Archive for the 'Depression-era' Category

Curtis H. Springer for Acidine - Pgm 1

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Curtis H. Springer was a unique American character.  The self-described "last of the old-time medicine men", Springer got his start working with Billy Sunday's evangelical outfit and, in the 1930s, toured around the country and gave lectures, presenting himself as a member of the "National Academy", the "Springer School of Humanism", the American College of Doctors and Surgeons and other organizations, asking for donations.

Curtis Springer - Pgm 1 - label

Working out of Chicago, Springer appeared on radio hawking various patent medicines.  He applied for airtime on WGN and the station contacted the American Medical Association to check out his credentials.  The AMA was appalled and produced a journal article on Springer, calling him the "King of Quacks".

In this post, we hear Program 1 of a series Springer appeared in hawking Acidine, "Nature's Normalizer for Acid Stomachs", for United Remedies.  It's one of five discs of the series I picked up in an auction a few months ago.  In the shows, Springer takes questions from listeners that mix a homespun philosophies about religion and healthful living with colorful stories about his own life and the people he's met in his travels.  In the first program of the series, Springer advises a listener about mortgaging their house to pay for their son's college education.  Springer, of course, comes down on the side of experience and drive, rather than a college education, to get ahead in life.  The commercial announcer is identified in program 4 as Hal Dean.

I've found a couple of listings for what I think is this program in "Radio Guide" and "Broadcasting" magazines from 1934, so that's the likely time frame they were originally heard.

Springer would go on to found the Zzyzx health spa in the Mojave Desert of California in 1944, continuing his syndicated radio programs.  In 1974, Federal authorities shut down Springer's operation, convicting him of squatting on Federal lands and making false claims about the health foods and remedies he sold.

Our program was transferred from an original single-sided translucent blue celluloid Brunswick transcription, matrix number 9149.  The disc was pressed by Flexo, which was producing various promotion and radio-related plastic and celluloid discs.  Unfortunately, the transcription, like many Flexo pressings has distorted over time, so it was a little difficult to play - you'll hear some noise and "swoosh" sounds from the aging plastic surface.

The show was previously lost and uncirculated.  I'll post the other discs I found from the series later - from what I can tell, these are the only surviving broadcasts by the "King of Quacks".

Listen Now:


Resettlement Administration - Pgm 3

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

During the New Deal era, the Roosevelt administration used the new medium of radio to get the word out about new programs through syndicated shows.  Some, like programs featuring WPA musicians, was more subtle in their advertising approach.  Others were more direct in explaining New Deal programs to the public.

Resettlement Administration transcription label

Program 3 in the "Resettlement Administration" series presents a drama about the plight of tenant farmers, taking the listener through the development of tenant farming after slavery was abolished in the South after the Civil War, how tenant farmers wound up in perpetual debt and poverty, and how the Resettlement Administration could help them.

Conservatives, of course, were outraged at this type of radio "propaganda" - this is the type of program that the National Industrial Council (aka the National Association of Manufacturers) was combatting when they developed the radio serial "American Family Robinson".

What's curious about this particular show is that it features an Old Time Radio and classic Hollywood film voice you might recognize - Joseph Cotten.  The Resettlement Administration was only active in 1935-36, so the show probably from those years  and Cotten, at this point in his career, was appearing on-stage in New York with the Federal Theatre Project.  This is one of the earliest recording of Joseph Cotten on the air - the Goldin database lists a November 14, 1936 "Columbia Workshop" production of "Hamlet" with Cotten and he doesn't pop up on radio again until a September 1938 episode of CBS's "Mercury Theater".  Welles and others involved in the Federal Theatre Project, of course, picked up odd jobs on radio, most famously with Orson Welles appearing in "The Shadow" and "The March of Time".

The show was transferred from an original one-sided shellac Radio and Film Methods Corporation transcription, matrix number 288-A.  The label notes "Dyer Process Recording", "Use Filmmatic Needles" and address of company as 101 Park Avenue, New York City, CAledonia 5-7530-1.  The company probably also produced 16" transcription discs for use with filmstrips.  The show appears to be previously lost.

