Plantation Echoes - Pgm 9
Apr 5th, 2010 by randsesotericotr
This program contains racial stereotyping themes that may be disturbing to some listeners.
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I've debated about putting up this program. However, it is historically significant and should be available to old time radio researchers and historians. If you decide to give it a listen, keep in mind that it's a difficult half-hour due to the sound quality and the content.
"Plantation Echoes" was an early syndicated program from Transco. Goldin lists one other episode in the series (program 13) and dates the series to 1932, but I'm not sure of the source of his information. The show features a Black cast performing spirituals and popular songs that are framed by an ongoing story set on an "Old South" plantation. Program 9 in the series picks up the story from the previous week where Liza has gone missing. The slaves, through a series of misunderstandings, think she's been murdered.
Several Transco series from the 1930s were repackaged and syndicated by Bruce Eells and Associates when they bought the Transco library in the 1940s. "Plantation Echoes" hasn't appeared on any of these later vinyl repressings, so it perhaps it shelved because it would have sounded pretty dated a decade later. Or perhaps it didn't do that well in its initial run.
I took a look through several sources - newspaper archives in ProQuest and Google Books and JJ's Radio logs - but only turned up one definate program with that title from 1932, a fifteen minute program on KMTR running 15 minutes. There was a program titled "Plantation Echoes" that featured Ethel Waters on NBC in 1934 according to several sources, but I don't think the two shows are related. The NBC effort would have originated in New York where Ethel Waters was having considerable success on the theater stage; as a syndicated Transco program, our "Plantation Echoes" program would have likely been recorded in Hollywood. The style of the disc pressing - laminated shellac - leads me to think it dates from as early as 1929 or maybe as late as 1933 or '34.
Unfortunately, when the disc was shipped to me, it was broken into three pieces. So I reassembled the disc and tried my best to do a transfer and edit it into something listenable. I played the disc in sections, constantly shifting the tonearm weight and anti-skating and replaying sections to get it to track as best as I could. However, there are still several skips in the show opening, at the end of side one and the beginning of side two. The edited file was run through some heavy click reduction to minimize the pops and clicks as much as possible. At least, it can give you an overall idea of the program contents even if it is difficult to listen to at times.
The previous owner of the disc, who had it in his collection since 1977, never played the transcription or had a transfer made, so this is likely all we have left of this particular show unless a 1960s or early 70s tape of the disc pops up somewhere.
I'll leave it to others more familiar with African-American history to remark on the cultural content of the program. As far as my knowledge of old time radio goes, it's rare to hear all all-Black or mostly-Black cast featured on a series from this time period. I can't recall any other series where African-Americans were playing stereotypes like these for comedy - whites playing Blacks in character, like Amos n' Andy, or recreating minstrel routines, like Pick and Pat, were much more common on radio at the time.
One odd thing that perhaps a listener can confirm or comment on - at around 16:30, in the number "Ain't It a Shame", it sounds like the bass singer keeps singing the line as "A G*****n shame" after the first chorus or two. Am I hearing that right?
The program was transferred from an original laminated shellac Radio Transcription Company of American transcription, matrix numbers R-214 and R-215.
Sounds to me like the first few instances, the bass voice sings “Doggone shame” but on the final two cases it most definitely sounds like the non-PG version.
I agree with Defo. The last three are not “doggone,” but sound very like “goddamn” or “goddamned.”
I was pretty busy so I passed over this recording the first time. Is this a piece for former slaves to remember the good old days? Whatever it is its scary - I need to listen to it some more. I wonder who this was produced for?
Thank you for posting this.
PS: I heard awful, doggone, and g*****n shame.
Thanks again Randy
This type of entertainment, with Blacks taking on roles set in during the “Old South” slave era, wasn’t that unusual at the time. In the 1920s, in the South, there was a kind of “nostalgia boom” about the Civil War as the anniversary of the conflict came up; there were books, songs, and stage shows that glossed over the image of the plantations and slavery. You can kind of see the later remnants of that movement in “Gone With the Wind”.
When I listened to it, the show reminded me a little of King Vidor’s 1929 film, “Hallelujah”. The film was a musical and was one of the first sound films shot on location; the story intends to look at Black life in a realistic way and is set post-Civil War with sharecroppers as the main characters. However, it plays into many of the same stereotypes we hear in “Plantation Echoes”.
I’m guessing this might have played on stations primarily in the South and may be why I didn’t find radio listings for it online, since the indexes are for the bigger Los Angeles, Chicago and New York papers.
We’ve come a long way - it’s a good reminder to be thankful we have.
1. The Sheboygan (WI) Press radio page lists a 25-minute long show with this title (”Plantation Echoes” / Music and Drama of / “The Southland”) airing on WHBL from circa Dec ‘31 to Feb ‘32. A Feb 02 1932 blurb advertises it this way:
Be Trasported [sic] to the / Balmy Southland / Tune in / “Plantation Echoes” / 7:35 P. M.
The station went off the air at 8.
2. NBC aired a series with this title in ‘28 and ‘29. Here’s a blurb from the Jan 08 1929 (Butte) Montana Standard:
****** PLANTATION ECHOES.
Inviting the radio audience to his mansion for a half hour of diversion, Judge Chandler will introduce a varied group of entertainers in the broadcast of “Plantation Echoes” through NBC system stations from 9 to 9:30 o’clock tonight.
Those who usually take part in these informal affairs at Judge Chandler’s southern home include his two nieces, Ethel and Barbara, Jerry and his Dixie Melodists, and fun-loving little Tambo with the nimble feet.
“Plantation Echoes” will be heard through stations KGW, Portland, KFO, Oakland, and KPO, San Francisco. ******
A similar blurb is in the Dec 11 1928 issue of the same paper and mentions, in addition to the above, “Rufus and Rastus, with songs and their guitars” and “Mammy, who serves enticing refreshments.”