The Biggest Boners from Radio's Golden Age

Cover of Nick Carter Magazine
Cover of Nick Carter Magazine

Ever feel like pushing yourself under the rug when your tongue tripped, slipped or balked and turned up with a neat little phrase you never should have uttered? Or hopelessly muffed an important introduction, or stuttered on the snappy comeback that should have panicked your dinner guests?

Then you can readily sympathize with the poor announcer or actor who suddenly finds themself pulling what they are sure must be radio's prize "boner." Though they can be laughed at later, these inexplicable twists of the tongue have given the boys and girls in the studios some mighty bad moments.

Such slips in no way reflect on a performer's ability, for practically everyone on the air -- veteran and novice, star and bit player -- makes his share of "fluffs." The phenomenon can't be explained any more logically than tripping on a sidewalk or spilling a glass of water on your vest. Boners just happen, and no amount of rehearsal and preparation can guarantee they won't.

Sometimes, the result of a jumbled phrase causes the listener to howl with far greater glee than could be induced by professional gag writers after a week of burning the midnight oil. While most of the quip are innocently humorous, some of them have sent the perpetrators off into a corner, blushing furiously, while censors gnawed their blue pencils in future indignation. Like the time that -- perhaps we'd better not go into that one!

High on the list of funniest twisted tongue lines is one that occurred during the broadcast of an NBC soap opera. The harassed heroine was aboard a ship riding a dense dog. In a voice taut with emotion, she proclaimed to her coast-to-coast audience that the fog was "thick as sea poop."

Another momentarily unhappy performer was the young man playing the part of an aide-de-camp to a German general on Mutual's Nick Carter. Said the general: "We are surrounded on all sides by the enemy, they come from the left, from the right, from the east, west, north and south -- and we are without food and water!" The aide was supposed to exclaim, "Is it that bad?" Instead the luckless actor found himself burbling, "Is that bad?"

Then, of course, there was the dramatic actress, appearing on a CBS serial, whose simple line, "We'll give the bell a pull," came out unexpectedly as "We'll give the bull a pill!" And young Bill Lipton, who has appeared in hundreds of roles since his air debut at the age of 11, once admonished a fellow actor in a soap opera to "Keep a stuff ipper lup, old boy."

It isn't always the players who supply unintentional humor in the dramatic shows. The boys in the sound effects department can claim their share of the scallions for boners and poor timing. Many an overworked producer and director has spent sleepless nights planning all sorts of medieval tortures to inflict on the hapless sound effects person who ruined a dramatic scene.

On one occasion, the breathless lovers in a popular soap opera were supposed to whisper their words of endearment against a soft, light background of summer breeze. The director signaled for his "light breeze" but the sound technician -- evidently in a slight state of confusion -- obliged with a gale of hurricane proportions. The young lovers were actually drowned out by the sound of nature run wild.

Then there was the time the plot called for the sound of surf beating against the rocks. What the listeners heard instead was a sound of a crowd cheering the players at a football game. The ocean waves are said to whisper many things. This was probably the first time in history that they roared out, "Hold that line!"

From Tune In, July 1945

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