Wide Wide Blog

“No wider than the heart is wide…”

I was working on another post for today until I remembered that October 16 is a special day. For it was on this date in 1955 that Dave Garroway welcomed us to Wide Wide World. The ambitious program, which had aired as a special presentation earlier in 1955, made its regularly-scheduled debut on October 16.

Not much Wide Wide World footage is available, and not even the entirety of the debut is out there to see. But about 60 out of those first 90 minutes is available, starting below. Take the time to watch it, and think about how the remotes we take for granted today seemed like a miracle in 1955.

Another time capsule

Time got away from us here at Garroway At Large World Headquarters, and the Wide Wide Blog has suffered as a result. Last week I had to take a trip to conduct research on my other project. (Maybe I’ll write something about that project in a future post. It’s pretty interesting.)

To make up for my absence, here’s a really big present for you. Perhaps the best way for you to get a glimpse of what the Garroway magic was like, as it happened, is to unplug yourself from the present, journey back to November 1957, and enjoy Garroway and friends in long form. (Note: the title gets it wrong – that’s Kokomo Jr. and not Muggs – but don’t let that distract you.)

Convention report!

I’m happy to say the Garroway at Large delegation to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is now home after a successful and fun visit. While it was an intense two days or so, and while it was much less time than I’d have liked to spend there, it was well worth the effort.

The journey started for me at the nearest airport providing direct flights to Baltimore. It was a brief but pleasant flight up. Then at the Baltimore airport, it was off to the light rail station for what turned out to be a long ride out to Hunt Valley. As it happened, the light rail trip was longer than the flight up. At Hunt Valley itself, I found that my estimate of the place via Google Maps was mistaken, and that walking from the light rail station to the hotel took some inventiveness. A couple times I crossed myself up. But, eventually, I got there.

The Hunt Valley Delta Hotel is a sprawling hotel. It reminds me a lot of the Doubletree across from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: a lot of jogs and doglegs connecting various wings. But, like my memories of countless nights at the SeaTac Doubletree, if you’re fortunate in which room you draw, you feel like you’re staying in a nicely secluded place, and the rooms are pretty nice. I was very happy with my room, which was at the end of a corridor and had a view of a peaceful courtyard. It was certainly a nice place to unwind after a busy and slightly weird day of travel.

The next morning I headed downstairs to the convention. Now, having recently helped plan and run a large national convention, I know what the organizers of something like this are up against. And if anything went wrong while I was there, I certainly could not tell. There were plenty of volunteers on hand, all wearing bright shirts, ready to help (and staying busy helping in a hundred ways large and small). I encountered no difficulties of my own, and I didn’t see anything go off the rails in the time I spent on the convention floor. This convention was competently run and everyone I encountered seemed happy.

The hallways and one ballroom were given over to the vendors. I’ll show you a few photos, and perhaps your billfold will run in the corner and hide when you see it’s possible to find just about anything and everything there:

Here’s one of the hallways. Many vendors emphasized items related to the many celebrity guests; you could buy, for instance, that Annie poster and have Aileen Quinn sign it. (Wasn’t it only yesterday, by the way, it was 1982 and the film version of Annie was everywhere? Aileen Quinn was all over just about every magazine cover when I was a kid. And all of a sudden I’m in a vendor room and I look over and there’s a grown-up Aileen Quinn signing autographs, and I’m reminded again how time flies in this small world of ours.)

Entering the ballroom where more vendors were set up. Some of the guest celebrities were signing in here; other tables hosted some of the most amazing collections of this-and-that you could find. My wallet was not immune.

Here’s another view. Wouldn’t you just enjoy trying to get that framed art on the airplane back home? Heh.

And, this being a convention for fans of pop culture, there’s no shortage of opportunities to indulge your geekery. This particular display had a steady stream of takers.

Here’s a few wares that I found particularly interesting:

Some of those caricatures are better than others. But that one of Ray Bradbury is truly for the ages.

I grew up a Twilight Zone fan and understood what these were supposed to be. But, so help me, the only thing I could think of was a certain stanza of this song.

I’m still kicking myself for not buying this.

But the convention isn’t just about the merchandise. (It isn’t?) Nope. There are panels, presentations, movies and rare programs for the viewing, re-enactments of radio programs. Here, for instance, is a presentation by author Johnny Ray Miller about his research into The Partridge Family.

Another session featured Jeremy Ambler, Cindy Williams, Gary Conway and Dawn Wells discussing their experiences on iconic television series:

(Forgive the pixelation on this; I was at the back of the room when I took this and the next one, and the zoom on the iPhone was screaming for mercy.) This session was particularly fun. Cindy Williams shared a couple of very sweet stories about working with Robin Williams. And Dawn Wells is a hoot. If you ever get to see her, do so.

