INTERVIEW WITH JIM COX, PROMINENT OTR AUTHOR, RESEARCHER
by Staff of RADIO RECALL
(From Radio Recall, December 2003)
1) Tell us about your background in terms of upbringing, education, earliest connections with OTR?
I was born in southeastern Kentucky and raised in Charlotte, N. C. and Tampa, Fla., graduating from high school in Florida. My formal education includes a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt University, an M.A. in Marketing from Webster University and a second M.A. in Management from Webster University. My initial recollections of radio are of my family gathered together in our living room listening to Fred Allen, Bergen and McCarthy, McGee and Molly and others of that ilk while watching my parents laughing themselves silly at jokes I didn't understand. I was aged 2 to 6 when we lived in that house. Because there was seldom any money to spare, radio was our principal form of entertainment for several years. I was a frequent attendee at a plethora of live audience participation shows staged every day by WBT in Charlotte.
2) When did you first begin researching and writing about OTR?
In an informal, nonprofessional manner, I penned a column on radio for a community newsletter that a group of adolescents produced. Simultaneously I was writing plays based on radio programs which were produced at my junior high school. In the mid 1960s I learned that radio memorabilia (tapes, recordings, books) was available for purchase and I started collecting. I'm still at it. For decades I thought someone would research and write extensively about the soap operas. Mary Jane Higby issued her memoir (1966) and Raymond W. Stedman explored serials of various types (1971). I wanted more. In the mid 1990s I figured if it was ever to be it was up to me. After one book I just never quit.
3) How do you go about picking the subjects of your books?
Not only am I guided by personal interest but especially filling niches that no one else has touched or saturated. I see little point in producing another volume on Jack Benny or The Lone Ranger although I loved them. The topics I select aren't the most popular but I don't write for notoriety or riches. I'm in it for two reasons: 1) it's stimulating to me and 2) it's contributing something to today's readers and tomorrow's researchers they might not otherwise have.
4) What is your customary method of researching a book? How long do you allow for the research ..... for the writing?
Once I've settled on a topic, I determine where I need to go to begin acquiring what's to be learned on that subject. Much of it comes from my personal library of more than 150 radio books and thousands of recorded programs. I have a voracious quest for information and make frequent use of public and private libraries. I interview key people and borrow materials from friends. Typically I research and write a book in about 8 to 12 months but I'm not bound by a schedule when the possibility of more or better data arises. And once I have gathered all of it around me I start to write, composing at the keyboard.
5) Who helps you with your research? Are any of your assistants reimbursed for their time? In money or free books?
Several individuals I've met in OTR clubs, at OTR conventions and through the OTR email digest have been of inestimable assistance in various projects. (They are always named in the Acknowledgments section of my books.) I rely on some who have gifts, interests and connections that I don't possess. I believe each feels he/she is making a vital contribution in preserving OTR, sees the big picture and is willing to give generously of time and talent to reach that objective. While all of my helpers are volunteers, I underwrite most of their out-of-pocket expenses in research and provide those who invest heavily in a given project with a published copy of that book. Please understand that there is precious little money derived in such a narrow-focused field of writing, at least for authors. If time and overhead is considered, I've been in the hole since I began. But that's not why any of us are pursuing these tasks.
6) Which archives have been the most help to you in your research projects? Does your research involve much travel?
I've visited and used the resources of the broadcasting museum in Chicago. I devoted two weeks for a research trip to the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, where a vast repository of radio entertainment is housed. I'm a regular customer of extensive public library holdings in my city. When I travel to other major metropolitan areas I often peruse the stacks in local libraries while seeking fresh material. With all sorts of electronic capabilities available at my fingertips, I normally don't have to travel far. It's easy to let your fingers do the walking. If I turn up something far off I need and it isn't available on my screen, UPS is the next best thing to being there.
7) Tell us all of the books you have written......are they all still in print?
At this moment all of my books are still in print. I've written four that don't pertain to OTR. Those on OTR were all published by McFarland (800-253-2187 or www.mcfarlandpub.com). The titles and release dates are:
The Great Radio Soap Operas (1999)
The Great Radio Audience Participation Shows (2001)
Say Goodnight, Gracie: The Last Years of Network Radio (2002)
Radio Crime Fighters (2002)
Frank and Anne Hummert's Radio Factory (2003)
8) What books do you have on the back burner we can look for in the future?
McFarland will be bringing out my next volume in 2004 titled Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. That will be followed by The Great Radio Music Programs. What's next? I'm unsure. I have plenty of ideas. You've read the saying, "So many books, so little time"? I live it every day.