30 Years of NBC Radio plus Balloo in a Balloon, and me

In 1956, NBC radio’s “Biographies in Sound” featured veteran radio news commentator H.V. Kaltenborn and radio satirists Bob & Ray in the episode above, paying tribute to the first 30 years of commercial radio — news, music, drama and more. The Internet Archive has a copy stored on its own page: Recollections at Thirty. Broadcast news is only a small part of the history capsule, but I like the coincidence that “-30-” is the old newspaper symbol for the end of a story, a fine time for “Recollections,” and coincidentally that I stumbled on this during a day spent exploring the past of this website of mine.

I found this program today while double-checking my link to another “Biographies in Sound” episode — one that didn’t play correctly on my page — having discovered the error while I was making a guest presentation to a journalism class. Some old code needed updating, causing me to notice in the process that I have an anniversary of my own approaching: In December this site will be nine years old!

Among the editing updates today, fixing code for which software standards have changed over the years and other omissions, were past posts about Soap Operas in general, one specifically about an anti-Roosevelt propaganda soap, American Family Robinson, an overview of a international affairs series aimed at members of the Armed Forces at the height of the Cold War, and a biography of the sportswriter Grantland Rice, which the professor asked about — perhaps thinking that students, some of whom who didn’t even recognize the name “Clark Kent,” might wake up to the word “sports.”

Anyhow, I’m grateful for the chance to talk about this project and the excuse to put in an afternoon of editing. I’m afraid I rambled around as much as this page does. And my editing is a bit random, too. But everything I’ve added or refreshed probably could use proofreading — maybe the students who are reading this, trying to make sense of my class presentation, will hit the “comment” button below let me know if they see any bad links, bad metaphors, or incomplete thoughts. I’ll check the comments tomorrow, hoping they don’t wait until they are on deadline. One of the refreshing things about writing this site as a retirement hobby is the lack of deadlines, or of a regular publication schedule. I forgot to mention that.

There were so many things I didn’t mention in that class presentation, beyond playing a few snippets of Superman, Frontier Gentleman, Rogers of the Gazette, and Night Beat, stumping the professor with a question about Anna Zenger, and explaining the menu structure at the top of the page and the location of the “About the Author” page that explains how and why I started what began as academic research and has since become a retirement hobby.

I figure that list of links should give the journalism students more than enough to supplement their notes on my show-and-tell presentation… at least the ones who stop back at this page before they write a story for the professor’s eyes only. I’m especially glad that I’m not the one who will have to grade them.

The professor asked how many radio shows I’ve written about, and I mumbled a bit about not keeping count. But he said numbers might help his students describe the extent of the project, so I’ve counted a few things for them: There are 198 date-stamped “blog posts” here, like this one, each usually discussing just one or two episodes of a radio series; and there are about 70 longer “pages” listed on the drop-down menus at the top of the screen, most of them compiled from earlier blog posts, including one that lists almost 60 “newspaper movies” that were redone in radio versions (some more than once), and other pages that go into details about radio serials like “The Green Hornet” and “Superman,” which each broadcast hundreds of episodes where newspaper reporters were described doing their jobs, getting in and out of trouble, and — at least sometimes — being heroes… which is how this website got its two names, “Newspaper Heroes on the Air” and “jheroes.com” for short.

(If you are reading this on a full-screen Web browser, not a smartphone, the right margin carries a chronological index going back to the first episode, from December 2010. I don’t suggest that the students start there and read all 198 blog posts and 70 “pages” of essays, listening to hundreds of hours of radio. And I guess I can hold off for a year on doing my own nostalgic read-through, then have a big tenth-year celebration — after I do a lot more editing.)

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Drama, historical figures, Korea, media history, radio, World War II | Leave a comment

From news to folklore, talking to and for ‘the plain people’

In addition to providing an oldtime radio dramatization of the life of newspaperman turned reteller of folktales Joel Chandler Harris, the Internet Archive has his works and biography, including the volume shown above.

His red hair is mentioned several times in his radio portrait on DuPont Cavalcade of America in 1941, which introduces Harris as a shy, stuttering and insecure young man, far from the brash, confident stereotype of a journalist.

Perhaps listeners also were reminded that 19th and 20th century newspapers provided a steady paycheck for writers whose literary interests were broader than page one news.

Radio writing served that function too: The script was by playwright Arthur Miller, who contributed more than a dozen profiles to Cavalcade. He also spent some time in the South making recordings for the Library of Congress (see this BBC interview) around the same time that he was writing this radio play about the 19th-century story collector. Were the two connected? My research into this continues and this essay will be updated if I find out more. (Thanks to radio historian Randy Riddle for pointing out the BBC story.)

The Cavalcade radioplay doesn’t preach about “cultural appropriation” or race relations in its portrayal of Harris’s “Uncle Remus” African-American folktales, but it does have a message of brotherhood and wartime internationalism, mentioning how widely accepted those Bre’r Rabbit stories were, translated into more than 20 languages.

When Harris meets a crowd of children at the White House, they are disappointed not to meet an old black storyteller. Harris, reflecting, says he is happy to have written himself out of the story, and that “America has got to remember her roots, the plain people.”

