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Friday, 23 April 2010

My Radio Friends

By Ernest Leichter

“It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!”

During my pre-teen years (1944-1948) I loved to listen to fantasy action serials on the radio. Radio was still king. Television was still in its infancy. As I child, I was captivated by programs like The Green Hornet, The Whistler, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Batman, The Lone Ranger and Superman.

Radio taught me how important words are. When I heard Lois Lane whisper sweet nothings into Superman’s ear, what Lois looked like was of no importance. What she said and how she said it was all that mattered. Lois may have weighed 250 pounds and had bad skin, but as far as I was concerned, since her voice was so sexy, she was beautiful.

Radio also taught me to use my imagination. What did the Green Hornet wear? Did he have antennae for ears? As an eight-year-old, that was up to me to decide. Radio also sharpened my hearing acuity. I learned to identify sounds like a car backfiring, glass breaking, gun shots or a door slamming.

My favorite weekly radio series was The Whistler. Most of my fourth and fifth grade friends listened to the program every Wednesday night. The next morning, during recess, we would re-enact the entire script. Like a Greek chorus in the play, Agamemnon, we would recite the opening of the program together.

The Whistler began with the sound of footsteps. After the whistling of a haunting tune, my friends and I would cry out in unison:

“I am the Whistler, and I know many things for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men.”

Each one of us took a part from the previous night’s drama. I would usually be the narrator since I had the best memory. The script would always follow the same formula. Fifty-five minutes of the show would be devoted to explaining how the murderer had committed the perfect crime. In the last five minutes, the perpetrator usually made a silly mistake that led to his capture.

One episode, which typifies the direction of most of the scripts, started with the police investigating a mysterious suicide. The suicide note had circles over the i’s instead of dots. Inside the circles were x’s. At the end of the program, the police found a canceled check made out to the deceased from his best friend. The check had circles over the i’s with x’s inside the circle. Case closed.

It was exciting to have some of my heroes on the radio live a double life. The Green Hornet was Bret Reed, a newspaper publisher when he wasn’t fighting crime. Batman was Bruce Wayne, a rich playboy. Superman was Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter.

As I lay in my bed after listening to these programs, I too began to lead a double life in my own mind. I was Ernest, the shy student who sat in the back of the fourth grade class during the day. At night, I became Ernest, the invisible ghost.

Like the heroes on my radio programs, I had to have an assistant. Batman had Robin. The Green Hornet had Cato, the Filipino valet. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. I imagined my assistant was Ernestine, the prettiest girl in my class.

We would infiltrate the hideout of the villains and spread sleeping dust all over the room. When the evil-doers were sound asleep, I would call the police. We would sneak out of the hideout before the police arrived and head for the local ice cream parlor. I would order a strawberry soda with two straws. That night I would fall asleep with a smile on my face.

By the sixth grade, I began to view my action heroes through the cynical eyes of an old-timer. Questions started to germinate in my mind about some of the details of the programs that were never explained:

When Superman changed clothes in the phone booth, what happened to the suit that Clark Kent wore? Were the clothes left in the phone booth or carried along with Superman when he went to fight the villains? Why did The Lone Ranger and Tonto get along so well if there was always a bad feeling between the white man and the Indian? Where would Tonto’s loyalty be if there was a war?

I guess my age of innocence had ended.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Radio and good writing dispel the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. Hail to the imagination!

Hi Ernest,

You mentioned the Green Hornet's faithful Filipino valet in your story. There is a story behind that,too.

Cato was a faithful Japanese valet when I began listening in the late 30's and early 40's.

The day after Pearl Harbor, Cato became a faithful Filipino valet.

I loved reminiscing with you. The story was great.

Since I came along with the advent of television, I missed out on the magic of radio stories. Thanks so much for helpimg me understand what I missed.

There's a late after midnite station out of St. Louis that replays these old radio shows. Insomniacs love 'em:) My favorite was Grand Central Station & Let's Pretend. Thanks for the memories. Dee

Hi Ernest,
Just wonderful. The radio was also central to the imaginings of my childhood. This TV generation has missed a lot. Good writing too, thank you.

Lovely story, Ernest.

Radio made the listener participate in the story - you had to visualize what was happening. Then TV came along and the listener no longer had to be actively involved - just passively listen - see. Now, Storytelling is making a big comeback and I think one of the reasons why is that you have to actively participate - you have to listen and visualize.

When I came back to the States at the end of the fifth grade, I remember listening to radio stories after school. My brother and I would have a snack and listen to the Lone Ranger. My brother would act out the show with his friends, as long as he could be Tonto. Whenever I hear the William Tell Overture, I am reminded of the show.

We also listened to a show that may have been called Sky King. As I remember it, A man in a plane would solve problems. I think there was a dog that played an important role in the story as well.

I enjoyed your story, thanks.

Any way to put me in touch with Ernie Leichter? I think he and I were classmates at Lowell HS in San Francisco.

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