A Very Special Episode

This is the fourth installment of a series. Catch with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

One of the downsides of hosting the Tuesday edition of Musical Offering was that it already had a programmer, a lovely woman whose name I no longer recall, nor can I find her name on any of the saved materials. She was the person who selected the music to be played on each episode a month or more in advance so it could be printed in the program guide. While often I found her selections excellent, sometimes they were not something that I would have chosen myself, but in any case they were were not my selections, so I didn’t feel the show was really mine; I was just the announcer.

Meanwhile, in June the Original Cast Recording of Sweeney Todd was released, and it occurred to me that I might be able to devote an entire show to it. I took my idea to Dave Zett, the station manager, and suggested that I write a letter to Sondheim using the station’s letterhead to request an interview. Dave OKed the idea, and cleared it with the woman who did the programming for my show, and we set a date for the end of August, figuring that should give plenty of time to get a reply from Sondheim and make the arrangements if he agreed (though I didn’t really expect him to say yes).

When I showed AJ the letter I wrote, he said it was too long, and reading it today I see that he was right (I should have simply kept it to a compliment about Sweeney, the fact that I was doing a show on his music, and could we arrange an interview), but I had already typed it on the WMSP stationery and I was anxious to send it off. Meanwhile, another of the WMSP volunteers, Mac Womac, heard about the project, and as it turned out his girlfriend’s cousin was Ken Jennings who played the part of Toby in the show. She arranged for me to interview him when I went to see the show again in August. (Sondheim did reply to my request; I wrote about it here.)

I drove to NYC on August 22 with my mother, sister, and brother-in-law to see a matinee performance, and afterwards we all traipsed backstage to Mr. Jennings’s dressing room for the interview which went very well. I ended up with about 45 minutes worth of material, far more than I needed for an intermission feature. (A few years ago I edited that interview, added some video, and uploaded it to YouTube, but alas, the video was from the touring company recording of Sweeney, and it has since been taken down for copyright violations. One of these days I’ll get around to posting that interview again, without the infringing video, because it does have some information that I’ve never seen elsewhere.)

Meanwhile, I recorded three promotional ads for the upcoming episode, and alas, I took some advice from Russ Neff. He said I should do at least one without music because people would tend to listen to the music rather than the content. This may have been good advice for a non-musical show, but I think my non-musical ad was the weakest of the three, and to my dismay, it was the one that was played most often. Yes, I was listening to the station regularly in the weeks before that episode. What was happening was all three ads were on the same cart, and after someone played the promo, just to make sure it was set to begin at the start of one, they would advance it to the next one, which would have been ok, except the next person to play the promo (they had a list of which promos to play and when) would advance the cart to the next one before playing it, just to make sure it would be at the start of one. The result was that most of the time it was the non-musical promo that was being played. Bummer! After I interviewed Ken Jennings, I added a fourth to promote that interview. Here are the four promos, so you can judge them for yourself. Just be warned that the audio quality has suffered after 40 years; I digitized these from a reel to reel tape about ten years ago.

I was also working on a script for the broadcast. I invited Sue Moore (remember Sue?) over to my apartment one afternoon and went over the script and played her the entire recording just as I intended to do it on the air. She loved Sondheim’s show, and she had some great advice for my script. For example, in one scene Johanna sees the bird seller from her balcony, and I had said something like “Johanna looks and sees a bird seller down below.” Well, the word “seller” in that context sounded to Sue like “cellar” so I changed it to “vendor”.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I purchased a second copy of the recording to make it easier to cue up the next selection, when I interjected a bit of narration in between numbers.

In the event the broadcast of August 28, 1979, went off quite well. I received more phone calls during the broadcast (I think three) than I did for any other episode (not counting friends calling in, of course), and I received a total of two fan letters, the only two I ever received during my stint at the station.

To be continued…

Letter to Sondheim

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