“Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Insomniac thou never wert.”
Long John, Silver-Tongue
GONE are the nights when insomnia meant hours of sleeplessness. That never did fit me; knowing my quota to be five hours I read until midnight, and sleep comes promptly, often catching me with light and radio on. My favorite program was the American Airlines’ music, but with the perversity inherent in radio channels, it shifted one night last fall and I awakened to hear a man answering a phone. All I recall of that first program was my feeling that it was odd, but my curiosity was aroused and at intervals I’d tune in.
What I heard is “Party Line,” moderated by Long John Nebel, which is on WOR (710) from midnight to 5:30 a.m. every morning except Monday. The night-time listening area claimed for WOR is twenty-five states, and I am sorry for the other twenty-three. The program is just two to six men sitting around talking. An occasional woman appears but women lack the stamina for sustained conversation; I recall one woman guest thought it was an hour program and when the hour was up she went home! Whereas two weeks ago some of the men panelists sat in a car at a subway entrance for two more hours discussing the “talking mongoose story” which had not been thrashed out to their full satisfaction in five hours!
The ever-changing panel includes screwballs and intellectuals, and every intermediate degree. Subjects are just as varied; the list is topped by “flying saucers,” but others too, get a thorough analysis. Many times the discussion is serious, as on cancer and fluoridation (last night two editors of Dell paperbacked books canvassed their own and writers’ problems), but more often it centers on spiritualism, telepathy, reincarnation, astrology, and teleportation (the transportation of a person or object thru time and space by mental means). Guests have been believers and disbelievers, (both groups often vehement) in all the above, plus science-fiction writers, mentalists, hypnotists, and cranks.
At first I thought Long John was on the zany shift, but with a few nights of listening I noticed he was asking the panel the very questions that were occurring to me and I realized that he has an expansive curiosity, like that of an intellectual child, which draws people out.
The programs which evoke the most response feature Howard Menger, a sign painter from Highbridge, New Jersey, who has direct connection with Venus. He entertains visitors from that planet, has seen about 100 flying saucers always by daylight, and has even taken a trip in one. One night he was to be on but failed to show; it developed his Venusian friends wanted a conference. He seems utterly sincere, but like Long John, I don’t “buy” the story that they are from another planet. Plenty others have seen flying saucers; I know two reputable ajays who have. I’d like to feel our government is secretly developing them. I suspect L.J. thinks the same, and certainly his program has forced some official recognition of UFO (unidentified flying objects).
The funniest program – if you can call conversation a program – was a series on fluoridation which was a very hot issue in New York. A dentist friend of L.J’s was the guest and a doctor called to ask to sit on the other side of the question, then another doctor came to oppose him. At times L.J. became a referee, and we were given music while Long John soothed the embattled participants.
The most exciting series was one I never heard ended. I have a nasty habit of falling asleep, due mostly to the fact that the station faded here in the mountains, and sometimes for half-an-hour I could not get it back. After missing, for the third time, the explanation of “darrows” (sp?) – they seem to be urban troglodytes – I had Martin attach additional antenna, so when I keep awake I keep the station.
This particular series started when some man called in while a young mentalist was on the show, and put on an amazing display of mind-reading via telephone. Long John was excited, there was no faking the fact. The hoax – if it did turn out to be such – was kept up for some nights, but I had to miss the denouement and now Long John never mentions it. So I don’t know if the hoaxer was the Amazing Randi, a semi-regular who was my chief suspect.
Long John is sixty four, and six feet four; a former carnival and street-corner pitchman, and a “super-salesman,” which is how he got this program. He surpasses Godfrey; one night a panelist challenged him to do an ad lib commercial for a straight razor which was so convincing that I wondered why anyone uses electric razors. I appreciated it the more because only two days before I had to give a three minute talk on one minute’s notice.
Handset in 10-pt. Kennerley body type, distributed through the mailing bureaus, and to interested friends, in pursuit of my favorite hobby of Amateur Journalism. This issue is concerned with other interests of mine – radio and conversation – and is dedicated to the first man – after Ray Albert – who could out-talk me.
Shady Acre, Roanoke, Virginia
For the National Amateur Press Association
and United Amateur Press Association of America