From a Dealer’s Perspective
by Bob Burnham
FROM THE OLD RADIO TIMES, the Official Publication of the Old-Time Radio Researchers (www.otrr.org)
Conventions for the old-time radio fan have a long heritage. I have been lucky enough to experience many of them first hand.
I have long been a writer in the OTR “hobby” – something I began doing in another decade – along with being a broadcast engineer. The two interests or professions for me have always been linked together, along with the conventions.
My introduction to OTR conventions began as one of the editors of Collector’s Corner in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Collector’s Corner was one of the leading OTR hobbyist magazines of its time. It was a joint project of (then) convention Co-Chairman, Joe Webb, Bob Burchett and myself.
After producing the magazine a couple years, we finally all met in person! That happened in Bridgeport, CT (before the Friends of OTR convention was moved to Newark).
By 1983, I had established a dealer presence at the convention.
During that decade, I never missed a convention. I ran workshops and helped to record the events while also transporting thousands of cassettes, books and videos and equipment back and forth from Detroit to the east coast.
Bob Burchett would later be the guiding force behind the Cincinnati conventions, although he credits his local radio club for providing the incentive to start it in the first place.
Cincinnati was a half days’ drive from Detroit (compared to Newark’s 12-hour trip) and I was happy to make the trip, especially if there was some longevity and success to the event. Twenty-four years later, I think that question has long been answered.
Nonetheless, we all STARTED pretty much in Newark. My greatest successes as a dealer were in Newark back when people were listening mostly to cassettes and the larger collections were on reel-to-reel tapes. The highlights of those events have always been seeing people who have supported my efforts throughout the year.
I remember the phone conversation Joe Webb and I had when Collector’s Corner was eventually sold to Ron and Linda Downey of “World of Yesterday” publishing fame. Their new old-time radio publication, “The Golden Years of Radio & TV.”
Dr. Webb and I thought we would continue to write for the new publication, but it didn’t work out that way: “Golden Years” did not survive for very long, however, Bob Burchett started “Old Time Radio Digest,” and both Joe and I contributed a word or two, and I kept showing up at the Cincinnati and Newark conventions as a dealer!
There are always significant costs associated with being a dealer at a convention and we always hope that at least some of the costs associated with being a dealer are offset by on-site sales. This was never a problem in the earlier years. In fact, at times we would do so well, we flew out to Los Angeles the following month for the SPERDVAC convention.
Some years, however, attendance was down. We never knew whether or not we were attending “the last” convention. Most of the conventions for me by then had became public relations events, but I also had a successful broadcast engineering contract business which covered old-time radio if necessary.
I felt obliged to continue the dealer presence as well, although many dealers who were there in the early days had disappeared: People like Gary Dudash of “AM Treasures”, Andy Blatt of “Vintage Broadcasts,” Rudy Schwartz of “Burlington Audio”, and Don Aston “Aston’s Adventures / Avpro” no longer attend these conventions.
The economy in general, put a strain on my business and my ability to attend these events at all. The most difficult part for a dealer who is not within short driving distance of a convention is the cost of transportation. Having the right selection and quantity of products is the only way to have any success, however, the cost of transporting by U.P.S. ground (for example) 2,000 CD’s and other products was my single largest cost. So how could I afford to offer those CDs at the 2010 Cincinnati convention for $1 each? Simply because I didn’t have that cost.
At the last couple conventions, I was pleased to have one of the largest selections of titles on regular CDs (you don’t need a computer to play them), however, there is cost associated with that selection.
When the “professional” side of a business -- shall we say -- isn’t doing as well – it takes creativity in order to even make it to a convention in any form. Nonetheless, I associate
these events with some of my best friends, and the programs themselves (and what they meant to my life). If there’s anyway I can put a trip together, I do it.
Old-time radio at one point changed my life for the better. I will always do what I can to improve, promote and preserve the shows and what they have meant to so many.
The reason I attend these conventions is NOT to Make Money As a Dealer. Those days are long gone. The reason I’ll show up is because there are 20 years of Suspense, and a lot of years of Jack Benny, Gunsmoke, any many other detectives, comedies and mysteries literally flowing in my veins. Apparently, there are a bunch of people out there who are feeling the same way who represent my “other” excuse for attending these conventions.
A “niche” hobby? Yup.
Many eccentric people involved? Absolutely.
Make a lotta money with a mail-order OTR business? Not any more (that was never the prime motivation in the first place).
But to NOT support efforts of events led by people like Bob Burchett and Jay Hickerson? It ain’t happenin’ in this lifetime with OTR flowing in the veins.
I can’t guarantee I’ll never miss a convention, nor that my selection will be as large every year, but if I can, I’ll be there.
- Bob Burnham