Listen Now:


The Voice of Industry - Pgm 2

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Here's a series that's previously lost or, at least, not very common among otr collectors.  "The Voice of Industry" is a mid to late 30s program syndicated by Consumers Information, an organization formed by Women's Home Companion, American Magazine, Colliers, and Country Home Magazine.  The series designed to inform the public about various aspects of the scientific progress behind products consumers see everyday.

transcription label

Program 2 of the series is "The Story of Canning".  Actor Basil Ruysdael narrates the story of the invention of canning food and how it grew into a worldwide industry.  The style is reminiscent of "The March of Time" or the many industrial films of the period.

The show was transferred from an original RCA Victrolac gold label single-sided transcription, matrix number MS 041027.

My thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers Group for their donation of this disc to my collection.

Listen Now:


Coronation of King George VI - May 12, 1937

Friday, November 19th, 2010

With the recent news about the announcement of a royal wedding, I thought it would be a good time to visit a curious disc set in my collection that featured another royal event in the news.

In the middle of the unrest in Europe, Great Britain faced an upheaval in the monarchy with George VI's ascension to the throne.  George's elder brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry the socialite Wallis Simpson.  The story received considerable coverage here in the US and the networks carried the BBC's coverage of the coronation of the new king.

transcription label

This disc set includes the ceremonies leading up to the coronation, the coronation itself, along with the new monarch's first speech and sounds as if it was recorded either direct from the shortwave feed or from a network line carrying the shortwave broadcast.  It's unclear to me if the coverage is continuous or represents various excerpts from the broadcast.

The origins of the disc set are obscure, but it appears to be produced by a small company as a souvenir of the event for US listeners.  It gives a good idea of what listeners heard stateside that tuned in to a royal event that only happens once a generation.

Our digital file was transferred from an original blue shellac 8-sided 12" 78 rpm set on the General Sound and Transcription Company label, matrix numbers AT1210 through AT1217.  The style of the pressing and matrix numbers indicates it may have been pressed by Columbia.

Update, 11/20/2010:  Date corrected.

Listen Now:


American Family Robinson - Pgm 57

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Things are turning serious in Centerville as we drop in this week on Luke Robinson and his family in the mid-1930s serial, "American Family Robinson", syndicated by the National Industrial Council (aka the National Association of Manufacturers).  The show was conceived as a propaganda effort to combat Roosevelt's liberal New Deal policies and was sponsored by local business on about 300 stations.

transcription label

In program 57, the stockholders have said that if the newspaper doesn't cover a $6,000 deficit, it will have to close by the end of the week.  Editor Luke gathers everyone in the newsroom to give them the bad news, but his son and son-in-law seem ready to rise to the occasion to help save the paper.

Our show was transferred from an original World Broadcasters acetate transcription, matrix number SS 9155-1.

Listen Now:


American Family Robinson - Pgm 54

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Now our weekly installment of "American Family Robinson", a serial drama syndicated in the mid 1930s by the National Industrial Council (aka the National Association of Manufacturers) as a propaganda effort to promote conservative policies towards American business.

transcription label

Program 54 marks the beginning of a new, more serious storyline in the show.  Mr. Robinson drops in on Miss Timmons and she tries to get him to print a statement in the paper distancing herself from Bill and Gus, who made a pest of themselves at the opening of her shop.  Robinson uses his powers of persuasion to convince Miss Timmons to marry Windy Bill.  In other news, there serious trouble with the finances of the newspaper.

The show was transferred from an original acetate World Broadcasters Inc acetate transcription, matrix number 9089-4V.

The next show in the series, program 55, was posted a few months ago in the blog.  Program 56 goes up next week.

