Showing posts with label Radio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Radio. Show all posts

01 April 2020

The Night Big Ben Fell


I expected this piece to be the highlight of my January 15th column on Today in Mystery History.  Unfortunately it turned out that my original source was wrong: the event in question happened a day later.  Rather than hold back until 2030, the next time January 16 falls on a Wednesday, I decided to make this a free-standing entry, so to speak.

Our subject is a radio hoax, one that terrified large parts of a nation and led to furious condemnation of the brilliant man who conceived it.  It happened--

Excuse me?

I believe I heard some of you saying: "Slow your roll, Lopresti.  You are off by a lot more than one day.  Orson Welles famous broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' didn't happen in January at all.  It was the night before Halloween, 1938."

Right you are, dear friend, and completely wrong as well.  Because I was referring to a different hoax. One with a mystery writer front and center.

Monsignor Ronald Knox was an English Catholic priest, and a mystery writer.  He is best remembered today for his  Ten Commandments of detective fiction, which were at least partly tongue in cheek.  Example: "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable".

In 1926 the  British Broadcasting Company (It didn't become the Corporation for another year) was being criticized for being boring, so they hired the famously witty Knox to give them some spark. And spark he did.

On January 16th, in a studio in the back of an Edinburgh music store he performed a one-man show.  The BBC warned that the show was going to be humor, but it began like any news show.  Then it reported that protesters had gathered in Trafalgar Square, led by Mr. Poppleberry, the leader of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues.

In between less-interesting news reports came announcements of mob violence, explosions, and the roasting alive of one official who "will therefore be unable to deliver his lecture to you." And then a mortar attack on the Houses of Parliament:  “The clock tower, 320 feet in height, has just fallen to the ground, together with the famous clock Big Ben.” Finally the BBC itself was attacked.

It may seem crazy that anyone could take this nonsense seriously, but radio was still a new medium (having started in the UK in 1920) and sound effects - used liberally here - were unheard of, so to speak.  Keep in mind that the Bolshevik Revolution was a fresh memory, and a national strike in Britain was being planned for the spring.

So people called the BBC demanding to know what was really going on.  Some people wanted the Navy to attack the entirely fictional rioters.  "People Alarmed All Week-End" ran one newspaper headline.

Martin Edwards, in his excellent book, The Golden Age of Murder, suggests that this disaster encouraged the BBC to look for a less risky form of entertainment and led to some of the greatest British crime writers, including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, and yes, even Father Knox,  to create a round-robin mystery for the radio.

So, that's the true story of a radio hoax.  And none of this has been an April Fool's joke.

17 August 2017

Goat Glands, Radium, and Dr. Blood


I was watching cable TV the other night, and they were running the usual ads for losing weight, avoiding erectile dysfunctions, the occasional mysterious ailment and the latest patent medicine cures.  I will quote none of them, for none of them were memorable enough.  Whoever's writing these ads, they don't have the ring of
"Amazing Blue Star Ointment!  Cures jock itch, ringworm, tetter, psoriasis!  Ask for it by name!"  (See the original ad HERE).

But Blue Star Ointment still doesn't cure erectile dysfunction and, amazingly, doesn't even claim to. Not so with three of my favorite patent medicine doctors of all time, if you exclude James Thurber's "Doc Marlowe".   

Brinkley-KSHS.jpg
Doc Brinkley
Let's start off with J. R. Brinkley (1885-1942), a/k/a the Goat Gland Doctor.  Doc Brinkley claimed to be a licensed physician, but he bought his degree from a diploma mill called the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University.
NOTE:  Can you imagine the school song for this one?
Eclectic!
Cathartic!
We could sell ice in the arctic!
Sorry.  (Not really)  Anyway, Doc Brinkley's first go at being a professional something-or-other was in Greenville, SC, with a partner who called himself J. W. Burks (one can't help but think he just misspelled "Burke").  They promised to restore men's manly vigor by injecting colored water (which they called "electric medicine from Germany") into their veins for $25 a shot.  (To give you an idea of pricing, an average worker made between $200 and $400 a year back then.)  Well, sooner or later the chumps catch up, and our physicians had to move on.


