Nov 22, 2009

Posted in Liner Notes, What's New

The Caller on Line One

The Caller on Line One

Recorded at: HT Recording Studio, Dennis, Cape Cod

Play’s location:           fictional location: WPPX, ‘The Voice of Cape Cod’ Seagull Lane, West Yarmouth modeled after the then, WOCB, South Sea Street, West Yarmouth.

First aired: Halloween, October 30th, 1982

Trivia: During the recording of the climatic, on-air murder scene, actors, Laine Davis and Kevin Groppe, were in a sound sutdio isolation booth out of sight of the engineer and director.  The arrival of the psychopath at the station was done in a single take and both actors were giggling and laughing all the way through it and yet their performance comes across as chilling as it gets.

There is a favorite line of dialogue spoken by the Psychopath that some listeners like to quote: “Problem?  I never said I had a problem.”


Announcer . . . . Floyd Pratt

Tanya Macklin . . . Laine Davis

Ron, the Engineer . . . John Todd*

Caller #1 . . . . . . . . . Grace Biggers*

Dennis Luckhurst . . . . . Kevin Groppe

Caller #3 . . . . . . . . . Dave Margulis*

Caller #5  . . . . . . . . . Debby Oney*

Mrs. Epstein . . . . . . . Lee Olive*

Caller #7 . . . . . . . . . . Jean Todd*

(*) First appearance in a CCRMT program

Author’s Notes:  The Caller on Line One was our second production, our first suspense show, and our first real-time thriller. (Those not familiar with the catagory should treat themselves to Lucille Fletcher’s 1944 classic, suspense masterpiece, Sorry, Wrong Number.) 

Just as we were finishing up The Legacy of Euriah Pillar and were about to proceed onto our next script, another Captain Underhill mystery, The Case of the Automatic Murders, I had the inspiration for the story that I eventually called The Caller on Line One. It came about as much as a lightning bolt out of the blue as I’ve ever had.  I was sitting on the couch one evening reading the newspaper.  I had the TV on but the sound off, and I happened to glance over and see a few seconds of footage on the tube, an unidentified woman in a broadcast booth, –either a disc jockey or a talk show host, I’m not sure which—but just that little glimpse was enough.  The initial thought was to simulate an advice-on-the-air radio call-in show and then have something suspenseful happen during it.   The suspense ended up being a psychiatrist on the Cape, who while listening to the radio show, suddenly recognizes the voice of one of his former patient’s, an escapee from a mental institution.

Like a curtain going up I saw the whole story, with one exception that, without going into it too much, has to do with the main twist.  That twist didn’t come until the second day when, as I was describing the idea to my wife, Annie, (AKA  Debby, Dev, Deborah or Amrit) she misunderstood something I said, and, as I was about to correct her, suddenly I comprehended the delightful possibilities of how that misunderstanding could be put to good use.  In other words, my wife thought of it, but she didn’t know she thought of it.  I say this because she likes to take more credit for the story than I think she deserves.  She thinks she deserves co-authorship; I liken it to a monkey accidentally typing out the works of Shakespeare on a typewriter.

I should also mention that on WOCB at the time there was a local call in show I sometimes listened to, hosted by DJ, Michele Haines.  Her program was not quite as Ann Lander-ish and psychological as Tanya Macklyn’s Talkline, but still along the same lines.

In a week or ten days the script was finished.  We decided to try to record it for broadcast on Halloween.   Jack Brady (WOCB Program Director?) promised if we finished it in time, he would put it on the air.  There was no time for holding further auditions.  Laine Davis was the perfect Tanya anyway.  John Todd was reluctantly conscripted into playing the part of the audio engineer since, in fact, that’s what he was.  His wife, Jean Todd, was corralled into playing the Final Caller.  Annie was pressed into the part of the Woman Who Keeps Her Door Locked.

Other newcomers, who were all good, included: Dave Margulis who played the Man with the Tattooed Girlfriend (back in the days when tattoos were still considered scandalous); Grace Biggers who played the worried First Caller; Patience Martin, who showed up to turn in a completely spot-on interpretation of the gum-chewing high school student; and Lee Olive who played the part of Mrs. Epstein.  At WOCB, Disc jockey, Frank Mitchell, helped Annie and I record the bogus commercials used in the background.  Mark Birmingham composed and recorded the music for each of these fictitious radio ads.

