In an earlier article for Radiogram (see Nov.-Dec. 1995) I told readers of my experience one Saturday morning exploring the World Wide Web on the Internet for sites related to Oldtime Radio. Today that same article wouldn't even get you through the door! Everything has changed in cyberspace -- and mostly for the better. Incidentally, this article will actually be published simultaneously in Radiogram for those who are not on line. So let's revisit.
Let me warn you, by now cyberspace is an overwhelming jungle of information. One of the neat ways to find what you want in cyberspace is to latch onto one of the search engines such as Yahoo or Lycos or Excite.These marvelous programs take your topic ("Oldtime Radio") and literally search the entire Web for matches. Then they give you the addresses to click on which are related to "Oldtime Radio." Excite told me there were 67 such addresses; Lycos found 21,119 addresses; and Yahoo located 58,311 "Vintage Oldtime Radio" sites on the web. As you can see, Jane, it really IS a jungle out there! Actually, you'll have much better luck with these search engines if you narrow your search field a bit. For example: try the topic "Fred Allen." Of course you will discover that there was more than one "Fred Allen" -- but ours is there for the checking.
None of the sites we visited before have sat still during the interim. The Radio Archives of Professor Marvin Bensman has instituted changes which include a modification of the image on the home page. The amusing pictures of radio comedians surrounding the Professor have disappeared in favor of a "plug" for the University of Memphis. The interesting history of broadcasting is still on line as is the catalog of OTR holdings at the University. When I first rechecked the catalog itself I was horrified to find that the catalog items were a jumbled mess. I was using my OLD Netscape browser at the time. I checked again using an updated Netscape 3 browser and found to my relief that the tables were now neatly organized in rows and columns. Each item has a catalog number, length of program, date, and then program title. This particular catalog features lots of variety but very few programs by the same personality. If you are looking for ALL the available radio shows of Fred Allen, this is NOT the Web site for you. The instructions for ordering copies of shows at Memphis are clear and relatively simple.
Many other sites are now available with OTR catalogs on line. To me the most impressive and useful is the one done by Lou Genco called "Humongous Old Time Radio Database Search Engine." This incredible labor-of-love works as follows: you enter the name of a radio personality or radio show (let's say, "Alec Templeton") and click "Search." In no time you receive a report listing which of the Alec Templeton shows are available and WHO HAS THEM. There is one listed for the SPERDVAC general catalog with number, one at Memphis, and a number at the Jerry Haendiges web site. Jerry, along with Lou, also has many complete program logs on line. Jerry not only tells you which "Alec Templeton" shows have been logged but also which ones he has in his collection. These can be purchased for a reasonable fee. Lou Genco also directs you to the many commercial catalogs available on the Web, the private libraries, the club libraries (including SPERDVAC) and even where you can find collections of old radios. It would be hard to find a more "user friendly" site on the Web for fans than the one maintained by Lou Genco. But in the same breath I must say that Jim Widner's site is equally useful in other ways. Jim gives credit to "Jack's List Of Old Time Radio Logs" by Jack Mann for his fascinating table of goodies which directs you to everything from a comprehensive commercial catalog "Adventures in Cassettes" to a Kay Kyser fan club. I could spend a week just following Jim Widner's leads to other interesting sites. But I would be cheating myself because Jim has a lot of great stuff right at home!
While still on the subject of catalogs, be sure to check out Andy Blatt's Vintage Broadcasts and the site of Bob Burnham Productions of Livonia, Michigan. The Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio home pages present not only Jerry'sfantastic logs of old radio shows but a feature not found elsewhere. Jerry, one of the founders of SPERDVAC, publishes articles submitted on a variety of topics. Terry Salomonson has a series of helpful articles for the beginning OTR enthusiast and collector which make excellent sense and interesting reading. Ron Barnett of Philadelphia has published two first class critiques of the Wyllis Cooper masterpiece "Quiet Please!" Jack French does a fine piece on "Fort Laramie." And there are some "reprints" of four Radiogram articles by the present writer. Each of my articles gives credit to Radiogram but has been edited to include click-on hyperlinks to related sites on the Web and photos hidden underneath the text if you want to take the time to download them. Jerry also makes sure that the visitors to his home pages know about SPERDVAC.
Speaking of this organization, there was an "Unofficial SPERDVAC" home page on the World Wide Web, thanks to Richard Novak, which just recently became "Official." It welcomes visitors to apply for membership via regular mail or E-mail, lists the current officers, and includes among other features a fascinating article on sound effects by Editor Dan Haefele.
There are also home pages for two of SPERDVAC's prime champions John and Larry Gassman and related home pages for their radio show in the Los Angeles area "Same Time, Same Station." It's a great way to find out in advance what radio shows are being featured on their broadcasts. Check them out!
