Radio's Heyday Recreated at NCC

by Cynthia Tintorri; photos by Patricia Canavan
November 08, 2012

Ken Haas, Tom Miller and Marshall Azrael performThere was a time in our country when families gathered together in their living rooms, not to watch TV or play Wii, but to listen to live radio programming. Northampton Community College students -- many of whom don't recall not having a computer in their homes, much less a television -- were treated on November 8 to a re-creation of the way radio was in 1943, courtesy of the Spirit of the Airwaves Players (S.O.A.P.)

Communications Professor Donna Acerra brought the group to NCC "so people could get an idea of what it was like when radio was king of the living room," she told the audience. "When my electricity was out after Hurricane Sandy, I was very glad that radio still exists."

Five authentically costumed actors of S.O.A.P., a troupe that specializes in bringing authentic 1940s radio to life, stood in front of old-time microphones to perform a live "broadcast" that included what a day in radio might have been like. Artistic director and co-founder Marge Wardrop explained, "We try to keep the scripts exactly as they were, but that doesn't always work, because what was hilariously funny in 1938 often dies right in front of you today.

"There was a time when radio wasn't just top 40 tunes and news -- it was actually drama, and involvement for everyone in the family," Wardrop continued. "Our presentation today is related to the war years, in celebration of Veterans Day. During World War II, we were committed to doing whatever it took to get the job done on the homefront. Radio was a big part of that."

Sound effects tableThe performance included snippets of dramas such as "The Lone Ranger," "Superman," "Little Orphan Annie," "Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy," "The Romance of Helen Trent" and "Terry and the Pirates." Old-time radio sound effects included hoofbeats from the Lone Ranger's faithful horse Silver (two coconut-shell halves "galloping" in a panful of gravel), a beating delivered to a blind beggar by unsavory criminals in "The Shadow " (a length of pipe whacked against a rolled-up phone book), doors closing (a wooden clapper), and a phone being dialed (a real rotary phone!)Marge Wardrop as Chiquita Banana

Just as entertaining as the dramas were the authentic commercials. Wardrop said radio became commercial as soon as "businesses realized they could reach right into your living room and sell you 'stuff.'" The talented troupe sang jingles for Pepsi-Cola, Cream of Wheat, Wild Root Cream Oil hair tonic and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Wardrop donned a Carmen Miranda-style turban with fruit and did a wonderful rendition of the Chiquita banana jingle.

Other ads were for products as diverse as used cars, hats, ladies' slips and laxatives. Interspersed were World War II-specific public service announcements and appeals: "You might not find our product on your shelves, but be patient - our troops come first!" "Fat makes glycerin and glycerin makes explosives! Housewives, save your cooking fats and take them to your neighborhood meat dealer!" "Do you need to take the car? Any amount of gas you save will save a serviceman's life. Car pool -- when you ride alone, Hitler rides with you!"  

The program concluded with a full-length episode of a 1940s radio comedy, "Duffy's Tavern."

The audience listened in rapt attention throughout the performance, captivated by radio's magic. Erik and Yvette Garces, husband and wife students in Acerra's History of Broadcasting class, got into the spirit of things by dressing in 1940s-style clothing -- Erik (a WWII reenactor) in an authentic WWII army uniform, and Yvette in a dress, heels, hat and gloves that would have been de rigueur for the era.

Other members of S.O.A.P. appearing at NCC include Marge Wardrop's husband and co-founder, Jim, Marshall Azrael, Ken Haas,  and Tom Miller. The group performs at retirement communities, corporate events, and even themed weddings all over the area, but their biggest event is three days of broadcasting live from the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend, held in Reading, Pa., each year on the first full weekend of June. Catch them there June 7-9, 2013.                      

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