Where has the Theatre of the Mind gone?

Much of my childhood evening hours consisted of reading and a radio playing in the background. As far back as I can remember it’s been that way. The radio and a good book, or two.

One memory stands out, though. I don’t know where I got the gift from but it was a build-it-yourself, crystal (I think) radio, complete with the one-sided headphones. I was so happy to have it built and working I wanted to try it out right away. So, that night,  my brother and I huddled in our bunk bed, the streetlights illuminating our room in a pale blue glow, and we tuned the radio to the hockey game.

It was long after we were supposed to be asleep and my great-grandmother was babysitting. Well, her Scottish  shenanigan sense must have alerted her to our schemes. In no time flat, the radio was gone and we were left to count the cars passing on Victoria Park Avenue.

Later in life I discovered Dr. Demento and the Sunday Night Funnies on Chum FM with Rick Hodges. What caught my ear, and kept me laying still as a tombstone in my bed, was the show that followed the funnies, the Theatre of the Mind.

If you are not familiar, or not from the broadcast range of 104.5 Chum FM, it played old radio serials like The Black Museum with Orson Welles; “The Black Museum… a repository of death. Here in the grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard is a warehouse of homicide, where everyday objects… a woman’s shoe, a tiny white box, a quilted robe… all are touched by murder.”, The Shadow, narrated by the creepy Frank Readick Jr., and voiced by Orson Welles; “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?“, and The Inner Sanctum hosted by Raymond Edward Johnson; “Pleasant dreeeams, hmmmm?“. Every Halloween they would play War of the Worlds, again, narrated by Orson Welles. I think I’m seeing a pattern here… They also played A Christmas Carol at Christmas.

There were other shows, sometimes Superman, Flash Gordon, Boston Blacky, The Thin man etc. but the ones I loved the best were the scary stories.

Sadly, as with real music on 1050 Chum (curse you CP24 snoozfest), Rick Hodges, the Sunday Night Funnies and Theatre of the mind, are gone. Replaced by what? Nothing of note. The end of an era… again.

The beauty of radio shows is that, like reading, you were the creator of the pictures. The actor/actresses were how you pictured them, the scenes played out behind closed eyes. Radio has that ability to carry you away. Transport you back in time or forward. The announcer was your guide. No flashy explosions every 10 seconds like the movies rely on to keep todays shortening attention spans in the seats. No, there were streets filled with fog, strange noises, suspense.

It was a pleasant way to wind down the weekend in preparation for the dreaded Monday.

I often get asked “where do your ideas come from” or “how do you come up with this stuff” I think I now know the answer. My brain and subconscious has been carefully marinated in quality storytelling since I could pick up a Hardy Boys novel and read it on my own. Music and radio seasoned the mix with Theatre of the Mind being the prominent    influence.

Thank-you Rick Hodge, for furthering my feet down the macabre path less taken.

I’d like to close with clip from one of my favourite actors, from a show I watched as a kid, the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Vicent Price.

As Orson Welles would say, I remain, as always, obediently yours.

Pleasant dreams, hmmm?

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About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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33 Responses to Where has the Theatre of the Mind gone?

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are correct in saying radio and reading molds your mind. Many nights I lay listening to 104.5 laughing, not giving my mother a hard time about going to bed at 8:00. I recently found the same programs on iTunes. If you have an ipod it might be an idea to download them, lie in bed with the lights off and have an hour of just pretending your 10 again listening to the old hows.

    • Dale Long says:

      That seems the only way to find them. Problem is I like the whole show format as opposed to the individual episode. Stories picked out by the host. All connected somehow. Like an audio anthology of short stories.

      • Anonymous says:

        Found it on youtube Harry lime. I was a child in the eighties when this was playing. Very fond memories of Sunday night, with my Walkman listening to this stuff…fantastic.

  2. My husband, much older than I (ha ha), reacts in much the same way to “Only the Shadow knows…” and I’m sure he would agree with you. When studying for my English Honour Specialist in teaching, I learned that reading and forming our own mind pictures of what we read or have read to us BEFORE the age of six is crucial to our later abilities to think ANALYTICALLY. That links reading to math, folks. Your post underlines this as well as the sublime joy to be found reading and listening and letting our minds paint the pictures. I’m off to dream a bit…

  3. Lisa Llamrei says:

    So, you listened to horror stories late at night when you were a kid. That explains a lot.

  4. I have to agree with you. I miss old-time radio stories, even in reruns. I loved them so much I used to do a unit on radio plays with my homeroom classes. I also enjoyed listening to Backbencher, the CBC radio drama.

    • Dale Long says:

      CBC is still pretty good with actually radio shows. I’ve tuned in for their music and shows. I think that’s where I first heard Stuart McLean.
      I’m not familiar with Backbencher though. I have to look it up now.
      Thanks!

  5. Dave Jones says:

    Ah memories. I used to love working Sunday nights at the pizza store and listening to Theatre of the Mind. I think I remember hearing Sherlock Holmes and the Green Latern in addition to thenones you mentioned.

