Friday, August 11, 2017

The Jarlsberg Diaries: Voices In My Head

The use of the name "Halburton" was coincidental, and does not imply Dick Cheney's endorsement.
Between home construction and threats of nuclear annihilation, I'm throwing another curveball your way today - although as always, I hope you'll find it a fun one!

As I've mentioned here in the past, for many years I was a radio writer and producer, and sporadic voiceover artist - always with an inclination toward comedy. I love the medium of sound, love old time radio, sound effects, theater of the mind, and all the rest. Frankly, it's a mystery that I'm not already doing some kind of podcast.

In any event, when I wasn't writing, reading, and recording funny commercials in the radio station's production room, I was doing my own nutty projects...a pattern which would pretty much define the rest of my working life, continuing right up through today.

With all of that being said, I present this 4 minute opus called "Mr. Halburton & Little Scotty: The Ventriloquist Act." Every voice you hear is mine. It's probably safe for work, albeit weird. And there's no real picture with this video: it's meant to be enjoyed as a "theater of the mind" piece.

I recorded that over 30 years ago when there was no such thing as digital audio. We used reel-to-reel tape machines (not even multi-track), and editing was done with grease pencils, razor blades, and sticky splicing tape. Sound effects were played "live" during the recording from turntables and cart machines (radio equipment that looked like old 8-track tapes and players for your car).

It was while working at this radio station that I met Richard Stone (who was doing the audio production when I signed on, and who taught me the craft). We became close lifetimes friends - and giggling idiots in the studio - until he passed away far, far too early. He eventually won multiple Emmys for composing wonderful music for television and film, and is best known for his "Carl Stalling" type musical creations which backed the beloved "Animaniacs" cartoon series (along with other projects from Warner Brothers). One of my fondest memories is of watching Rich direct the Warner Brothers Orchestra as they recorded his music.

The character of "Little Scotty" was actually born in a session in which I was just ad-libbing with Rich. I did a very sad (but painfully funny) monologue about him having something called "Blochner's Syndrome," a mysterious but incurable illness. Who knew that 30 years later I'd still be exploring the same vein of humor in "Johnny Optimism?"

Anyway, advertising and audio production took me to Dallas and eventually opened the door for something a little bigger...which then opened the door for something substantially bigger. But those are stories for another day.

For now, I still love creating audio and keep promising myself I'll get back to it. 

Maybe right after all the home renovations and, from the looks of things, a brief nuclear war.


  1. I love it. You're a man of Many talents.
    And after renovating a large portion of 170 year old plantation house, I sympathize with present situation.

  2. Bravo, Bravo I never even saw your lips move ......but I doubt you would have wasted whiskey on THAT dummy .....

  3. "reel-to-reel tape machines (not even multi-track), and editing was done with grease pencils, razor blades, and sticky splicing tape."

    Boy, does that take me back! Many hours spent that way in my early days in professional theatre!

  4. Thanks for the early morning laugh. Perfect way to start the day.

  5. So much talent, so little time.
    Funny stuff.

  6. Thanks for that!

    I too love old time radio. This brings back memories of listening to the radio in my Dad's pickup truck on the way home from the baseball game in "the city" 60 years ago.


  7. Loved it Stilton! I will file it right next to Sky King and Sergeant Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

  8. Too cool! You are indeed a of many, many talents!

    I'm a bit younger than some proclaiming their love for radio shows, I guess, but I remember borrowing cassette tapes (Hey, Dad - what're those) from the Garden City Public Library and consuming the likes of The Green Hornet and Inner Sanctum to name just two. I also recall that we were on the fringe of a radio station that had a radio theater program on after my bedtime. I'd huddle up under the blankets with my trusty transistor radio and an earphone (Hey, Dad - was it Bluetooth?) and let their show bloom in my imagination as I drifted off to sleep. Only other specific I remember about that station was that the show usually came on after the Red Wings game... Maybe Pete recalls.

  9. Odd - Between "a" and "of" in the preceding comment was "Insert appropriate non-gender specific term here". Ah, well. Jokes no good if you have to amend it...

  10. @Chef621: ...and Sgt. Preston would give this order to his lead dog: "On King; On, you Huskies."Anticipating my 80th birthday next month, I well remember these radio shows...especially the soap operas, Don McNeill and the Breakfast Club, The Shadow, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, The Buster Brown Gang (Froggy-the-Gremlin, Midnight-the-Cat, Smilin' Ed McConnell), and so many other pre-TV shows than there is space to list here.

    Now where did I put that Captain Midnight decoder ring and my Straight Arrow arrowhead that glowed in the dark......

  11. You should see if the Communists at NPR will let you do a "Theater of the Mind" Show. I'm 71 and still remember the old radio shows. Vietnam and other hotspots never ruined my childhood memories. I have a collection of Charley Chan DVDs. Restored and enhanced. AWESOME! It's like being nine years old again. Old Doctor WHO episodes too. Thanks for the memories.

