Thursday, July 28, 2016

People want to hear stories

A lot of things I miss about the New York of my youth (during my visits there). Musicradio WABC, Chock Full O’ Nuts, street corner harmony, Bob & Ray, Ray's Original Pizza or Original Ray's Pizza, or Original Ray's Original Pizza (whatever the hell it is), Joe Franklin, Palisades Park, Bob Murphy, Crazy Eddy's, and Jean Shepherd on WOR.

For like an hour a night Jean Shepherd would get on the radio and just talk. Nothing scripted, no political rants. He just told stories. And they were mesmerizing. For those not familiar with Jean Shepherd, have you ever seen the movie CHRISTMAS STORY? He wrote and narrated that film. (He was “Ralphie.”) I remember one time glued to my radio as Shepherd described moving a piano into an apartment. GAME OF THRONES wasn’t that exciting.

There’s a real art to storytelling and very few people are masters of it.

I remember way back in the ‘60s the Dodgers were playing the Giants up in Candlestick Park and the game was on television. Vin Scully was at the mic. Fog rolled in so thick that the game was halted. For the next hour or so Vin Scully filled with stories of old Dodger-Giant meetings and tales of their glory days back in Brooklyn and New York. It was enthralling TV and all you had to look at was a grey screen.

Before my time there was Robert Trout. He was a newsman for CBS radio. One day he was on the air live describing President Franklin Roosevelt’s return from Europe via cruise ship. When the ship got 100 yards from the dock it suddenly stopped. Trout then filled for forty-five minutes – describing the scene, the purpose of the president’s trip, the weather, the birds, etc. Finally, the ship continued to the shore. As the president came down the gangplank, Mr. Trout caught up to him and asked on the air what caused the hold up? Roosevelt said, “I was listening and thought, let’s see how long he can go just filling time.”

Today we have our own version of these storytellers – podcast hots. They don’t have the audience that Shepherd or Scully or Trout had, but they do have the same opportunity to capture listeners and hone the craft of storytelling. Radio as we know it is pretty dead, but there are exciting new avenues. And you don’t have to be hired by someone to have your say. You just need a modicum of technical know-how (translation: anything more than me), a voice and desire to entertain. People want to hear stories. There’s never been a better time or medium to tell them.

24 comments:

BobinVT said...

Just yesterday I caught a couple of innings of the Rays/Dodgers game on MLB with Vin Scully calling the game. He filled the time between pitches with wonderful personal stories about the players on the Rays. Touching human interest stories. I also noticed that he referred to the Rays players by their first names. Very unusual. If you had just been dropped from Mars you would think he was the Rays broadcaster. Then he started a long disquisition on manta rays, devil Rays, and fish in general. The man is 86 years old, and has been doing this since the mid 50s, and yet he does more research and brings more background material to a game than any announcer I know. I hope Los Angeles fans appreciate what they've had all these years.

Stan said...

Yes, yes and yes! I grew up in NYC in the 50s and 60s, and so many of these are the things that I miss about the area. I still get up there at least once a year but, as you have obviously noticed, it just ain't the same. More's the pity.

Dixon Steele said...

It was this one:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/famous-rays-new-york

Nothing like it since...

Wayne said...

Do you have any stories you can share about witty L.A. Times sports writer Jim Murray?

Barry in Portland said...

Jean Shepherd was carried nightly in Baltimore, too. Sad to say, those were the best times I had while in bed in the dark.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I think Jean Shepherd was one of my earliest examples of "Don't learn too much about the writers you admire". Knowing how he was as a person casts a shadow over his stories. He's still a wonderful storyteller and I still love his work, but he was a lesson to me that it's sometimes best not to know too much about the artist, and just enjoy the art.

Michael said...

Ken, you nailed it.

In the late 1990s, there was a sudden rush of game shows on prime time TV, and the hosts were people like Regis Philbin, Chuck Woolery--the types who had been around forever, meaning they weren't in the demographic the networks normally tried to reach. Someone asked Regis about this and he said because most of them came from live radio and TV, where you had to be able to talk about anything and react to anything, so they could handle a game show. He was right. Most of the current generation of "broadcasters" aren't very broad. They can respond to a caller, mostly by yelling. They can tell you what you're seeing on the TV screen, but put them on radio and they couldn't describe anything or fill the time.

Supposedly, during rain delays on Yankee broadcasts, Mel Allen could do an hour on the infield fly rule. In fact, he was Trout's understudy at CBS and made his name filling an hour on the network when something went wrong. Yes, our attention spans were different and it's a different time. But the talent isn't being cultivated, and it needs to be.

