Friday, July 23, 2021


If you never heard the name of Ryan Ellett, you may have heard or seen the books he has written. In the field of old-time radio broadcasts, regional radio is often disregarded for mainstream subjects, programs that aired coast-to-coast over major networks such as NBC and CBS. But historians like myself agree that books focusing on regional radio is equally important and a form of preservation that would otherwise fall into obsolescence. His first book was the Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the United States, 1921-1955, profiling about 300 African American organizations and radio programs broadcast during radio's golden age. The book also included a week-by-week episode guide for both pioneering African American radio programs, The Negro Achievement Hour and The Negro Art Group Hour, both of which debuted in 1928. I recently interviewed Ryan about his work and how he came about writing his first book.

"I had been writing and publishing several articles about obscure Black radio performers and writers but knew that in the long run access to this information would be extremely limited since the hobby's newsletters are generally not easily accessible to the public," Ryan told me. "At some point I realized I probably had plenty of material or potential material for a published book and wrote up my proposal for McFarland. With their target market being libraries I knew this information would be much more widely accessible to other researchers and writers years down the road. A follow-up volume idea I had to that book was turned down by them as well as a competing publisher so it never got developed."

Another book he wrote was
The Texas Rangers: Two Decades on Radio, Film, Television and Stage, documenting the career of the Texas Rangers, who premiered over Kansas City's KMBC, home to many country and western artists during radio's golden age. Debuting in 1932, the Texas Rangers entertained American by radio, records, tours, motion-pictures and television before disbanding in the 1950s. With few commercially released singles, the Texas Rangers were soon forgotten after their heyday except by the most devoted fans of the genre.

"Once I had an idea how the book process went - from germ of an idea to finished volume in hand from the publisher - I knew I could go through the experience again. My second book about KMBC's Texas Rangers grew out of researching an entirely different series for an article. After stumbling upon a trove of content about the group and their radio work in an archive I knew it would make a good book at some point," Ryan explained to me. "This project helped me really appreciate the historian's job of attempting to create an engaging story for a reader out of boxes of letters, telegrams, clippings, and such. There's a lot of trying to reconcile seemingly contradicting bits of information and filling in gaps left by actual historical records. As a reader I now pay more attention to what's left out of a book because likely the author could not find that information (assuming it would be relevant) and offers a place for someone else to begin his or her researching efforts."

Ryan recognizes his books fill a very niche area of preservation, but such preservation is essential. "I think my book on Black radio artists is my most important work and I've had some good communications with graduate students who were pursuing lines of research that overlapped content therein. If someone comes along and builds on any of my work and brings wider understanding and appreciation to an area, I'll feel that I had a little part in that. If nothing else, friends and family of individuals we write about are always thrilled to read these works."

Another of Ryan's books, Caroline Ellis: Homemaker of the Airwaves, not only covers an extensive biography on her 20-year career on radio, but the reader also received an overview of women's earliest participation in radio, the rise of homemaker broadcasting, and the pioneer radio women of Kansas City's KMBC. Ryan utilizes private correspondence, historical station records, and never-before-seen photographs and scripts, he documented such programs that you and I may never have heard of: Joanne Taylors Fashion Flashes, The Travels of Mary Ward, Caroline's Golden Store and Happy Home. The book also includes an episode guide of all the extant scripts of her career with broadcast dates, guests and topic summaries.

"I had written a piece on her for SPERDVAC's Radiogram almost ten years ago and presented on her at a conference around the same time," Ryan recounted. "I'd dug up everything I could find about her and figured that project was done. Then, out of the blue, a few years ago I received an email from this lady's great-nephew who lived about half an hour away saying a relative had shown him my article that had been put up online. The family was so excited to read about her radio work. Oh, and by the way, he had a box of her papers and scripts and photographs; would I like to look at them? I couldn't get there fast enough! That contact gave me the material I needed to expand Ellis' story into a full book and correct errors that had been made in the original rounds of research."

Ryan clarified the same sentimentality we historians have. "In my experience the financial rewards are sparse for writing books likes these, rarely covering the expense of research trips to accumulate material for the book, and feedback is also pretty rare. So I really have to be motivated about a topic to go through the years-long process of writing a new book. I have three potential manuscripts now with at least a couple chapters written over the past few years but they are far from finished and who knows if they'll ever be wrapped up. I'm waiting for inspiration to strike to get me to buckle down and go after one of them again."

If you want to visit Ryan's website, click here:

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Return of THE FALCON

To some he is Gay Stanhope Falcon, the freelance adventurer and trouble-shooter from Michael Arlen's 1940 short story. To others he is Gay Lawrence, the English gentleman detective portrayed by George Sanders in those wonderful RKO films of the early 1940s. You may know him as Tom Lawrence, Michael Watling, Malcolm J. Wingate, or Mike Waring. Which one is the real Falcon? For a large number of people who never saw The Falcon movies or listened to The Falcon radio programs, the larger question is "Who is the Falcon?" Author Ian Dickerson knows and he provided us with a 362 page book documenting the history of the fictional detective that has been elusive to even the most dedicated reader of hard-boiled crime fiction. 

The fictional detective, often regarded as (a good) imitation of Leslie Charteris' The Saint, started out as a short story and was quickly licensed to RKO for a series of B-mysteries starring George Sanders, following by Tom Conway (who played The Falcon's Brother). Then came the radio program which aired over more than one network, an Australian rendition on radio, then a one-season TV series with Charles McGraw in the lead.

“Ready with a hand for oppressed men, and an eye for repressed women,” The Falcon character was once referenced in Leslie Charteris’ 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In, as “a bargain-basement imitation.” 

Until now, there was but brief entries in encyclopedias about the radio program and movies, and even less for the television rendition. Little was known about the character, the creator and the history of the program. The majority of the write-ups were focused on the plots and premise of those renditions. Ian Dickerson went to considerable effort to browse archives and archival materials to ensure we now have an extensive tome about the subject. 

Commentary on the character’s birth in print, a complete overview of his time on the silver screen, a broadcast log of his adventures on radio (both in the United States and in Australia), and an accounting of the short-lived television program is contained within the 360 pages. There is also a full reprint of a Falcon story from Radio Mirror magazine. Help show your support and display of thanks to Ian Dickerson for going to the effort by digging through archives to produce these welcome tomes.