Listen Now:


American Family Robinson - Pgm 41

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Well, last week, we heard a kind of instant romance develop between "Gus the Gorilla", Windy Bill's bodyguard, and Luke Robinson's secretary on the National Industrial Council (American Manufacturers Association) 1930s syndicated series, "American Family Robinson".  This week, in program 41, Mr. Robinson's secretary has talked him into putting Gus to work at the paper so Luke has to find something for him to do.

transcription label

The curious thing about this disc is that it appears to be a program in the series you weren't supposed to hear - the disc's pressing plate on this side has been scratched out in a definite spiderweb pattern.  It's hard to tell if this was done before the series was first distributed or later in the run.  But, based on the contents, one can see why.

Luke goes into a diatribe about "boondoggling" - the government creating useless jobs for the unemployed.  It's one of the more heartless little  talks in the series, considering the high level of unemployment during the Depression and how many people that might have heard the show were either themselves working on a WPA or CCC job or had a relative that did.

I have a friend from the small town of Graham, NC, that recalls his parents and grandparents talking about one of his aunts who was an organist at the local movie theater.  At that time, small theaters couldn't afford the upgrade to sound, so even into the late 1930s, the theater was still showing silent movies - you had to drive thirty miles or more to the big city of Greensboro to see a sound picture.  His aunt received WPA support to accompany films and the theater and give music lessons.

This episode of the series was transferred from an original World Broadcasting red acetate transcription, matrix number S 8686-2.  The file was compiled from two passes of the disc and was run through click reduction software - I had to reconstruct the program, since the disc skipped so much.

Listen Now:


American Family Robinson - Pgm 38

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Since the "Grantland Rice Story" and "American Family Robinson" were the two most popular series in the poll, I'll be running all the episodes I have of each series in blog each week.

transcription label

"The American Family Robinson", first syndicated in Fall 1934, was a program produced by the National Industrial Council, a group set up by the National Association of Manufacturers.  Disturbed by the policies of the Roosevelt administration, the show was designed to use the medium of radio and the popular format of continuing serials to "sell" the public on more conservative economic polices.  It was part of a larger effort, including texts for speeches, leaflets, films for schools and other materials, by the NAM to organize owners of manufacturing business to influence public opinion in their local communities about New Deal economics.

Hmm ... sounds like some of the information campaigns going on about health care and the economy today, doesn't it?

On the surface, the concept sounds rather dry, but the show has some fun characterizations and good writing as we follow the Robinsons dealing with hard times during the Depression.  The program was quite popular, running on about 300 stations, with the air time paid for by local sponsors.  It was controversial in its time - the National Association of Broadcasters issued a memo to stations encouraging them to inform audience that the program was sponsored and didn't necessarily represent the views of station management or owners.  No doubt, the NAB was concerned about the FCC clamping down on the series and requiring equal time for opposing viewpoints.

The show was also referenced in Congressional testimony in a subcommittee on labor rights and free speech, with one source noting that the first 19 programs in the series did not include any attribution to who was sponsoring the program and, with program 20, the show credited to the National Industrial Council, a name that would have been unfamiliar to the public at the time - the implication being that the NAM was misleading the public about their propaganda efforts.  You can view some of the testimony at Google Books.  (And, by the way, would someone mind explaining why Google Books is restricting viewing of publications from the Government Printing Office and the Copyright Office, which are public domain?)

Despite the broad distribution of the program, few episodes are known to exist.  It's been written about by many scholars, but the shows themselves seem to have been neglected and lost over the years - they were pressed on an experimental plastic primarily made of acetate, which probably hasn't helped them survive.

The discs I have were won at auction by the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group, which donated them to my collection and I obtained an additional disc from another collector.  The discs in my collection cover a significant portion of the storyline with some shows missing, but there's still enough to follow what's happening with the characters and to give you a flavor of the story and propaganda elements.  I have over 25 episodes of this original series and another 15 from a second "American Family Robinson" series produced in 1940, following the same characters and dealing with the theme of how industry is preparing for War.  I'll be presenting all of them, in order, each week on the blog over next few months.

