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It's About TV: Eric, let's start off by telling me about what you do, how you got interested in it, and how that ties in to Bob Crane.
Eric Senich: I’m a disc jockey for a classic radio station in Connecticut (WRKI FM, www.i95rock.com). I started working in radio back in the early 90s when I joined my college radio station in New Haven at Southern Connecticut State University. From there I eventually got my first paying gig with the great WCCC in Hartford, CT as a weekend jock named Fletch! I went on to work with a few other Connecticut stations before landing a full-time weeknight gig at WRKI in the late 90s and have been there ever since.
All of this began because of my Dad. I used to hang out with him at the radio stations he was on the air for when I was a kid and got the radio bug from him. As it turns out, Bob Crane was a huge reason why my Dad got into radio, so without Bob’s radio career there wouldn’t be my Dad’s radio career. Without my Dad’s radio career, I wouldn’t be in radio today and for that I am truly grateful to both Bob and my Dad.
What are your first memories of Bob? Did you ever meet him in person, or was it from what your father told you about him? Was this while Bob was still alive, or after his death?
Although I was around when Bob was alive I never got to meet him and that is something I wish was different. I would have loved to have met him and talked radio with him. I was just six when he died. I’m sure I would have if things turned out differently.
My first memory of Bob was as a kid of around maybe 9 or 10 years old watching Hogan’s Heroes after school one day and hearing my Dad say, “You see that guy there? You’re related to him!” I remember it starting to click that this Colonel Hogan did look very similar to my Dad! It really is crazy how much they look alike. It’s as if they were brothers instead of cousins.
As time went on my Dad would tell me more and more about Bob. I remember we had a pair of drumsticks that Bob gave to my Dad, which was pretty darn cool! It wasn’t until I got into radio that my Dad started to tell me all about Bob’s radio career. He eventually lent me Bob’s KNX promo album and some of his other tapes. That’s when I really became a fan of Bob.
They were very close during the years Bob lived in Connecticut before heading out to Los Angeles. My Dad is almost ten years younger than Bob so he really looked up to Bob while Bob really seemed to have a “big brother” type of feeling towards my Dad. My Dad said Bob made sure to never leave him out of conversations and activities and would let him bang away on Bob’s drum kit too! My grandparents would take my Dad and his brother Dick to the Crane’s on many weekends for family get togethers thanks to my grampa Demetrius Senich – they called him “Mitsy” - who really worked towards keeping the family together as a unit. My Dad thought the world of Bob’s parents particularly his mom Rose who was a great cook, had a great laugh and was always smiling. Fans can get a great summary of those times in episode 7 of The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded Podcast called “Connecticut’s Drummer Boy: Bob Crane’s Early Years”. There are some great audio clips from my Dad too. He really captures the feeling of those times.
As the years went on and Bob moved out to the West Coast, he would keep in touch with my Dad through phone calls and audio letters. Bob would go into the KNX production studio and record a message to my Dad; one of them I put up on YouTube and it really gives people an idea of their relationship.
That’s one of the things that really struck me about the podcast, and your YouTube channel, that although we’ve read some of these letters in Carol’s book, now we can actually hear them. It not only makes it more immediate, there’s a level of intimacy in hearing Bob’s voice talking to your Dad. It’s really very powerful.
Yes, you can hear how much Bob cared about my Dad, how encouraging he was and how important it was to give him the support he needed to continue with his radio career. It’s been the same and then some when it comes to my Dad with my career. There is no better Dad around, I can guarantee you that. My Dad is like Bob was – extremely talented, smart, very sensitive to other’s feelings, very caring and thinks the world of all his children.
We know about Bob's troubled personal life - more than we should have known about it, had he not died when and in the way he did. Did that ever bother you - was your image of him tainted by that, or was that not a factor based on what your father had told you about him?
It’s funny I can’t recall when I first found out about all of that stuff. I don’t recall knowing about it until maybe my late teens or early 20s. I know my Mom and Dad didn’t want me to know about it as a kid and they did a good job of protecting me from that. The pre-internet era certainly helped protect from it too. Honestly, it never bothered me nor did it change my image of him. I just remember thinking that the only error in judgment he made was getting involved with women while he was married. He was a good-looking famous guy with a charming personality so the temptations came often I’m sure. As far as the videos he made I just didn’t see it the way others did. I’ve read and heard that Bob hid the cameras from some of the women he was with and there is nothing to substantiate that. It was all consensual. Carol researched Bob’s life from top to bottom and there was no indication of that. That really gets to me, ya know?
And so many people have their minds made up – you can tell them the truth until they’re blue in the face, but they know what they know.
The worst part of it, though, is how Bob’s life ended. I remember when the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Bob aired in the early 2000s. I set my VCR ahead of time and recorded it so I could watch it with my Dad later. I went to my Dad’s and put in the tape and we watched. They got to the part of Bob’s murder and showed the images of Bob in that bed and it was horrendous. I remember looking over to my Dad and he just put his head in his hands and couldn’t bear to watch. I turned it off immediately. For him and his other family members it was personal, for millions of other people watching it was a famous celebrity, not a person. That’s the hardest part. To this day I’ll tell people that I’m related to Bob and it just doesn’t seem to connect with some as it should. They make comments like, “Was he gay?” or “Who do you think killed him?”. Thankfully I get just as many positive comments; comments about how much joy he brought them with Hogan’s Heroes and they still watch the show religiously. I have a co-worker who has a son around 10 years old and knows every episode by heart. That is something I know Bob would be so happy to hear.
At what point did you decide you wanted to become more involved in telling Bob's story? How did you meet Carol and put the podcast together?
