Friday, December 13, 2013

Radio Rides the Range Book

Radio Rides the Range
One of Jim Cox's hobbies is authoring encyclopedias about old-time radio. In particular are subject-oriented topics such as The Great Radio Audience Participation Shows (2008), The Great Radio Sitcoms (2012) and The Great Radio Soap Operas (1999). Jim rarely attends old-time radio conventions and when he does, his appearance is usually brief. One year in Cincinnati I remember visiting Jim in his hotel room. He was trying to finish the index for his next book. "Why don't you come down to the show and chat with the attendees?" I asked. His response was that he already put in his appearance, chatted with folks who share a common interest, and his priority was finishing his latest project on the laptop.

To date, Jim has authored 18 books with a labor of love and so it was bound to happen eventually: a book devoted to the Westerns on old-time radio. Despite the historic popularity of Western drama, there has never been one volume to encompass them all. Good friends Jack French and David Siegel put this one together, saving Jim from another challenging project he might otherwise take on. Someone had to do it and I for one am glad Jack and Dave filled in the gap. My bookshelves at home contain a wealth of reference guides and with this addition, which just arrived in my mail box, I am not sure what there is left that could be written about that cries for desperation. I fear future books devoted to old-time radio will start duplicating past endeavors. This has happened three times in the past two years and I had no other choice but to resell the books that offered nothing more than the ones on my book shelf. Perhaps the only option left is for historians to focus on the really, really, really obscure. Murphy's Law dictates that if you take time to write a book that even the geeks will want to own and read... only the geeks will buy and read it. I guess time will tell.

Radio Rides the Range, available in paperback format, is a reference guide to Western drama on the air (1929 to 1967). More than 100 dramatic radio programs are documented, with careful selection of the programs. Jack and Dave chose to avoid programs designated as all-music (Grand Ol' Opry is one such example). Western frontiersman such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were dismissed. Programs such as Dakota Days and Chisholm Trail had insufficient data to be classified and included. What the authors/editors chose to do was include five basic types of Western dramas: anthology programs such as Empire Builders and Frontier Fighters; juvenile adventure dramas such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger; legend and lore such as Chief Grey Wolf and Red Goose Indian Tales; adult Westerns such as Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentlemen; and soap operas such as Lone Journey and Cactus Kate.

The book also clarifies the portrayal of Mexicans and American Indians, how stereotyping began to change during World War II, how children programs began painting a picture of racial intolerance, and the portrayal of American Indians from heavies to sidekicks. One program I was not familiar with was Light on the West, where a woman played the role of a law enforcement officer. Women played minor roles in radio Westerns, primarily as love interests, schoolmarms or victimized widows. The plight and progress of women in the West is chronicled throughout the book. 

A pleasant surprise: Will Hutchins, Tom Brewster of television's Sugarfoot, submitted a great foreword, both enthusiastic and praising of radio drama and the book.  

With over 100 entries, a tome of this scope is more difficult than a book focused on a single subject. Jack and Dave recognized that no one person can put together such a book without errors slipping, so they consulted historians (myself included, full disclosure) and researchers who would devote long hours of research and ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this book. A total of 36 submissions were received from 20 contributors, with Jack and Dave authoring about 60 entries. Some of the entries were obviously created with only one or two sources such as a Variety review or a newspaper clipping. Other entries were created by fans of the program who devoted considerable amount of their writeup citing the cast (probably because content and script information was not available). Among the impressive entries were J. David Goldin's Tales from the Diamond K (1951), Goldin's Hoofbeats (1936-37), Stan Claussen's Frontier Town (1949-53), Jack and Dave's Ranch House Jim (1943-44), and Ryan Ellett's Life on Red Horse Ranch (1935-36).

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this book is the inclusion of radio programs where no surviving recordings exist, or which very few recordings are known to exist. Thankfully, with but one or two entries where the contributors chose to "speculate" rather than "verify" the contents of a radio program where recordings are sparse, the entire book stays focused on the facts. (It bugs me when I read books that mistake speculation for facts and mislead the readers.) For the rarities, print documentation was used to fill in a gap that was sorely needed. This reason, among all reasons, is why this book provides a major contribution to the preservation of old-time radio. "It will definitely be a strong asset in any reference repository, whether in a large public library or just the book shelf of a collector," Jack told me. That just about fits the bill. 

Thank you, Jack and Dave.

You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon.com but I recommend you purchase your copy direct from McFarland Publishing. (a direct link here: www.mcfarlandpub.com) A direct purchase from the publisher will ensure the largest royalties to the authors. We're probably talking pennies here, but the price is the same so there's no reason to shop elsewhere.

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