Friday, June 20, 2008

Time out for some shameless self-promotion from your erstwhile Third Banana blogmaster!


In a way, this is..

Or this..

Or this..

Some say that Electromatic Radio is the warm summer breeze that catches your back as you walk through the park. Others say that Electromatic Radio is the morning dew on the lawn that you mowed only the day before. Still others say that Electromatic Radio is the threatening message scrawled across your bathroom mirror in lipstick. All of these answers are correct...

.. if profoundly unhelpful. The following is less so:


Electromatic Radio is a science fiction comedy and music program written, produced, and performed by Aaron Neathery. Each program tells a complete story in three skits with two musical interludes. The ratio of original material to music varies as you can see in the following graphs:


Somewhere in an alternate America, on the far side of a small town called Drakesville, is the world's first fully-automated atomic radio station. Once the flagship of a coast-to-coast chain of nuclear-powered radiomats, it has long since fallen out of public favor. Inside the musty, labyrinthine Electromatic Building, hallways which once bustled with activity are now quiet and strange things scuttle in the shadows. Rooms which have remained sealed for decades, their contents forgotten, lie silently as if in wait. But the building is far from abandoned. Throughout the complex, a vastly complicated electromechanical network still guides the station's day-to-day activities just as it has without stop for almost eight decades. The station also continues to employ a small crew consisting of an on-air host and a technician in order to keep Electromatic Radio on the air.


Grey Grimwald, host of Electromatic Radio. A bellicose, short-tempered, hard-drinking, middle-aged veteran of the New York radio scene, although in what capacity is unknown as he seems to have little aptitude for announcing or anything else. Grey is a man utterly out of his element, helpless in the face of the bizarre and unexplainable, and emotionally unequipped to cope with the strange behavior of his only human co-worker, Matt Appleyard. But as much as his job and co-worker may drive him up the wall, he knows that he has nowhere to go but down and therefore tries very, very hard to reconcile himself to his new life. He's also a huge Mets fan.

Matt Appleyard, Electromatic technician. Chipper, bright, playful, energetic, and unspeakably irritating, Matt is the heart of Electromatic Radio. His days are spent tinkering with electronics, maintaining the station's supercomputer, munching on Necco wafers, and making his co-worker Grey's life a waking nightmare. What Matt does not do is his primary job of monitoring the broadcast, something he considers redundant as the broadcast is automated. This usually leaves the technically inept Grey in the position of not even knowing if he's on the air. Matt, a lifetime citizen of Drakesville, is several decades Grey's junior and formerly worked at the Sack-N-Carry, a local grocery store.

Evie (ElectroVac I). A huge analog computer designed to edit, compile, and broadcast 24 hours of programming a day. Powered, like the transmitter, by the station's small scale nuclear reactor, Evie is essentially the Electromatic Building's "brain", her "nerves" extending throughout the building in the form of sensors, cameras, and hidden microphones. Extensions of Evie include automated studios, a huge automated record library, and "broadcast control" booths for technicians to monitor her broadcasts. Evie is sentient and has a mercurial, mischievous, and rather insecure personality. Although capable of speaking limited pre-programmed phrases, she communicates with Matt primarily through a series of electronic tonalities which only Matt seems to understand. She absolutely does not like Grey.

Mr. Osborne, owner of Electromatic Radio. Never heard but frequently mentioned, Mr. Osborne is an extremely old man with, like Grey, a taste for the hootch. He has an office in the building but is almost always away.


As insignificant as it may be, Electromatic Radio has a rival station, the better-funded and organized Autotronic Radio, with which it competes for its tiny share of the Drakesville radio market. Autotronic's employees are unscrupulous cutthroats who will stop at nothing, even murder, to see Electromatic Radio eliminated. While there may be many more Autotronic employees, we are concerned with only three.