We begin our look at the series with Program 38.  The father of the family owns a newspaper and has some wacky relatives that are always involved in crazy "get rich quick" schemes.  This episode focuses on the newlywed couple in the family,  Betty and Dick, on their honeymoon at Devil's Gulch, a dude ranch.  While Betty goes out riding and enjoying herself with the ranch foreman, husband Billy teaches a thing or two about capitalism and American industry to the ranch hands.

The show was transferred from an original red acetate World Broadcasting System transcription, matrix number SS 8619-33.

Again, my deepest thanks to OTRR for donating the "American Family Robinson" discs to my collection.

Listen Now:


Ma Perkins - Pgm 424

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

A few months ago, I posted episode 423 of "Ma Perkins", a rare early entry in this long-running radio soap opera.  The program was transferred from an uncoated aluminum disc.

transcription label

In this post, the flip side - program 424, where Ma continues to fret about Faye, who wants to go to the big city to seek her fortune.  She turns to her friends at the lumber yard for advice - will Ma let her go or encourage her daughter to stay?  Goldin dates the previous episode to August 1935, so this one comes from the same time period.

The transfer is from an uncoated aluminum transcription by Mercury Recording Studios in Chicago.  You can check the previous "Ma Perkins" post for some conjecture on my part that the disc might have been created for extension spotting the series to Canadian radio stations.

Unfortunately, the original sound levels in the recording are a little low, so it's difficult to understand the dialogue sometimes through the distinctive aluminum disc hiss.  However, I'm posting it since it appears to be a previously lost episode of the series.  I tried five different styli on the disc - ranging from a 2.0 mil to a 4.0 mil and, oddly, the 2.0 mil produced the least amount of surface noise and best tracking.  Usually, uncoated aluminum discs take a larger stylus.

Listen Now:


Pick and Pat - May 31, 1937

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Note:  This program contains racial stereotyping themes that may be offensive to some listeners.

This week, I'm starting a series of posts of "Pick and Pat", a rare variety show featuring two blackface performers.  These programs, unheard since they were originally broadcast, come from a series of aircheck lacquers I recently obtained.  Except for one program, the shows are incomplete.  I'm still working on transferring and restoring the discs, so I'm not sure how many I will be able to offer here since the discs are in bad shape and starting to deteriorate.

transcription label

The episode of May 31, 1937 includes routines where Pat plays the harmonica and the pair do a sketch playing Indians selling the island of Manhattan.  The latter includes some jokes about the stock market crash and Depression and, with two Irish vaudeville comedians in Blackface playing Native Americans, considerable cognitive dissonance about race that might make your head explode if you try to analyze it too much.  The show features music by vocalist Edward Roecker and an orchestra led by Benny Krueger, including "That Old Gang of Mine" with a recitation.  The series was sponsored by the U.S. Tobacco Company to promote Model and Dill's Best pipe tobaccos.

According to Dunning's "Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio", Pick Padgett and Pat Malone were Irishmen who teamed up in 1929 as Molasses and January and worked regularly under that name on the "Maxell House Show Boat" program.  They were heard on radio in their own series on NBC from 1934-35, CBS from 1935-39, Mutual in 1944 and ABC in 1945.  You can see a picture of Pick and Pat and read an interview with Pick Padget from the St. Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent of June 16, 1933.

These discs were made for the producer of the program, Frank MacMahon, and each show was recorded on 16" lacquers in three parts.  In the case of this particular episode, the second disc is missing, so you'll hear a fade-out in the middle of the show before we continue with the third part.  The discs also preserved a bit of the shows on the air that evening before and after "Pick and Pat"; this set includes the last minute or so of the "Ted Weems" show, a special announcement by the WABC announcer on how to get tickets for the program, and, at the end, the WABC station id and opening of "Lux Radio Theater".

The show was transferred directly from an original WABC lacquer aircheck made by the National Recording Company, New York.  The file has been run through click reduction software to improve the sound.  Note that the sound levels vary during the show.

Listen Now: