Sunday, February 12, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: AFRS Jubilee on Valentine's Day with Cab Calloway (1944)

For my sixth entry African Americans on Old Time Radio, I am showcasing a program that originated from the War Department during World War II.  It is a program that had crossed my field if vision from time to time, but I never really trying to learn more about it until this series.  But once I did....how to put it...wow! Actually, that would be WOW!  This great series came from the Armed Forces Radio Services of the War Department to provide entertainment for African American troops during the war.  

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.


National Seabee Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, Virginia) - August 1, 2015


National Seabee Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, Virginia) - August 1, 2015


Jubilee is a tremendous series that was produced by the Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS) to entertain African American troops serving in the military, especially overseas.  Fans of Old Time Radio owe a great deal to the AFRS.  Many of the recordings that we can listen to and share are from transcription albums purchased by the AFRS for entertaining the troops.  In the process, these all became government documents, which essentially, can be shared freely to everyone.  In addition to the series that they selected from the major networks, there were a few series that they produced and recorded.  One was called Command Performance (which I featured here to celebrate Bing Crosby's Christmas shows) and was a variety show featuring the leading radio and entertainment stars of the day.  The other is Jubilee, that we are showcasing today.  It ran from 1942 to 1949, and again from 1952 to 1953 during the Korean War.  Many of the early episodes were hosted by Ernest “Bubbles” Whitman and were mostly recorded before a live audience in Hollywood. Whitman loved saying words backwards, which is why the history below is called Eelibuj. Most of the guests on each show were African Americans and included Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, among others.

For the Valentine's Day episode in 1944, Jubilee featured an amazing program (and one of a few I am hoping to showcase over the next few weeks). The cast (in addition to Whitman) is simply amazing. Cab Calloway and his Orchestra play the great song "We, The Cats, Shall Hep You." Nat King Cole performs as a trio with Oscar Moore and Johnny Miller. George Burns and Gracie Allen did a skit at the end of the half hour program. And one other group performed, and they are tied to the picture above. A group called the Four Seabees performed. The Seabees are members of the United States Naval Construction Forces (NCF). Their name comes from the initials of "Construction Battalion" - CB (or See Bee). The four Seabees turned musicians were: Seaman First Class Ernie Henderson, Percy Heal, Paul C. Richards, and Will Dakota. Their motto "Can Do!" definitely applies to this group and comes into play during the show.  This amazing program features some outstanding musicians and actors and does a fantastic job of preserving these wonderful performances.

I hope you enjoy these episodes.


African Americans on Old Time Radio:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Singer Meredith Howard on Pete Kelly's Blues (1951)

For my fifth entry African Americans on Old Time Radio, I am showcasing a program that was a summer replacement series in 1951.  The star was Jack Webb, who two years earlier introduced the gritty reality of Dragnet to people all over the country.  In this series, Jack Webb introduced America to another passion of his, Jazz.  Playing a key role in this series was a young African American singer named Meredith Howard.  Unlike the roles played by Eddie Anderson and Lillian Randolph, Meredith Howard played a singer in 1920s Kansas City who had a solo with each show.

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisisana)

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisiana) - 2013 - There is a record in this story...honest!

Pete Kelly's Blues was a brief summer replacement series on NBC that was produced and starred Dragnet actor Jack Webb.  It only ran during the summer of 1951 and was not picked up for a permanent show.  However, it did become a television show and movie of the same name later in the 1950s.  Webb played Pete Kelly, a clarinet player who often finds himself in trouble in the rough and tumble world of musicians and speakeasies during the Prohibition Era.  Meredith Howard played Maggie Jackson, a local singer who not only is written into the stories, but also gets to perform in each episode.  The role of Pete Kelly was much like the role Jack Webb played in the great series Pat Novak, For Hire, which shared Webb and writer Richard Breen who worked on the new series.  He was a musician who played from late at night to early in the morning.  Furthermore, like Pat Novak, trouble found him!  And while this series was the confluence of great radio producers, actors and musicians, the star we want to focus on is Meredith Howard.  Towards the end of this short run, the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper for the African American community, published this profile of the young singer and how she got the part on this program.