That collection of pixels depicts Shirley Jones about to take questions from the audience. I didn’t have any interactions with any of the celebrities and really wasn’t around them – the most I did was pull myself to one side in a crowded hallway to let one of them through – but from everything I saw at the signing tables and in the seminars, all the celebrity guests were grateful for the fans’ interest and interacted with them kindly.

While it was neat seeing a few famous faces, the real reason I was there was to meet people and make connections. And I met some nice folks along the way. Novelist John French was very generous with his advice on getting started in fiction, crime writing in particular, and I had him sign a couple books for me (and yes, I bought them when he signed them. Look, make your own jokes on your own blog, will you?).

There were some folks I was really hoping to meet, and I met two of the most important. One of them was Mitchell Hadley, of It’s About TV. I met up with him and his wife on Thursday morning. I wish I could tell you about our conversation, but I would have trouble describing it because (a) I don’t think 90 minutes have ever elapsed so quickly in my life, (b) we all got one another’s references on even the most obscure things about so many topics – I mean, how does a conversation that starts out talking about Dave Garroway wind around to us talking about Jimmy Clark and Swede Savage? – and (c) it was just so much fun that putting that conversation into words just would not do. I think at least half of those 90 minutes were consumed by laughter. Having only known Mitchell through his blog and through e-mail, it was great not only to put a face with the name, but to have so much fun and connect so quickly on so many levels (and to find his wife is as much fun as he is)…that was a treat.

The other really good meet-up I had? That was with Carol Ford, who was there promoting her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. In two really good conversations I had with her, Carol shared the lessons she’d learned while working on the book, and gave me several pointers on how to make the process less stressful for everyone involved. And I brought home a signed copy of the book, too, which I am reading and enjoying. There’s a prevailing perception about Bob Crane that’s been reinforced through the years by various stories, a motion picture, and countless tasteless jokes. Ford’s massive, incredibly well-sourced book looks at Crane as a complete human being, and works to put his story into an appropriate context. In my conversations with her, I told her I was interested in how her book handled Crane’s complex story, because we’re dealing with a complicated and sensitive story in writing about Dave Garroway. Carol was incredibly generous with her time and advice, and I am deeply grateful; as I read the book, I am learning not only how to handle such a subject, but I am also enjoying it. (Get yourself a copy, too. And now. You won’t regret doing so.)

What else did I bring home? Well, what good would it be if I spoiled the surprises now? Suffice to say that I found a few Garroway-related items; not many, but just enough to help deplete my cash supply.

Soon, it was time to get back up to the room and prepare for a really early departure. After too few hours of rest, it was out the door and waiting for the ride back to BWI. As I waited out front at 5 am, I caught a glimpse of vendor tables slumbering in the wee hours.

And all too soon, my ride was here; off to the airport, and soon I was headed home.

The world stands out on either side — no wider than the heart is wide;
Above the earth is stretched the sky — no higher than the soul is high.

It was too brief, yes, but it was too much fun. And I’ll be back soon. With some luck, it’ll be with a completed book.

Thanks to everyone who made this convention possible for everyone, and special thanks to everyone who made it extra special for me. And if you’ve never been to one of these, give it some thought. As a satisfied customer, I think you’ll be happy if you attend.

Live from Hunt Valley

Good evening from the host hotel of the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I’ll post a fuller report when I’m home (in the interests of traveling light, the laptop stayed home and my touch-typing skills don’t translate to an iPad at all). And even if I could only be here only one day, I’ve managed to pack a lot in: several sweeps of the vendor room, a couple or three of the seminar and panel discussions, and a few really good conversations. In particular, Carol Ford, who co-wrote an outstanding biography of Bob Crane, was especially generous both with her time and with the lessons she learned while working on that book. The other really big highlight was an incredible, wide-ranging and completely fun conversation with Mitchell Hadley and his wife. Between those two conversations alone, this trip was worth the cost – and everything on top of that is a bonus.

There will be more to come, once I’m back home and have had time to sort through everything. Meanwhile, in the morning I will have to rise when Garroway would have, for mine is the first plane back to where I’m from (or as close to it as Southwest flies direct from here, anyhow). See y’all on the other side.

