• U.S.

Radio: Mouths South

4 minute read

Month ago Merlin Hall (“Deac”) Aylesworth acquired the title of DRAOCCCR-BAR, New Deal for Director of Radio Activities in the Office for Coordination of Commercial & Cultural Relations Between the American Republics. In plain English: chief of the radio sector of the Hemisphere Solidarity campaign.

Deac Aylesworth’s immediate job is to let as much light as possible into the murk beclouding the average U.S. citizen’s notion of life Down There; also to see that southbound programs do not conflict, hurt anybody’s feelings or suffer from the dreary blight of what is known as “education”—in general, to make them make sense.

“The National Farm and Home Hour,” ventured the Deacon, “would not make much sense in Uruguay.” Meantime, while radio’s pioneer ringmaster (ten years president of NBC) was readying a comprehensive air program between the U.S. and Latin America, U.S. broadcasters voluntarily came forth with two of their most impressive stunts in ten years of more or less catch-as-catch-can short-waving back & forth across the Rio Grande. Initiated by the two major networks were two series of regular weekly half-hour shows.

CBS’s Calling Pan-America (4 p.m.

Saturday, E.D.S.T.) began with a broadcast from Buenos Aires and will jump each week from Latin-American capital to capital, featuring local talent which will be mostly musical but also oratorical.

Columbia’s initial effort celebrated Argentina’s 131-year-old Independence Day.

NBC for its 22 Good Neighbors shows (10:30 p.m. Thursday, E.D.S.T.) threw in Dr. Frank Black and his 60-piece orchestra, a troop of some 20 actors and the gilt-edged intonings of Announcer Milton Cross. It will broadcast from Manhattan with appropriate guest diplomats on duty in Washington, and every week the program will be tailored to a different Latin-American country.

It is safe to predict that neither program will be as sensational as the career of Wyllis Cooper, veteran radio dramaturge who writes NBC’s show. From 1933 to 1936 Radioman Cooper wrote and directed the silo-of-blood programs called Lights Out. Late at night, so children couldn’t hear them and have their little livers scared out of them, they gushed from Chicago’s WMAQ and were beyond doubt the most goose-fleshing chiller-dillers in air history. At each broadcast’s opening a deep, dark, dank voice would instruct listeners to put their lights out and settle back in their chairs, whereupon gore would commence to flow, bones to snap, screams and groans to rowel the air.

Lights Out was a sound-effects man’s paradise. On one occasion the audible illusion of a victim’s hand being smashed on an anvil had to be achieved. Everything was tried from slapping a pork chop with a cleaver to pounding wet paper with a hammer. At last came triumph: a lemon was laid on an anvil and struck with a small sledge.

Another time there was the problem of the exact noise of a man being skinned alive: pulling apart stuck-together pieces of adhesive tape was the solution. Beheading acoustics were attained by slicing cantaloupes with a cleaver. Fingers were scissored off by substituting pencils for fingers. Dropping a raw egg on a plate simulated perfectly the blup of an eye-gouging. Flowing corn syrup furnished the voop-vulp of freely flowing blood. When a mechanical giant pulled a wretch’s arm off, the leg of a cold storage chicken was pulled off beside the mike.

There were about 600 Lights Out clubs in the U.S. when Mr. Cooper stopped writing the show to go to Hollywood to do picture scripts. A Kansas City, Mo. chapter whose meeting he attended had officers and by-laws and fined any member who spoke or lit a cigaret during broadcasts.

In appearance and character Cooper belies his ghastly army of brain children.

A short roly-poly of 42, resembling nothing so much as an amiable Alexander Woollcott on a smaller scale, he is a dutiful husband,* an ardent dog-lover, an amiable drinker, and loved by his friends. Despite Latin-American fondness for the sanguine (bullfights, the annually-produced slaughter melodrama Don Juan Tenorio, the “Day of the Dead,” etc.), Cooper will not in his new job employ his weird Lights Out talent.

“This one’s in earnest,” he says.

*He changed his name from Willis to Wyllis to please his wife’s numerological inclinations.

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