Kevin Groppe, fresh off playing the part of Leander Pillar, seemed like the best choice for the psychopath.  It is a challenging role, and anyone who has heard the program knows why his performance had to be just right or the show itself would fall apart.  Kevin pulled it off admirably.

The Caller on Line One typifies a type of suspense show that is tailor made for radio because it plays to one of radio’s great strengths as a dramatic medium:  the fact that the audience never gets to see the faces of the actors.

Once the dialogue was finished, the bogus commercials added and the sound effects layered in, again done by John Todd, Scott Dickie, and I, then Mark went to work on the music.  His marvelous underscoring is really worth paying attention to particularly at the beginning, when Floyd Pratt, as the Announcer, is setting the stage.  Mark takes his tip-toe theme music and gives it a wonderful, swirling, Rachmaninoff-style treatment, one of his best variations on a theme.

We managed to complete the program only a day before it was scheduled to be broadcast.  It was not advertised at all.  John Todd ran off a copy from the master, and I delivered the 10 inch reel tape to Jack Brady at the station.  He, in turn, gave it to Robin Cook, the disc jockey who was slated to work the Halloween shift at WOCB.  She would be alone at the station that night.  Jack’s only instructions when he handed over the recording, was to start the tape precisely at 8 pm and let it run.

At home I listened to the broadcast and when it came time for the first commercial break and bogus commercial poor Ms. Cook, uninformed and at a loss, stopped the tape and inserted a real commercial in its place.  During the break, she listened to more of the show and realized her mistake.  After that she let the program run uninterrupted to the end.

Fifteen minutes after the program was over, I received a phone call from Robin; she was both laughing and a nervous wreck.  Nervous because Tanya Macklyn’s situation in the program so mirrored her own, except that at least Ms. Macklyn had Ron the Engineer to keep her company.  Robin was manning it all alone.  She informed me that she had fielded half dozen calls from listeners who took the program seriously.  An equal number of calls were made to the Yarmouth police.

Of course, we were somewhat tickled by that.  Without intending to, we had pulled off an Orson Welles War of the Worlds style prank, albeit on a much smaller scale.  The following year when The Caller on Line One was aired on NPR, also on Halloween, it caused a traffic jam outside a post office in Hartford, Connecticut as patrons in their cars, arriving to pick up their mail, refused to leave their vehicles until the exciting climax was reached.  As the gentleman who kindly called to informed me what happened said, there were approximately 40 cars snarled in the parking lot, everyone looking at one another through their windshields and then all finally getting out as soon as the show was over, another testimonial to the power of Radio Mystery Theater to grab and hold an audience.

CALLER stage set

In 1992 at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts (now renamed the Cape Cod Museum of Art) CCRMT presented a stage version of Caller, complete with a functioning radio station set, by Upset Inc., including a 30 foot radio tower with blinking red lights.  Anne Marie Lang played Tanya Macklyn; Dug Credit was Ron the Engineer; Dan Yonce played the psychopath; Kerry Sullivan was The Woman Who Keeps her Door Locked; Marion Lueders played the First Caller as well as the Bridge Club Lady; Emma Roberts the High School Student; Jonelle Harrison was The Woman with Cat Problems; and I played the man with The Man with the Tattooed Girlfriend.  For this stage version we gave the story a few extra callers and a different twist too at the end: when the psychopath shows up at the station, Tanya, in an effort to save herself, invites him to come on the air with her and help give advice to callers calling in with their personal problems.

to order a CD:

  1. Robert Cockerham says:

    Hell CCRMT:
    See, this is what I’m talking about. This is WHY I’m such a big fan of CCRMT. Not only are your stories suspensful and captivating, but you’re able to hold someone’s attention so well that even in the middle of a public parking lot (in this case the post office), no one is willing to get out and miss one second of your broadcast because you have them so hopelessly enthraulled. Anyone who can do audio entertainment like that (and I know this personally) will have my loyalty forever! I would love hear this story and any others that you have available. Take care CCRMT. I hope to be enjoying many many more years of unparalelled entertainment with you in the future.

    Robert Cockerham

  2. Brian Dishon says:

    Thank you kindly for the extensive notes on the program. I first heard The Caller On Line One when I was around 8 or 9 years old. It was bundled together in a collection of classic radio programs on cassette and rubbed shoulders with the greats–Mercury Theater, Lights Out, NBC University Theater, Jack Benny, Abbot & Costello, Gangbusters…Still gives me the chills! I couldn’t help thinking about it when filling in on a friend’s early morning college radio show–I sympathize with Robin Cook!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *