Thursday, May 17, 2012

RFD film by John Ebert

"Radio from Downtown" film by John Ebert:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back from wherever I was...

...which was mostly here in DC, still working as Director/Producer of NPR's Morning Edition. For my "years of service" award--held in the building a couple months ago to honor those of us who can't find jobs doing anything else--I was engifted with a nice travel duffel bag, which I put to good use on a fantastic trip to South Africa a couple weeks ago. More about that later when I have edited the thousand or so photos down to a manageable number--but in the meantime, there are a few posted from my phone on my Facebook page.

Just to let you know, now that it's October it means the Rehoboth Jazz Festival must be looming, and indeed it is, coming up this week. I'll be playing with my trio, featuring Tom Anthony on bass and Felix Contreras on drums/percussion, at several places around town, so please stop in and see us, have a drink, say hi. Here's our schedule:

Thursday Oct. 13, Espuma Restaurant, 6:30-10:30.
Friday Oct. 14, Porcini House Restaurant, 6:30-10:30
Saturday Oct. 15, Rose Garden (women's clothing, very chic), 2:00-4:00 PM
Saturday Oct. 15, Porcini House Restaurant, 6:30-10:30
Sunday Oct. 16, Back Porch Cafe, 11:00-2:30

Reservations at the restaurants are a good idea--the phone numbers are easily found on the internet.

Hope to see you there. It's the best adult party of the year, don't miss it!

Best, Van

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jazz Goes to the Beach

If it's fall, it must be time to head to the beach for the 21st annual Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival (, so pack off the kids, get the dog sitter lined up, and get ready for the best adult jazz party of the year. Yes, we like rock and everything else, too, but this is a great opportunity to check out a lot of the fine jazz musicians from the local region, and a few headliners, too.

And if you go, I hope you'll stop by and listen to the Van Williamson Trio featuring Felix Contreras and Tom Anthony at their various venues. We'll be playing the usual standards, some Latin tunes, and a couple gems from the pop music world (the Star Trek Theme!). One way or another, the members of the group have been playing at the festival for 20 years, either as solo players or with different ensembles. And did I say enjoying every second?

So this year we'll be at our usual spots, plus a new one. Here's the schedule:

Oct. 14, Thursday, 7-11: Espuma Restaurant, 28 Wilmington Ave., 302-227-4199.

Oct. 15, Friday, 7-11: Porcini House (formerly Chez la Mer), 210 2nd St., 302-227-6494.

Oct. 16, Saturday, 2-4: Rose Garden (women's clothing), 240 Rehoboth Ave., 302-226-9988.

Oct. 16, Saturday, 7-11: Porcini House

Oct. 17, Sunday, 11-2:30: Back Porch Cafe, 59 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-3674.

Probably a good idea to call the restaurants for reservations. The Rose Garden should be fine. Men are welcome, BTW.

Hope we'll see you this year!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jazz at Bridges

There's a new restaurant at the Kent Narrows. Quite lovely, sitting right on the Narrows looking south. I'll be playing some jazz standards next Saturday evening, May 8th, with bassist Tom Anthony and percussionist Felix Contreras, beginning at 7:30. Straight-ahead, uncompromising cocktail music, just right for a pre-Mother's day celebration. Come on down, bring your mom. Don't know the exact address, but it's at Kent Narrows, south side of the highway, east of the Narrows, big yellow building on the water, can't miss it. We'll tone it down from the way it was in this picture from the Rehoboth Jazz Festival a couple years ago.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Photos

Hi gang-

Photos of the last RFD show have been made available, courtesy of photographer extraordinaire, Cheryl Nemazie

CLICK HERE to view the slide show.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Listen to the recent RFD show here!

Greetings radio lovers!

Webmaster Jim has uploaded the audio from our recent live Halloween Show to the Radio From Downtown web site. We've also linked to it here on the RFD Blog. Listen to the stream or download to your podcast collection for later listening.

RFD Show 10/31/09, 1st hour (mp3 format)

RFD Show 10/31/09, 2nd hour
(mp3 format)

Love to read some of your comments (hint, hint...)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jazz in Easton tonight, Saturday, Nov. 14

The xxth annual Waterfowl Festival is happening in Easton this weekend. It stopped raining finally, so that's a good thing. If you're in town for all things waterfowl, please stop by the Avalon Theatre's Stoltz Room--the small club-style room upstairs from the theater--and spend a couple hours with me and the quartet: violinist David Schulman, bassist Tom Anthony, and percussionist Felix Contreras. We'll be playing songs from the GASB--Ellington, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, et al--plus a couple of boppish tunes by Monk, some bossa nova from Luiz Bonfa and Tom Jobim, and whatever else we can cram into a 2-or-so hour gig. Downbeat's at 8. Ticket info at 410-822-7299. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jazz upstairs at the Avalon during the Waterfowl Festival Nov. 14, 2009

There's a beautiful new room for music on the second floor of the Avalon. The Stoltz listening room is a small venue for small ensembles, presumably any kind of music, although that's a guess. Whatever the case, I'll be playing there with percussionist Felix Contreras (from the No-No Nonette), bassist Tom Anthony (from the Van Williamson Trio, which also includes Felix), and violinist David Schulman. We'll be playing a selection of jazz standards in a fairly spontaneous manner--that is, we haven't rehearsed that much. So it should be an interesting and fun evening. We're playing two sets, beginning at 8:00 PM. A good day to be in Easton, since it's also the weekend of the Whatevereth Annual Waterfowl Festival, a celebration of life on the Eastern Shore. Ticket information for the concert is available by calling the Avalon box office at 410-822-7299. Ticket information for the Waterfowl Festival can be found at Hope to see you there.

RFD on the air

More about the show--which was a great moment in broadcasting history, BTW--later, but for now, here's a repeat of an earlier blog with information about the upcoming broadcast:

'Radio From Downtown' will be broadcast on WCEI (96.7 FM) and on Sunday, November 8th at 7:00 PM; WESM (91.3 FM) Friday, November 13th at 8:00 PM; and WRYR-LP (97.5 FM and on Wednesdays at 10 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through November and December. The program can also be seen on Mid-Shore Community Television (Ch. 15) by viewers in Talbot County.

We'll also be posting the show here on the website as soon as the post production is finished.

Please tune in and send your comments.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Just do it

The train has left the station.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

from RFD co-writer Jack Purdy

It was Paris, after the Great War. Van and I had heard about this exciting new medium called “radio” which had just started commercial broadcasting out of KDKA in Pittsburgh. We were on the terrace of La Coupoule, when Van turned to Hemingway, who was arm wrestling with Picasso, and said…

Wait…don’t think that’s right. Oh, yes…

I was with Van the night of the famous Six Gallery Poetry reading in San Francisco in 1956, when Allen Ginsberg stunned the audience with the debut of Howl. We both agreed it was great, but that it needed something—more “jokes”— in order to succeed for this new radio show we were planning with William Burroughs and…

Ooops…wrong again…the memory bank’s a little fogged in today.

The truth is, while RFD was born in Salisbury, MD in the late 1980s, its history, like all good Boomer history, began in the 1960s when Van and I met under circumstances I won’t go into here owing to pesky things such as uncertainty about the statute of limitations. I’m not a lawyer. For that matter, I have never played a lawyer on the radio.

I have, however, thanks to RFD played the Commander of the Maryland National Guard; a politician with a Baltimore (i.e., Bawlamer) accent that shattered the ears of the listening audience; a crusty, beyond-alcoholic newspaper editor; a snake wrangler; commander of a Coast Guard ship; and many small parts too numerous to mention even though they were all terribly funny and my performances were compared to the work of Richard Burton. (Given that Burton was already dead when we began RFD, I am not sure of the spirit in which that comparison was made.)

