Lone Ranger.

From those, I learned that folks with black cowboy hats were usually villains, and if they wore a thin mustache they were guaranteed to be bad guys. The Lone Ranger tipped me to always wear two six-guns on my belt and if I was chasing bank robbers to always be ready for an ambush when I rode past a certain gigantic rock formation.

But learning new languages, math and other skills are probably more useful. When Maddie uses Spanish or talks about geometry, I am so proud!!!

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