by EDWIN O’CONNOR
UNTIL a week ago, I had never paid much attention to the small radio station located about a mile from my home. It is a local station, unaffiliated with any of the large national networks, and, as such, is forced to rely upon its own talent and ingenuity for the production of entertainment. To judge from the few occasions on which I had heard the station, this resolved itself into the playing of limitless stretches of recorded popular music, invested at regular intervals with the esoteric patter of the disc jockey. I found it reliably tedious, with no promise of improvement.
Still, it is never wise to underestimate the resourcefulness of the underfinanced. Shortly after lunch, I had wandered into the living room, looking for a book, and found that someone had left the radio on. An unfamiliar voice — loud, masculine, plump with cheer — was speaking.
“. . . time for just one final question,” it said. “It comes from Mr. E. L. Rogers of North Barber Road, who wants you to name five of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Miss Corbeil, is that your hand?”
“The Pyramids of Egypt,” a woman’s voice said. It was a highpitched voice, and had an odd inflection suggesting that its owner had at least some experience with a switchboard. “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Temple of Diana, and the Statue of Zeus.”
“That’s four,” the first voice said encouragingly. “Now, one more: have you anything to offer, Mr. Kimber?”
“I hope so,” said a voice, which was remarkably bland and assured for one who could but hope. “I had in mind the Colossus of Rhodes. Am I too far wrong?”
“Aha, not wrong at all, Mr. Kimber!” the first voice declared. “The Colossus of Rhodes is exactly right. That gives us our five, and just to fill you in, the other two were the Tomb of Ala u sol us and the Pharos of Alexandria.”
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Kimber, with some diffidence.
Hello, I thought, this is something new: the swift enumeration of ancient wonders on a radio quiz-show, traditional home of the idiot response. A kind of high-octane “Information Please”?
“And that just about winds up today’s session of ‘Aleet the Experts,’ ” the first voice said. “The spontaneous, unrehearsed program in which you, the listeners, send in your questions to slump our board of experts. Now, until this same’ time tomorrow, this is Yours Truly Ben K. Morton, saying . . . goodbye anti good luck!”
There was a brief silence, after which an announcer came in to deliver the identifying call letters. They were those of the local station! Somehow Zeus, Diana, and the Hanging Gardens had penetrated the fastnesses of Frankie Laine and the Duke. It was a bit bewildering, almost impossible to credit. And the experts: who were they? Faculty members from the neighboring university? Certainly the program was worth a more sustained investigation.
The next afternoon I was in front of my radio as the program began. Yours Truly Ben K. Alorton again presided; he quickly explained the rules of “Meet the Experts.” He said that the program was, of course, spontaneous and unrehearsed. He said that there were awards: two free tickets to a downtown motion picture house to any listener whose question was used on the program; an additional prize to any listener whose question should stump the experts. This prize, he said, was “a truly handsome five-pound gift assortment of world-famous Coronado chocolates!” He repeated that this award was given only if the question should stump the experts.
He then introduced the experts. There were three, and to my great surprise, all three were not professional savants, but were instead home-grown talent: they were regularly employed at the station in other capacities. They were Miss Elsie Corbeil, station receptionist; Mr. Alarray Gillespie, of the station’s sales department; Mr. Don Kimber, news analyst. Miss Corbeil and Mr. Kimber I had heard the day before; Air. Gillespie was new. He was taciturn, and given to frequent coughing.
“So much for the preliminaries,” Ren K. Alorton said briskly. “And now let’s get on with our questions, shall we, Miss Corbeil and gentlemen? We’ll begin with one from Airs. Arthur Kane of 1256 Ambuter Drive. . . .”
I was confident, at this point, I hat the standard of yesterday would not be maintained. It had all been an accident. Today, restored to normality, the questions would deal with titles of popular songs, famous Hollywood husbands and their wives.