Perhaps our performances this weekend will be compared to the work of Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and other greats of the Mercury Theatre.

Hmmmm…they’re all dead, too. We’ll see if we can do better than they would.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drives me nuts

Just the kind of thing you have to be prepared for but never are. One of our actors, Melissa, is down with the flu. A wonderful actor who adds so much to the performance. I'm finding this out on Wednesday, the show's on Saturday. I hope she gets better fast...I'm sure she'll feel great by Sunday. I was praying this wouldn't happen, but my prayers were not answered. Or maybe they were answered in a way I have yet to understand. In any case, I'm on the phone. This is why they have understudies in the big time.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


OK, Halloween night coming up in a few days. We're all curious about what kind of attendance we'll enjoy at the Avalon Theatre to celebrate the 20th year--some 75 shows--of Radio from Downtown. Sure, there are parties, trick or treat for the wee ones, and the weekend events that go on and on...just like this one. Impossible to plan a gig when there's not another one happening; you'd go nuts. So I don't bother trying to figure it out. Besides, it's Halloween, and I couldn't resist commemorating the 71st anniversary of the original War of the Worlds broadcast. But we have pulled out all the stops (an organist's metaphor) to make people aware of the production: I've made brief appearances on the two Salisbury TV stations, WBOC and WMDT; sat for an interview with Suzy Moore of the Avalon for the Easton cable channel; had audio promos running on WCEI-FM, WESM-FM, WRYR-FM, and WNAV-AM; and had a nice mention from Liane Hansen on this past Sunday's Weekend Edition Sunday--no details, but she said she'd be gone next Sunday because she'll be down on MD's Eastern Shore in a WOTW production by Radio Free Delmarva--OK, she used the old name...which shows you how long she's been aware of the show. I've been trying to get her down there since I worked on her show, back in 94, before we changed our name to Radio from Downtown.

Anyway. Some of this stuff is on our website. We're also featured prominently on the Avalon's site, have a nice posting on the website of Maryland Life magazine, and I'm hoping to be the subject of a couple articles in the Salisbury Daily Times, the Easton Star Democrat, and the Annapolis Capital, in their weekend sections due out Thursday or Friday this week.

Will all this make a difference? Who knows? Since you can listen live on the radio or the internet, or wait for the rebroadcast to come around in a week or two, it's hard to say whether people crave the live experience or not. I know we do, otherwise we'd just put this together and do it in a studio, without the benefit of the live audience. But what fun is that?

So I hope you'll show up, just to see if we can pull it off. Our track record is good. The timing's a little more difficult on this one, but that just adds to the excitement--or, in my case, the anxiety and stress level. But I've been there. And everybody's ready. So I'll see you there, no?

(Click player below to hear the original 1938 WOTW broadcast!)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carl Kasell returns to RFD

Carl Kasell, longtime newscaster at National Public Radio (and one of the few guys who will talk every time I point at him) and a charter member of The Downtown Players, will be joining us for the Halloween Spectacular now only one week away. Carl has been coming to the show since about 1992, and it has been a thrill and a half to work with him in this relaxed (for everybody but me) and informal setting. Most of you probably know Carl is also the judge on the popular NPR news quiz show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and in what has to be a first, Carl is going in the space of one week from performing at Carnegie Hall to performing at the Avalon Theatre. Talk about life in the fast lane! Hmmmm. Upward or downward trajectory? You decide.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hot Soup

Hot Soup is coming to RFD!

