This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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SOUND EFFECTS IN EARLY RADIO HAD SOME SURPRISES
by Jack French
(From Radio Recall, December 2004 - originally from October 1996)
Back in the early days of radio, the imaginative powers of the sound effects personnel were called upon daily. A few specialized sounds required the sound effects man to engage in mild punishment to himself. For example, an alley fight in the script would make the sound man put his palms together, pummel his chest, and then fall down on his knees, while cuffing his wrist and elbow to simulate body blows.
Creating the sound of a baby bird or chick pecking his way out of an egg was difficult until they hit upon the idea of breaking a ping pong ball and scraping the edges together.
Some of the problems in sound effects were caused by the actors, i.e. the ones who “walked through doors” before the sound of the door opening, or the other actors who started talking on the phone before the sound man took it off the cradle.
Occasionally a harried sound man might read the script too quickly and miss the actual meaning. One hapless sound man, quickly reading the script saw “Dogfight Sound” and he began producing growling and barking noises. The irate director pointed out the next line: “Two airplanes, 5,000 feet.”
Ace sound man at Mutual, Barney Beck, recalls one of the funniest flubs, which occurred on Nick Carter, Master Detective. During a live show, the script called for three gunshots, after which Nick and Patsy would find a dead body in the next room. The sound man had a full chamber of blanks, but the gun jammed after the first shot. The woman playing Patsy changed her line and said, “Nick, I heard a shot!” The director breathed a sigh of relief at her ability to cover for the two missing shots.
However, the actor playing Nick was too intent on his script. After the audience heard running steps and a door opened, Nick announced, “There he is...poor guy...two slugs in the chest and one in the head.”