It was after meeting Carol that the idea came up. She had seen one of the videos of Bob I posted on YouTube so we connected through that. Later on I met up with her when she had a book signing in Waterbury, CT. That was in the summer of 2016. I wanted to personally thank her for including my Dad in her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography and tell her what a great job she did. Over time we stayed in touch and I had expressed how much I’d like to do a podcast. She didn’t forget that and eventually approached me about doing a podcast version of her book. I jumped at the chance. I know if my Dad was up to doing it he would. These days he’s in a nursing home so, since he couldn’t do the podcast, I felt like it was my chance to carry out his mission – to speak the good word of his cousin Bob. To celebrate his life and career and clear up the misconceptions. I remember playing the first episode to my Dad. That was a wonderful moment for sure. What I love is that Carol kept the audio recordings she did with my Dad about 9 years ago and uses them in the podcast so, really, my Dad is in the podcast and that really makes me happy.
When you talk about Bob Crane and his work, most people probably think about Hogan’s Heroes, but you and Carol have turned the spotlight on his work in radio, which I think is an area that’s been neglected. Tell me about that legacy, and some of the material you've shared on your YouTube channel. What would you like to educate people on regarding his radio career?
Oh boy. His legacy is hard to put in words. He used soundbites and sound effects long before it was the norm and in his day he didn’t have them easily accessible on computers like they are now. He had all of them on records behind him. Bob would pluck the album down from the wall behind him, pull the vinyl out of the sleeve, drop it on the turntable, cue it up and run with it on the fly live. He used them for live commercial reads, which had never been done before. He took a huge risk but it paid off. Radio stations were making a lot of money off Bob through the creative way he advertised the clients’ commercials. Just his whole style was and is timeless. Donald Freed directed Bob in his first play and listened to Bob on the radio every day. Audio of him commenting on Bob’s radio talents are in a recent episode of our podcast. He said it best by saying Bob had a rhythm to his restlessness. He was constantly moving but it was all played out like a great song. That speaks to his drumming skills. He had an internal rhythm that just came across so well on the radio.
On my YouTube videos I’ve got some good ones for sure. They all came from reel-to-reel tapes my Dad handed over to me around 2005 or so. He hoped I could transfer them digitally before they were too old to save and I thankfully was able to. Among them are an interview actor Del Moore did with Bob in 1960, another one where Bob spoke to students at L.A. City College around ’62 or ’63. My favorite of them all, though, is Bob’s audio letter to my Dad in 1963. This one is special. My Dad was just starting out in radio and was getting frustrated with where his career was going. He thought about quitting. Bob tells my Dad not to give up, tells him he listened to my Dad’s air-check and really liked what he heard and, at the very end, he congratulates my Dad on his upcoming marriage to my Mom. I never tire of listening to it and I think all of Bob’s fans will enjoy hearing this. It’s Bob Crane the person not Bob Crane the celebrity.
|Crane at WLEA, Hornell, NY, 1950|
I do something on my radio show that I got from him. I like to call it “Forecast Funnies”. I thought of how boring it is for the listener to just hear the DJ read the forecast so I decided to use soundbites and sound effects to spice it up. That’s Bob right there. That’s something he would do.
What's the biggest misconception you feel people have about Bob? Conversely, what do you think was Bob's greatest contribution, your favorite work of his? Was it Hogan's Heroes, or do you think his radio work was even more influential? What would you like people to know about him that they don't know?
The biggest misconception is of who he was as a person. If you go just on the salacious stories you’ll think this was a guy who didn’t care about anyone but himself, who was out to get whoever and whatever he wanted. He wasn’t like that. He was a great father, he cared about people, he didn’t want to make waves or hurt anyone, he wanted to make people laugh and smile. He developed an addiction that threw darkness over a lot of that light. How many times have you heard about an alcoholic or drug addict where they say he/she was the best person to be around when they were sober but when they had a drink or did drugs it was a whole different story? It’s kinda like that with Bob.
So many people know and love Bob through Hogan’s Heroes but, honestly, I am a huge fan of his radio career. Listening to the tapes of his shows I really connected with his style. I got some of his genes for sure.
Why was Bob so good in Hogan's Heroes? And why does the show remain so popular, after so many years?
Great question. Carol just got me the whole series on DVD so I was able to watch them all again. I think that character really fit him perfectly. From reading Carol’s book and hearing the stories from my Dad, Bob was always the guy you would want to lead the charge. Even going back to his childhood years that seemed to be the case. He was the guy you would do anything for because he’d be there for you when you needed him and, let’s be honest, he was a charming dude! I mean, how could you not feel good seeing Bob with that cap tipped up ever so slightly upwards, arms folded, body swaying back and forth as he’s thinking up another brilliant scheme to get one over on Colonel Klink!
I always like to ask people questions like this - do you have a pet theory on how Hogan's Heroes would have ended if they'd done a final episode?
Hmmm. Well, I would like to think that the war has ended, the boys get to go home and Colonel Robert E. Hogan goes on to open a famous restaurant chain. He hires all the guys like Newkirk, Carter and Kinch to help out. His most popular item on the menu - The Hogan’s Hero Sandwich. Of course his master chef will be none other than Corporal Louis LeBeau. As for Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz whereabouts? I know nothing! NOTHING!
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My thanks to Eric Senich for generously allowing me to tap into his busy time. (As well as being a great guy who's a lot of fun to talk to!) Again, make a point of checking out Eric and Carol’s The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded podcast. It doesn’t take the place of the book, nor is it simply a rehash of it – think of it as a companion that enriches your knowledge. No matter what you think you know about Bob Crane, you won’t be sorry.