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Media – April 2020

| April 1, 2020

Steve Darnall remembers the exact moment he became obsessed with old time radio. “It was 1977, and I was driving in the car with my dad. I asked him to turn on the radio, and he turned on Chuck Shayden’s program, which aired old-time shows from the Golden Age of Radio. Dad told me that he used to listen to shows like that when he was my age. You never think of your dad as having been 12 years old himself, so that got my attention. Then the show was incredible. It was Fibber McGee and Molly (A show that ran from 1935-1959). The voices. The sound effects. The announcer. The whole package enthralled me. It was like stepping into a time machine.”

The current host of  Those Were the Days (WDCB-FM, Saturday afternoons), met Chuck Shayden just a few years later when he interviewed him for his high school radio station at Lyons Township High School. “We aired that interview on WDCB not too long ago,” he says with a laugh. “To me, it was cringe-worthy, but it certainly shows that I’ve always had that interest.”

Darnall became the publisher of  Nostalgia Digest in 2005, before officially taking over Those Were the Days in 2009. “Chuck gave it up just before the 40th anniversary, which was a little awkward for me during that 40th-anniversary celebration show. I had been doing this show for a whopping 43 weeks!”

Now in his 11th year at the helm, Darnall is firmly entrenched as the host. It’s hard to believe, but the show about the Golden Age of Radio is about to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, which means it’s been on the air longer than the entire Golden Age of Radio.

“That’s true,” Darnall says. “Most people consider 1962 as the official end of that era, and I was born in 1964. That shows you the power and quality of these shows. This entire era took place before my birth, yet most of these shows still stand up. They were the product of hundreds of incredibly talented writers, performers, musicians, and technicians. I would put the quality and writing and drama of Gunsmoke for instance, up against any program today.”

That’s right, Gunsmoke began on the radio. So did Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, Guiding Light, Father Knows Best, and scores of other shows that made the transition into television.

I wondered if some of the shows had not stood the test of time.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some shows from this era that hadn’t aged well—after all, we’re talking about 60, 70 and 80 years ago, when our perceptions as a society were different than they are today. That said, I think even the shows that are ‘of their time’ can still tell us a lot about that time. Hopefully, our audience believes — as we do — that the majority of these broadcasts are still as funny or scary or dramatic or tuneful as they were then.”

He notes that there may be an occasional topical reference to a star of the day that we no longer remember, or they may tell some incredibly corny old jokes, but some of those jokes live on in other forms.

“Aerosmith uses the joke ‘My get up and go must have got up and ‘went’ in their lyrics,” Steve points out with a chuckle. “I thought I’d get that in there for the Illinois Entertainer crowd.”

The power of these shows comes from the incredible imagination of the original creators, and in the visual images it stimulates in the minds of the listeners.  “You can’t help but be moved by it,” Darnall says. “It’s ‘theatre of the mind.’”

On Saturday, May 2, 2020 (Note: As of press date a new date is TBD)  it will become even more than that. It will become “theater of the mind” –on stage. Darnall is hosting a star-studded 50th-anniversary show at the Irish American Heritage Center (4626 N. Knox in Chicago), which will include music from great bands like the West End Jazz Band, the Flat Cats, the Dooley brothers, and Diamond Jim Greene. That music will help transport you back to a different time and place.

The event will also include live recreations of classic scripts, featuring famous voice-actors like Trace Beaulieu (Mystery Science Theater 3000), Freaks and Geeks), Tim Kazurinsky (Saturday Night Live), Rich Koz (Svengoolie), Patty McCormack (The Sopranos, The Bad Seed, Frost/Nixon), Kevin Murphy (Mystery Science Theater 3000), and Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation).

“We’ll also have quite a few local Chicago broadcasters,” Darnall promises. “I’m still finalizing that list, but it will include, of course, Hall-of-Famer Chuck Shayden (the original host of the show), and people like Dean Richards, Dag Juhlin and many other well-known voices.”

Tickets are available now (www.eventbrite.com/e/those-were-the-days-50th-anniversary-celebration-tickets-69190012189). The cost is $50, but that money goes to a good cause. “The proceeds will go to WDCB,” Darnall explains. “We owe them a debt of gratitude. When WNIB (original home of the show) went off the air (it is now WDRV—the Drive 97.1 FM), WDCB graciously offered us a new home. And we will forever be in their debt for that. With their help, we are keeping the Golden Age of Radio alive.”

They do it every Saturday afternoon from 1-5 pm on the College of DuPage radio station in Glen Ellyn, WDCB, 90.9FM.

-Rick Kampfer

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