This F.A.Q. covers the common Theme Time Radio Hour questions I've received while writing Dreamtime. Updated February 2015 to announce the appearance of TTRH's 101st episode, "Kiss," broadcast on February 11, 2015.
Some of the following information is unverified. When I use qualifiers such as "possibly," "probably" and so on it means I'm making my best guess based on available information. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm right. Feel free to disagree.
Q: Who did the opening "Night in the Big City" introduction?
A: Ellen Barkin. The identity of the narrator was argued among TTRH fans during Season 1 until the Christmas episode was broadcast, when Barkin identified herself.
Except for announcer "Pierre Mancini" and Dylan himself, Barkin was the only continuing voice on TTRH. Barkin introduced every episode in Seasons 1 and 2 except the Season 1 "Halloween" show, which was introduced by comedian Steven Wright.
Barkin's intro was used intermittently during the final season. In some Season 3 shows the intro was dropped altogether. In other episodes, the intro was edited to Barkin's voice simply saying, "This is Theme Time Radio Hour with your host, Bob Dylan." During the final "Goodbye" show of Season 3, which did not use an intro, Barkin was heard midway through the episode announcing to listeners, "This is Ellen Barkin. It's time to go..."
Q: What is the background music played in the credits?
A: "Top Cat (Underscore)," which can be found on the CD compilations, Tunes from the Toons: The Best of Hanna-Barbera and Hanna-Barbera's Pic-a-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics . Both compilations are currently out-of-print, but can be purchased from third-party sellers on both Amazon and eBay.
The music is an acoustic version of the theme song from the cartoon Top Cat, composed by Hoyt Curtin. The more familiar version of the "Top Cat" theme was played as the last song of Season 3's "Cats" episode.
Q: Where can I find playlists of the music played on TTRH?
A: The Wikipedia article on TTRH , "notdarkyet.org ," or the Theme Time Radio Hour Discussion Forum at Expecting Rain.
Q: Who is announcer "Pierre Mancini?"
Q: Who is Eddie Gorodetsky?
A: Gorodetsky has had a storied career as disc jockey, writer, comedian, and television writer/producer. In some circles he's probably as well-known as Bob Dylan.
Among music collectors and music historians, Gorodetsky and his collection are legendary. In a 2010 Wall Street Journal interview, Gorodetsky estimated his collection at over 10,000 albums and 140,000 digital files.
For over two decades Gorodetsky distributed annual holiday cassette tapes and later CD compilations of forgotten, arcane and just plain weird Christmas music to friends and acquaintances. Copies of those compilations - which often resemble a TTRH playlist - are exceedingly rare and regularly sell for hundreds of dollars. They can be occasionally found on eBay, especially around the holiday season.
It's likely that their common interest in music is how he and Bob Dylan first met. Gorodetsky, a Rhode Island native and a one-time Boston deejay, is a member of the so-called "Boston Mafia" circle of Dylan friends and acquaintances, which includes Peter Wolf and Peter Guralnick. He may have been introduced to Dylan through one of those people. Gorodetsky is reportedly a close friend of another musician who values his privacy - Tom Waits - probably one of the reasons that Waits made regular "guest appearances" on Theme Time Radio Hour and, with Dinah Washington, became the show's "most-played artist" by the close of Season 3.
The 1990 compilation, later re-issued in 1996, is in many ways a precursor of what would become the idea for TTRH. The press release announcing the formation of Strikin' It Rich stated that it would be, "releasing rare and interesting rhythm and blues material," presumably much of it originating from Gorodetsky's massive record collection, and probably with the idea that the label's releases would be curated by Gorodetsky and Dylan himself. Strikin' It Rich's goal of "releasing rare and interesting rhythm and blues material," fizzled out after Christmas Party with Eddie G. and would remain nascent for a decade before being revived for the genesis of Theme Time Radio Hour.
Before TTRH, Gorodetsky's connection to Dylan was best-known through the television series, Dharma & Greg, where Gorodetsky was a writer/producer and arranged for a Dylan cameo appearance on the show. Gorodetsky has also appeared in the movie Masked and Anonymous and in the Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee music video.
Q: What are Big Red Tree and Grey Water Park Productions?
A: Grey Water Park is Bob Dylan's production company, used to produce and finance various Dylan-related media projects, including TTRH. Big Red Tree is Eddie Gorodetsky's production company, filling a similar role for him as GWPP does for Dylan.
Q: Who are the various people named in the credits?
A: Many of the research/production team named are long-time employees of Bob Dylan, or more accurately, of Grey Water Park Productions. Many of the other people named are - or were - employees of XM Radio.
