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Carl Amari's life would serve as a dandy plot for one of those melodramas of the 1930s or 1940s with titles like "She Married Her Boss" and "Pride of the Marines." In fact, both are for sale by Amari's company, Radio Spirits Inc., on audiocassette or CD. Schaumburg, Ill.-based Radio Spirits is thriving by recycling programs from radio's yesteryear. That is the happy ending to his story. And the beginning of his tale? It's just as cheerful.
In 1975, a 12-year-old Amari watched TV like almost every other kid his age. But at a sleepover one night, his friend's father played a radio mystery classic from the popular "Suspense" series "On a Country Road" starring Cary Grant. "He and his wife are in a car, and it runs out of gas," recalls Amari, "and there's a lunatic armed with a meat cleaver who breaks into the car. And we listened to it in the dark, and it flipped me out." Amari started taping vintage radio programs, some of which he got from other enthusiasts, stuffing shoebox after shoebox with cassettes. He staked out the basement, dubbing shows over the drone of the washing machine. "My mother thought I was nuts," he recalls, "because I would be up at a quarter to six to tape old-time radio shows." Obsessed with collecting old-time radio shows, he built a fairly large collection by the time he entered college in 1981, the same year he founded Radio Spirits, Inc.
Needing money for college, Amari devised a plan. Why not sell vintage radio shows to cover expenses? He began acquiring the sales and rebroadcast rights to as many shows as he could. The relative obscurity of old-time radio enhanced his negotiating clout, if not his sales. The classified advertisements he placed in magazines generated only marginal interest. Amari wondered how he might win over a new generation of Americans to something they scarcely knew? There was only one way: "I decided, hey, if I put this stuff back on the radio, people are going to hear it for free and go 'Wow, that's cool,' like what happened to me." Amari resolved to create his own old-time radio show. While airing old-time radio on a tiny 10 watt college radio station, Carl was informed by Charles Michelson (the leading licensor and syndicator of old-time radio) through a "cease and desist" letter that he must obtain permission in order to legally air old-time radio. Carl obtained permission from Michelson's company and began researching rights for shows that Michelson did not manage. Before long, Carl had negotiated exclusive audio and broadcast rights for "The Mel Blanc Show," "I Love a Mystery," "The Jack Benny Program," "The Burns & Allen Show," "This Is Your FBI," "Tales of the Texas Rangers," "The Lone Ranger," "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," and many other classic series.
Getting his products heard on the radio a variation of the cheese-on-a-toothpick samples offered in supermarket aisles would become his key marketing strategy. To do that, all he needed was a radio station. But stations, he quickly discovered, tuned him out. So in 1982, he bought an hour of airtime on a small Chicago station for $100 a week, launched a program called "When Radio Was" and hustled for sponsors. When his sponsorship evaporated, another station rescued the show and actually paid Amari a modest fee to continue it. With a treasure trove of golden-age shows under license to his company, Carl had little trouble hosting a local radio show on WJJD and WJKL in Chicago and starting a mail-order and retail campaign to sell audio cassettes. In 1987, John Doremus's company "Music in the Air" hired Carl to host and produce a series of in-flight programs on Eastern, American and Pan Am airlines.
Still, his business - selling cassettes - only poked along until "When Radio Was" caught the ear of Dick Brescia on Eastern's in-flight and contacted him about nationally syndicating his golden age of radio program. A retired CBS radio executive, Brescia had founded a radio-syndication company and was shopping for inexpensive broadcast material. He found it in Amari's treasure trove of old-time radio, and the two formed a joint venture in 1989. Brescia worked his radio connections to snare time for a syndicated version of "When Radio Was" on some of the nation's most powerful stations. The national version of his local show premiered on 88 radio stations beginning January 1, 1990 announced by former "Jeopardy" host Art Fleming. With Art Fleming's death in 1994, Amari and Brescia hired the famous satirist Stan Freberg to host "When Radio Was" which by now was rapidly approaching 300 radio affiliates. All along, Carl continued his efforts to license audio and broadcast rights for his growing syndication efforts and for his mail-order catalog retail distribution.
In 1994, Radio Spirits, Inc. entered into a joint venture with The Smithsonian Institution to release never-before available old-time radio collections, digitally remastered for unparalleled sound quality. Through this combined effort, a plethora of material has been released to the public through the retail chains of Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Crown, B-Dalton, Costco, Sam's Club and The Museum Company.
In 1995 and again in 1996, INC. 500 ranked Radio Spirits, Inc. among the America's fastest growing privately held companies. In 1997, Radio Spirits, Inc. acquired Charles Michelson's company; adding 30 more series to its growing list of radio properties it manages. That same year Radio Spirits, Inc. launched two other syndicated old-time radio series, "Radio Movie Classics" with host Jeffrey Lyons and "Radio Super Heroes" hosted by Kris Erick Stevens. "Radio Movie Classics" features radio adaptations of famous Hollywood movies culled from the immensely popular series "The Lux Radio Theatre." "Radio Super Heroes" features action-adventure shows like "Superman," "Batman & Robin" and "The Lone Ranger" and is targeted for pre-teens. Both series are heard on more than 200 radio affiliates.
