Classic radio's splendid showcase still shines at 40

March 1, 2010

Steve Darnall

When the great Chuck Schaden announced he was retiring last spring, I didn't know what would happen to my Saturday afternoons. For 39 years -- no matter where I was or what I was doing -- I always managed to spend at least part of the day between 1 and 5 p.m. listening to the guru of old-time radio bring back to life the golden age of Jack Benny, "The Shadow," "Fibber McGee and Molly" and the rest of the gang.

I need not have worried. Although Schaden stepped down in June from "Those Were the Days," he didn't let his faithful audience down. Instead, he put his weekly show into the capable hands of Steve Darnall, the same devoted fan to whom Schaden had entrusted publication of his Nostalgia Digest magazine four years earlier. And just as Darnall has kept up the high standards Schaden set in print, he's proven to be the perfect successor to the Radio Hall of Famer on the air. "Those Were the Days" continues to engage, amuse and delight listeners of all ages every Saturday afternoon on the College of DuPage's WDCB-FM (90.9) and online at wdcb.org

To celebrate the 40th‚ anniversary of the show, Darnall will host a special live broadcast April 24 from the College of DuPage, reuniting Schaden with longtime "Those Were the Days" announcer Ken Alexander. Other guests will include Will Clinger (of "Wild Chicago") and Tim Kazurinsky (of "Saturday Night Live"), who'll participate in re-creating some golden radio moments, as well as The West End Jazz Band and songwriter Robbie Fulks. Tickets for the event are $10 and are available by calling (630) 942-4200.

Of the upcoming festivities -- and the legacy he's inherited -- Darnall said:

"For my part, I've always described 'Those Were the Days' as a party. I was honored when Chuck Schaden asked me to keep this party‚ going in 2009, and I'm delighted for the chance to celebrate this milestone with the man -- and the audience -- that made it possible."

In the two weeks leading up to the special -- on April 10 and 17 -- "Those Were the Days" will salute "Windy City Sounds," national shows that originated from Chicago, including "Little Orphan Annie," "The Quiz Kids" and "National Barn Dance."

Another way Darnall is marking the milestone is by publishing two different covers for the spring issue of Nostalgia Digest. It's a first in the magazine's 36-year history. One, honoring the 40th‚ anniversary of 'TWTD' (and featuring Schaden, Alexander and Darnall along with a cast of old-time radio characters), will go to subscribers. The other, honoring the 100th birthday of radio legend Norman‚ Corwin (and featuring a portrait of him by comic book legend Alex Ross), will be distributed on newsstands and in bookstores nationwide. Both editions will be out later this month.

After spending much of the past year cataloging for donation or sale some 15,000 vintage radio shows and 4,200 photographs, Schaden, 75, is enjoying a busy retirement with his wife, Ellen. "I do miss not being on the air every week, but I don't miss the deadlines or the pressures," he reports. "I usually listen to 'TWTD' every Saturday, and when we're away, I hear the replay on the Web." As for his successor, Schaden praises Darnall for doing "an excellent job," adding:

"I'm delighted that he's‚ bringing the show into the 40s.‚ He has‚ been faithful to the longtime established format, and yet he adds his own special touch. I knew from the time we first spoke about passing the torch that he would be perfect for the show and he‚ sure was.‚  He has a great rapport with Ken Alexander and some of the regulars who participate, such as‚ Bob Kolososki and Karl Pearson. I know the 'TWTD' support staff likes him, too . . . they refer to him‚ as 'the new guy.' "

While looking forward to appearing on the 40th‚ anniversary broadcast in April, Schaden isn't stopping there: "Maybe I'll be invited back‚ when Steve does the 50th anniversary show in 2020!" I hope I'll be there too, Chuck.

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