  12. Hey, thanks for the look back - Scotty was great...


  13. Actually, this reminded me more of Firesign Theater than anything else; think Georgie Tirebiter ...

  14. @Diogenes Sarcastica- I would imagine that plantation house presented a far greater challenge than I'm facing. On the other hand, YOU end up with a cool plantation house!

    @REM1875- I was always amused by the fact that Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were huge on radio. The idea of a ventriloquist on the radio is just inherently funny to me, the same as presenting a juggler or mime. Although I DO own a full-length album called "The Best of Marcel Marceau" (honest!). Each side of the album is 25 minutes of silence, followed by riotous applause.

    @Richard Quigley- Yeah, we were doing it oldschool. I'm astounded that these days full fledged recording and audio editing software (not to mention VIDEO studio capabilities) exist in smart phones.

    @Alan- Glad you enjoyed it!

    @Judi King- "So little time"?! Has Hillary put out a hit on me?!

    @Anonymous- Radio is still a more magical medium to me that TV or even the Internet. When I was about 5 years old (ie, 60 years ago) I had a little crystal radio shaped like a rocket ship. No batteries or other electricity - just hook an alligator clip to something metal, and put a single earphone in. Like I said: magic.

    @chef621- Great stuff, that!

    @Spec-Ops Medic- THAT...WAS...WONDERFUL!

    @Emmentaler- I'm too young to have directly experienced the glory days of Old Time Radio, though have been catching up as fast as I can for decades. If you go to the public domain site, you can find thousands upon thousands of old radio series: Lights Out, Suspense, Vic & Sade (a personal favorite), Amos & Andy (just to piss off the liberals), Inner Sanctum, Dragnet, and more, more, more.

  15. Stilton, forgot to tell you that I loved the audio. The laugh track that underlined Scotty's quips was great! A shame that you didn't appear in Vegas; Rodney Dangerfield would have had some REAL competition! Anyway, thanks for the memories.

  16. I don't know about HRC, anything's possible with her. I meant you have so much talent to give us that it doesn't seem there would be enough time to do it all.

  17. Well, that was fun. How old are you Stilt? And then a completely different question: How old are the jokes? Ongoing good luck with the inside work.

  18. @Alfonso Bedoya- I continue to believe these "theater of the mind" radio shows were grander and more colorful than anything we see with our eyes instead of our imaginations. And hey, I've got a September birthday coming up too - though I'm trailing you by a few years!

    @Sniperbait66 RVN- Do you have Charlie Chan radio shows or the movies? Either way, I'd dive right in. The site I mentioned above ALSO has scads of public domain movies (most NOT enhanced and restored) for free. Check out Peter Lorre as "Mr. Moto."

    @Tracy Evans- Thanks for listening!

    @David A. Fox- Of course, Firesign Theater was a HUGE influence on me back in the day. And I still love those wonderful records with their radio in-jokes: "Come in out of the cornstarch and dry your mukluks by the fire." (For those not in the know, on radio the sound of footsteps in the snow was created by squeezing a box of cornstarch.)

    @Alfonso Bedoya- I never got anywhere near Vegas, but did do some stand-up comedy back in the day. Another tale for another day.

    @Judi King- Whew! That's a relief!

  19. Not too late in your remodel to add a small recording studio. Possibly in a bathroom shower for great acoustics?

  20. Now you've done it. Cat's out of the bag. We, your legions of faithful fans, will start and never stop clamoring for podcasts. WE WANT PODCASTS! PODCASTS! PODCASTS!!!!!!!!!

  21. @Bobo- Actually, a bathroom shower would have really bad acoustics for recording. It's great for singing in the shower, but bad for recording voices cleanly (ironically enough). What you really want is for a studio to be "dead" - meaning no reflective surfaces to bounce sound around. That's why most studios have foam rubbery acoustic baffles pointing every which way.

    These days, when I'm doing semi-professional recording, the best place is in my master closet - where all of the hanging clothes nicely deaden any ambient sound.

  22. @Old Cannonballs- Maybe one of these days. I've already got all of the production music (13,800 tracks) and sound effects (7, 865 tracks) in the world.

  23. Emmentaller - I vaguely recall something, and this sounds familiar...

    Current CBS affiliates include WWJ 950 (all news, current format, and pretty good signal) and 1270, sports talk, and limited power, I think.

  24. I remember standing next to my mother as she washed dishes (I was too young even to help.) as she listened to The Guiding Light. Of course that was back in the old days when it was an inspirational soap opera, not the miasma of disgusting behavior it eventually degenerated into.

  25. @Pete (Detroit)- The CBS Radio Mystery Theater was an attempt to do OTR type stories in the 1970's (if I recall correctly), hosted by EG Marshall. I listen to them frequently when trying to fall asleep, but the truth is they're not really as good as their older counterparts. Still, they tend to be clearer than the recordings from the 30's and 40's. Lots of them can be found for free right here.

