Friday, January 4, 2008

Mystery at Midnight on Route 3

In the mid 70's, I worked part time hosting the 8-12 midnight shift for radio station WBBY. Some day I'll have to share my experiences working with and for Wild Bill, the owner of the station. But that's for another time.

WBBY was located in Westerville. Except that Westerville is a relative term. The studios and transmitter were located about 10 miles northeast of Westerville on the edge of the village of Sunbury. And about a half hour to 45 minute drive from the station to my apartment at the intersection of Morse Road and Cleveland Avenue.

My shift, for most of my tenure, was the last shift of the day for the station. At midnight, we signed off the air until the following morning. Part of the sign off procedure was waiting for the filaments to cool on the transmitter before completely cutting power to the unit.

For my younger readers, this was the time when AM radio was king. FM was still a radio teenager, although it was beginning to show signs it was a force in the market place. Only luxury cars had an FM radio. At that time, many FM stations were still playing symphonic or easy listening (elevator music).

And night time was like Candy Land for radio listeners. The big clear channel stations would boom into Central Ohio with their big city and unique programming. Stations like WABC, WBZ, WCBS, WSB, WWL, WCFL and KMOX from St. Louis.

KMOX at 1120 AM at night sounded like a local station. Even though it was "hit-skipping" to my area, seldom would it fade out like some of the others. But the big treat on KMOX on my drive home was the CBS Mystery Theater.

We were fortunate to have a radio tuner in the WBBY studios. It was used to pick up for rebroadcast Cincinnati Reds baseball games that the station carried. That was prior to the time of satellite broadcasts. Station A would carry the game and Station B would pick up the signal and rebroadcast it. Station C would pick it up off of Station B.

While waiting for the filaments to cool, I would tune the radio tuner to KMOX and play it through the cue speaker on the audio board to hear the openning of the Mystery Theater. As soon as I could, I would bolt for the door and to my car to continue listening to the show on my drive home.

I mentioned in a previous note that my family enjoyed the Old Time Radio Christmas shows that aired every year on station WDLR. But the Mystery Theater was even better than those great shows. The scripts were more crisp, the sound effects more effective in allowing you to envision the drama unfolding. And yes, the shows were in high fidelity, unlike most of the old radio shows from the past. So they were easy to listen to.

The Mystery Theater had a ever changing cast of stars who would come in a read their parts. Doing search for this piece I found a list of actors who performed frequently or periodically on the Mystery Theater. From Wikipedia: Prominent actors from radio and screen performed on the series, including Morey Amsterdam, Mason Adams, Richard Crenna, Keir Dullea, Morgan Fairchild, Jack Grimes, Fred Gwynne, Joan Hackett, Larry Haines, Paul Hecht, Kim Hunter, John Lithgow, Mercedes McCambridge, Agnes Moorehead, Tony Roberts, Marian Seldes, Jerry Stiller, Roy Thinnes and a young Sarah Jessica Parker. You can see why the program was so well presented.

There was something unique in traveling down the road with the voice of Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster on television) or Agnes Moorehead (Endora from Bewitched) doing radio drama. Especially at midnight driving down a dark Route 3 toward Columbus.

Even the openning and closing were themselves as Masterpiece. Again from Wikipedia: The show began with the ominous sound of a creaking door, slowly opening to invite listeners in for the evening's adventure, accompanied by Marshall's disturbing intonation of, "Come in! ... Welcome; I am E.G. Marshall." At the end of each show, the door would creak and slam shut, followed by Marshall's classic signoff, "Until next time, pleasant ... dreams?," segueing into the show's haunting woodwind and string theme music.

For those who are interested in experiencing what I enjoyed so many times, this link will take you to a page that has links to listen to archived shows.

So until next time, plesant.....dreams?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your story about the Radio Mystery Theater. I must have been around 10 years old when I first discovered the show while tuning the dial of the old Musaphonic tube radio that sat on my desk. I was hooked after the first show and never missed it afterwards. KMOX came in loud and clear at my home in South Mississippi.

I dont know what happened with that old radio, but I found three just like it on EBAY. One works, the others will need to be restored.

The only thing missing now is the Radio Mystery Theater. What a great show, and an excellent way to exercise the imagination.

Thanks for the link!