If you’re a fan of the NPR show “The Story” with Dick Gordon, be sure to tune in to today’s episode (“Sixteen Inches of Radio”) featuring Duke’s own Randy Riddle. Riddle is an Academic Technology Consultant in the Center for Instructional Technology. But in his spare time, he collects old radio transcription discs, a recording format dating from the 1930s. Not many of these original discs survive, since many were discarded over the years and some were made of experimental types of plastics that degrade over time.
On “The Story,” Riddle talks with guest host Sean Cole about his interest in old-time syndicated radio programs from the 1930s and 1940s—from popular shows like “Suspense” (which stayed on the air for 20 years) to less well-known gems like “The American Family Robinson,” a thinly-veiled propaganda series produced in the 1930s by the National Industrial Council (a front for the powerful National Association of Manufacturers). That show follows the life and times of Luke Robinson, a small-town newspaper editor, and his wacky family. The plot lines are typically pedestrian, but they are frequently interlaced with diatribes against Franklin Roosevelt’s “socialist” New Deal policies and praise for lower taxes and less regulation for business and industry (sound familiar?).
Riddle has generously donated many of his original transcription discs to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke, where they are part of the Randy Riddle Collection of Race Records and Radio Programs. However, if you just want a taste of Riddle’s remarkable collection, you can hear selections of “Suspense,” “The American Family Robinson,” and many more old-time radio programs on his personal blog, where he writes about radio history and posts digitized versions of the transcriptions in all their original, scratchy glory.
One thought on “An Interlude from the Golden Age of Radio”
I remember very well those disk. Three evenings a week, I ran the ships’ radio station (WTAR) working as a disk jockey aboard the USS Tarawa. I read the news, played recordings of the popular music of the 1950s, and cued in the transcription discs of syndicated radio shows— a unique interlude from the Golden Age of radio— that were recorded on 16-inch 33 1/3 RPM records and were distributed to all Armed Forces Radio stations for broadcast throughout the ship, and to our escort ships in the fleet.
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