    @graylady- Isn't it funny how many sources of entertainment gave us good moral instruction back in the day, and sad how few do it now?

  26. Stilton you are funny and a great voice to boot. Kind of reminds me of a teacher in college. He was in the radio business in his youth and he had a great voice, we all enjoyed listening to his lectures. He told us for his interview at CBS they put him into a room with a microphone, a tape recorder and no windows. They said; “there is a parade that is stopped, you are on the air, let’s have NO DEAD air” he had to talk for about an hour. Yes, he got the job.
    We didn’t have a TV until I was about 6 or 7. Our neighbor got one with a four inch in yellow screen. I didn’t see a color TV until I returned home from overseas in late 1966. We always enjoyed the radio shows.

  27. @Joseph ET- There was a time when I could have probably filled air time with no dead air, but that was when my synapses were 40 years younger. Though I could probably hold my ground with a "morning crew" of people to help share the load (did I ever mention I wrote jokes for morning jocks that were nationally syndicated? Again, another day...)

    Your mention of the parade that stopped reminded me of another thing I did at the radio station (which I may have recorded somewhere). I created an "April Fool's Day Parade" with color commentary, marching bands, and floats going by - all presented with a straight face and all completely fake. One favorite float featured the sounds of hammers and saws - it was the Procrastinator's Club.

  28. My husband worked at Ampex on analog, digital, and video recording.

  29. @Rod- Oops, didn't mean to skip over you before! I'm a few fleeting days away from turning 65. I assume all of the jokes were considerably older (grin).

    @S. B. Sweeney- Ampex?! Now there's a name that brings back fond memories of giant professional tape decks!

  30. That's Halliburton

  31. Nope. Ampex was the leader in various sorts of magnetic recording formats. They beat RCA to color videotape, disappointing Sarnoff. "Dad they stole your birthday present." though stole meant beat you to it.

  32. Bing Crosby with clear transcriptions. Les Paul with multitrack, the list goes on. Jack Sweeney was there.

  33. There's something we kinda had in common. One of my first loves was radio. As a pre-teenager, I built a bandit AM transmitter that was able to cover a small section of the neighborhood. I'd play music and skits, similar to "Mr. Halburtion & Little Scotty". Mine were produced with a collection of cassette and small open reel recorders I had collected and refurbished. (Didn't get a real 7-inch multi-track until I was in high school)

    Although not fully abandoning my interest, I never seriously perused it professionally. For one thing, my parents would have definitely discouraged it. (Their son was going to be an engineer, dammit; heaven forbid he have anything to do with that sleazy entertainment industry) For a short time in college, I had a good friend that I clicked with so well; we were a riot together ad-libbing commentary on current events and made a few recordings. Think of Rush Limbaugh as a morning zoo show. However, this was long before Rush and before overtly conservative viewpoints for an entire show was considered viable for radio. Too bad. Besides, we were already on career tracks that were paying the bills, whereas, as you know, radio often doesn't. Such is life.

    But I do reminisce fondly of those days.

  34. @Anonymous- I knew that, but since "Halburton" was a near homophone (not that there's anything wrong with that) and this is a political blog, I thought I'd make it explicitly clear.

    @S. B. Sweeney - Well, my mistake is understandable as there would always have been boxes labeled Ampex stacked up on those giant tape decks (grin). And very cool to hear about those big names!

    @John the Econ- I sometimes feel like I was born at the wrong time (albeit a very good time) with regards to the audio stuff. Too late to take part in the Golden Age of Radio, but too early to enjoy the audio tools and podcasting ability that are now available to everyone.

    I would really have enjoyed hearing that show of yours. Still would, in fact. Get thee to a podcast!

  35. Emmentaller - glad to help!

  36. @Stilton, yes, "editing" has certainly become comparatively effortless, along with the vast supply of available media content at the fingertips to mix in. But you have to admit that there's a certain amount of pride that comes with being able to say that you knew how to "edit" when it was actual work, and it took minutes-to-hours to get a single one right. The kids today haven't a clue as to how easy they have it. Same for video.

    "Get thee to a podcast!"

    Well, there's something else you can blame on Hillary. Had Hillary won, we'd already be on the fast-track to "Single Payer" and a 50% jump in income taxes, rendering the idea of a "job" largely pointless when compared to the benefit of "government benefits". I certainly would have been looking for something new to do with my time, and that could have been it.

  37. "When I was about 5 years old (ie, 60 years ago) I had a little crystal radio shaped like a rocket ship."

    Good Lord, Stilt, you too? I had one as well, but it was in the shape of a Mercury capsule. Got me started first in RF, then Ham, CB, R/C, then on to Digital electronics, programming, and finally, networks.

    You, OTOH, took a "wrong" turn and just kept going..............

    And, editing was so much fun with that tape splicer....

  38. Oh! Another great website for all of you that enjoyed old cartoons, here's some sound bites for ya: