I was old enough to catch the end of the golden age of radio-before the 12-inch, black-and-white Admiral consoles started appearing in Riverside neighborhoods, block by block.
For those who came after, they will never know the joy of listening to mysteries and soap operas and dramatic presentations strictly by sound. The ability to imagine the surroundings and the individuals speaking was wonderful.
And, as a little girl, I was sure that what I was listening to was truly going on in reality, because I could hear all the sounds that came with activity: car doors slamming, people’s footsteps, door hinges screeching and so on.
I would be up close to the radio to hear the continuing saga of Helen Trent. And “Hill Top House” was one of my favorites. In between the programs, of course, we listened to the polka music so near and dear to my grandparents’ immigrant household.
It was always great to hear shows dedicated to old time radio. Yet, today, when some of these programs are replayed in the original, it’s a bit scratchy, and certainly not as realistic as I had remembered as a child. But, still engaging.
To that end, I was thrilled to find out that Riverside’s own musician, songster, Boy Scout devotee and former high school principal, Jack Gelsomino, was running something called the Riverside Township Radio Players, which meet September through December and January through May at the Riverside Township Hall. They are folks from all over who try out for parts and reenact radio programs from the past- to an audience, no less.
What’s to lose, I thought, and tried out for a part, getting a tiny part of a telephone operator in something called “The Nursery Rhyme Murders,” featuring that hero of yore, The Shadow (“Only the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men”).
I was so excited for my few lines, hoping I would not blow them. I also felt obligated to do them with aplomb, because I was in the very auditorium in which my parents, Bill and Lillian Schuss Baar, met and fell in love while doing community theater in the then Riverside Little Theater group. Boy, what would mom and dad think of my stellar role, here?
Seriously, the folks who try out for and do these parts are real pros. They study their lines and pull them off as if they were at an old time radio station, broadcasting to the world audio plays that have been painfully transcribed into scripts from old radio tapes and such.
It’s a diverse group of people, who hail from all places and walks of life and of all ages and genders. The chemistry and the cohesion they display in putting on a show is not only delightful, it also provides some sweet nostalgia.
I was surprised at the numbers of people who showed up for the free presentation last weekend, which included the play “The Green Leprechaun. Radio characters sit on the stage in a semi-circle, facing a bunch of stand up microphones, and the audience.
A soundman makes sure everything comes off well, and a special effects man does just about everything to create realistic sounds to go with the verbal action.
The next show will be “The Maltese Falcon,” no less. That ought to be a real gripper. Sadly, there are few women’s parts in the show, but I am really good at that telephone gig, so am hopeful that they can always find a spot for a telephone operator.
I just thought, too, I should highlight the folks who make this all possible because they are the talented ones, many of them longtime members-from Riverside, Ellie Babka, Nellie Brennan, Susan Gadzinski, John Schefke, Wirtz and Gelsomino.
Others include Donna Ameismeier, Tom Lenz and Tom Chmura of Berwyn; Andre S. Dixon of Chicago; Tony Hanuska of Broadview; Rob Humpf of Burr Ridge; Brookfielders Robert Krasniewski and JuDee Marsh; Leslie Lee of North Riverside; Randy A. Trull of Bedford Parkk; Herb Thompson of River Forest; and LaGrange residents Chris Martin and Jay Sommerfield.