How A Lass Tagged Meredith Becomes A Chirper - Maggie
Los Angeles Sentinel, September 20, 1951, page B3
Twenty-one year old Meredith Howard, who plays the role of blues singer Maggie Jackson on NBC's "Pete Kelly's Blues," is still walking in a daze.  In just a few short weeks she jumped from being a student in a Los Angeles trade school to feature billing on the NBC radio shows and star st status on Capital records - and all because Jack Webb once heard her sing two years ago.
It was back in 1949 during Alumni Week at Belmont High School, Meredith, a senior student, sang a few numbers in the school's "Hi-Jinks" production.  Emceeing the show was Jack Webb, Belmont alumni and rising young radio star.  The two met very briefly and that was it, or so it seemed.  When two years later, in 1951, Webb was searching for a genuinely different voice to play the speakeasy blue singer on his "Pete Kelly's Blues," series, he recalled the young girl he'd heard at Belmont high, Webb tracked her down, offered her the radio job and arranged for her to cut some sides for Capital with the "Pete Kelly and his Big Seven" combo and now there seems to be no telling just how high the girl with rocket.
Her brother, Paul White, is also in show business.  He's a dancer in the Ted Lewis aggregation and does the famous "Me and My Shadow," dance with the veteran showman.  In fact it was because of Paul, that the Jackson family left New York for California in 1937.  Paul, then a very young boy, was signed to a Universal Pictures contract and worked in films for three years.
Meredith a big girl of 5' 5" and 163 lbs., says she may finally have the secret of losing weight.  "Just get a sudden phone call from Jack Webb, jump into a whirl of rehearsing, singing, acting, recording, then stay up all night, wondering how it all came about."
Jack Webb's love for jazz was clear in this short-lived series.  Each episode had a few songs that makes listening to the episode a real joy if you love the music of the twenties.  The opening was really great as well:
This one's about Pete Kelly.

It's about the world he goes around in. It's about the big music, and the big trouble, and the big twenties. So when they ask you, tell 'em this one's about the blues. Pete Kelly's blues.
When Pete Kelly and his band start recording a few songs, they found themselves at a recording study where people record music or personal messages for 'family back home.' That is where Pete Kelly finds himself mixed up in a crime...again.  Turns out that the cylinders can be used multiple times, which means that some incriminating evidence might be out there.  When a woman named Zelda shows up and stops him from going into the studio, the adventure begins. Zelda is asking Pete to get back a recording from the studio.  Starting at 16 minutes into this episode, Meredith Howard sings a great song about Fat Annie's, the bar across the river on the Kansas side.  If you like the combination of jazz and crime stories, this is a good series for you!  I hope you enjoy.

Zelda (Pete Kelly's Blues - September 5, 1951)


African Americans on Old Time Radio:

Monday, February 6, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: New World A Coming on Life Behind Newspaper Headlines (1944)

In my fourth entry in my African Americans on Old Time Radio, I want to share a program that was broadcast over WMCA in New York City in the 1940s to showcase the contributions of that community in broader society.  Over the last few episodes, we have heard representations of African American actors in service roles like valets and house-keepers.  But thanks to this great series from Roi Ottley, we hear a different story over the radio in the 1940s to showcase the contributions of African Americans in all areas of society.  As a personal reference, I remember always looking at the WMCA radio transmitter building near the New Jersey Turnpike on the Belleville Turnpike in the wetlands of Northern Jersey.

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.