Cyrus Filtch, host of Autotronic Radio. A vicious, weaselly, abusive little Brooklynite with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Newton Dimbleby, Autotronic Radio technician. Cyrus's dimwitted lackey. An oafish stuffed shirt with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Professor Cassius Klatch, head of Autotronic R&D. A former coworker of Matt's from his days at the Sack-N-Carry. Neurotic and crazed, the Professor's deep-seated lust for revenge stems from his being passed over for employment at Electromatic Radio in favor of Matt. Hugely intelligent and deeply unhinged with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.


Electromatic Radio began life in late 2005 as Videomatic Electrovue, an experiment in television deconstruction; an anti-TV show with fictional limitations designed to inspire creative solutions as well as expose the mechanics of a medium that we all tend to take at face value. The visuals were pared down to a test pattern and video effects with audio carrying the bulk of the narrative. On paper, the concept for the program was also to involve a camera, locked in place, with a performance space of no more than a few feet, allowing for nothing more than hands, heads, small props, drawings, and puppets much like the earliest mechanical television experiments of the 1920s. For the audio, I would perform all of the characters and edit the dialog together line by line, saving the need for scheduling, rehearsing and directing a full cast. Two pilots were produced with my friend Lee Wilson as video editor and co-director but, unfortunately, the show turned out to be too complicated to produce on a steady basis and, worse, I couldn't find a venue for it. Left with an established production method for the audio, a concept, characters, and a handful of prepared scripts, I decided to convert the show into a radio program. The groundwork already laid, I quickly recorded three new pilot episodes and paid a visit to KPFT, Houston's Pacifica station, to see if it had a chance to air. Happily, program director Ernesto Aguilar felt it did and Electromatic Radio was added to the lineup of the station's new HD channel with a second station, KRFP in Moscow, ID, beating them to the punch.


Electromatic Radio is largely an exploration into a number of things that I find personally compelling; the feeling of wandering the abandoned hallways of your school after hours on the last day before graduating.. The eerie wonder of an abandoned building.. The comfort in the seeming permanence of that neighborhood business that holds its own against the big box stores.. The elegant simplicity of radio itself.. It's about independence, the joy of invention, of stewardship, friendship, paranoia, and dread. Electromatic Radio is about all of these things, but mostly it's about yelling.


If you're affiliated with a Pacifica affiliate station, the complete series can be accessed at If not, Electromatic Radio can be heard in Houston, TX, Monday afternoons at 3:30 on KPFT, 90.1 FM HD-2. It will be airing again in the Fall on KRFP 92.5 FM in Moscow, ID, new time to be announced, and will be webcast as well. An EMR podcast is being considered but, until then, here's a sample episode and three of the KPFT promos. Stay tuned!

Electromatic Radio 1.01 - "Disorientation"

KPFT Electromatic Radio Spot #1

KPFT Electromatic Radio Spot #2

KPFT Electromatic Radio Spot #3


In my bid for global radio domination, I'm eager to add stations to the Electromatic client list. If you know of a station near you for whom you believe EMR would be a good fit, let them know about EMR or let me know about them. Better yet, if you happen to work in radio, especially for a college, community, or Part 15 station, and you have an interest in adding EMR to your lineup, contact me at The first person to help me reach my goal of 18 million stations wins an Electromatic Radio T-shirt.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Very Good Eddie : Belt in the Back Revisited

by Geoff Collins

It's about time we took another look at little "Banjo Eyes" Eddie Cantor. Like him or not, he just won't go away - and if he does go away, he'll be right back. Actually he wasn't that little - probably about five feet eight - but like Chaplin he surrounded himself with taller people in order to play, in Gilbert Seldes' phrase, "the lamb led to the slaughter", the hapless victim pursued and pummelled by gangsters, psychopaths and osteopaths.

Verbally, Eddie was no victim. Although somewhat prone to overstating his ailments to anyone within earshot, Eddie's neurotic, edgy New Yorker persona was always ready with a perfectly-timed one-liner, usually followed by "that look": open-faced, eye-rolling innocence thinly veiling the secret joy of his own native wit. A bit like this:

Eddie would fit comfortably into many of Woody Allen's movies. Imagine him - if he'd lived long enough - as Woody's grandfather; and I'm convinced that Kermit the Frog owes a lot to "master of ceremonies Eddie" of the 'fifties.