JR Smith said...

I was lucky to have grown up three hours north of New York City in the 60s and 70s. Depending on which way the sky waves were skipping around, I could hear the big, reverb sound of Musicradio WABC in the city or Musicradio WLS from Chicago. Real jocks on big Top 40 AM stations...man do I miss that!!

BA said...

Last I remember of radio Shepherd is a syndicated short bit that aired at night just before "The CBS Radio Mystery Theater."

John Hammes said...

The CBC's "Vinyl Cafe" is still around. The show and host Stuart McLean are always worth a "look-see"... well, radio, that would be a "listen-hear".

Anonymous said...

I loved Paul Harvey.

workplace innovator said...

So true - great storytelling is an art. I expect our appetite for it is ingrained in our DNA, stretching back to the days cavemen were sitting around a bonfire.

I know "This American Life" and "Moth Radio" are great radio venues for stories. Does anyone have other suggestions? Thanks.

Lisa F said...

Hey, Ken. Aaron Sorkin took to Reddit yesterday to promote his new online screenwriting course. I'm not sure if it is-or is even supposed to be-a substitute for formal instruction, but for someone like me, who is an enthusiastic hobbyist with no professional aspirations, the chance to learn from a master of the craft, (for $90!) is amazing. Would you ever consider taking your comedy writing class online for us unwashed masses?

Earl Boebert said...

Walter Winchell's staccato delivery turned banal voiceover into a kind of blank verse in "The Untouchables," as in:

In a seedy apartment
above a garage
in the South Side of Chicago
five men
plot
the takeover
of Al Capone's bootleg empire

That show was my favorite excuse for not studying in college.

JED said...

I first learned of Jean Shepherd when I bought his book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. I understand they were the most popular stories from his radio shows.

There are still great stories on the radio. Find This American Life on pubic radio or listen to their archived shows or podcasts at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/

MacGilroy said...

For podcasts, I have really been enjoying The Memory Palace, and the stories of obscure, interesting people's lives from American history.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Many of us like to finish a radio story "in the driveway". Our elites, like Pres. Roosevelt, have similar inclinations albeit with great impacts.

In 1944 FDR had left his Scottie behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands. Republican critics accused him of sending a Navy destroyer to go back and pick up "Fala". Roosevelt said that though he and his family had “suffered malicious falsehoods” in the past, he claimed the right to “object to libelous statements about my dog.”

Nick Mantis said...

Nice comments on SHEP. I think you may enjoy this sneak peek on a documentary I am producing on Jean Shepherd.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=83rIeZVqdcs

YEKIMI said...

I heard that when Fala had nine puppies he gave the female the first half of her name and the eight males the last half. So when he called them it was "Fa La La La La La La La La".

Barry Traylor said...

I love the work of Jean Shepherd, years before I heard him I was familiar from his stories that were published in Playboy magazine. They would make me laugh aloud they were so darn good. Years later I was lucky enough to find his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and A Fistful of Fig Newtons. I also have a lot of his radio shows on tape (remember that stuff?)

Mike McCann said...

Not only was Robert Trout a network radio, then TV legend, but he doubled as the lead anchor on WCBS-TV during the first half of the '60s. He was absolutely "old school," but terrific. Solid, reliable and trustworthy. Keep in mind, this is 1965, so the writing and presentation is more detailed and leisurely.

A video of his final local newscast was recorded and has been posted on YouTube. It's worth checking out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JKDRMQ8p7s

Mike Lonergan said...

Having spent the early years of my life in all phases of local radio, I am a radio history buff. Thank you for the anecdote about FDR delaying his ship's landing for the pleasure of hearing Robert Trout ad lib. It's the most delightful bit of radio lore I've ever heard.

Artie in Sin City said...

It was back when we only saw NINE GIANT / DODGER games per season...

No CBS Saturday game with Dizzy Dean...Nuttin'...but I was glued to the GE B&W out in Northridge as Vinny went on and on about keeping score in the book mixed in with some great Dodger baseball stories...I know he has had plenty of top notch calls in his career, but for me...NOTHING will ever rise above that foggy night at a very cold Candlestick Park...

How can you say someone is better than all the rest...Angelic in his baseball game delivery? Me not know but he stands so far on the top of the broadcast ladder compared to all the rest...

DrBOP said...

According to this article, Garry Marshall, of all people, was a "Podcasting Icon".......who knew?

http://splitsider.com/2016/08/how-gillian-jacobs-helped-turn-the-late-garry-marshall-into-an-unlikely-comedy-podcasting-icon/