Newspapers

Newspapers in the library - November 2008 (University of Michigan)

New World A Coming was a a ground breaking book by Roi Ottley in 1943.  Ottley was a journalist who wrote for the Amsterdam News in the 1930s, where he gained a great understanding of the African American Community in New York, especially Harlem.  He went to St. Bonaventure University before transferring to the University of Michigan where he studied journalism (Go Blue!)  In 1943, Ottley wrote New World A-Coming, and provided an overview of life in Harlem from the 1920s and 30s.  The book became a best seller and won the Peabody Award.  The year after the book came out, WMCA in New York City produced a series with Ottley as the writer to share these stories to an even broader audience.  The Amsterdam News would report the following story after the first episode aired:

"A New World" Holds Premier
S.W. Garlington, New York Amsterdam News (March 11, 1944), page 1
"With the sweeping fury of a resurrection - a new world is coming!"  With this announcement last Sunday over WMCA the premier of the radio program "New World A-Coming" was introduced to the audience of the world's leading independent radio station.  As the music started, one was reminded of "Mood Indigo," but instead it was "New World A-Coming," written by Duke Ellington for the series.
The program was both entertaining and informative.  Even more, it did not pull punches in dramatizing injustices to the Negro and suggested a square deal on all fronts.
Canada Lee, famous actor, served as narrator, the student orchestra furnished the music and a host of actors relayed the various stories - bits of Americana one never seen in the daily press.
The City-Wide Citizens Community on Harlem sponsored the program - to run for 26 weeks - in hope of making democracy less of a dream and more of a reality.  Columnist Dorothy Norman spoke for the committee.  Roi Ottley, former Amsterdam-News staff writer and author of the best-selling NEW WORLD A-COMING, from which the series is based, also spoke.
Each Sunday, at 3:03 p. m., for the next 25 weeks.  WMCA and the City-Wide Citizens Committee on Harlem and accompanying artists will present to the radio world a 27-minute program of entertainment and information, designed to reassure the fact that A NEW WORLD IS COMING.
On April 23, 1944, the episode that I am featuring was first aired.  Called "The Story Behind The Headline In The Negro Press", it showcased the need and function of the 200 or so African American newspapers across the country.  As pointed out in this episode, while many members of the African American community read the main daily newspapers for their cities, they also read the "Negro Press" to get stories not covered by mainstream papers. This great episode features numerous vignettes that reveal what might have taken place as the editorial boards discussed what to public in the African American papers.  It also showcased the issues of blatant discrimination that was prevalent in the country in the 1940s, especially for African American soldiers and employees in the war effort.  The show was written by Roi Ottley (who wrote over 20 of the episodes) and featured actors Canada Lee, Maxine Sullivan, Leigh Whipper, Clarence Foster, David Kerman, Paula Bowersmith, Randolph Eckles among others.  The theme music was from the great musician Duke Ellington.  I hope you enjoy this great item from New World A Coming.
African Americans on Old Time Radio:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Lillian Randolph on The Great Gildersleeve (1945)

In my third entry in my African Americans on Old Time Radio, I would like to celebrate Lillian Randolph, a great actress of both radio and the silver screen.  She is fondly remembered by many as Annie, the family maid in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946).  Around the same time, she was also working as Birdie on The Great Gildersleeve, program over the NBC Network (starring Harold Peary).  All told, she was an actress in over 650 radio programs according to the RadioGOLDINdex. Lillian was the sister of actress Amanda Randolph.

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisisana)

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisiana) - 2013 - There is a drummer in this story...honest!

The Great Gildersleeve is not only a great radio comedy, it has two aspects that really makes it a series way ahead of their time.  First, it was a spin-off program, having had its main character originally on a different series.  In this instance, the main character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was originally on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. According to the Wikipedia entry (please see the link below), the character was introduced on October 3, 1939 (my birthday - not year!).  The Great Gildersleeve debuted on the NBC Network on August 31, 1941.  Second, the actor to play Gildersleeve (or Gildy) was replaced after a contract dispute.  Harold Peary originated the role and played Gildy until a contract dispute moved him off the show.  He was replaced by Willard Waterman in September 1950. Harold Peary would star in the The Harold Peary Show, often known as Honest Harold.

The Great Gildersleeve is the story of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve - played by Harold Peary.  Gildy is the self-important Water Commissioner in their town of Summerfield.  A bachelor who was constantly on the look for that someone special, he lived in a house with his niece, Marjorie (played by radio great Lurene Tuttle) and nephew, Leroy (played by child voice star Walter Tetley).  They are joined by Birdie (played by Lillian Randolph) as housekeeper and cook at the home.  One of Gildy's great nemeses is Judge Hooker, who plays a nearly constant foil for whatever they are trying to do.  I have gone hot and cold on Gildersleeve over the years, but the more I listen to these episodes, the more I like them.  I love hearing the Kraft ads (from the early years) and I am trying to listen to more of them.