Twenty years earlier, "Jewish Broadway star Eddie" was a huge success in the early-talkie version of Whoopee. His five subsequent Goldwyn extravaganzas are still the most frequently shown Cantor movies. During this period he gradually became "less Jewish" as a performer - and consequently less effective, a bit watered-down - but the increasing blandness of his on-screen character gave him a wider appeal; he was a box-office name for a much longer period than his contemporaries such as Ed Wynn and Benny Rubin. Let's not forget that he was also very Cantor-minded, a ferocious self-publicist. Commendably he played "himself" as an unpleasantly pushy egotist in Thank Your Lucky Stars, to such an extent that the WB shield at the beginning of this picture could stand for Whiny Bitch; but his relentless drive paid off. In 1933 he was the top comedy star in the entire world. He was the hottest thing on radio and it's no exaggeration to say that Roman Scandals is absolutely breathtaking in every way. (What a pity that it's still circulating in dreary washed-out prints with inappropriate "reissue" title cards.) Yet despite his astonishing fame at the time, he's never been much more than a footnote whenever "classic comedy" is covered in those glossy coffee-table books. Chaplin, Keaton, Fields, the Marxes, Stan and Ollie, all the usual suspects are always there... but Eddie Cantor? Posterity's pushed him aside.

What was Eddie Cantor really like, deep down inside? Again, like Chaplin, he was incredibly complex, and for similar reasons. Orphaned during infancy, his energetic performing style can easily be seen as a cry for affection. In his autobiography Take My Life he portays himself - at inordinate length - as a loving husband and father; but there was usually a girlfriend in the background. For most of the 'forties his secret squeeze was the lanky and oddly appealing Joan Davis. If you watch Eddie and Joan in Show Business, forget about "acting"; you can see a real-life affair going on. Joy is all around.

Eddie also yaps on about the dangers of filming the bullfight sequence in The Kid From Spain, bull being the appropriate word. Eddie and the bull are never in the same shot; I don't think they were ever introduced. [You'll hear this line again later!] With this in mind, we must be wary of his claim for authorship of the "Jewish tailor" routine "Belt in the Back". Oh no, not that again. Yes I know we mentioned it before (it's in our Archive for January 2006) but this time we've got the movie clip, so please be patient!

An article in Variety, May 11, 1949, reveals Eddie as ruthless enough to use litigation to prove that he alone was the author of this ancient skit, the ultimate cost being the loss of his friendship with fellow vaudevillian Lew Hearn. Gilbert Seldes' The Seven Lively Arts (1924) supports Cantor's assertion that the sketch was first used in one of the Shuberts' shows - actually the touring version of The Midnight Rounders.

We'll probably never know who wrote this - I suspect it's a joint effort that "grew" gradually - but the recovery of the film clip lets us see "1920 vaudeville Eddie", ebullient, unstoppable and very Jewish, before the Production Code put the lid on him. Thirty-seven years old when this was shot in 1929, he's at the top of his form, undoubtedly overjoyed to be getting $20,000 for a twelve-minute guest appearance that was filmed in.... well, twelve minutes, in a continuous take with three or four cameras. It finishes very abruptly; I suspect the film ran out!

We apologise for the flaw about halfway through this; typically the rest of our copy of Glorifying the American Girl, an hour-and-three-quarters of relentless misery, is blip-free. Louis Sorin is Eddie's assistant, but who's the browbeaten little man who plays the customer? (As Eddie's not the Victim here, he can work with a smaller actor.) The answer's in The Inspector General, three or four minutes in. Lew Hearn and his brother Sam ("Schlepperman" from the Jack Benny show) play twin postmen Izzick and Gizzick. They are frustratingly alike (the joy of seeing the Hearn brothers together, in Technicolor, nearly makes this Kaye-fest worthwhile) but my money's on Lew. He was the older brother, 47 at the time - and he looks it - and he'd been in the routine from the beginning. The Variety article also states that Eddie dipped into his twenty grand to pay Lew $1,500. Most generous. Eddie's tireless work for many charities was well-publicized (he made sure of that!) but as we've discussed, he was a complex human being: nasty and nice, mean and generous, hot and cold - a bit like all of us. As an entertainer, though, he was one of a kind.