This trio of mellifluous singers last appeared on RFD when we did the send-up of The War of the Worlds the first time, way back in the last century. They've appeared all over the place, as you can see from their website, and we couldn't be happier they're taking time out of their busy schedule to join us once again on the 71st anniversary of the famous broadcast (the real one). Naturally, they'll have some of their CDs available at the theater, so take this opportunity to grip and grin with Sue, Christina, and Jenny, and snag something for your home musical entertainment. Might as well also pick up an RFD sweatshirt, the perfect gift for the person on your list who might go so far as to wear one. You know who you are.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sent several photos (courtesy of Cheryl Nemazie) to WMDT-TV in Salisbury, MD, for an upcoming slideshow this weekend and next week. Thanks to John Ebert and news director Dawn Mitchell for making this happen. That's channel 47 for those in the viewing area. I'll also do a brief interview to accompany the slides...we're filming this Friday at the Avalon, where I'm also doing an interview with Tim Weigand at cable channel 15 for viewers in the Talbot County region. Presumably that will run periodically up til the show. WMDT will also be on hand the day of the performance with a little wrapup just prior to the show--or maybe including the show, I don't know.

First band rehearsal this weekend on Kent Island. Lots of music to play, limited rehearsal time as usual...but we get through it with panache (I had some of that for lunch today...yum!). Meanwhile the actors have their scripts, finally finished...I think.

Gotta run, more later.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In case you missed it...

Here's the WBOC interview from last Friday. The poster is by Cheryl Nemazie of Studio C in Salisbury. I forgot to mention the website, but enterprising viewers will figure it out. And of course you already did. A long drive for a little tiny bit of TV, but every little bit helps. I think. Turns out that Alice Bavis was the interviewer, not Kelly Rouse mentioned in the last post. A pleasant surprise. Thanks to Alice and the staff at WBOC. That's it for my brush with fame, but stand by for a couple of radio interviews coming up in the next week or so, on WCEI-FM and WNAV-AM.

Like a refreshing glass of iced tea on a hot summer's day on Delmarva, ticket sales at the Avalon are brisk. Apparently. You can reserve your tickets by calling the theater at 410-822-7299. We'd all love to see you there, otherwise there will be more of us in the production than in the audience. And you all know how painful that can be.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blink and you'll miss it

Radio from Downtown fans within the reach of WBOC-TV....I'll be on Kelly Rouse's noon news program tomorrow (Friday) for a BRIEF chat about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the show.  Kelly has acquitted herself nicely on several occasions on the show, so it should be a fun amble down memory lane--and a glimpse into the future.  It's only a few minutes, but you know a lot of people think they don't exist unless they're on TV.  I'm not one of them, but for those of you who are...I on TV, therefore I are.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WNAV joins the party!

I'm happy to announce that WNAV (1430 AM) in Annapolis will be carrying the RFD Halloween Extravaganza live on Halloween night.  The station will also be streaming the program as it's broadcast on  The show has been recorded live-to-tape for many years, but hasn't been live on the air since--well, I have to consult the wayback machine--probably 1992 or so, on WSCL in Salisbury.  In those days, before we arrived at the Avalon, our home since 1995, we used to run a cable up the hallway of the station, out the door and into the adjacent auditorium, down the aisle, and somehow back to Jim Smith's mobile recording truck.  It sounds fanciful and it was--from the cart machines to the sound effects on LPs (!) to the homemade "on air" sign made on the trusty workbench of our good friend Jim Mitchell.  The show will still be rebroadcast--the details are on this website somewhere.

Anyway, it's exciting to be doing actual live radio again--not that I don't get enough of it every day of my working life as director of NPR's Morning Edition--but this is the wacky small time, and we love it for what it is.
Thanks to Steve Hopp at WNAV for stepping up to the plate for this unique program, and to our musical director and chief geek Bob Diener for the upcoming heavy lifting required to make this happen.  I personally haven't a clue, and choose to remain blissfully unaware of the technical details--even if I could understand them.  There's a bit in here somewhere....
Hope you can join us.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Liane Hansen

Liane Hansen is the long-time host of the popular NPR program Weekend Edition Sunday.  WESUN, as we refer to it in the Mother Ship, was the first program I worked on when I came to NPR in '94. We had tape recorders then--I cut tape, produced 2-ways, mixed pieces, etc.  I was living in Salisbury, MD, at the time, quite a piece down the road--so I house sat, sublet, squatted, and eventually rented a studio apartment near Dupont Circle.  My work week was Wed-Sun, so I'd go up Tuesday night and come home Sunday after the show. Kind of lonely for my spouse (and me), but I was determined to stay in the building until I got a staff job.