Lillian Randolph was one of the more prominent African-American voice actors from these days of radio programming. One of the big issues that many writers in the African American Media were concerned about was when actresses needed to learn a special dialect to play these roles.  Lillian Randolph was written up in a small article in the Chicago Defender  in 1950.


Lillian Had To Learn Dialect For Radio JobChicago Defender, December 2, 1950 - page 21
In order to get her first radio job, Lillian Randolph, who this year begins her 10th year as "Birdie," the cook for "The Great Gildersleeve," had to be taught dialect.
Lillian was born in Cleveland where she attended school and sang in St. John's Church choir.  Daughter of a minister and a school teacher, she left school at 17 for the stage and joined "Lucky Sambo's Show" in New York.  
In 1930, Lillian went to Detroit where she worked for George Trendle, originator of "The Lone Ranger."  It was here she learned dialect.
In 1935 she came to Hollywood for her first picture, "Singing Kid," starring Al Jolson.  Among her many motion picture credits since are "Little Men," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer," "Once More My Darling," and "Dear Brat."
When not working in motion pictures and rehearsing for "The Great Gildersleeve," Lillian makes night club appearances as a singer of novelties, blues, ballads, and classical selections.  She is president of "Les Dames," Los Angeles business and professional women's club which does philanthropic work for delinquent children and needy families.

In this episode, Judge Hooker is over for a family dinner - and Birdie is being complemented by her excellent cooking (along with her great housekeeping skills).  Leroy wants to the theater next week to see Famous Jones.  He is a "famous colored drummer".  Lillian shared with Leroy that she went to school with Famous Jones, who had that name long before anyone thought that name was appropriate.  Meanwhile, Marjorie wants to head off to study dance, but Gildy thinks she needs a more practical education. She needs to learn about house-keeping to attract a husband.  So he arranges for Birdie to teach Marjorie how to cook.  In the end, and for everyone's benefit, Birdie takes over the meal prep and once again saves the day.  This show was written by John Whedon, who is the grandfather of director and writer Joss Whedon and his screenwriter brothers Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Teaching Marjorie Homemaking (The Great Gildersleeve - November 11, 1945)



Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and The Great Gildersleve:
African Americans on Old Time Radio:

Thursday, February 2, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Eddie Anderson's First Appearance on the Jack Benny Program (1937)

In my second entry in my African Americans on Old Time Radio, I am featuring Eddie Anderson, the great comic actor who was one of the key members of Jack Benny's show from 1937 until the end of its run.  He was known as Rochester, Jack Benny's valet.  However, he did not start that way.  This episode features his first appearance on the show in 1937 when there were almost no African Americans in national programs over the radio.

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.

National Museum of American History (Washington DC) - July 29, 2015

National Museum of American History (Washington DC) - July 29, 2015

The Jack Benny Program was a national treasure and it is great that we have so many recordings.  Staring in the show was Jack Benny, a vaudeville performer who seemed to hit it big over the airways.  Mary Livingstone played second fiddle (no pun intended) to her real life husband.  She apparently had horrible stage fright, but hardly shows it as the straight person to many of Jack Benny's jokes.  Eddie Anderson played Rochester, Jack's valet and chauffeur.  He was one of the earliest African-Americans on mainstream radio and was one of the most loved characters on the show.  Don Wilson was the show announcer and did the commercials.  He was the constant butt of jokes, primarily about his weight.  Irish Tenor Dennis Day (who was on the 1948 show) also had a show of his own.  Besides being a 'dim bulb' in all the skits, he also sang a song on every episode.  Phil Harris (who also had a show of his own) was the bandleader and the joker on the show.  His real wife, Alice Faye would join him on the show as well.  The last big name was Mel Blanc (of Bugs Bunny fame).  Blanc (who ALSO had his own show) was one of the most famous character actors to play on the Jack Benny Show.  He is very commonly the floorwalkers for the Christmas episodes.  The shows are chock full of laughs, funny stories, corny jokes and great music.

