Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bedtime Story Radio Talks (1924)

Some technical stuff first: The Burgess radio script collection at The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University begins with "Radio Talk" script #2, dated November 26, 1924. It is in poor condition, is missing pages, and the place where the number should be is torn off. (I only know it is script #2 because the script from the following week is numbered #3). Luckily, the condition of scripts improves from that point on. The collection lacks script #1 --my date of November 19 is an assumption that still needs final confirmation. A story in the Syracuse Herald from November 16 (mentioned in an earlier post) suggests that the talks had already begun by that date (with a discussion of myths around wolves). The Bedtime Story period (including the Sleep Fairy's story) was Wednesday night from 7:05-7:15.

Here are the scripts in the collection:

Talk #2 (November 26, 1924). Theme: "Mother Nature's Sleepy Heads"

Talk #3 (December 3, 1924). This is the episode mentioned in a previous post when Farmer Brown's Boy makes an appearance.

Talk #4 (December 10, 1924). Theme: "Billy Mink." Sign on is: "This is Mr. Burgess speaking for Old Mother Nature." As recounted in his autobiography, Burgess is thrilled that the first answer to his "shrews into whale" math problem comes from Manchester, England. Burgess plays a trick on the Sleep Fairy.
(The Boston Daily Globe lists "Nature Story by Thornton W. Burgess" on WBZ from 7:05 to 7:15)

Talk #5 (December 17, 1924). Theme: "Reindeer ." No Sleep Fairy story, instead a live hook-up with Santa Claus from the North Pole.
(The Boston Daily Globe lists "Radio Nature Story by Thornton W. Burgess" on WBZ from 7:05 to 7:15)

There was no Radio Talk on December 24--Burgess read a special Christmas story, "The Joy of the Beautiful Pine." The HGARC lacks the December 31 script in which Farmer Brown's Boy proposed the foundation of the Radio Nature League.

As you can tell, the "Bedtime Story Radio Talk" era was a short, transitional period. Although the shows revolved around a specific theme, Burgess was already encouraging interaction with correspondents (he recruited one girl, e.g., to report when a local woodchuck awoke in the spring). He was also surprisingly loose on the air (judging by the scripts at least), especially in his interaction with the Sleep Fairy. On December 10, for example, the script details a mild joke in which Burgess has the Sleep Fairy whisper on-mic a reminder to finish the program on time and pretends that he doesn't know that the audience could hear her. (He reports correspondence the next week indicating that the joke was a big success).

[UPDATE: Apparently the telegram from England that so thrilled TWB was a source of great confusion to the directors of WBZ. All it said was "Fifty-two and a half million shrews equal whale" without any other context. According to a syndicated news story, the directors thought the message was in code until they remembered Burgess's natural history talk. Also, the fact that there were listeners from England may be a byproduct of an International Radio Test held during the last week in November].

Next: Radio Nature League (1925 January-February)

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