On the road again

Brief update: I’m well north and east of Irma, and well inland too. Friends and relatives in Florida report they’re safe, and that’s what matters most. We’ve had remnants range out our way, bringing a lot of rain and some wind, but nothing I haven’t seen before; we haven’t been hit the way other areas in our state have been. My husband and I are safe and dry, the power and Internet and satellite TV have all stayed on (knock wood), and our two cats have aggressively napped through it all. We are fortunate, but there have been many who have lost much, if not everything. Keep them in your thoughts, always.

Looking ahead: If all continues to go as hoped I will be headed out Wednesday morning to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I’ll only be there for Thursday (you can mainly thank a tighter budget than I’d like), but I’m looking forward to making the most of my time there, making a few contacts, and putting some faces with some names I know. And, of course, scouring the vendor room for items I can’t live without – related not only to Garroway, but to any of the 17 million other things I’m interested in.

If you’re planning to be there and want to say hello, drop me a note. And if you’re not…if I get a chance, I’ll post from the convention, and if I don’t I’ll write about it when I get back. And, of course, if I find anything interesting that relates to Dave Garroway, you’ll find out about it here! Stay tuned.

That’s three down and seven to go

Sorry there hasn’t been much activity of late. A competing book project with a December due date has been diverting attention from Dave Garroway. (Don’t worry, though – more material came in today, and it’s great stuff.)

In the meantime, there’s few better ways to relax than a vintage episode of What’s My Line? And while just about any episode is guaranteed fun, here’s one that’s especially enjoyable, for obvious reasons.

The Starmaker

One of the most iconic things about the early days of Today is unmistakable here:

As much an icon as Dave’s glasses or his bow tie, it’s that big microphone he wore in those early years.

Wanna see one?

Meet the RCA BK-4A “Starmaker.” Last year I was fortunate to acquire this one, and it’s got an interesting history of its own. We’ll get to that in a moment.

RCA didn’t make the BK-4A for very long. But when it debuted in 1950, this was an incredible achievement. Unlike the Altec “Coke-bottle” microphone, which was part of a system, the Starmaker was self-contained; just plug the cable in and go.

RCA made great promotional hay about the BK-4A being a “vanishing” microphone. Unlike the larger RCA 44 or 77 microphones, a singer or speaker could use a BK-4A and not have their face concealed in a head-on shot. (Although I take exception to RCA’s insistence that the Starmaker was “little larger than a big fountain pen.” At 12 inches in length…just how big were the fountain pens they were using in Camden back then?)

The Starmaker was designed for use on television, and that accounts for that dark silver color. RCA called it “TV Gray.” Sometimes you’ll see an RCA 77 in this color, too. Bright silver finishes reflecting the intense studio lighting played havoc with television cameras, and this non-reflective finish made life so much easier. In the case of the Starmaker, it also helped the microphone blend in against a necktie, scarf or jacket.

The Starmaker had a small grille at the top of a long barrel. It doesn’t look like much, but if you’ve heard audio from those early Today programs, you know these microphones did an excellent job against the clatter of a busy newsroom.

At the bottom of the microphone there’s a threaded adapter for a mic stand. It also unscrews, allowing other fittings as needed. Since Garroway and company needed to move around in the RCA Exhibition Hall, NBC constructed those wire hoops with angled mounting brackets that you see in the archival photos. Someday if I can get happy about how they were designed, I’ll construct one for this mic. The Starmaker weighs about a pound, and after three hours it must have felt good to take that hoop off at the end of a day’s telecast. Dave and company also had to mind that long cable, lest they snare themselves on-air.

I don’t know about you, but I sure do miss this logo, and I sure do miss when the letters “RCA” truly meant something. This little circular logo is beautifully fit into the microphone’s case. It testifies to the care and pride RCA put into its design and manufacture.

The most intriguing aspect of my BK-4A is this rollmark on the back. What stories could this microphone tell? Could this have been the one Garroway wore that morning in January 1952? Or did Jack Lescoulie wear it, speaking those very first words into it that morning? Or was it Jim Fleming’s microphone? Many’s the time I’ve wished this microphone could tell me its story, the people who spoke into it, the programs it was on. But it enjoys keeping its secrets.

Fortunately, according to the seller, it’s still a functional microphone. It has about 25 feet of cable and its old Cannon UA-3-12 connector. I have no interest in rewiring this microphone – it’s too significant – but there are folks who make XLR adapters for obsolete Cannon connectors. And I do have access to a very good production room. So there’s a chance this microphone will live again. (Side note: how neat would it be to have an audio version of the Garroway book that was recorded using this mic? It could happen.)

For more on the BK-4A I recommend the Modesto Radio Museum’s very nice write-up, and this page has not only some nice photos of a restored Starmaker but also a modern clip that lets you hear how this microphone sounds in use.