Working on WESUN was great, and I'm thrilled that Liane is finally going to appear on 'Radio From Downtown'.  I think I've been after her for 15 years. I don't think this little foray into radio theater is going to damage her reputation that much.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Broadcast times and locations

In case you miss the live show (sob!), there are several opportunities to catch the rebroadcast. So there's no excuse, really. Here's the info:

'Radio From Downtown' will be broadcast on WCEI (96.7 FM) and on Sunday, November 8th at 7:00 PM; WESM (91.3 FM) Friday, November 13th at 8:00 PM; and WRYR-LP (97.5 FM and on Wednesdays at 10 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through November and December. The program can also be seen on Mid-Shore Community Television (Ch. 15) by viewers in Talbot County.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we're hoping to broadcast live from the Avalon on Halloween night on WNAV (1430 AM) in Annapolis. Stay tuned, I'll know this week if that thread is coming together.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Showbusiness looming

The Halloween Extravaganza of Radio from Downtown draws closer. I have a great poster from talented photographer and graphic designer Cheryl Nemazie I'll try to post this weekend. Suitable for framing. (UPDATED - click HERE for the poster)

The script for the show is nearly complete. As far as I know--this is always the good part--everybody is ready to rock. Cheryl also came to Morning Edition this week and took some great photos of the show on the air--I look at them and it's almost like being at work. Ack! You can see these and other examples of her work at her website, Some great stuff.

We're trying to work out the details for a live broadcast of the upcoming show on WNAV, 1430 AM in Annapolis, MD. As I think I might have mentioned. It would be a thrill to be doing this live on the radio. Double your pleasure, double your fun...and double your anxiety. Mine, anyway. Stay tuned for details. Broadcasting information for the other stations should be somewhere on our website.

Hope you all can join us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Autumn Jazz Festival, Rehoboth Beach

Jazz fans: one of the biggest parties of the year is coming to Rehoboth Beach, DE, October 15-18. The Autumn Jazz Festival has been ongoing since 1989 and features A-list performers from the jazz, blues and R&B worlds in concert, plus a wide assortment of local bands and individuals in clubs, bars, restaurants, and in the street. It's a musical weekend bar none and an opportunity to sample a variety of music in concert and intimate settings.

I'm happy to tell you my trio, with percussionist Felix Contreras and bassist Tom Anthony, will once again be making the scene at the Festival. I've been playing there almost as long as the festival has been going, joined along the way by the late great bassist Phil Miller, then by another great player, Tom Anthony, then by Felix (who is also the percussionist for the No-No Nonette, my RFD house band).

We'll be at Porcini House (formerly Chez la Mer) on Friday and Saturday nights, 7 to 11 (Oct. 16 and 17); at the Rose Garden dress shop Sat. afternoon 2 to 4; and at the Back Porch Cafe for Sunday brunch, 11 til 2:30. A good idea to make reservations at Porcini House and the Back Porch. Hope to see you there. Lots of great music all over town, and of course the boardwalk, the beach, the ocean. What's not to like? Get there early and pick up a jazz brochure that tells you who's playing what and where. Or just look HERE

Show business approacheth

The Halloween Extravaganza draws closer and closer. I'll put the final press release up here when I get a minute.

We're making an effort to expand our radio reach, currently working with WNAV (1430 AM) in Annapolis to make this broadcast live on the radio. Although we produce the show as a "live to tape" production with little if any post production, we haven't actually been live on the air in many years. We began live on the radio, of course, at WSCL in Salisbury where I used to be the news producer. That went on for a few years, but then we moved to the Avalon and were not set up for live broadcasting. I seem to remember once a couple years ago doing a live feed with WRYR, the low-power FM station in Churchton, MD, but this would be a somewhat bigger deal. We're still on WRYR, and on WRYR.ORG, but this would be our first live foray into commerical radio. So we're trying to work out the details. You may know WNAV is owned by Pat Sajak, of Wheel of Fortune fame, and a major donor to the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis--there's a building named after him. A good guy. If we do this deal, and he's in the area, we're hoping he'll come down to the theater and have a few words of showbiz wisdom for us.

