This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
Click here to return to the index of selected articles.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, ED: An event to honor the 50th anniversary of The Big Broadcast and the 24th year of Ed Walker as its host!
by By Sally Stephens © 2014
(From Radio Recall, December 2014)
For the past fifty years, Sunday nights have been a special time for WAMU listeners in the Washington, DC area. At seven in the evening, listeners anxiously tune their dials to catch The Big Broadcast and for four hours experience "classic, vintage radio." Originally called Recollections, John Hickman hosted the program from 1964 until 1990, playing shows from the Golden Age of Radio - a time that had ended only a few years prior to the program's start! With Hickman's retirement in 1990, Washington radio legend and American University alum, Ed Walker, took up his mic and carried on The Big Broadcast. In 2014, the program reached its 50th anniversary, becoming the longest running program on WAMU. Ed Walker has hosted the program for nearly half of the total time it has aired, and his name is considered almost synonymous with the popular program.
Ed Walker achieved local radio fame with his daily program with Willard Scott, The Joy Boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Blind from birth, Walker has always been a fan of radio entertainment and has felt a particular connection with the medium more than the average listener. Outside the studio, Walker has been a big supporter of keeping vintage radio preserved and available, and especially helped promote the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club (MWOTRC) in the DC-metro area. It was through this partnership that the MWOTRC and WAMU honored the 50th anniversary of The Big Broadcast and Ed Walker as host in early November.
WAMU approached MWOTRC in March about being a part of a special event to honor Walker and the program. The club heartily agreed to be involved, and the lengthy process of event planning and detail organization ensued. The event schedule would include an interview with Ed Walker, a Q&A session, a behind-the-scenes look at creating The Big Broadcast, a sound effects demonstration, and two radio recreation performances. The club was to provide the entertainment, to demonstrate and highlight the entertainment and cultural value of old-time radio programs.
Jack French, radio historian and editor of MWOTRC's Radio Recall, worked closely with WAMU Hot Jazz Saturday Night host Rob Bamberger and WAMU Manager Lettie Holman on preparing and vetting scripts for members of MWOTRC to perform on stage for the event. With Walker's agreement, the club would perform a 15–minute Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar episode, packed with action to highlight the sound effects. French also scripted a parody episode to honor Walker and the show's history, a take on The Lone Ranger, featuring the Walker Gang!
Radio historian and MWOTRC webmaster, John Abbott, took on the task of casting and directing the Johnny Dollar episode. French not only wrote the Lone Ranger parody, but was roped into casting and directing it as well. Now, both faced quite a challenge: to prepare a group of enthusiastic amateur radio actors and actresses for performing for a paying, excited audience, and for one of their radio role models in person. Not to mention, it might be recorded and aired on the radio as well!
One of the club's favorite activities is performing a radio recreation at the monthly meetings. It gets a great number of the club members involved, whether creating sound effects, acting, or directing. The performances are always fun, and a neat way to "watch" radio. In essence, this would be no different - the club would be creating all the intricate sound effects and acting in front of a group, but the scale was monumentally different. Not only would it be done on an actual stage using vintage working microphones, but costumes were involved, extensive practices were required, and timing had to be precise. The cast and crew of the two performances dedicated their time, resources, and energy to making sure the show would be a success.
The day of the event came faster than anyone could anticipate: Sunday, November 2. Everyone began gathering at the event site, Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus that morning, full of excitement and nervous energy. Actors were greeted in style, their names on stars on doors of real dressing rooms, complete with lights around the mirrors. After a full dress rehearsal on stage, reality struck. In just a few hours, over 1,000 people would be in the audience, hanging on every word and watching every sound coming from the stage. It was truly an honor to be a part of such an experience.
The event commenced without a hitch. Rob Bamberger introduced Ed Walker and the event, and the MWOTRC crew hit the stage immediately, performing the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar episode. The action-packed show was a hit, and the The Big Broadcast event was off and running. Club member and sound effects guru, Marsha Bush, conducted a fantastic demonstration of how sounds were created for radio, aided by Jack French. Mark Bush was sadly unable to join the club for the event and demonstration, but his presence and support could be heard in every door opening, window crash, and gunshot created!
Following the demonstration was a video featuring WAMU sound engineer, Tobey Schreiner and Walker preparing for the weekly broadcast. Bamberger then interviewed Walker on his extensive radio career and The Big Broadcast history. The event ended with The Lone Ranger parody, a surprise for Walker - turning him into a smooth-talking outlaw with a voice that had "great potential for radio - when and if someone invents it!"
The success of the day was not only that the performances went smoothly, that the interviews were funny and interesting, but that the event took place at all. It was an honor to be able to recognize someone who has so profoundly affected radio broadcasting and cultural history of the Washington region, and touched so many lives for twenty-four years with such a successful, family-friendly program. Walker told the MWOTRC the day was "very humbling" for him, but nothing less would have been satisfactory to respect the man we've welcomed into our homes these twenty-four years and to honor the program that has brought us such joy for the past fifty years. It just wouldn't be Sunday night if we didn't have Ed Walker on the radio. We love to spend each Sunday with you, too, Ed!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ms. Stephens grew up in Vienna, VA and has been listening to The Big Broadcast since she was ten years old. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington and the University of Massachusetts - Boston, she studied Historic Preservation and Historical Archaeology with a museum career goal. She currently substitute teaches and volunteers at the Smithsonian. Sally has been a member of MWOTRC since 2009, and has presented two original talks to the club and one to MANC.