Lou Genco is the mover behind the Oldtime Radio Bulletin, the prime spot on the Web where individuals can post messages and replies-to-messages concerning our interest group. Not every posting will appeal to all browsers and lurkers, but that is the beauty of the Web -- click on what turns you on! In my opinion this site is an unbeatable way to track down something. Let me give you an example of how it works:
A browser Gary Shehan asked recently if anyone knew of a radio personality named "Tizzie Lish." Gary mentioned that his 79-year-old uncle had been a fan, and he wanted to please his uncle with a copy of a show featuring "Tizzie." Within a day someone responded with the suggestion that "Tizzie" sounded like a character that might have been on Lum 'n Abner. Then an authority on the Pine Ridge Boys said "Tizzie Lish" was NOT one of their neighbors. At this point I went on line and informed readers that I vaguely remembered "Tizzie Lish" as a character on the Al Pearce Show along with Arlene Harris. Privately I sent Gary the phone numbers of Jay Hickerson who has logs of the Al Pearce shows in his book The Ultimate History of Network Radio Program- ming and Guide to All Circulating Shows, and a major private collector I knew named David Siegel who had some Al Pearce shows listed in his catalog. Apparently one of these experts steered Gary to a third party, and in no time I learned from him that Jerry Haendiges in Whittier, California, had mailed him a cassette of a 1935 Al Pearce show featuring "Tizzie Lish." Gary was delighted and so was I. We all learned in the process that "Tizzie" was a "female" impersonation done by Bill Comstock for the Al Pearce show. What readers should remember also is the fact that the Web is a marvelously quick and efficient way to track down information related to our hobby. Items in the Oldtime Radio Bulletin usually stay posted for about 60 days before removal. The Bulletin well worth a visit every week or so.
For the dyed-in-the-wool OTR fan there is the Internet OTR Digest. This is an e-mail service (not on the Web) to which anyone can subscribe. The folks who maintain it (William Pfeiffer and Lou Genco) send you e-mail letters once or twice a day which contain the contributions of members. Discussions are always fascinating; and sometimes the fur flies -- but all in the spirit of good fun. You'll find everything from obituaries to comments about the Howard Stern movie "Private Parts." Quite a heated discussion revolved around the question "Who owns the copyrights to OTR radio shows?" Opinions ranged from "nobody!" to the guys who spend big bucks to collect and publish cassettes for consumers. If anything on the Internet attests to the fact that OTR is very much alive and kicking --it is the Internet OTR Digest. I don't think any other paper-printed "publication" in America comes within miles of the Digest for sheer information about our common interest.
The people who subscribe to this e-mail service are expected -- but not required -- to make an annual contribution to its upkeep. The suggested donation is $30. You may also find that two large files every day in your e-mail box becomes more reading than you have time to devote. I subscribed while I was writing this article and "downloaded" each of the issues onto a disc so that I could read them carefully for review. Quite frankly, I haven't been able to keep up with the deluge of information. If I did, I'd never get anything else done -- including this article!
Anyway, if you decide to subscribe you do the following: send an e-mail letter to this address; and where it says "Subject" type one word: SUBSCRIBE. Within a day or so you will receive notification that you are on the membership list. Having said that, I must tell you that although I received confirmation and a welcome statement TWICE -- I didn't receive any actual mail until I contacted William Pfeiffer personally by e-mail and he somehow made the right connections. You can, of course, unsubscribe to the Internet OTR Digest any time you want to. If my instructions are not detailed enough, visit Lou Genco and he'll give you all the details.
There are museums devoted to OTR on the Web. The museum for TV and Oldtime Radio in New York City deserves a look around. They'll tell you of any timely exhibits you might attend if you are in the Big Apple. NBC Radio Chicago takes one on a nostalgic tour of the studios in the Merchandise Mart where so many shows originated in the '30's and early '40's. If you were intrigued by the article I did in late 1995 about the Inn at Maplewood Farm in New Hampshire where OTR is served nightly, you can now check out owner Jayme Simoes' new Web site.
Any number of radio personalities have home pages on the Web. Fred Allen and Orson Welles are on line in a number of sites; I selected what I considered the most representative ones. Try Bob Hope who has a very impressive home Web site, or even the Romance of Helen Trent . I had no luck with one of my personal favorites, "Easy Aces"; maybe next time! Those of you who have been enjoying "Remember WENN!", the cable TV spoof of oldtime radio in Pittsburgh, will want to tune in at that show's Web site.
All was not smooth sailing for yours truly in cyberspace. To partake of some of the goodies you may need a faster modem and more sophisticated software than I have access to. One site reportedly offers oldtime radio shows 24 hours a day. Others claim they have catalogs for the downloading and unzipping. There is even a site where you can drool over those premiums once available for boxtops! If you visit one of the "high tech" sites which promises much but turns out to have a price tag on everything -- use your own judgement. You might save yourself a few dollars and considerable grief by remembering that you already have a first class OTR catalog of goodies from SPERDVAC. Make sure that the cyberspace salespersons offer you comparable value for your money!
How long will the information in this article remain current and reliable? Good question -- but there is an even better answer. Subscribe to a free service out of the computer at Dartmouth College. You simply register up to five different topics (including Oldtime Radio!) and the faithful computer sends you an e-mail message every week telling you what new OTR sites have appeared, which ones have changed their contents, and which ones have dissappeared from the Web. You then hightail it to the Informant, enter your personal registration and password, and check them out. I have been using this service for six months and it is all they claimed it would be.
About the only paragraph which merits repeating from the original article is the final one. I still find the "Information Superhighway" a fascinating trip. It's a great way to supplement the information and features of Radiogram. When I submitted this article for publication I asked Editor Dan Haefele to allow me to publish it simultaneously on the Web with the footnotes as hyperlinks within the text. If he didn't change his mind you have just read the piece! Thanks, Dan and Jerry, for your dual hospitality! Happy surfing!