That those plain people come in all colors goes without saying. The closest the broadcast comes to discussing race relations is Harris’s plea for “good-neighborliness” and the “kindliness and comradeship” that allowed the friendship of “an old colored man and a little boy.”

(Produced less than two years after “Gone wth the Wind,” the radioplay makes no statements about the evils of slavery or the Civil War, and hints at a romantic “plantation” image of the South in its opening scene.)

Karl Swenson plays Harris, and Juano Hernandez plays Uncle Terrell, his source for the Brer Rabbit tales, which Terrell tells him may have “come over on the slaver ships from Africa.”

When not preserving folk tales, Harris (1848-1908) rose to be an associate editor of The Atlanta Constitution, but his “Uncle Remus” stories were what made him an international celebrity — and guest of Teddy Roosevelt at the White House. Another former newspaperman, Mark Twain, makes an appearance in that scene, helping the shy Harris accept some of the honor due him.

For more on the Cavalcade series, see Martin Grams Jr.’s The History of the Cavalcade of America presented by DuPont.

For more about Harris, his biography at Wikipedia cites numerous sources.

For more about Arthur Miller as a radio writer… I think I will make some inquiries and do a little more research!

Posted in 1940s, 19th century, Brotherhood, columnists, editors, folklore, playwrights, Race | Leave a comment

Frontier People in the News

J. B. Kendall, 19th century American wild west correspondent for the London Times, had his fictional career cut short when the CBS Radio series Frontier Gentleman wrapped up at the end of its 1958 season.

But star John Dehner’s last episode was a marvelous example of the traditional newspaperman’s ability to “get out of the way of a story”… with Kendall concisely narrating a column of short scenes, what we would call “news briefs” or ” people in the news” items.

58-11-16_Episode41_Random Notes –5.3 MB:

Kendall’s introduction: “It occurs to me that in this, my last report to the London Times, there are many incidents which I have omitted — things seen and heard during these several months on my journeys through the American West. Here then, some random notes.”

Some might have been worth a full story, if there had been time, and others may have been best suited to the brief splash of color format given here. For example, the Texas Othello item in the middle of the broadcast might have turned unbearable if given the full half-hour. But I may be wrong.

The “briefs” format was not uncommon for 20th century newspaper columns, including those of Walter Winchell, or even my first contribution to a college newspaper, and a daily “People in the News” feature I compiled for The Hartford Courant while segueing off to grad school about a century after the scene of “Frontier Gentleman.”

Posted in 1950s, foreign correspondents, reporters, westerns | Leave a comment

Will reporter uncover secret plans?

“The Lady Has Plans” has World War II’s favorite pinup Rita Hayworth (so described by host Cecil B. DeMille) in the role of a veteran newspaper reporter making a transition to radio news in Lisbon, and William Powell as her war correspondent boss — who assumes a new staffer named Sydney will be male.

Along with the brief 1943 battle-of-the-sexes mistaken-identity theme, there’s a spy plot involving secret plans that are supposedly tattooed on the new reporter’s back… And lots of laughs from the Lux Radio Theater studio audience when strange men keep wanting to unzip the back of her dress. Ah, the things independent women — actresses as well as reporters — had to put up with in the “good old days.”

As a reporter, Hayworth’s Sydney turns out to be brave and resourceful, even impersonating the tattooed spy who was supposed to be impersonating her. And she gets the drop on a Nazi spymaster before it’s all done, while her boss phones in a live broadcast from a Lisbon telephone booth. (I think that would have been stretching 1943 telecom technology a bit, but I haven’t researched the topic.)

Give a listen and see if you think the radio version is better than the movie, which New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called “straight, unmitigated flap-doodle” and a “thoroughly implausible tale.”

As a wartime broadcast, this also includes a war-bond sales pitch from Cary Grant, and mentions of Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper column and Rita Hayworth’s U.S.O. service.

As a 1942 Hollywood movie, “The Lady Has Plans” starred Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland, but Lux Radio Theater occasionally played the star-switch game. Here’s the Internet Movie DataBase page for the original.

The mp3 as-broadcast copy above is from the Internet Archive collection of 789 Lux episodes.

Finally, the picture of Rita Hayworth at the top of this page is from Wikipedia, which –appropriately enough– says it was used in a Lux soap magazine advertisement.

Posted in 1940s, foreign correspondents, international, radio, reporters, Uncategorized, women, World War II | Leave a comment

Reporting can be dangerous

In this 1953 episode of a popular crime series, a Daily Clarion reporter calls “Mr. District Attorney” with news that he has uncovered a “Mister Big” crime boss.

Gunshots heard over the phone and a visit to the newsroom by the D.A. follow … as well as more than one murder plot involving the paper in “The Case of the Dead Reporter.’

I wonder whether “Mr. Walker,” the city editor, could be a sly reference to Stanley Walker, once city editor of the New York Herald-Tribune, later at the Daily Mirror, and author of the 1930s book City Editor.