    Nice trip down memory lane. Thanks!

    • Dale Long says:

      I used to love buying your pizza. There is an art to good pizza and you, my friend, had that in spades.
      I remember listening to Sherlock Holmes as well, but not Green Lantern, the Green Hornet maybe? Another great show.

    • Patrick Lyons says:

      I think you mean The Green Hornet. As far as I know, the Green Lantern was never in a radio format.

  6. Jody says:

    AM740 has the oldies at 10pm Monday through Thursday. They have a drama or mystery first and then a comedy.

    • Dale Long says:

      Thanks Jody. I found a channel on satellite radio but it just wasn’t the same. Rick Hodge took time picking out specific humour bits and horror stories to suit a theme. There was very little repeating and Sunday night was the perfect time for them.

      I’m always glad to find other late night comedy/horror fans! Keep listening.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    Dale, I second / third / fourth your ‘missing theater of the mind’ emotion. would have been great this evening, with the threatening thunder showers in the background..

    • Dale Long says:

      I so agree, Geoff! Nothing like thunder rattling the rafters and rain tattooing the roof, to set the stage for some good old radio.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Stephen says:

    I spent a lot of time as a kid listening to those shows on CHUM FM as well. I recently found an archive that contains many of your favourites. http://archive.org/details/oldtimeradio

    Enjoy!

  9. Jay Hickey says:

    Enjoyed your post! I’ve been trying for a long time to figure out what production of A Christmas Carol CHUM FM used to air – never heard it anywhere else. I actually have a cassette copied from the radio that I transferred to digital and still listen to a number of times each year through xmas. I have Miracle on 34th St., too, but that version of A Christmas Carol is amazing. I actually have every Christmas episode of the Sunday Funnies from 1986 until the end, as well – usually I’d start taping them in December even if there were a few xmas bits – I think I have it the year Gord Johnston hosted and then forward with Rick Hodge. There was even the years when Rick had a Christmas “party” – not sure if all the voices in the background were actually party goers or if it was just him alone in a booth… I used to look forward to those shows so much and was very disappointed when they disappeared, because part of my holiday traditions disappeared with them. Some of the earlier Funnies had some dirty material and I guess they cut more out in later years.

    I also have a few cassettes of non-Christmas shows buried somewhere. I think I first heard the Funnies and Theatre when we’d be coming back from the cottage or some relatives place later on a Sunday night.

    The Vinyl Cafe is a newer tradition… we listen to those shows a lot and go see the live show every year. My son, who is 7, has started listening to them at night when he goes to sleep. I’m gonna share A Christmas Carol with him and see if he likes it. It might be too gown up – or even too creepy. I still get a chill when I hear them say that the ghost is standing “at your elbow”.

    Cheers… Happy Holidays.

    • Dale Long says:

      Jay,
      What a great story! I don’t think the producers realized the impact the show had on their listeners. I loved their Christmas show and also looked forward to hearing their Christmas Carol. In fact it’s radio shows like that and classic like Poe and Dickens that inspired my own Christmas Story, The Last Gift.
      I think the “creepy” aspect is what thrilled me the most that and the Christmas revelations that Scrooge has. The joy in his voice, the carolers everything.
      I’m trying to get a hold of Rick Hodge to interview him and ask his favourite moments from the show.

      Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!

      • Jay Hickey says:

        You, too! If you want a copy of A Christmas Carol, just let me know – I’d be happy to share it. Mike Boon from Toronto Mike blog did an interview with Rick in 2010 that I just re-read. I’d love to hear any neat things about the Funnies or Theatre if you’re able to talk to him. Cheers.

  10. MS says:

    Check out http://www.20thcenturyradio.com for some great old time radio

  11. Jay Hickey says:

    I’m in the process of uploading A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street, but in the meantime, here is a link to a Sunday Funnies show from 1986…
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/f4rhl0wcnhi55ru/I0ZwzI3ov6

  12. Scott says:

    I grew up in Oakville in the 80’s and I remember listening to all the programs mentioned above, as well as The Third Man, The Whistler, Inner Sanctum, etc. Every once in a while I find myself going to youtube and searching out the old radio programs, I still enjoy them today!

    • Dale Long says:

      Loved the Inner Sanctum! There is something infinitly more creepy hearing the stories than reading them. It’s that atmosphere that I strive for in my own writing.

  13. Reblogged this on Colleen Knight and commented:
    Dr. Demento. Oh, the memories.

  14. Dr. Demento. I needed that great memory.

  15. Patrick Lyons says:

    Does anybody know what version of a Christmas Carol they played?

    • Jay hickey says:

      Hi Patrick. I’ve been trying to solve that mystery for years. I have a cassette (now digitized) I recorded off the radio in 1990, but it cuts off at the end. The searching through hundreds of radio plays and books on tape continues…

      • Dale Long says:

        Sorry for the late reply. I wish I knew as well. I tried contacting Rick again, but haven’t received a response. To be fair, the funnies were his baby.
        It was this show, I think, that fueled my writing. Why I write horror and Classic Christmas stories.

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