In 1998, Radio Spirits, Inc. was acquired by Audio Book Club, Inc. and became a part of the MediaBay, Inc. family of companies. Each one-hour package includes a sampler of radio classics, commercials and a plug for Radio Spirits' free catalog. The syndicated show has captivated listeners and has dynamically propelled sales of his products - Radio Spirits is the world's largest marketer of old-time radio shows which it sells on audio cassette, compact disc and DVD through direct mail to its more than 600,000 catalog customers, in over 7,000 retail outlets, on its nationwide radio broadcasts and through its web site. The Radio Spirits content library consists of more than 60,000 classic radio shows licensed by the Company on a primarily exclusive and ongoing basis. Despite all his years immersed in old-time radio, Amari says, "I'm nuttier than ever for it." The writers of an old-time soap - say, Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy - could hardly have scripted it better.
Stan Freberg is one of America’s best loved humorists and satirists. He is also a director, producer, actor, recording artist, composer/lyricist, radio commentator and author. He has been called everything from "A Genius," to "The Father of the Funny Commercial" to "A National Treasure." A headline in The Washington Post said it best, "In the beginning, there was Freberg."
He has been the recipient of many international awards during his hydra-headed career in radio, television, music and advertising, including 21 Clios, a Grammy, The New York Art Director Gold Medal, The Animation Academy’s Windsor McKay Award, three Emmys, a Writer’s Guild award for the Best Written Radio Script (CBS), two Silver lions from the Cannes Film Festival and The Venice Film Festival Grand Prix. He is the only person connected with advertising to have been awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame. His best loved satirical records on Capitol and Rhino, are treasured by Freberg Record fans throughout the world.
He is president of Freberg Ltd., Los Angeles, California and the author of "It Only Hurts When I Laugh," published by Times Books/Random House. His daily satirical radio commentaries "Stan Freberg Here," are heard on radio stations throughout America and are also carried via satellite to servicemen and women in 130 countries, via Armed Forces Radio Network. He is the host of the widely syndicated radio show, "When Radio Was."
He was awarded the prestigious Honor Medal, by the University of Missouri School of Journalism; a lifetime achievement award bestowed on such past communicators as Winston Churchill, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. That same year he was also awarded the Broadcast Marketing & Promotion Executives "Lifetime Achievement Award." In 1992, he was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. who requested the best of Freberg’s work in advertising, as part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. In 1995, his long awaited new recording of "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America: Volume Two!" will be released by Rhino Records. (Warners)
Stan Freberg considers himself a true child of radio. The well-known satirist grew up influenced by his radio heroes Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Norman Corwin. Freberg broke into network radio in the 1940's as a young actor on such programs as "The Jack Benny Show," "The Phil Harrris/Alice Faye Show," "The Man Called X" and "Suspense." During this time Freberg was also providing the voice to many Warner Brothers cartoons. He also managed to squeeze in a recording career, work in television and change the face of advertising. Freberg helped create, wrote and starred in the early TV show "Time for Beany" (Beany & Cecil).
In 1957, after several years of record hits, CBS asked him to replace Jack Benny on the CBS Radio Network, which made Freberg the last network comedian in America. When the show went off the air, Capitol released the best moments, and it won a Grammy. Advertising Age called him "a major contributor to advertising's creative revolution, with innovatie campaigns for Chun King, Sunsweet Prunes, Jeno's Pizza and others." Examples fo his work are on display at The Museum of Television & Radio in New York and Beverly Hills, Calif., and The Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Donna Freberg, who is also his long time editor and producer. They have two children: a daughter, Donna Freberg Ebsen, a writer, and a son: Donavan Freberg, a fine young actor who is also studying to be a doctor.
In october 1995, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, where his heroes already reside. Freberg frequently lectures around the country to colleges as well as to some of America's most successful corporations, including IBM and Westinghouse, on a subject he once taught at the Universty of Southern California.
Information above correct as of January, 1999
Update: In August 1999, Rhino released "Tip of the Freberg - the Ultimate Freberg Box Set" four CD's of practically his entire radio and recording career. His voice could also be heard in the hit film "Stuart Little." Freberg's many awards include three Emmys, a Grammy, the Radio Advertising Bureau's Orson Welles Award, the Venice Film Festival's Grand Prix, 21 Clios (the Oscar of advertising) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In October 2006, Freberg left and was replaced temporarily by Chuck Schaden. The current host is Greg Bell, host of XM Radio's popular "Radio Classics" channel
About Orson Welles
Hear the "Origin" of The Lone Ranger
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"Radio Spirits has exclusive licensing rights to a substantial majority of its old-time radio library [as of 2003]. These rights have been principally acquired from the original rights holders (actors, directors, writers, producers or others) or their estates. Engineers in the Company's New Jersey facility use digital audio sound equipment to improve the sound quality of the old-time radio programs. Arbitron research has consistently shown that our nationally syndicated old-time radio shows rank first in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Milwaukee in the period when they aired."