Anyway, stay tuned to the blog--as soon as we ink the deal, it'll be up here. Thanks to our music director Bob Diener (a major IT geek as well as a monster keyboard player) and Steve Napp of WNAV for facilitating this effort.

I'm also happy to announce the return of the Bellows Babes to the show. This accordion duo played on many productions of the show in the past, ending their "career" in 1998, the last time we put up The War of the Worlds. Rita Foust now lives in Florida and can't make the show--although she tried!--but Brenda Wood (formerly Miller) is uncrating her accordion and has a new partner in crime, Annie Hagert, coming down from Philadelphia for the occasion. I promise it'll be as cheesy as it can get--that's the way we like it, and that's the way it's going to stay.

Still looking for a sponsor for the RFD Halloween show. If you have a small (or large) business or know anyone who does, this is an entertaining way to get the word out and be involved with a long-running community production. Get in touch with me through the comments section on this blog and I'll tell you about it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Preparations continue, staff alerted

OK, so the RFD juggernaut is creaking out of the station--has been for a couple months, but now it's getting serious. The Halloween Spectacular at Easton's historic Avalon Theatre will commemorate a couple things: for one, it's the 20th anniversary of Radio from Downtown, which began in tiny Seagull Studio at WSCL at what was then Salisbury State University (they've since dropped the 'State'--top heavy, I guess)--in either late October or early November, 1989. Last century, doncha know? I can't remember who was on the show, which was mostly extemporaneous drivel--except we had a live jazz quintet with maybe Charlie Upshur on bass, me on guitar, maybe Tom Clark on drums, I don't know. Help me out here, you people who were there (all 10 of you, not counting musicians). And I made some stuff up, same as now, except hopefully the writing's better. I think Jack Purdy and I might have debuted "Shore Thing," our first radio play. In five episodes cuz we couldn't think of an ending, just figured we'd keep going. Tony Broadbent was the engineer. Soon the drivel, as it were, became scripted instead of off-the-cuff. Improvement? You tell me.

Cut to 2009, some 75 shows later. We're commemorating--in addition to RFD at 20--the 71st anniversary of the original broadcast of The War of the Worlds, by Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air. A compelling radio drama, to say the least. Got America's panties all bunched up, apparently. We did our version in 1998, and I opined at the time if by some weird twist of fate I was still doing this show in 2008, we'd do it again to celebrate the 70th anniversary. Well, we missed that, but 71 is a good year to celebrate, no? We kept the same irresistible name: Invasion of the Strangers Walk by Night, Part VI (Vee-Eye): The Terror Continues. Jack Purdy and I have changed a few things, added a few things, and I'm sure greatly improved the quality of the script, although Orson might be turning over in his grave. Or Howard Koch, the guy who adaped the HG Wells story.

Anyway. We'll have the fabulously harmonious trio Hot Soup to warble a few tunes for us; I'll talk to Dr. Donald Boesch, prez of the U of MD Center for Environmental Science about the EPA's vow to CLEAN UP THE BAY, GODDAMN IT!; NPR stalwarts Liane Hansen and Carl Kasell along with actors Melissa McGlynn, Jack Purdy, John Ebert and me; the Flamingo Brothers Phil and Ramone; and of course our crack house band, the No-No Nonette. And a couple of surprises.

We hope you come. True, it'll be broadcast on three local stations and on the internet a couple weeks after the performance, but the live gig's the thing. In any case, I'll post the broadcast info here pretty soon. Call the Avalon for ticket information, or check out their website,, or, which I guess you're already doing. See you there.