rand’s esoteric otr

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American Family Robinson - Pgm 38

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.

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"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.

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  • Steve Kostelecky

    I’m working with an economic historian of the Depression era and think he will get a big charge from this series. Might even appear in article. Thanks, Rand.

    Sep 26, 2009 at 1:54 am
  • Erica

    Wow… that descended from amusing soap opera to not-so-subtle propaganda, and then transitioned rapidly back.

    “I’ll show you, I’ll ride your horse!”

    “No, Dick, not Blue Lightning!”

    I wasn’t all that impressed with the economic theory discussion, but it got a lot better towards the end!

    Sep 26, 2009 at 12:12 pm