Life » Culture

Fiz 10.12.05

Theater of the mind

One of my fondest childhood memories is riding back from camp and listening to the old time radio shows on WRVO 89.9 out of Oswego. We would lie on our backs in the dark and listen to The Shadow, The Jack Benny Show, You Bet Your Life, and Fibber McGee and Molly. The WRVO station had a seemingly bottomless archive of radio shows and played them as retro entertainment in their "Theater of the Mind" program.

Old Time Radio --- a loose phrase that encompasses nearly all fictional talk radio other than Prairie Home Companion --- is more than just a footnote in the annals of American popular culture. There was a time where the popularity of radio far exceeded that of cinema. During the golden age of radio, movie theaters would schedule their times around the most popular radio shows like Amos and Andy.

Finding Old Time Radio (OTR) beyond your local station was costly and difficult, until now. Seeing no future market value, the broadcast majors let copyright lapse on their radio shows and made no effort to make shows available to the public. Now, with the network of collectors on the Internet, the gates have been thrown wide open. OTR has virtually no retail value and most of it is public domain, allowing collectors to package hundreds of shows on mp3 CDs at rock-bottom prices. Quality varies from show to show and site to site, but when programs are going for less than a dime, you can afford to experiment.

If you need some OTR immediately, check out, where you can download a gig of OTR for $7.50. That's like five straight days of great vintage entertainment.

--- Michael Neault

Mad, mad, mad pre-adolescence

Douglas Adams once observed, "Anything invented before your fifteenth birthday is the order of nature. That's how it should be. Anything invented between your 15th and 35th birthday is new and exciting, and you might get a career there. Anything invented after that day, however, is against nature and should be prohibited." He probably wasn't thinking of Mad Magazine. Or maybe he was.

The Mad Magazine age is 12. You have a budding sense that you may actually know everything. On top of that, the notion first tickles your cerebellum that everyone else is really dumb --- particularly those adults, the ones over there, in the corner, waiting for you to put down this newspaper and read something that's good for you, not this mental floss that corrupts morals and causes hair lice. The kicker though is that this revelation has come to you alone. And you are so alone; so very, very alone.

So, let us not cast aside the things of our youth, particularly the things that made that youth a tinge more bearable. Let us leave them out on the kitchen table. And remember to look askance when any pre-adolescent opens those Mad-dening pages.

Mad Magazine crawled out of the horrifying crypt of EC Comics in the 1950s. Originally a comic book created by Harvey Kurtzman, it became a slick magazine when Kurtzman told his publisher, Bill Gaines, that he was leaving EC for the better world of full-size mags. Gaines wanted his one-man editor-artist-writer to stay, so he offered to publish a magazine. After five full-sized issues, Kurtzman was lured away by another little emperor of the publishing industry, Hugh Hefner.

Mad Magazine prospered however. By the 1970s, every smart aleck in the back row of his middle-school class secretly longed to join the Usual Gang of Idiots of the Mad masthead.

Let's not ignore what Mad Magazine has always done best: It helps tear down the idols of our childhood. How those idols are replaced is beyond any magazine's scope. Well, other than Teen People, but that's always been an exception.

--- Craig Brownlie