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Friends Of Old Time Radio Gather In Newark, N.J. For One Last Convention (VIDEO)

HuffPost Weird News   First Posted: 10/16/11 06:33 PM ET Updated: 10/16/11 06:33 PM ET

From 1920 until the mid-1950s, no other medium unified America like radio.

Unlike newspapers, which were regionally focused, radio dramas like "The Lone Ranger," comedy shows like "Jack Benny" and variety shows like "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour" connected millions of Americans in a way they hadn't before.

With the advent of television, radio's impact decreased until finally in 1962, the "Golden Age of Radio" officially ended when CBS radio canceled "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," a radio drama about an insurance investigator.

Top 40, news and talk radio filled the void left by the demise of what came to be called "old-time radio," but a few vocal supporters kept, to paraphrase the opening of "The Lone Ranger," returning to the thrilling days of yesteryear by collecting tapes of old radio shows and hosting conventions where the actors on classic shows reenacted episodes live in front of an appreciative audience.

One of the most popular of those events has been the annual Friends Of Old Time Radio Convention, which, for 36 years, has attracted hundreds of people to Newark, N.J., to see, in the flesh, the people that made radio the theatre of the mind.

This year's convention takes place Oct. 20-23, but just like old-time radio faded into obscurity, so to is the Convention. This year is going to be the last, according to spokesman Sean Dougherty, 44, who has been collecting old radio shows since he was a kid in the late 1970s.

"Thirty six years is a long time to do anything," Dougherty told HuffPost Weird News. "Plus, one of the selling points has been the live performances by original actors, but now few of them are capable of performing."

Arthur Anderson would have to agree. At 89, he's been acting since 1936 when he was cast in "Let's Pretend," a popular childrens-oriented show that lasted 29 years.

"There is a bittersweet convention knowing this is the last convention, but I'm in my late 80s and my reflexes aren't as good as they once were," Anderson said.

For Anderson, who is best known for doing the voice of Lucky the Lucky Charms leprechaun for 29 years, the so-called "Golden Age" was truly golden for him, creatively and financially.

"Radio allowed me to do all sorts of roles I never would have gotten in TV or movies, such as a talking horse, or an evil king," he said. "And radio rehearsals didn't take very long so you could do six shows a day. I know some guys didn't like TV because doing a show would tie them up for a week when they could be making money."

Despite the demise of this convention, Anderson says radio dramas aren't dead. At least not outside of the U.S.

"They aren't common in the U.S. except on PBS, because no sponsors are willing to pay for them, but they are still on the BBC in England -- with full orchestra even -- and the Canadian Broadcasting Company does them as well," he said.

Dougherty also insists that there is stll life in those old broadcasts.

"The Internet has made it possible to hear more shows than ever before," he said. "Less than one percent of all the broadcasts have been saved, but there is still more available than any person could listen to in a lifetime."

Because audio dramas allow listeners to use their imaginations on the settings or the characters, some fans such as radio historian Martin Grams, Jr., 34, believe it can still thrive, despite some concessions to modernity.

"Everybody I know loves radio drama. I know one 21-year-old girl who discovered the old shows listening to Sirius XM, but the medium has changed," said Grams, Jr., who is currently researching a book on "Duffy's Tavern," a popular radio sitcom that later inspired a TV show and a movie. "For instance, they used to do special effects live, but now they use recordings."

Grams points to shows like "Prairie Home Companion" as proof that old-style radio programs will find audiences given the chance.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Old Time Radio Convention may be ending, but Grams believes many of attendees will join up with the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, an event he organizes every August or September in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

"We're not just about radio," he said. "We include TV and movies as well."

Meanwhile, Dougherty, who has been with the Friends Of Old Time Radio Convention since he discovered it in 1994, is sad about his beloved event shutting down, but hopes the final one goes out in style.

"I don't want it to be a funeral. I'd like an Irish wake," he said. "We should celebrate what we accomplished."

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