Eddie Anderson (1905-1977) was a vaudeville actor, turned movie actor in the 1930s.  It was believed that his raspy voice was caused by yelling as a newspaper boy in San Francisco.  He was able to turn it a great characteristic that made him memorable on the silver screen and over the radio. While he started on the Jack Benny Program on this episode in a non-recurring role, his popularity got Jack Benny to think about another role.  Just a few months later on June 20, 1937, Eddie Anderson played his now famous role of Rochester the valet.

On March 28, 1937, Anderson played a train porter on his first appearance on the Jack Benny Show.  While his part was not that big, it was historic given the role that he would play in years to come.  Joining Anderson on the program were Jack Benny (of course), Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Don Wilson, Kenny Baker and Andy Devine.  Anderson's first line is "Yes, Mr. Bunny." which makes sense, because it was broadcast on Easter Sunday.

One year later, the Associated Negro Press story about Eddie Anderson was published in the Pittsburgh Courier (excerpts below):

Radio's Famous "Rochester"
Eddie Anderson owes his present position as Jack Benny's "air valet" to his ability to leave the dinner table.  The bewildering Rochester, who exasperates his boss with his laziness and larceny each Sunday night over the NBC-Red network, might have been a jockey rather than a radio and screen comedian with a string of his own thoroughbreds if he'd practiced a little more restraint at mealtimes as a boy. Because Eddie decided that he preferred second helpings to spurs and saddle, he deserted the paddocks for the footlights at the age of 13.

It was during his vaudeville days in the East that Eddie firsts met Jack Benny.  They just shook hands - nothing more.  But Jack remembered Eddie's name as well as his act, a fact which was to pave the way to Anderson's eventual selection as "Rochester."
A born complement to the Benny type of comedy, Rochester never has to rehearse a line twice.  He is one actor on whom Jack can depend for sure-fire laughs, and is never caught off balance by any of the boss' "ad lib" cracke.  Possessed of a remarkable memory, Eddie usually knows his lines by heart at broadcast time and seldom refers to his script.
A rehearsals and script sessions, Eddie is usually very quiet, pays rapt attention to Benny, whom he idolizes.  If Jack smokes a cigar, Eddie lights one, too.  If jack tooks perturbed, Eddie's brow wrinkles also.  During the rest periods, he can usually be found in the vicinity of Phil Harris' orchestra "truckin" on down.
 Radio's Famous "Rochester" - The Pittsburgh Courier (1911-1950), City Edition; Pittsburgh, Pa. (From the Associated Negro Press) - November 12, 1938, page 6

And about that first role on the show - here is an account from a few years later.

Rochester Van Jones Rides High
Radio and Television Mirror (January 1940, p49)

He wasn't "Rochester" on that show, - just an unnamed porter.  But Eddie Anderson got laughs.  And like all people who get laughs the first time in radio, he came back.  Once as an elevator boy; once as "Pierre," the western waiter in Jack's "Buck Benny" series.  Then Jack decided to build a house in Beverly Hills.  If you know the Benny show, you know right away that every halfway important act in Jack Benny's personal life is gagged to the limit for the air.  The house was too good for [writers] Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin to pass up.  "What would certainly make you look funny as a householder," mused Bill, "is a butler."
I hope you enjoy this great episode from Jack Benny .

The Train Porter (The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny - March 28, 1937)


Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Jack Benny:
African Americans on Old Time Radio:

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Langston Hughes is the Shakespeare Of Harlem on Destination Freedom (1948)

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.  For my first entry in this series, I will showcase a great series called Destination Freedom that broadcast from Chicago's WMAQ and featured biographical portraits of noted African-Americans in all fields.

