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.