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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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by Ryan Ellett
208 pgs. ISBN 978-0-7864-6315-2
McFarland Publishing (2011) $ 95 www.mcfarlandpub.com
Order line: 800-253-2187
Reviewed by David Siegel


Ethnic studies, both in the academic world and in popular media have, in the past several decades, led to a veritable explosion of university courses, books and articles on the subject. More particularly, the subject of "black ethnicity" in that branch of the entertainment industry in which sound, not sight, determines the role that "being black" or pretending to be black, radio has not lacked for attention.

McFarland knows its business. At least half of the titles cited in the extensive bibliography included in Ryan Elletts's Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the United States, 1921-1955 were published by McFarland. Nonetheless, Ellett succumbed to the lure and down right pleasure associated with uncovering lost treasures of radio's Golden Age.

In the process, he has produced perhaps the most comprehensive and valuable single volume reference work encompassing the role of African Americans in every phase of the broadcasting business. The book profiles about 300 African American (and a few white) performers, organizations and series, including numerous programs that today's students of radio history are not likely to be familiar with.

Ryan also deserves kudos for skillfully weaving together a compendium of biographical identities, along with program titles and series that, when the station signal was strong enough, influenced big city ghetto dwellers, and where electricity was available, rural crop farmers alike.

A feature this observer found unique among references of this magnitude is that one can actually read the book in a continuous fashion rather than simply putting it on the shelf waiting to check facts.

Learning about relatively unknown program titles and series such as The Negro Achievement Hour and The Negro Art Group Hour, both of which debuted in 1928, was particularly enlightening. In addition to the traditional theme of these two series, the book also provides the reader with a valuable episode guide to each of these programs.

Just looking at the number of additional program titles and trying to image their content excited this reviewer; it's the stuff that makes one hope that future radio historians will be challenged to uncover more information, sound, scripts and memories associated with the programs that now appear simply as titles taken from radio listings that were published in black oriented newspapers.

Readers with limited budgets should not be intimidated by the $95 price tag for this 208 page, hard cover reference book as the only other reference work in print that approaches Ellett's encyclopedia is a two volume tome produced by a rival publisher that sells for $395.00. While a well endowed public library should have both references on its shelves, a private collector, even after examining both references, will find the Ellett's volume a much easier to use reference work.

Radio Spirits Calendar: This Day In Old-Time Radio in 2012
Radio Spirits (2011, photos, $14.95)
Reviewed by Maury Cagle

Calendars are about as utilitarian as you can get, right? They have a page for each of the 12 months of the year, and each day is highlighted in a box, so you can write in reminders, such as Aunt Emma’s birthday.

The folks at Radio Spirits have turned this simple device into something that will give pleasure each day of 2012 to OTR fans. Every day notes the birthdays of people who were important in the history of radio: performers, writers, musicians, producers, directors, inventors, and those who used radio in the course of their public careers, such as FDR.

The daily entries also include Series Premieres, such as Stella Dallas (Oct. 25, 1937) Series Finales, including One Man’s Family (May 8, 1959), Memorable Moments, example: Herbert Morrison’s coverage of the Hindenburg disaster (May 6, 1937); and even Marriages, such as that of Eve Arden to Brooks West (Aug. 24, 1952).

The most striking aspect of the calendar is the large photograph for each month. They are uniformly excellent. Eleven are studio shots and one charming candid is of Jack Benny and Mary Livingston watching their adopted daughter, Joan, in their swimming pool. The most arresting photo is that of Sidney Greenstreet, just lighting a cigar and looking to the side in a typically menacing way. Each photo is accompanied by an informative writeup.

The pictures include: William Bendix; Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and W.C. Fields in an argument; Mercedes McCambridge; Lon Clark as Nick Carter; Bret Morrison; Jack Benny and Mary Livingston; Steve Dunne (Sam Spade) and Lurene Tuttle; Alice Frost (the lead in Big Sister); Don Wilson; Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa; J. Scott Smart; and Sidney Greenstreet.

The calendar has an interesting format, which allows it to highlight twice as many personalities. At the top of each calendar grid is a narrow banner, featuring a small photo and writeup of someone in radio tied to that month.

In fact, it was in this section for October that I found the only factual problem I encountered, in spite of the good work of the OTR historians involved in putting together the calendar. The section notes that Raymond Edward Johnson was the first host of Inner Sanctum, but also says the first show was heard on Oct. 5, 1952. Actually, this was the date of the final show in the series, long after Johnson was gone. John Dunning says the show premiered on January 7, 1941. I went to January 7 in the calendar, and sure enough, there was Inner Sanctum listed among the Series Premieres.

Even so, this calendar is a package that is both informative and entertaining. The calendar would make a great holiday gift for any OTR fan. It’s available for $14.95 from Radio Spirits, either from their web site (www. RadioSpirits.com), or their catalog.