The "associate producer" of Season 3 was one "Nina Fitzgerald," also credited as "Nina Washington," replacing Season 2's "Ben Rollins," who himself had replaced Season 1's "Sonny Webster." The three pseudonymous associate producers giving a nod to jazz giants was actually just one person who prefers, as the saying goes, to remain anonymous.
Jim McBean, who is credited with "production assistance," was the XM Radio vice president of production and an "audio animator" whose staff developed the TTRH promotional announcements as well as supplying some of the vintage radio airchecks used on the show. You can hear McBean's voice in the promotions as well as the "Sponsored by Cadillac" intro used throughout most of Season 2. McBean left Sirius XM in 2008 and formed "Music Fog," a site covering Americana music, with several other partners.
Randy Ezratty, who was the engineer who recorded Dylan's 1995 MTV "Unplugged" album, reportedly introduced Lee Abrams to Dylan's business people and helped to facilitate the show's production process. Ezratty's mobile recording company - Effanel Music - was purchased by XM Radio in 2006, and Ezratty became an executive at XM. Engineer and editor Rob Macomber, another member of the Effanel team, also joined XM Radio at that time.
Out of all the XM Radio personnel associated with Theme Time Radio Hour, Rob Macomber was the person who worked most closely with the Theme Time team. Among other responsibilities, Macomber was part of the composite "studio engineer, 'Tex' Carbone," together with sound editor, Damian Rodriguez and the anonymous associate producer.
Coco Shinomiya is a respected graphic designer and art director, a two-time Grammy nominee, and incidentally, Eddie Gorodetsky's wife. Shinomiya has worked on many Bob Dylan-related projects, and designed the Theme Time Radio Hour iconic logo.
Lee Abrams was the Chief Creative Officer of XM Radio, and the prime mover in bringing Dylan to satellite radio. He left the company in 2008.
The identity of continuity coordinator, "Eeeps" Martin is unknown, as is the correct spelling of his/her nickname.
Q: Is the Abernathy Building real?
A: The Abernathy Building and surrounding environs (Studio B, Samson's Diner, Elmo's, Carl's Barber Shop) exist only in the theater of the mind.
Q: How did TTRH start? Where is it recorded? How is it produced?
Then-Chief Creative Officer Lee Abrams wrote that in 2005 he had pitched Dylan's offices on the idea of Dylan doing something for XM Radio. A "Bob Dylan Channel" was discussed, but the idea was discarded. In ongoing talks the concept of a weekly radio show evolved, and a deal was signed in late December 2005. Abrams went on to write that the premiere show was originally scheduled for a February 2006 release. The first press release about the show names March as the start date, but the premiere was eventually pushed out to May to accommodate Dylan's schedule.
The mechanics of TTRH production were a closely-held secret, due to a desire to preserve the Dylan mystique as well as the listener's "willing suspension of disbelief" that TTRH was a vintage radio show, with Your Host Bob Dylan broadcasting live from Studio B of the Abernathy Building.
In reality, Dylan's narrative was recorded separately from the other show elements and later mixed in, a common technique in modern radio called "voice tracking." Dylan used a mobile recording set-up to lay down his narrative tracks while on tour or at other locations. Final editing and production sessions were conducted in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Most non-musical show elements, such as the celebrity segments and the caller side of the staged phone calls were recorded in Los Angeles, home base of Eddie Gorodetsky, or in New York City, home of Dylan's Grey Water Park Productions.
Music for the various episodes were probably supplied by all the members of the TTRH team, most notably by Eddie Gorodetsky. A 2010 Wall Street Journal interview with him noted that "... much of the material for the 100 [TTRH] episodes was culled from Mr. Gorodetsky's own record collection" and it's indicative that during the interview and in the Eddie G's Holiday List sidebar, Gorodetsky names a half-dozen favorites that were aired on various episodes of TTRH.
XM Radio representatives noted in interviews that they received the shows in completed, final format, but occasionally replaced some music tracks with versions from the XM music library either better recorded or better suited for satellite transmission.
Recording vs. Air Dates
One hotly-debated topic among TTRH fans was how far in advance the shows were recorded prior to airing. XM personnel have noted in interviews that most Season 1 shows were usually delivered two weeks or less prior to airing. Other evidence, such as Dylan's remark during the "Number One" episode on Ike Turner's death shortly after that event confirms that some shows were still in production as little as two weeks prior to airing.