An appropriate quote from Stanley Walker is preserved at his Wikipedia bio page… Don’t miss the last sentence:

“What makes a good newspaperman? The answer is easy. He knows everything. He is aware not only of what goes on in the world today, but his brain is a repository of the accumulated wisdom of the ages.
He is not only handsome, but he has the physical strength which enables him to perform great feats of energy. He can go for nights on end without sleep. He dresses well and talks with charm. Men admire him; women adore him; tycoons and statesmen are willing to share their secrets with him.
He hates lies, meanness and sham but keeps his temper. He is loyal to his paper and to what he looks upon as his profession; whether it is a profession or merely a craft, he resents attempts to debase it.
When he dies, a lot of people are sorry, and some of them remember him for several days.”

Any more would spoil the mystery.

Mr. District Attorney ran from 1939 to 1952 on radio, and jumped to movies, television and comic books. So far this is the only episode I’ve found where a newspaper and its staff play a big part.

Don’t miss the D.A.’s epilogue about a newspaper as a force for good or evil!

The MP3 copy of the program is from the Old Time Radio Researchers Library.

The OTRR Group also has a collection of more than 80 Mr District Attorney episodes at the internet archive.

Posted in 1950s, crime, editors, newspapers, publishers, reporters | Leave a comment

A Century of Breaking the News

The historical radio series DuPont Cavalcade of America celebrated the first century of the Associated Press in 1948 by dramatizing scenes in the news cooperative’s past — from its first big error (signal flags were involved) through an effort of literally Biblical proportions to monopolize a telegraph line and relay European news from Halifax (did the Queen really ban the waltz?), to more significant news from Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, and the Johnstown Flood — over 2,000 dead, with the AP reporter filing his story despite a broken leg.

The compressed story takes the AP from its start as a cost-cutting cooperative effort by the six most important New York newspapers of 1848 into the new century, then jumps to its 1948 status as a million-words-a-day wire service with a membership of 4,000 subscribers.

The radioplay even manages to get in a few chuckles on the way, particularly when an AP agent has a telegraph operator transmit Bible passages to keep control of the wire for several hours.

(I thought I’d posted an essay about this episode long ago, but I don’t see it here. Perhaps it’s lurking on the backup disk from my old office computer. At least this blog post will remind me to do a more thorough write-up the next time I update my Cavalcade of America page.)

Posted in 1940s, 19th century, cavalcade, historical figures, wire services | Leave a comment

Not Lois — it’s Margo Lane, reporter

I’ve written in the past about the Shadow having his partner Margo Lane impersonate a reporter from time to time, but now I have found a Shadow episode in which Margo actually does take on a writing assignment.

It’s not hardcore news reporting of the Lois Lane variety, but a feature story for a women’s magazine, at least at first.

But when the society family Margo is about to profile turns out to have nasty secrets, the tale becomes what the chroniclers of The Shadow call “The Dragon’s Tongue Murders,” broadcast in 1941 and stored away as an MP3 file in the library of the Old Time Radio Researchers group, OTRR.org. (Click on the episode title to download the MP3 if the player icon below does not work properly.)

A fan also has posted the episode to YouTube, under the name of one of the pulp-magazine Shadow’s secret identities…

Back to Margo as reporter… In fact, I’ve read somewhere that the creators of the Superman comic strip took the name of Lois Lane from both Margo Lane and Lola Lane, one of the actresses who played the fiesty reporter Torchy Blane on a series of B-movies in the 1930s.

In a way, this Shadow episode is like the early Superman adventures on radio. The “reporting assignment” is what gets Margo Lane and Lamont Cranston to the peculiar family’s estate, before any crime has occurred. Then they get caught up in the mystery, and Cranston has to shift into his superhero role, at least briefly. That is reminiscent of some of the Superman radio serials, where Clark Kent and Lois Lane — as reporters — were the center of the plot for days of 15-minute episodes before Kent had to do anything superhuman.

Perhaps to get Shadow fans interested, the broadcast begins with a preamble about the family’s dark secrets, with the voice of the Shadow in a role I haven’t heard before — as an omniscient narrator. Then we jump to Margo and Lamont on their way to the estate. (In the car, Lamont, whom we and Margot know as the Shadow, has no knowledge of the events in that spoken preamble.)

According to Jay David Goldin’s RadioGoldindex to old-time radio show episodes and casts, William Johnstone played The Shadow for this one, and Marjorie Anderson was Margo Lane.

As for Margo’s story, it certainly doesn’t turn out the way she planned. But despite the multiple murders mentioned in the title, our freelance writer heroine does have her own somewhat happier surprise ending.

I recall reading that the Shadow was originally a mysterious sounding narrator who did not actually appear in the stories. That was before he evolved into a crime fighter with the ability to cloud men’s minds etc. I wonder if that opening scene with the shadowy voice over this was an homage to the early days, or an early transitional script being reused.

Now that I have listened to the and written this much about it, I’m going to dust off my copy of Martin Grams’ book about the Shadow, as well as a couple of other radio reference books to to refresh my memory about Shadow history and see if they shed any light on this particular episode.

Posted in 1940s, adventure, crime, Lois Lane, magazines, reporters, women | Leave a comment