Navy Pier (Chicago, Illinois)
Chicago from Navy Pier (May 2012) 

Destination Freedom is a series that ran over Chicago's WMAQ from June 27, 1948 through August 13, 1950.  According to John Dunning's Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, "its original purpose was to dramatize and reveal little-known lives from black Americana.  The show was the brain-child of Richard Durham, a black writer who also wrote scripts for the Works Progress Administration.  This anthology series showcased biographies of notable members of the African-American community all over the country.  The program had great production values and broadcast weekly on Sunday at 5pm.  Early episodes were also produced with the Chicago Defender, the African-American newspaper of Chicago.

On September 26, 1948, Destination Freedom aired "Shakespeare Of Harlem", the story of poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  The story starts out with young Langston heading off to Mexico to live with his father, who is a successful rancher.  But rather than following his father into business, he wanted to write and was well known as the boy with a notebook.  So despite the discrimination waiting for him back in the states, he decided to leave Mexico and head back to the United States.  He worked a variety of jobs, but it was a chance meeting while a busboy in Washington D.C. that he was discovered.  He slipped a poem to the attention of poet Vachel Lindsay and from that, his life as an obscure writer ended.  Excellent radio historical account in this wonderful recording.  Including in the episode are excerpts from Langston Hughes work including: "Freedom Train", "Suicide Note", "Wake", and "Democracy", all used with special permission by the author.  Fred Pinkard played Hughes and the script was written by Richard Durham and produced by Homer Hecht.

I hope you enjoy this new series this month.

Shakespeare of Harlem (Destination Freedom - September 26, 1948)


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Look What We Found - A Lighthouse Keeper (Split Rock)

For my 16th entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series, I will feature an episode of "Look What We Found" - a series from the Minnesota School of the Air.  This is a great interview, we learn more about one of the most beautiful lights that protects ships in the Great Lakes.  The Split Rock Lighthouse that sits high on a bluff over Lake Superior, just north of Duluth.

I am going to take a break from these episodes next month, while I focus on entries from a new series that will celebrate the radio contributions of African Americans in celebration of National African American History Month.  After that, I want to return to my series of baseball on old time radio and even feature a brief series on Alexander Hamilton!


Cross Stitch Split Rock Lighthouse - Completed by the author around 10 years ago

The Minnesota School of the Air was one of the longest running schools in the United States.  (For a great overview of these educations radio programs, check out William Bianchi's Schools of the air : a history of instructional programs on radio in the United States (2008). The program started at the University of Minnesota in the late 1930s.  The goal of these programs was to supplement the education students were receiving in the classroom.  These were broadcast over air from the stations at the University of Minnesota.  From 1949 to 1950, the show Look What We Found was broadcast on Tuesday morning at 11am with an audience expected to be grades 4th through 8th.  While we do not know when this episode aired, it likely came over this time period.

The episode of Look What We Found that I am focusing on today features Robert E. Bennetts and is called "A Lighthouse Keeper."  Bennetts was the last civilian keeper of Split Rock from August 13, 1947 through 1961. Split Rock is a stunning lighthouse that sits high above the waters of Lake Superior.



The lighthouse was built in 1910 and serves as a protector of the shipping lanes that head to and from the great inland port of Duluth.  This 15 minute episode is really quite nice to hear the voice of a lighthouse keeper.  He is interviewed and asked questions about the lighthouse service and the history of Split Rock.  What was most interesting are the personal questions asked to Mr. Bennetts.  He had been a keeper for 26 years for the Coast Guard and he actually grew up in a lighthouse family, so his experience goes much longer than that.  He also talked about the duties that are required like repairing equipment and cooking.  One other interested element was him talking about the tourists that come to the lighthouse in the 1940s.  There is another entry that I will showcase when I come back to this series that features a keeper in his own words.  I hope you enjoy this and my next series.

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Minnesota School of the Air:
Lighthouses on Old Time Radio:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Sentinels of the Deep from The Cavalcade of America (1936)

For my 15th entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series - I am returning to Cavalcade of America.  I have highlighted two previous entries from Cavalcade in this lighthouse series: Woman on Lime Rock (1947) & When Cupid Was a Pup (1949).  This episode is the third (and last) Cavalcade episode that focuses on lighthouses.  This episode goes back to the early years of Cavalcade and showcases some of the changes that made this a very successful program over the years.