In an interview conducted in April 2009, in fact just a week before the broadcast of TTRH's final episode, Bob Dylan stated that he "had stopped doing those shows a while ago." Other evidence also suggests that Dylan's direct involvement with TTRH had ended sometime in 2008.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that Seasons 2 and 3 were originally planned as one Season 2 50-episode block of shows intended to run from 2007 through 2008, similar to Season 1. Likely due to Lee Abrams leaving the company, the then-pending merger of Sirius and XM, and the need for the TTRH contract to be renegotiated, the 50 Season 2 episodes were split into two 25-episode segments. The segments were aired beginning in 2007 and continued through 2008 and into 2009 as Seasons 2 and 3, with a six-month hiatus between the two seasons. While production work continued up to the show's 2009 finale, the recording of Dylan's commentary was likely completed by late 2008.
Another argument among TTRH fans is how much involvement Dylan actually had with the show past reading his scripted commentary.
The evidence points to producer Eddie Gorodetsky having a strong influence on TTRH content, including scripting most of Dylan's remarks, supplying much of the music from his own record collection, creating the email and phone call segments and booking the "guest appearances" of the various celebrities, musicians, and comedians who appeared on the show. But it's likely that Dylan also interjected his own choices for the music, as well as speaking his own personal thoughts and opinions.
Various interviews over the years and Chronicles: Volume One confirm Dylan's appreciation for the musicians, genres, and music played on TTRH. Derek Barker's The Songs He Didn't Write catalogs over 50 songs played during the various seasons of TTRH that Dylan has also covered in concert and on record.
It's improbable that anyone but Bob Dylan himself would suggest that he perform an a capella rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, or that he play Blowin' in the Wind on a recorder, both of which he did on episodes of TTRH. Anyone who follows Dylan's rare remarks in concert also knows that he has a weakness for corny old jokes, a regular feature of TTRH. His occasional on-air outbursts on subjects ranging from modern medical care, "commercial affiliations," and country music have all sounded deeply heart-felt and personal.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of Dylan's commitment to Theme Time Radio Hour is the fact that he recorded the narrative for 101 episodes of the show from 2006 through 2008 during a period when he was touring, recording, and involved in numerous other projects.
Q: Which artist(s) had the most airplay on TTRH?
A: At the close of Season 3 (April 15, 2009) Tom Waits and Dinah Washington had tied as "most-played," each with 10 appearances on the turntable over the 100 episodes of TTRH.
Q: What are "deaf poets"?
A: Dylan wasn't fixated on poets with hearing problems in the early days of the show, but instead was using the hip-hop slang term "def," as in "great" or "definitive" during his poetry readings.
According to Wikipedia, "def" originated in New York City in the 1980s and was accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1993. Dylan or Gorodetsky may have taken the "def poet" phrase from the HBO series, Def Poetry Jam, which ran from 2002 through 2007.
Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour poetry readings were featured throughout the show's run, although the segment was reduced in each consecutive season. Likewise, the"def poet" phrase was gradually phased out in favor of Dylan doing variations on the theme, such as referring to Robert Frost as a "frosty poet."
Def Poetry Trivia
The first def poet reading was from Saint Basil (also known as "Basil of Caesarea" and "Basil the Great") and used in the first episode of the series, "Weather," "Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger."
While Dylan calls Saint Basil a "def poet," the theologian is better-recognized for moral homilies such as the above quote than for poetry. Dylan may have supplied Eddie Gorodetsky with the Saint Basil quote. However, it's more likely that, as with much of the information used in the "Weather" show, Gorodetsky found it through a quick Web search.
The last full def poetry reading of the series was Delmore Schwartz's "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me" in Season 3's Episode 21 "Sugar & Candy." In keeping with the episode's theme Dylan calls Schwartz a "candy-coated poet" after his reading.
The Flowers episode from Season 1 had the most poetry readings with Dylan quoting four separate poems from authors ranging from Christopher Marlowe to Anon.
William Shakespeare wins hands down as "most quoted" poet on TTRH. "The kid is good," as Bob Dylan says.
Q: What is and where can I find the TTRH poster?
A: Commissioned by producer Eddie Gorodetsky in 2007 from artist/illustrator Jaime Hernandez, each of the poster's scenes illustrate Ellen Barkin's "It's Night/Night Time in the Big City," introductions from Season 1 of TTRH.
The poster was originally available as a free high-resolution download at bobdylan.com from October 2007 through July 2008, but that link was discontinued upon the launch of the redesigned site. Bootleg print versions have occasionally appeared on eBay. An "authorized" low-quality print version of the poster was offered to the first 5,000 people who ordered any one of the three Bootleg Series Volume 8 packages sold through bobdylan.com. A search through Google Images may uncover copies of the original digital file at various sites on the Web.
