Radio: Latitude Zero

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For the past fortnight, U.S. listeners coast-to-coast have been diverted by a killer-diller called Latitude Zero (8 p.m. E.D.S.T.), which makes its way out of NBC's Hollywood studios accompanied by the world's most bizarre barrage of sound effects. The script is written to match.

The program dwells on the doings of one Captain Craig McKenzie. Anxious to save civilization from its doom, the Captain operates an insular Shangri-La in the South Pacific.

The Captain populates his island with all kinds of high-toned people, whom he transports to his hideaway at "Latitude Zero" (i.e., somewhere on the Equator) in a submarine. To rescue them he has brushes with huge man-eating crabs and trees, griffons and an evil fellow called Malic, who runs a rocket ship.

Standard equipment for any cliff-hanging show includes metal shells to which actors repair when they are supposed to be below earth or water's surface, echo chambers, noise-making devices ranging from kettledrums to sheets of steel. Latitude Zero has a few new ones. When man-eating trees run amok in the script, the soundmen drag a real tree into the studio, grapple with it to give the proper effect. If the script calls for voices in a tunnel, the cast joins the soundmen in building one of chairs, tables, blankets, etc. In order to make a character, reduced in size by a magic ring, sound tiny, a 50-ft. length of garden hose was rigged up through which an actor's voice was piped into a button mike after going through a standard mike and a mixer.

Responsible for dreaming up Latitude Zero is a thin, bespectacled wag named Ted Elton Sherdeman, whose wife, a veteran radio actress, assists him. Nobody is more amused by Latitude Zero than Ted Sherdeman. During rehearsals, which are gagged up to the limit by the cast, he sits amiably giggling at his delirious brain child. He is fond of such tricks as introducing a kind of Latin double-talk for his eerier characters. Sample: Fora consumatio est ramus malin rite confedo saluero. The show was put on a coast-to-coast hookup after 17 weeks on a local circuit, and has a large and loyal following in the Pacific area.

Not long ago Mr. Sherdeman was called by an indignant mother who denounced him for putting her eight-year-old child into hysterics. He asked to talk to the moppet, soothed the child by telling her Latitude Zero was not really true. Then he suggested to the mother that she had only to turn a small knob on the radio to keep her child from getting overwrought. "Oh, sure," the mother said, "but how am I going to hear it then?"

Most prominent member of Latitude Zero's cast is the persistently romantic Elaine Barrie, whose ex-husband John Barrymore rehearses for the Vallee show a couple of doors away. Although Elaine is careful to primp herself before leaving the studio, she has never run into John. His agent and her's see to that.