Doc shed his partner, and went back to Kansas City, while Brinkley took a job as the doctor for the Swift and Company meat plant, patching minor wounds and studying animal physiology. When he learned that goats were the healthiest animals slaughtered there, he did a little study, then set up a clinic, and started implanting the testicular glands of goats in his male patients for $750.00 per operation.  The surprising thing is the number of men willing to undergo such a process.  Even more surprising is that some men claimed it worked wonders. When the wife of his first goat-gland transplant case had a healthy boy... Well, the ad's on your left. What's less surprising is that there were a number of patients who got infected, and some died.  Brinkley would be sued over a dozen times for wrongful death between 1930-41.

Meanwhile, he made a lot of money and built his own radio station, KFKB ("Kansas First, Kansas Best" or sometimes "Kansas Folks Know Best").  Brinkley was KFKB's lead DJ, speaking for hours about his treatments (for which a lot of goats gave up their testicular glands: As a contemporaneous joke put it, What's the fastest thing on four legs? A: A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!") and giving medical advice (which were always to undergo his treatments and take his medicines). He also featured other entertainment: French lessons, astrology, storytelling and music ranging from military bands to gospel and early country. And the customers came.  In 1924, a San Francisco grand jury handed down indictments for fake medical degrees and doctors operating with them, including Brinkley (he'd illegally applied for a California medical license).  But when agents from California came to arrest Brinkley, the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him because he made the state too much money.

But in 1930, the pressure was on for cutting back on fake medical degrees, and Brinkley lost both his medical and broadcasting licenses.  So he did the logical thing and ran for governor of Kansas.  He damn near won.  He got over 29% of the vote on a write-in campaign.  (He lost to Harry Hines Woodring, who was later FDR's Secretary of War.)  Four years later, he ran again, and won over 30% of the vote.  This time he lost to Alf Landon, future GOP Presidential candidate.

But, debts and irate patients were hounding him, so Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, just across the bridge from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. He set up a clinic and a "broadcast blaster", radio XER-AM. the "Sunshine Station Between the Nations".

He sold airtime to other advertisers (at $1,700 an hour), who sold stuff like "Crazy Water Crystals", "genuine simulated" diamonds, life insurance, and all sorts of religious paraphernalia and beliefs.  

Image result for Dr. Mel-Roy book of dreamsNOTE 1:  Among them was Dr. Mel-Roy, Ps.D and Ms.D, the "Apostle of Mental Science," who, with his Book of Dreams and his cape and turban, explained the secrets of the sub-conscious world. Sam Morris, a 1940s "Radio Temperance Lecturer" told Americans about the evils of alcohol and explained the true reasons why nations fell from positions of prominence and power...  Rev. George W. Cooper, a former moonshine runner from North Carolina, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner and Rev. Frederick Eikenreenkoetter II (better known as Rev. Ike preaching "get out of the ghet-to and get into the get-mo!") who called himself unreal and incredible to those with limited consciousness all made rounds on XERF and the rest. Dr. Gerald Winrod pushed cancer cures, scripture and attacks on communism, and Brother Mack Watson and Brother David Epley sold holy oil, prayer cloths and even "the hem of His garment."  
"If there was a sick person between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains who wasn't listening in to Doc, it was because he had no radio set." Furthermore, "the new radio powerhouse had enough juice to blanket any United States or Canadian station operating within fifty kilocycles of its wavelength."  (History of XER-AM)  
NOTE 2:  All I can say is that Reverend Ike must have been a child when he was on XER-AM, because he was just getting started, metaphorically, in the 1970s, when I caught a broadcast of him on Atlanta's own Ted Turner channel TBS, sitting on a golden throne, draped in ermine, while telling his listeners to "send me your money today."  I had to hand it to him; at least he was honest about it.
Image result for reverend ike 

Doc Brinkley also gave a start to up-and-coming country and roots singers, including Patsy Montana, Red Foley, Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the Pickard Family, and more.  (See Wikipedia).  Del Rio became known as "Hillbilly Hollywood".