Lightship Chesapeake - Inner Harbor (Baltimore, Maryland) - July 31, 2015

Lightship Chesapeake - Inner Harbor (Baltimore, Maryland) - July 31, 2015

The Cavalcade of America is a great series sponsored by DuPont.  The purpose of the program has been one of great study and I am definitely glad that I have a few episodes to talk about it.  The long-running show ran from 1935 to 1953 and then had a second life on television.  Starting first on the CBS Network, it moved to NBC in 1939.  This 30 minute program provided a great platform to showcase some of the lesser known incidents and people who made the country great.  Not only was this series a great source of historical dramas, there were numerous fictional stories brought in as well.  From the Internet Archive page (see link below),  "The company's motto, 'Maker of better things for better living through chemistry,' was read at the beginning of each program, and the dramas emphasized humanitarian progress, particularly improvements in the lives of women, often through technological innovation."

According to John Dunning's On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1998), the episode I am featuring today was special in the early history of this amazing series. (p.141).

The show was conceived in vignette form, with two or more separate-but-related stories making up the half-hour.  The first show, No Turning Back, told in its two segments on the return of the Mayflower and of the great grasshopper plague.  The Spirit of Competition, the third show, told the stories of the Oklahoma land rush and the Mississippi steamer race.  So it went, week after week.  But this format had one glaring weakness: a lack of continuity due to the brevity of each segment.  Before a listener could become interested, a story was finished and a new one begun.  This broken-show format was continued for a full season, liming along in low single digits in the ratings. It wasn't until the third show of the second season (Sentinels of the Deep, a story of the lighthouse service) that the broken shows were discontinued.  
On October 14, 1936, Cavalcade featured a story of bravery, heroism, and the selflessness shown by those who have worked in lighthouses and lightships to keep us safe.  After the orchestra played Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (selections from the 4th movement), the actors portrayed three stories showcasing the history of this great service:
  • Early in the 18th Century, the perils of arriving at Boston Harbor before 1716, when the first lighthouse was established in North America.
  • The price a keeper's family has to pay during the winter.  A keeper, his wife and their young son just about lose patience awaiting a supply ship.  Should their last oil be used for the light or for heating.
  • The difficult life on-board a lightship.  In this story, crew men on the Lightship Nantucket are scrambling for their life after being hit and sunk during a foggy day (May 15, 1934).  This took place less than three years before this episode aired.  If you follow the link above, you will see how many vessels were called the Lightship Nantucket.  
The brave men and women who work in lighthouses and lightships owe our eternal gratitude for their service keeping us safe.  I love this episode for showing not only their service, but that of their family.  I hope you enjoy this great episode from Cavalcade of America.  




Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Cavalcade of America:
Lighthouses on Old Time Radio:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Phantom Of The Lighthouse from The Shadow (1947)

Lighthouse keepers have one primary job - to save lives through keeping ships from smashing into the shore.  There are few professions that are as noble and virtuous.  So when a lighthouse keeper starts killing people, there is a real problem.  Oh, and did I mention that the keeper was already dead for over 150 years....!  Who can solve this mystery and keep the ghost keeper from striking again?

For my 14th entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series - I am drawing upon a great series that is one of the most iconic voices from Old Time Radio.  Few programs have as much recognition as the Mutual Network's The Shadow and their famous opening:

"Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men....the Shadow knows!"

Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses (Cape Ann, Massachusetts)

Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses (Cape Ann, Massachusetts)
August 2010

The Shadow tells the story of Lamont Cranston, a 'man about town' who learned the powers of clouding men's minds while in Asia.  Lamont turns into The Shadow when he needs to solve a crime and correct wrongs done by others in the name of greed and evil.  The only one who knows that Lamont is also The Shadow is his companion, Margo Lane.  The Shadow was the creation of writer Walter B. Gibson in 1931 and was serialized in magazines and pulp novels in the 1930s.  It was adapted to radio early in the Golden Age of Radio and counted among those who voiced the lead character were Orson Welles, Bill Johnstone,  Bret Morrison, John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh.  It seems that the characters and plot lines from both pulp and radio helped change both formats as The Shadow remained a prominent element of popular culture into the 1950s.

