A few years ago I was writing a story about old-time radio for the Chicago Tribune. One of my most useful sources was Sean Dougherty. He got me in touch with the right people, understand my deadline, and simply came through at every turn. By the way, this was when I was doing a lot of freelance work but never mixing that with my publicity work (perhaps the topic of a future post?).
At any rate, Sean touched base a few weeks ago and I explained that I wasn’t doing a lot freelance work right now, but maybe he’d be interested in doing a Q&A regarding his work with The Friends of Old-Time Radio. Not only did he agree to the interview, but he also revealed that his publicity work for the group is conducted purely on a volunteer basis as in pro bono, free, no strings attached, out of the goodness of his heart, etc. My hero. You should know that Sean also is group vice president of MWW Group so he keeps himself fairly busy. Here’s part two of my email conversation with Sean.
Leslie: What are some of the specific challenges this group faces in terms of getting the word out?
Sean: Dramatic radio breathed its last in 1962 and even by then it was nearly forgotten. Most of the people who worked in old time radio that are still alive were not the big stars but rather supporting players. Our survivors are a greatly talented bunch, but very few of them are famous. Science fiction, horror and comic book conventions refresh themselves with new material but we are date limited to when old time radio was on the air, so we’ll never have the equivalent of a new Star Trek or Superman movie to stoke interest. Although I should say that this year one of our successes was getting Peter Fernandez, the actor who played “Speed Racer” in the 1960s cartoon interviewed by Gannett. Prior to doing cartoon work, he was a writer and actor in radio. I hear they are planning a new “Green Hornet” movie, so maybe we’ll get lucky there as well.
Last year, we got coverage in the Record of Hackensack, a large daily here in Northern New Jersey, because one of our guests, Emmy-winning writer George Lefferts, lived in its circulation territory. I look for whatever excuse I can get. The characters like The Lone Ranger and Superman who are still in the public eye also help. Fred Foy, who was the last radio announcer for The Lone Ranger and whose voice I grew up with on the TV show in reruns, can still do the “thrilling days of yesteryear” opening cold and whenever I get a chance to use him, I do it because it is so familiar.
Leslie: Can you tell us about the great hit you had with The Wall Street Journal?
Sean: Jeff Zaslow wrote a column at that time on life transitions – what to do when your parents are dying, kids are going to college, facing a job relocation, etc. One story he wrote was on the conflict in cartoon strips of artists handing down their strips to assistants rather than retiring them, which keeps the younger crowd from gaining a foothold on the comics pages. That struck me as analogous to the debate we have at FOTR about inviting guests who are primarily known for TV and how fast we have to make that transition. I reached out to him with the idea and gave him a feel for the factions and the nature of the debate. He could cover issues of mortality, the nature of communities like ours – he expanded the article to include fans of silent films – and interview some of the surviving greats.
In fact, there is one actor alive, Bill Herz, who had a line in “War of the Worlds,” and Jeff opened the article by quoting him as saying “They invited me because they couldn’t dig up the corpses.” Not exactly in my talking points but it set the tone for the article, which ran the Friday of the convention that year. In a really funny side note, it turns out his mother, Naomi “Nan Warren” Zaslow, was a child actress in Old Time Radio and has now attended our show twice as a special guest. Jeff still hasn’t made it out, but I hope he will someday.