"We can all thank Doctor B.
Who stepped across the line.
With lots of watts he took control,
The first one of its kind.
So listen to your radio
Most each and every night
'cause if you don't I'm sure you won't
Get to feeling right."

Finally, under pressure from the US, Mexico revoked Brinkley's broadcast license in 1934.  But he still practiced "medicine":  the traditional goat gland transplant, as well as "slightly modified vasectomies" (I don't even want to know...) and prostate "rejuvenations".  But eventually the times - and the regulations - caught up with him.  In 1941 he was sued for being a charlatan, lost, and got hit by a multiple malpractice lawsuits that stripped him of every penny he had.  He died the next year, penniless. 

I'm happy to announce that Penny Lane has made a documentary about Doc Brinkley called "Nuts!" Here's the official website:  http://www.nutsthefilm.com/#film.  And here's the Trailer! (WARNING: Definitely rated "R")



And a little Mexican Radio, just because...



Next blog post!  Radium and Dr. Blood!!!!!

17 February 2016

The Two and Only


by Robert Lopresti

NOTE: I wrote the first paragraph BEFORE Justice Scalia passed away.

I am sure you have noticed that a lot of celebrities have died so far in 2016.   I mean no disrespect to the rock stars and actors who have passed, but the death that meant the most to me was that of a 92-year-old comedian.

Bob Elliott was one half of Bob and Ray, who made a lot of people laugh for 40 years.  (Ray Goulding died in 1990.)  Dave Letterman once said that if you wanted to know if someone had a good sense of humor, just ask them if they like Bob and Ray.

While they occasionally dabbled in TV, movies, and even Broadway, radio was their natural habitat.  They were sketch artists (like Key and Peele, or Nichols and May) as opposed to persona comics (like Burns and Allen, or the Smothers Brothers, who always played the same characters).

Here are videos of a few of their best bits:
Most Beautiful Face
Slow Talkers of America
The Komodo Dragon Expert (Okay, it's audio only.  But it's my favorite.)

Each of those is in interview format, which is easy to do on TV (or Broadway) but on the radio they used to do dramas as well, including their own versions of some familiar crime shows.

For example, anyone who remembers a certain series that was very popular on radio, then TV - then a decade later again on TV - will recognize the summing up at the end of  "Squad Car 119."
...The suspect apprehended in that case at Rossmore and LaBrea was convicted on three counts of being apprehended and one count of being a suspect.  Apprehended suspects are punishable under state law by a term of not less than five years in the correctional institution at Soledad.

And there was "Blimmix," about a tough private eye who gets beaten up in every episode, by people such as this:
I'm with Rent-a-Thug, Incorporated.  A lot of the syndicate people are letting their regular hoodlums go and utilizing our service for machine-gunnings and roughing up and things like that.  It saves all the bookwork that goes with having full-time employees.

Or "Rorshack," about a hard-as-nails New York police lieutenant.  In this case he has misplaced ten cents:
Steinberg, search every customer in the store.  If you find one concealing a dime, kill him.  Lopez, put out an A.P.B. for anybody trying to pass a coin with Roosevelt's picture on it.  Caruso, you take the bus stations, airports, rail terminals.  Nobody goes in or out of this city until I give the word.

Bob and Ray were invariably described as low-key.  (Bob once said they were both both straight men) but I liked them best when they went, well, surreal, like in this episode of "Fern Ock Veek, Sickly Whale Oil Processor," about an Eskimo co-ed from California hiding out in the Alaskan bush:
FERN: I suppose I could go back to U.C.L.A. and hide out for a while.  So many of the students there are on the lam that they'd never notice one more.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: That's a great idea.  And even if they did find you, you'd be in another state and could fight extradition.
FERN: No.  If I recall, I fought him once and he knocked me cold in the third round.  I certainly don't want any more of that.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: Fern, I think you have extradition confused in your mind with Muhammad Ali.

I could go on, but I'll restrain myself.  Write if you get work, Bob.  And hang by your thumbs.

