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
August 14, 2010
Recent Specs Howard grad, John Dam, is our Operations Department intern. With the rapid growth in the complexity of our studios, the day-to-day maintenance and problem-solving had also multiplied.
For the Radio department alone, with 21 practice studios, 4 on-campus radio stations and a dual-workstation audio Production studio (and basically only one of “me”), it can be challenging to stay on top of things.

Radio now has heavier dependence than ever on the audio computer network.  With Specs’ phasing out of older technology like MiniDisk and CD as well as deeper integration of Enco Systems’ technology (including cutting-edge products like “Presenter”), the chances of something going wrong are multiplied.   

Today, all major stations in top 10 markets are relying on voice tracking, and advanced automation technology seven days a week.  Specs Howard is of course, part of that evolution and John is gaining (and sharing) some advanced knowledge that we don’t normally have time to teach students in the regular program (and the students may not have the interest in this aspect of the industry in the first place).

What I do requires a little traditional broadcast engineering along with just a little IT computer knowledge, as well as knowing what it takes to put together a radio show.

I do that plus solve problems and in the process, coach everyone on how to use this technology (some of whom may have started their careers playing records and editing with razor blades and reel to reel tape!).  

There are also students who come to us who may have never set foot in a studio anywhere.  Our job is to turn these people into radio superstars.  Plus, I plan for the future on top of all this!

Today, “RADIO” (at its very core) is a bunch of hard drives spinning at up to 10,000 revolutions per minute controlled by a microprocessor or two that you could hold into your hand.  On screen (for us humans) are friendly icons and shapes that resemble older technology. These virtual “devices” do things required for radio like play and record on demand, control (and be controlled by) other equipment and manage and organize large collections of audio.   

The concepts, however, are the same as they have always been!   A student who works on and excels at Performance and Professionalism relentlessly (AND develops a comfort level with Technology) has the best chance of succeeding at a very high level in whatever they do.

-Bob Burnham
A few too many kamikazes!
The one and ONLY time I was drunk on the air
By Bob Burnham

As some of you know, part of my radio career was spent on the air.

A certain station that still exists in Ann Arbor was my hang-out in the late 1970s and 1980s.  I was among the last of the ‘music’ jocks before the station evolved into an all-talk format.

 For most of my time there, I worked the 6-10 nighttime shift Monday through Friday, and was the Production Director during the day.  It was a great job with average pay but money has never been my real motivation in this business anyway.

The jock who followed me, who went by the name of Dave Dugan, was my partner in crime, although HE was the one who always got in trouble, and ultimately, he lost his job over his “extra-curricular” activities.  But he was an incredibly talented guy, and we worked on a lot of Production projects together, including one that was a recurring comedy skit relentlessly poking harmless fun at the afternoon drive guy 

(Fred Heller, where ever you are, you were a great talent as well, no matter how many times you strangled yourself on headphone cords in our skits).

Anyway, Dave was friends with all the waitresses at the local Ann Arbor eatery and pub called The Red Bull.  If it’s still there, I hope it is still as great a place it was over 25 years ago!  

Depending on my workload at the station, I would often grab a quick McDonalds meal, but if I had more time, Dave might drag me to the Red Bull.  Actually, he never dragged me. I always went willingly, and we didn’t go THAT many times.

Anybody who knows me from my band playing and more recent broadcast activities knows that I rarely drink adult beverages.  In fact, I will specifically order a “pitcher of water” at some gigs where I’m playing (unless as I say, it’s going really GOOD, or really BAD, I might nurse a rum & Coke or two).

I was the same back then, too.  But Dave must have caught me in a rare moment.  As we ate our lunch, he encouraged me to try a kamikaze, which has a very high alcohol content, but tastes a lot like lemonade or limeade.  In other words, they go down like water.

I don’t remember what the topic of conversation was, but it must have been awfully interesting, and we ordered more kamikazes…and more…. and more…. and more.  At least I did.  The interesting thing is that it did go down like lemonade, and it was incredibly tasty.  The scary part is they seemed like they were doing nothing to my brain cells.

Dave had driven and it was only a few miles back to the station, and I don’t think he had any more than 1-2 of these tasty drinks.

I polished off 4-5 of those things.  I felt completely in control, until I stood up. Let me assure you, I was GONE from that point on!

So we made it back to the car and the station.  Vaguely I realized I had to be on the air in less than a half hour.

I had to remind myself DON’T SWEAR, play lots of music and public service announcements.  The commercial load was also particularly heavy my first hour, then it lightened up after that.  That was the norm and I was used to it.   It was a very busy log, but I actually had enough experience to pull it off.  

I DON’T recommend anyone attempting this because it may be the last show you ever do in your career.  But I was always willing to live on the edge back then.

I stayed late after the show (as I often did) to finish some production that needed to be on air the next morning.  By the time I headed home, the effects of the alcohol were largely gone, but the next day, I remembered almost NOTHING of what went on during that show.  Did I put any callers on the air?  Don’t know.  I apparently did not miss a single spot including the live ones, met all the network breaks, etc.

I was talking to our News Director at the station the next day.  He had heard that Dave and I “had a few” the previous afternoon and he had heard my show.

It is likely that he tuned in specifically to hear the fun!

Anyway, “Mr. News Director” didn’t notice much difference
(apparently I was NOT slurring words too noticeably).  

 We did have a contest called “Easy Street,” which was basically a 30 second live read a few times an hour.  His only comment was that I “did a FIVE MINUTE ‘Easy Street’  spiel!”

Of course, I remember NOTHING of that! The whole airshift was a blur.

I just know when you work in radio for a while at a busy station, you think on your feet.  Show prep is important, but knowing how to be a “host” and keep the show moving, completely off the top of your head – is something I did know how to do, because otherwise you DIDN’T EVEN GET HIRED back then.

I had listened to (and been hired by) the best in the business.  If the equipment malfunctioned, we knew how to IMMEDIATELY jump in and often the listener never even knew.

In my drunken stupor (don’t ask me how), I STILL (allegedly) managed a professional demeanor because doing my job was second nature.  I could “wing it” skipping show prep, because I constantly listened to other stations, read newspapers (including supermarket rags) and there was ALWAYS something to talk about.  I especially knew the music inside and out, and if I wanted, could hit the post on every single song without even looking at timers.

I had a “spiel” and a “schtick” that was a little different from the way I am in person, but  (apparently) I could also operate on “auto-pilot”, and almost no one was the wiser.


I got through an airshift undetected completely smashed and oblivious to my surroundings because radio was – and still is – my passion.    

I’m not particularly proud of those moments.  That was in fact, the ONLY time I was ever on the air intoxicated on an FCC licensed station, but it is one of many amusing times I lived through.

At the time, Art Versnick was our Program Director, who has since been in broadcast management for several years in Ohio.  Overall, Art was a really good guy to work for.

Thank you Art, for not finding out about my “kamikaze” incident, but especially for putting up with and encouraging my creative whims during those years.

Yet another drunken moment engineers would appreciate, that did NOT involve me:

A good friend would be at the transmitter twisting dials, completely and hopelessly drunk.  “I can tune the plates no matter how drunk I am!”  he would brag…and the tubes inside would be going through various shades of orangey red.  He knew if he blew them, it would be money straight out of his pocket… but he never did. 

R.I.P. Tom Fitzek.

The lesson here is to have as much fun as possible, but do as I say, not as I did!



Kamikaze recipe

(don’t be a jerk, use at your own risk, and never drive or operate heavy machinery after consuming this stuff)


Serve in: Old fashond glass

Alcohol (as typically mixed):  27%

1-3 ounces vodka

1 ounce triple sec

1 ounce lime juice