On September 7, 1947, the Mutual Network broadcast "The Phantom Of The Lighthouse." An elderly lighthouse keeper, his wife and his assistant are sitting in a dimly lit room in a lighthouse as the episode opens.  The keeper's wife is reading from the the diary of Josiah Blake, the 'master of this lighthouse' along the coast of Maine.  Blake had died 150 earlier and threatened anyone who would take the job as keeper of that light.  When the keeper's assistant falls off the tower to his death, the keeper's wife declares that it is the ghost of Josiah Blake that did the deed!  Not only did he declare himself the 'master of the lighthouse,' but he was also a pirate who killed many in his day.  A ghost killing those who work at a lighthouse?  Sounds like a job for Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane to take.  And when the ghost claims another life (the old keeper), it seems to be a mystery that only the Shadow can solve.  There are secrets that need protecting and a fortune to find.  The episode stars Bret Morrison as Lamont and Grace Matthews as Margo.  The show also stars radio great Santos Ortega in the supporting cast.  The show is sponsored by Blue Coal - the best anthracite for your home heating needs.  I hope you enjoy!

Phantom Of The Lighthouse (The Shadow - September 7, 1947)



The Shadow (Old Time Radio Links)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - The Devil's Crib from Front Page Drama (1936)

For my 13th entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series - I thought I would stick with the 1930s and feature a series that I have not used before.  In fact, I have not featured many programs that are shorter than a standard 30 minute time-slot, but this fits that bill also.  There is not a ton written on this series - so thee is a good incentive to keep digging!  With that all said - on to the show.

Cheboygan Crib Light - October 9, 2015 (Cheboygan, Michigan)

Cheboygan (Michigan) Crib Light (Lake Huron)
October 2015

Front Page Drama was a 15 minute weekly serial that ran from the mid 1930s through at least 1954.  This series had a very specific function.  The series presented a dramatization of a story that would appear in the Sunday newspaper supplement called the American Weekly.  This supplement was placed in the Sunday editions of Hearst newspapers across the country.  In the mid-thirties, the series would be on more than 230 radio stations across the United States, Canada and Australia (according to Variety on March 13, 1935 - p41).  To get a sense of the series, here is a review for an episode in Variety in 1937:

Waxed dramatization of story 'to appear in next Sunday's American Weekly' air over WMCA and approximately every station in the New York area, with the exceptions of WEAF, WJZ, WABC and (currently) WOR - about 20 stations at present.  Waxing and placing them handled by Tom Brooks, radio editor of Hearst's N.Y. American and Journal.  Understood broadcasts are gratis proposition, for 'good will.'  Brooks is doing okay.  
Program caught (20) told hokey meller about prodigal son just out of the pen and nose-diving back into crime.  Yanked back to the straight-and-narrow by a mystical 'traveler' he tried to hold up.  Winds up with the reformed lad back with his poor old mamma.  Hefty trending on the tremolo pedal and beaucoup serving of sugarcoated pills of philosophy.  Actors do what they can with it.  Instrumental backgrounds of explanatory interludes and commercials.
Possibly readers who would go for type of yarn broadcast would buy the American as a result of this program.
-Hobe. (Variety - Wednesday March 24, 1937, p39)
On February 15, 1936, the featured story from the upcoming American Weekly was called The Devil's Crib.  Think of it a bit like Romeo and Juliette on a lighthouse.  Well, not really, but there are two families - especially the patriarchs, who cannot stand each other.  One is the lighthouse keeper on Devil's Crib - the other a ship captain.  Unknown to either of them, their children fall in love.  Outrage ensues when the lighthouse keeper reveals that the ship's captain called him an 'old stick in the mud.'  I guess that constitutes one of the worst things you can call someone over the radio in 1936.  But when the weather unexpectedly gets worse, these two adversaries, with a bit of supernatural help, find a way to help each other out.  Hope you enjoy this short program from Front Page Drama.

Devil's Crib (Front Page Drama - February 15, 1936)



Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Front Page Drama: