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Plantation Echoes - Pgm 9

April 5th, 2010

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.

transcription label

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.

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