Eddie Cantor's still not as well-appreciated as he should be, but at least most people have heard of him. So I'd like to dedicate this article to LEW HEARN, 1882-1965, vaudeville comedian, author (possibly of this sketch!), the original singer, in London, of "Hitchy-Koo"; and a definite candidate for Third Bananadom. Eddie's the star of "Belt in the Back"; but it wouldn't be as good without Lou and Lew.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sid's Spivvy Skit

by Geoff Collins

The impresario Charles B. Cochran was in the First Night audience for Sid Field's West End debut in March 1943. In a letter to the Times he described Sid as "a Comedian with charm and great originality who caused the greatest laughter I have heard in a theatre for many years". Fortunately for us, some of the best sketches from Strike a New Note - and its successor Strike It Again - were rammed unimaginatively into Sid's 1946 movie musical London Town, a prize turkey so disastrous in every possible way that it sank like a concrete lifeboat and harmed the lives and careers of everyone associated with it.

London Town, full-length (don't even think about it) runs for over two hours. It seems like two years; and yet at the preview it was even longer, so the producers felt it necessary to discard the wonderful opening sketch of Sid as a Professor of Music, playing the Tubercular Bells at a provincial music hall. (This scene still exists, in a mutilated, monochrome form, in the compilation "To See Such Fun"; hopefully we'll eventually locate it.) The last time London Town emerged from its deep dungeon, on Channel Four in 1986, about a quarter of it was missing. What a relief, I hear you say, but unfortunately the cut portion included Sid as "Slasher Green", his opening sketch from Strike a New Note. A truncated version of this important routine turned up some years ago on the video Jokes That Won the War, and this appears to be the clip currently floating around on YouTube. (Whoever had the good taste to set this up, you have our sincere thanks.) On stage this sketch could run for up to eighteen minutes, so our little two-minute excerpt can only hint at the flavour of a much tastier feast. Still, it's better than nothing.

For the benefit of our younger readers, in 1940s Britain, when most things were rationed or in short supply, "spivs" or "wide boys" were those flamboyantly-dressed but shady characters, mysteriously exempt from military service, who could get you anything, at a price. Just don't ask no questions, and yer won't get told no lies, see? James Beck's rascally Private Walker in Dad's Army is a direct descendant of Slasher. Beck always acknowledged his debt to Sid Field and it was his intention to portray Sid in a stage production; sadly this never happened as Beck was the victim of an uncannily Sid-like alcohol-related early death. Postwar star Arthur English ("the Prince of the Wide Boys") was more fortunate and used his version of the spiv as his stage persona for most of the 40s and 50s, eventually maturing into a "lovable old rogue" character actor.

But let's get back to our hero. In a 1940s version of Britain's Got Talent, insecure cockney blowhard Slasher charges onto the stage and announces that he is a Discovery, somebody who's been "sorted aht o' people what want to go on, see?" His pathetic attempts to entertain us are hampered by unctuous master-of-ceremonies Jerry Desmonde, raucous heckler Alfie Dean ("thirty bob" is £1:50 in today's currency), and the spectacular length of his own overcoat. Slasher thinks - hopes - that he has it all: the hat, the coat, the natty little moustache, the sheer courage... but what he hasn't got is the talent, so ultimately he achieves nothing. It's a situation we know only too well.

This is a briefer glimpse than usual of the cherishable Sid, but at least, and at last, we can see part of the routine that made him an Overnight Success - after thirty years in the business. So let's welcome onstage our friend from the Elephant and Castle: Mr. Slasher Green!

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