A Salute to Stan Freberg


Stan Freberg and Gong
An ABC television publicity photo of Stan Freberg and a gong. This photo promoted a February 1962 special, Stan Freberg Presents the Chun King Chow Mein Hour: Salute to the Chinese New Year.

Stan Freberg ( 1926-2015) was an innovator in radio production in the 1950s and later in television advertisements, and his achievements were in technique as well as in content. He wrote, produced, and acted in his own works and contributed to those of others. His radio skits in particular were well designed soundscapes which were ahead of their time at the same time that they were the last of their kind. With his short-lived radio show of the late 1950s, Mr. Freberg rang out the end of radio’s golden age of original programming.

The technical limitations of most radio playback equipment of the 1950s probably did not do justice to the skill of Mr. Freberg and his colleagues at evoking an ambience capable of putting listeners in an imaginary, but convincing place. The care Mr. Freberg and crew took in production helped set up the listener for off kilter and absurdist content, making it all the funnier. Where their professionalism truly shined was in the stereophonic comedy albums they produced, which stood a much better chance of being played back on equipment capable of faithfully reproducing every nuance of sound effects and comic voice acting than the radio shows.

Probably Stan Freberg’s best remembered work is the 1961 album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. This track is “Declaration of Independence: A Man Can’t Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days”, with Stan Freberg as Benjamin Franklin, Byron Kane as Thomas Jefferson, and Colleen Collins as Sylvia, a fictional character.


Had Stan Freberg been in his prime during the current age of podcasting he no doubt would have found the new medium well suited to his comic and technical skills. Similar limitations would apply for playback equipment, however, in that listeners using a smartphone without stereo ear pieces would not get the full effect of his satirical skits. Be that as it may, we are fortunate to have Mr. Freberg’s original recordings, and now with more ways than ever of listening to them. His brilliant satire shines through any medium, and his spirit of poking fun at our pretensions and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously is the true Spirit of ’76, not any of the militaristic nonsense currently going on in the nation’s capital.
— Techly

An animation of “Yankee Doodle Go Home (Spirit of ’76)”, from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. Stan Freberg as Yankee Doodle and as Bix, the Hip Fife Player, Walter Tetley as the Young Second Drummer, and Shepard Menken as the Officer. Paul Frees was the Narrator.


Thumbs Up


BBC Radio 4 this month is airing a new, sixth series of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 40 years after the broadcast of the first series in 1978. Fans in the United States might have an easier time downloading the podcast from a client based here rather than trying to listen directly from BBC Radio 4. The Stitcher podcast client, for instance, offers several BBC Radio 4 programs, among them Comedy of the Week. Enthusiastic fans of the series will find a way to listen.


The complete first series from BBC Radio 4 is available for listening, and it truly does the best job with the material of all the different formats, radio or television or print or motion picture. Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the 1978 radio presentation, and the other formats followed. The BBC made it into a very good television program in 1981. The 2005 motion picture was not popular. In this country, public radio rebroadcast the BBC Radio 4 series, and public television did the same for the BBC television adaptation.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, english
A representation of the personal electronic device used by Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Computer graphic by Nicosmos.

From the 1981 BBC television adaptation of The Hitchihker’s Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent meets the planet designer, Slartibartfast.

Rebroadcast in this country of original BBC radio programming is nothing new now, but in the 1970s and 80s it was fairly novel because at that time there was still some original programming being produced for radio by American public broadcasters and private outfits. There was Earplay on NPR, which were dramas based on original material and adaptations, and there was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a program of thrillers. Those American radio programs shut down in the 1980s, and since then very little original programming has come out of America. Britain, on the other hand, has a comparatively lively radio program production lineup, and as proof there is the sixth series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (with a cameo by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking no less), airing in March 2018, forty years on from the first series. Fans of the show on this side of the Atlantic are glad the BBC radio crews are still at it, and if the latest series is anywhere near as enjoyable a listen as the first series, then their efforts will have been well worthwhile.
— Techly