14 December 2011

A Little Sound Advice


by Neil Schofield

I have chosen this winter scene to begin with, because I am nothing if not obvious, but also for two other - interconnected - reasons. The first is that it was painted by Claude Monet about 130 years ago and about 10 miles from where I live in Normandy. I know this road near Honfleur and it hasn't changed that much. Today, you'd be likely to see an abandoned Renault Five in the foreground and - given the season - a UPS truck fighting its way up the road. Seriously, do we really entrust our precious, fragile belongings to a carrier whose name looks suspiciously like Oops!?

The second reason is that as, you can just perhaps see, it is a Christmas card. More pertinently, it is a card I received some years ago from Dell Magazines. Within are kind messages from Janet and Linda. It is a seasonal and constant reminder of how lucky I have been. Without the help of those redoutable ladies, I wouldn't be here now.
So a painting by Monet finds its way onto a Christmas card which in turn finds its way back to where it was painted. Is that synchronicity or co-incidence? Or simply a proof of the interconnectedness of all things? Whichever it is, it still pleases me.
Christmas is now ten days away, and grizzled and grumpy though I may have become, I still feel that same anticipatory prickling in the soles of my feet as the 25th approaches.

France is another country and they do things differently there. For instance, the celebration and heavyweight eating happen on Christmas Eve. Turkey is becoming more and more popular but the dish of choice has always been a leg of lamb - the Christmas gigot. So since living in France, I have had to change my habits a bit. For example, the Queen's speech on Christmas Day is not the same here. For one thing, the President of France speaks very little English. Perhaps that's because he is very little.

One habit I have never changed, and never will. What I shall be doing on Christmas Eve afternoon, is listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols  from King's College Chapel in Cambridge. And this via BBC Radio. Phew, made it.
Radio is what I really wanted to talk about. I am a radio man, and always have been. Very often, I prefer it to television. As that legendary small boy once said, "On radio, the pictures are better." And in the BBC's case, the small boy was right on the money.
The BBC - or "the Beeb" as we sometimes call it, or "Auntie" as we used to call it, has many different stations, both television and radio. I want to tell you about Radio 4 which is the station of the spoken word, or more particularly about Radio 4 Extra, its offspring, which is devoted to comedy and drama. Especially drama, and readings.
Here are some of the things I have listened to in the past several months on Radio 4 Extra. This is not an exhaustive list.
  • The Complete Smiley - all eight books featuring George Smiley, dramatised and serialised with Simon Russell Beale superb as Smiley
  • The Philip Marlowe Novels - with Toby Stephens - the megaheavy in 'Die Another Day' - as Philip Marlowe. Included, interestingly, 'Poodle Springs'.
  • The Tom Ripley novels - also dramatised and serialised.
  • Rogue Male read by Michael Jayston - who was Peter Guillam to Alec Guinness's George Smiley
  • Busman's Honeymoon
  • A Margery Allingham Albert Campion novel, again beautifully dramatised
  • Deadlock by Sara Paretsky, with the amazing Kathleen Turner as a convincing Vic Warshawski
  • The House of Silk by Antony Horovitz - the only new Sherlock Holmes novel to be authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate
  • The Return of Inspector Steine - a comedy crime series by Lynne Truss (the very same)
I have also heard two  excellent series of short stories called 'Pulp Fiction' which included 'A Candle for a Bag Lady' (Lawrence Block), 'Forever After' (Jim Thompson) 'A Really Nice Guy'(William F Nolan) and 'So Fair, SoYoung, So Dead(John Lutz) All read by Peter Marinker who is a superbly talented American reader. I have more recently been listening to short stories by Bradbury and Colin Dexter.

Dear oh dear, how I am wittering  on. I know a list would lead to trouble.
What I really wanted to say to you is that you can dip into this trove anytime on

www.bbc.co.uk/radio4extra

Its extremely easy to find your way through the site. Just bring up the day's schedule, click on whatever takes your fancy and the player will pop up. (I think you will have to download the player but that's easy; the guidance is excellent)
If you're a born listener like me and like to read with your ears, I'm sure you'll find something to suit your criminous tastes.

So that, my beloved 'earers, is my Christmas present to you. If you already knew all about it, then pass it on to a friend.
That's the end of the radio commercial. We're handing you back now to your regular programme schedule.

And a very, very happy Christmas to all of you.