In October of 1999, during a business trip to California, I had the opportunity to attend an exclusive private party on the retired luxury liner, the RMS Queen Mary. The former flagship of the White Star Line was reserved for this one very raucous bash. For me, parties usually involved two or three old friends and a single bottle of good wine. However, this was a fancy-pants event and because I am a plain old vanilla guy, I was now in way over my head.
My guide dog and I boarded the rowdy thousand-foot party boat. The gala host graciously assigned a staff person to walk with me and assist in my discovery of the multitude of food stations, music venues and bars. The Queen Mary had lots of bars.
As we walked along the decks and through the passageways, my human guide pointed out numerous live actors and actresses, who had been hired for the evening to impersonate famous dead ones. I was told they looked just like the originals. They also sounded and acted the same as their famous counterparts. We met with W. C. Fields, Mae West, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart.
And then, I ran into Marilyn Monroe. I had seen a couple of her films, and I was aware of her history, but I never quite understood her sex appeal. As we approached the counterfeit starlet, she whispered in her sultry and silky voice, "What kind of dog is that?"
My mouth dried up and my throat tightened. I heard my own words come out slurred and thick. "Uh, well, actually he's a Golden Retriever."
I began to sweat.
Marilyn moved in close. With a sigh, she cooed, "I'm a golden retriever, too."
Suddenly, irrevocably, thoughts of my family washed over me and I knew it was time to paddle fast. The Queen Mary would not, could not, become my Titanic. I immediately stumbled to the port side railing, gulping in lungfulls of cold ocean air. I waited for my pulse and blood pressure to drop to responsible fatherly values. OK. I now understood her allure. Thus began my fascination with the stars of old.
Shortly thereafter, my wife gave me a very thoughtful gift that has cost me a fortune in the years since. She bought me a packaged collection of 13 cassette tapes. It was the 1945 season of "The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, with Harry Bartell as the announcer. I discovered that, at least for me, old time radio was much better than film or television. It was "the theater of the mind." And, I realized that my one set of tapes was not enough. I was hooked.
I went to Barnes and Noble and bought another box of recorded cassettes. The selection included a few "Dragnet," "You Bet Your Life" and "The Burns and Allen Show." Each cassette could only hold two complete episodes, one per side. It took so many to get so little. As with all addictions, I coveted more. Much more.
My personal habits changed. Early on, I realized that I loved to sleep with my celebrity buddies. I began taking a portable cassette player to bed at night and listening to my old time radio friends. The only drawback was the occasional dent left in my side when I rolled over on top of the player in my sleep.
As I bought more and more shows on cassette tape, I finally broke down and converted my entire analog library to MP3 files. I decided it sure would be handy if I might find bunches of shows already digitized and ready to play. One of the resources I discovered was the Old Time Radio Catalog, found on the Web at OTRCAT. They sold data CDs packed with everything I wanted. I lost control of my wallet. Money flowed out, and as the disks poured in, I copied the contents to my network hard drives. Rest assured, I now have more wonderful Golden Age recordings than I can possibly listen to in a lifetime.
With my holdings finally online, I needed an MP3 player without hard edges. I found the APH Book Port. Using my desktop computer, I would periodically transfer many dozens of shows to the 2GB CompactFlash card in the device. I stored batteries in my nightstand to keep my Book Port ever ready. I enjoyed my collection through a very cheap mono ear bud. Sound quality was lackluster, but the setup was sweet.
The Book Port was my nightly companion for many years. Sadly, this perfect partner grew older and the interface began to feel inelegant. The file structure on the memory card lapsed into antiquity and I desired something younger. Fortunately, I had a recently retired iPhone 5S and it was slim and had a very soft and smooth leather cover. Time to upgrade.
The recycled iPhone 5S was ideal for the role. It had 64GB of memory on board and could connect via the net to everything I owned. This was great! I would not even have to lift my head off the pillow to load up more entertainment.
Naturally, I now required an app that would help me organize what would likely be hundreds of audio files on my iPhone and then make it easy to start and stop playback when drowsy or half-conscious. I chose Voice Dream Reader, not because it was overly simplistic, but rather because it was a full-featured product that was easy to use. I had read scores of text-based books with Voice Dream Reader and also really liked the way it handled audio file playback. In a recent update, the developer added powerful tools for maintaining identical hierarchies of files on multiple iOS devices. All I need to do is drop files that I want propagated into a special folder on my iCloud drive and Voice Dream Reader will ensure that all of my devices are synchronized. I frequently move files around from either my iPhone 6S Plus or my Mac mini. I can almost do this in my sleep.
As much as I love my nightly ritual, there are times when listening to old time radio shows are not conducive to peaceful slumber. I happen to really enjoy police and private eye shows. I spend many nights with the likes of Sergeant Ben Romero, Detective Danny Clover and Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. Back in the heyday of dramatic radio, there was no shortage of people screaming and cops barking orders. This can be a bit startling when you wear stereo EarPods to bed. And, predictably, this usually happens just as I am dozing off.
At night, I am always plugged into my bedtime iPhone. I frequently listen to news programs aired during World War II, and I thoroughly enjoy other offerings such as "Suspense," "Escape" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar." I even have an excellent collection of comedy, which includes Jack Benny and, of course, Edgar Bergen the ventriloquist, with his sidekick Charlie McCarthy. I only took exception to one of the Bergen shows, the one first broadcast on November 9, 1952. In that episode, the guest star was Marilyn Monroe and she was going to marry Charlie. It was rather disturbing. I never have figured out what she saw in that dummy.
*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University , Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.
Morgan is now happily retired again, playing his violin and writing for pleasure. Morgan has created a dozen other blogs for AppleVis, including “Small Talk: Speaking up on VoiceOver and the iPhone”, “Lesson Learned: iPhones and Orange Bugs” and “Socially Inept: Trying to make friends with Facebook”.