30 Years with the Magnificent Glass Pelican

Perhaps the radar that the Magnificent Glass Pelican has flown under for many years had never been turned on. We escaped detection for so long because no one was looking.

My association with the longest-running unknown radio campus comedy show dates back to around this date in 1990. Before I met my friends (now lifelong friends), several had written skits and started to record them in a home recording studio.

One day, the friend with the recording studio (and the home!) asked to play me some of those tapes. I was a graduate student who had just started to study English Lit. and he had just finished his degree and was now an instructor in the English department. This was at SUNY (State University of New York) New Paltz.

I had just experienced a non-triumphant summer in which two college friends and I attracted enough attention to one of our theatrical productions to earn a negative review in the local daily newspaper. Compared to some, that made me an impresario.

I listened to the tapes and started to spend time with the group members. The name was already in place: the Magnificent Glass Pelican. There is a story to the name’s origin, but it is not mine to tell.

Many of our late-night recordings sounded exactly like they were. Tapes were sent to local college FM radio stations, and all of them remained in their cases, as they had not been requested to begin with.

Two couples lived in homes, not apartments (unlike me), in a local apple orchard. In memory, it is always autumn, the air smells of apples as it does here in New Paltz right now, and every sentence I heard any one of my new friends speak made me laugh or made me think or both. Often both. One of the homes was the location of the recording studio.

Sometime around 1992 or ’92, an undergraduate student executive with the SUNY New Paltz campus FM radio station found a tape that we had sent to his predecessor one day. He invited us to produce finished half-hour shows and then he, too, became a member of the group.

Eventually, this relationship led to an invitation to perform the show live on-air. I do not remember when I started to participate in the live show, but there are photos of us in rehearsal and performance from 1995. There I am in glasses, turtleneck-vest combo worn like an advertisement for 1995. In the photo, we are rehearsing the show that we will be performing a few minutes later. The friend to my right, Stephanie, quite likely still has the scripts from that very week’s show.

The date-stamp on the photo tells you it is April 1995, but that turtleneck-vest combo on my body confirms it. Photo by Brian Scolaro.

At times, we had as many as seven or eight writers and performers crammed into the cramped (three mics, three chairs) radio station space. Several of us wrote skits, some of them with recurring characters and catch phrases: a couple of us were ambitious. We would commandeer an empty classroom and read through the week’s scripts and put them in order of performance. Just before 7:30 p.m. each Wednesday, we would cram into the radio station.

Through time, the campus radio station continued to schedule the Magnificent Glass Pelican on its list of shows each semester. Probably fifteen years ago, I started to joke about how no one on the show had any affiliation with the college, either as teacher or student or parent of student, and no one with the college was involved with our show. Years later, it remains the only show on this particular college FM station that is not produced by students but is appreciated by them anyway. If nothing else, we are reliable, and if you have ever worked at a college radio station, “reliable” is perhaps more important than any other quality.

The script-writing era passed into history at least ten years ago. Maybe twenty years ago. For most of the last decade, the show has been three of us improvising comedy and presenting “classic” recordings that we made in the 1990s, before the students now on campus were born.

A couple writers and cast members have died, I am sad to report, while others have continued to have careers in the arts, as actors and musicians. Others are teachers. For some, the Pelican was a show they worked on when they were undergraduates and nothing more—twice in the last five years I have been asked, “Did I hear that you, John, and Sean are still doing that comedy show?”

Yeah, yes we are.

The last live show that we performed was on March 11, the night the NBA shut down operations and then everything else closed up in those first hours and days of the quarantine. Tonight, because the SUNY New Paltz campus has started a hybrid-style school year, we can not perform the show live on the radio as we used to, but the FM station scheduled the Magnificent Glass Pelican to produce a half-hour a week for broadcast during our traditional time slot.

Thus, we will be heard over the local FM airwaves (very local: perhaps ten or so towns that straddle the Hudson River near the Catskills) and streaming over the internet to mark something like thirty continuous years of making each other laugh if no one else.

The Magnificent Glass Pelican returns for its maybe thirtieth season at 7:30 p.m EST on 88.7 FM WFNP The Edge and by livestream (click on the link).

Here is a show we performed live in February 2019. It has a mix of recordings from long ago and not far away (the very same room we performed live in) and some live improv. In the live segments, John Burdick offered the Korsalex idea, Sean Marrinan played the owner of Mick’s Haunted Hallway, and my voice is in there as a third wheel. At one point, I really sell the word, “haunted.”

* * * *
Some Wednesdays, I use my website to advertise for the radio show. Neither benefits financially from the arrangement, because neither endeavor makes money (money has been spent to make both exist but has never been earned). The arrangement is between me and me.

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