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'Same Station' Takes a Trip Back to the Vintage Years

Radio: Twin brothers John and Larry Gassman, who never let blindness be a barrier, have produced and hosted the KPCC-FM show for 16 years.


John and Larry Gassman are used to surprising skeptics. Blind since birth, the identical twin brothers have been exceeding the expectations of doubting observers all their lives.

Though many may disagree, the Gassmans hardly deem it a significant accomplishment that, despite their disability, they've been the sole hosts, producers and engineers of the KPCC-FM (89.3) radio show "Same Time, Same Station" for the last 16 years.

The weekly Sunday program is devoted to airing vintage radio programs, mostly from the '30s, '40s and '50s. Tapes of old dramas, comedies, variety programs, news broadcasts and documentaries can be found uncut and uninterrupted during this 5-to-7 p.m. show. The program also occasionally includes interviews conducted by the Gassmans with personalities from radio's "golden age."

"Growing up, we were always encouraged by our parents to do everything that anybody else would do even if it might scare them at first, like crossing streets [by ourselves] or playing football," John says during a conversation with the two brothers at their Whittier home. "I know other blind people who were sheltered in a lot of ways [by their parents]. That's an easy reaction when someone sees their kid doing something they couldn't imagine themselves doing if they were blind. . . . But doing a radio show really has nothing to do with having sight."

"Same Time, Same Station" is generally prerecorded each week in the brothers' living-room-turned-recording-studio. (Occasionally, when they have a guest on hand, they broadcast live from KPCC to allow for phone calls.) The Gassmans long ago mastered the technical aspects of constructing their radio show. Today, both navigate around their wide bank of recording equipment with the ease of any veteran recording engineer. The only concession to their blindness is a "talking clock" that quietly tells them how much time has elapsed when they're recording a radio segment.

The 41-year-old siblings have been devotees of old radio shows such as "I Love a Mystery" and "The Green Hornet" ever since they discovered such discontinued programs as repeat broadcasts in the early '60s. They were only 5 or 6 years old at the time.

"It made it a little easier [listening to radio dramas] because in the visual medium it's difficult sometimes [to understand what's happening]," explains Larry, who along with his brother attracted media attention when they covered the Rose Parade between 1987-89 for KPCC. "We used to watch old westerns on TV as kids. At the end there would be 10 minutes of chase scenes and orchestra fill and nothing else. So we wouldn't know how the bad guy lost. We would have to make up our own ending. In radio it was pretty much spelled out with audio stage directions, sound effects and the way the story was written."

The walls of the Gassmans' studio are lined with some 20,000 reel-to-reel tapes of old radio programs. Larry says it's not unusual to find private collectors with more than 50,000 such tapes. To the Gassmans, however, quality is far more important than quantity. They say they're mostly interested in crisp-sounding tapes that can be broadcast clearly over the radio airwaves.

For the last 21 years, the Gassmans have been actively involved in a Southern California-based organization called SPERDVAC (the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy). With more than 1,700 members, it's the largest organization of its kind in the country. Members can check out, via mail, any of the old radio shows in the nonprofit group's extensive cassette tape library.


According to the Gassmans, there still exists a sizable and loyal audience for these radio shows in Southern California. For instance, a nightly hour of old-time radio drama is a big ratings winner for KNX-AM (1070). Larry Mantle, the program and news director at KPCC, says the public-radio outlet is very pleased with "Same Time, Same Station" and feels the show nicely complements the station's new weekday emphasis on talk radio.

But the brothers also realize that support for vintage radio programs figures to diminish significantly in the years ahead. Most fans are older people who first enjoyed these shows when they were initially aired. The radio personalities the Gassmans interview are usually far more surprised by the relative youth of the siblings than by their blindness.

John and Larry thoroughly enjoy "watching" vividly scripted TV programs like "MASH" and "ER." But they also believe that the growth of visually oriented entertainment has paralleled a diminution of language and imagination skills in society.

"Today it's the visuals that count," Larry says with a sigh. "The more time that elapses from the days of radio, the less you're going to find people who use their imaginations on a regular basis. That in itself has a lot of problems built into it in terms of focusing and creativity. People were a lot more articulate back then; they could put thoughts and sentences together."

But as long as there exists a suitable audience for "Same Time, Same Station," the Gassmans can be counted on to deliver the show with the same in-depth knowledge and subtle humor that has always marked their folksy style.

To Mantle, they are also an inspiration.

"They're outstanding radio personalities and they're so self-sufficient," Mantle says. "It's hard for a sighted person to understand how well one can adapt to not having sight as they have done. Whatever needs to be done, whether it has to do with transportation or whatever, they find a way to take care of it. They are also very unself-conscious [about being blind]. During a station fund-raiser one of them said: 'If you don't pledge, you'll get a couple of blind guys come stumbling around your yard!' It was very funny."

* "Same Time, Same Station" airs Sundays at 5 p.m. on KPCC-FM (89.3). SPERDVAC can be contacted at (310) 947-9800.

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