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Parsippany seniors thrill to radio blasts from the past
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Parsippany seniors thrill to radio blasts from the past

In a May 25 Parsippany LIVE program, Rick Busciglio recalls the vintage radio programs that were once the most popular entertainment in the United States. Photos by Robert Wiener
In a May 25 Parsippany LIVE program, Rick Busciglio recalls the vintage radio programs that were once the most popular entertainment in the United States. Photos by Robert Wiener

More than 60 seniors affiliated with the Parsippany LIVE — Lifelong Involvement for Vital Elders — program returned to the thrilling days of yesteryear in the meeting room of the town’s main library earlier this spring.

In a presentation enhanced by the modern technology of PowerPoint and the humor-filled narration of Rick Busciglio, they revisited childhood memories of the radio broadcasts that had been the soundtracks of their lives in an era before television.

For more than an hour, the former disc jockey and broadcast executive flashed graphics and played excerpts of the soap operas, comedy shows, and live dramas that entertained American families from the late 1930s until the mid-1950s, “whether we were in Newark or Rockaway or Asbury Park,” Busciglio said.

Alternating sound clips and old photographs, Busciglio threw a barrage of questions at his audience, challenging them to identify theme songs, name favorite actors, and recall momentous events — both real and fictional.

He replayed the live coverage of the actual 1937 Hindenburg airship explosion in Lakehurst and the make-believe realism of the Martian invasion that induced mass panic a year later with Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” asked an eerie voice from a famous radio show.

“The Shadow knows,” responded gleeful members of the audience, pleased to hear a familiar blast from the past.

As Busciglio clicked through frames on his PowerPoint presentation, they smiled in recognition of its nostalgic graphics. There was a youthful Frank Sinatra wearing a large, drooping bowtie on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade. And Patsy Cline at the Grand Ole Opry and Milton Cross at the Metropolitan Opera.

The narrator gave special mention to the highest-rated and most controversial show of the era, Amos ’n’ Andy, a comical, stereotypical depiction of African-Americans that was popular throughout the country from the 1920s through the ’50s on both radio and television. It featured two white actors in the title roles and triggered opposition from many in the black community despite the show’s multiracial popularity.

Busciglio also spoke of local radio personality John B. Gambling, who pioneered his morning “drive time” show from the WOR studio located inside Bamberger’s department store in downtown Newark.

“I grew up with old-time radio,” said one man as the presentation ended. “I couldn’t wait to get home from school and turn on Superman or The Adventures of Jack Armstrong.”

A woman in the audience at the May 25 program said the presentation “brought back memories of doing my homework and listening to Lux Radio Theater.”

“It made me think of my family sitting around the living room and listening together,” said another Parsippany LIVE participant. “Now you’ve got five TVs around the house and everyone is watching something different, not using their imaginations,” she lamented.

The person who spearheaded the program was Karen Alexander, director of eldercare services at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, lead agency for Parsippany LIVE. Alexander oversees the federally funded aging-in-place programs in Parsippany and Caldwell assisted by government grants and site coordinators from the Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.

Alexander noted that the people attending the program were from different backgrounds and may not have had a lot in common, “but for the hour they were together; they had all of this shared experience and it clearly delighted them.”

“Having the opportunity to reflect on happy times is really good for everybody, particularly for older adults,” she said. “Being able to go back to younger years and remember these great things is sustaining, nurturing for a person’s soul.”

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