”... has to do,” said Ben K. Alorton, “with the Royal Houses of England. I’ll give you the names of several English monarchs; you’re to tell me the name of the Royal House to which he or she belonged. For example, if I said George the Sixth, you’d say Windsor. Or at least I hope you would. . .
It seemed to me a reasonably tricky question for anyone to handle, let alone the local experts: the dark and distant recesses of English history were pitted with genealogical traps, I began to run through the list of English kings and their blood lines; I found, suddenly, that I had difficulty remembering the kings. There was, of course, Henry the Eighth. . . .
Telepathically, Ben K. Alorton said, “Suppose we start off with an easy one: Henry the Eighth?”
“Tudor! said Miss Corbeil and I, but it was no contest; the swatchboard voice had beaten me with seconds to spare.
“That’s a good start,” said Ben K. Alorton. “Now, what about another Henry: Henry the Fifth?”
Alone by the radio, I said loudly, “ Plantagenet! ” Calm correction came instantly. “I believe,” said Air. Kimber, “that Henry the Fifth was Lancaster.”
“Right as rain, Mr. Kimber! That’s good work. Now let’s move on to Edward — Edward the Seventh!”
I thought: Edward, Victoria, that long Germanic line . . . Hanover!
From the radio came a cough. “Saxe-Coburg,” said Mr. Murray Gillespie of the sales department. “He was the only one.”
That’s being on your toes!” Ren K. Morton congratulated. “That’s smart work, Mr. Gillespie; it’s easy to get fooled on that one because of Victoria. But you didn’t fall into the trap, I’m happy to say. Saxe-Coburg is absolutely correct, and as you said by way of supplementary information, Edward the Seventh was the only English monarch to represent that house. Now we’ll move to the distaff side of royalty, and take Queen Mary — Mary the First!”
“I could be wrong on this, Ren,” said Mr. Kimber, “but I have an idea I hat was Tudor.”
“An excellent idea, Mr. Kimber; one hundred per cent, in fact! Now then, keep your wits about you for this one: King Stephen!”
“Stephen,” Miss Corbeil said primly, “was Rlois.”
“Aha!” Ben K. Morton cried. “Our infallible Miss C! Yes, Stephen was indeed Rlois!”
It occurred to me that the collective intelligence of the employees of the local station was at a somewhat singular level. Miss Corbeil, for instance, was surely the most encyclopedic receptionist of her generation.
“On with our unrehearsed information-fest,” Ben K. Morton called, “as we move into the James Department. It’s James the Second!”
“Stuart.” It was Miss Corbeil again, drugged with success.
“Well,” said Ben K. Morton tentatively, and my heart leaped. “In a way, you’re right. Miss Corbeil, but you’re not entirely right, if you know what I mean. I’m looking for just a hit more information on that, one . . . Mr. Gillespie? ”
There was the cough that heralded the participation of the expert from the sales force. “House of Stuart Restored,” he said hoarsely. “They went out and came back.”
“On the button, Mr. Gillespie!” Ben K. Morton cried cheerily. “Restored: that’s the word I was looking for!”
The nasty cloud of suspicion, which had begun to form some moments before, grew larger.
“. . . while you were absolutely right as far as you went, Miss Corbcil,” Ben K. Morton said soothingly, “we needed that Restored. And now, for the final part of the question, we’re back once again to llenry — only this time it’s Henry the First!”
It was left to Mr. Kimber, in the full serenity of his wisdom, to provide the definitive touch. “Ah . . . Ben,” he inquired, “would that be Henry surnamed Beauclerc?”
It was unfortunate that at this moment something happened to my radio: my right hand, moving in a pattern as spontaneous and unrehearsed as the program itself, switched a small knob and all sound died.
I have not listened to the local station since; I’ve been far too busy with “Stop the Music.” The way I figure it, a man has a far better chance of grabbing that fifty-thousand-dollar jackpot than he has of getting through to that five-pound gift assortment of world-famous Coronado chocolates!