Q: Was it possible to contact Bob Dylan about TTRH and would you get a response?
A: During the show's original run, XM advertised the email address firstname.lastname@example.org as the means to contact Dylan and the TTRH team with suggestions and questions. There were some fan reports that their email to that address either went unanswered or generated an auto-reply noting that due to the high volume of mail received, personal responses were impossible.
Before and during Season 1, XM advertised that "Dylan will read and answer select emails on his show." Most fans assumed that all the listener mail read on the show was was scripted, as several used names of Dylan friends and acquaintances, or were otherwise obviously fake. However, at least one email read on the "Friends and Neighbors" episode came from a real listener, suggesting that there were probably others over the show's 100-episode run.
Q: How can I listen to TTRH on the air?
A: SiriusXM discontinued rebroadcasts of TTRH episodes in 2013, and the show is currently not available through official channels."Dylan Radio," a fan site, (http://www.dylanradio.com ) streams Dylan music and Dylan-related content including Theme Time Radio Hour episodes and the Dreamtime podcast. Check the site for times.
Q: Are there any commercial releases of Theme Time Radio Hour shows?
A: No. To date no complete TTRH show has been offered as a standalone commercial offering. However, there are a dozen compilations featuring music from the show as well as two promotional CDs of complete TTRH shows. For an up-to-date listing, see The Compleat Theme Time Radio Hour Shopping List.
Q: Are there any books about Theme Time Radio Hour?
A: Not yet. The announced "Theme Time Radio Hour Compendium," a tie-in book originally scheduled for October 2008, was never released and appears to have been placed on indefinite hold. The book's original page on Amazon (see link above), has been edited to read "Bob Dylan Untitled Christmas Book." and is no longer cataloged in any form on its publisher's site.
A 2010 article from "Crain's New York Business" noted that a literary agent was reportedly shopping a "proposed series of books" authored by Dylan, including "a collection of riffs from his Theme Time Radio Hour show on Sirius Satellite Radio." That collection may be a version of the Compendium, which was advertised using similar language. However a "source close to Dylan," later told the LA Times in 2011 that no deal for any proposed book projects had been closed.
Q: Can I find Theme Time Radio Hour shows for download on the internet?
A: Currently the best TTRH archive site is the "Theme Time Radio Hour Archive," an unofficial project by one of the show's fans. Various other TTRH show archives have appeared (and regularly disappear) on the Web. A little judicious searching through Google or Dylan fan sites should identify what's available.
It's unlikely that a complete set of TTRH - 100* shows at the close of Season 3 - will ever be released commercially. The non-commercial efforts to distribute TTRH is likely to be the only complete record that will ever be accessible to researchers, scholars, and fans.
*101 shows as of February 2015
Q: Where can I find additional information on TTRH?
A: Although incomplete, The Annotated Theme Time Radio Hour is an excellent reference site on TTRH. Lee Abrams's original XM Radio blog is still on-line and includes a lengthy three-part post on the background and creation of TTRH. Vanity Fair published an article on TTRH trivia both in a print version and on line in April 2008. It should be noted much of that article's content appears to have been taken from The Annotated Theme Time Radio Hour site without credit.
Although TTRH has ended, any new news about the show will continue to be found at Expecting Rain, the Dreamtime blog, and DylanTweets a news feed on Twitter run by Dreamtime. Bob Dylan's official web site has also carried news about TTRH.
Expecting Rain offers a TTRH forum, which was renamed to "Picasso's Theme Time Radio Hour " in memory of one of the show's most ardent fans. The archives of RightWing Bob and the Theme Time Radio Hour page on MySpace are also of interest.
Q: Will there be any more episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour?
A: It appeared that Theme Time Radio Hour had ended in 2009 with its 100th episode. However, in early 2015 Berlin radio station RadioEins made a surprise announcement that it would air a heretofore unknown episode of TTRH as a special episode of the station's "Friendly Takeover" show.
Entitled "Kiss," the hour-long 101st TTRH episode was broadcast on February 11, 2015, with copies of the show appearing almost immediately at various locations around the Web. The show was rebroadcast on SiriusXM on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2015.
Internal evidence suggests that the show was created for Season 3 of TTRH and probably recorded in 2008. It's unknown why the show was not broadcast until 2015.
It's also unknown whether there are any more unaired TTRH episodes in the vaults of the Abernathy Building... but one can hope.
Dreamtime friend and correspondent Heddy Richter was kind enough to review and edit the TTRH F.A.Q. for spelling, grammar, and consistency. All errors or omissions remain our own.
In Memory of Pierre Ponette ("Picasso From Belgium")
Last updated February 2015