The Empire Builders radio series continues to enjoy sporadic but ongoing attention. I’ll offer here a couple of updates related to the series, and to my own research.
First, I want to call your attention to a classic radio podcast prepared by the noted Old Time Radio historian, Jerry Haendiges. His weekly “Old Time Radio Classics” podcasts are always a well-prepared and thematically orchestrated treat of vintage and often obscure radio presentations.
In this month of July, 2018, Jerry has put together a couple of podcasts on the theme of railroading. His offering of July 15, 2018, included a broadcast of “Wheels A-Rolling”, which aired a live pageant from the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948. There is also a rare recording of a program called “The Green Valley Line” from 1934, and a production of the CBS Radio Workshop, which was called “Ballad of the Iron Horse,” originally airing on March 3, 1957.
Here is a link to Jerry’s Old Time Radio Classics podcast of 7/15/18: http://www.vintageradioclassics.com/audio/radioclassics180715.mp3
For July 22, 2018, Jerry Haendiges offers another railroad-themed radio podcast, this time with a high degree of emphasis on the Great Northern Railway, and some of its early radio presence. This program includes the following:
THE RAILROAD (reprise) - Part 2
"The James J. Hill Story"
CASCADE TUNNEL DEDICATION PROGRAM
1-29-1929 (about 66 minutes in duration)
Announcers: Graham McNamee and Phillips Carlin
Herbert Hoover, Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, George Olsen and His Orchestra, J. B. Campbell (chairman of the I. C. C., speaking from Washington, D. C.), W. W. Atterbury (president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, speaking from Philadelphia), Ralph Budd (president of the Great Northern Railway)
Episode 83: 2-2-1931 "James J. Hill: Background of Empire" (30 minutes in duration)
Announcer: Ted Pearson
Stars: Harvey Hays As "The Old Timer"
With: Don Ameche, Bernardine Flynn, and Lucille Husting
NBC - Great Northern Railway Mondays 10:30 - 11:00 PM, Eastern time
CAVALCADE OF AMERICA
Episode 28: 4-15-36 "The Railroad Builders"
Stars: Parker Fennelly.
The story of the drilling of the Hoosick tunnel and the first transcontinental railroad.
NBC - DuPont
Here is a link to the podcast for this second railroad-themed installment of Old Time Radio Classics, featuring the Great Northern Railway and James J. Hill (scheduled for Sunday, 7/22/2018): http://www.vintageradioclassics.com/audio/radioclassics180722.mp3
For a review of my blog post about the Empire Builders episode of Feb. 2, 1931 (episode 83 in the Empire Builders weekly series), follow this link: http://empire-builders-radio.blogspot.com/2016/02/310202-james-j-hill-background-of-empire.html
My research continues, with the hopeful notion of putting this material together as a book on the topic. Where so few of the original broadcasts exist in recorded form, even if poor quality, the best documentation available to illuminate the content of the shows comes from the continuities that were used. If you’re not familiar with the term continuity, it is essentially the script of the show, but it typically includes numerous notes and cues for music and sound effects, and other instructions from the Director of the program. Continuities for Empire Builders broadcasts are nearly as hard to find as recordings of the show. However, every single broadcast had – somewhere, and at some point – its own specific continuity (whereas only a handful of broadcasts were recorded in the first place). All of the continuities went through representatives of the sponsor, the Great Northern Railway, for editing and insertion of advertising copy. The advertising was usually included as brief comments at the beginning (a so-called “opening credit”) and at the end (“closing credit”) of each broadcast. The Great Northern Railway archived final submissions for most of the programs in their corporate files. However, even up to the moment of the live broadcasts (not to mention occasional ad libs during the broadcasts), last minute changes often occurred. Thus, the continuities in the possession of NBC typically represent the most accurate and complete documentation of the material that went out on the air. Luckily, NBC also archived nearly all of these continuities.
Using these two primary resources, I have succeeded in obtaining copies of every one of the 103 weekly Empire Builders broadcasts. Sadly, quite a few of these continuities are missing one or more vital pages, and it’s not at all certain that I will ever locate those missing pages. However, the missing pages are typically the ones containing the opening and/or closing credits, which are effectively just the “commercials” tied to each show. From the perspective of the ardent student of railroad advertising copy of this era, perhaps it would be useful to have access to every one of those credits. On the other hand, they were not particularly different from one broadcast to the next. The credits were simply used like the advertising copy found in magazine or newspaper advertisements, intended to coax people to patronize the Great Northern Railway for freight shipping and for personal travel. That means most of the continuities that I’ve located include complete dialog and similar content associated with each program.
As always, please contact me, at the email posted in the header of this page, if you have any information or questions about the Empire Builders radio series.
The folks who operate the “Blogger” web platform have elected to retire the “poll widget” that I had been using to solicit information from site visitors about the nature of their interest in this topic. The poll feature has been removed, so I’d be very grateful if you use the comments option, or again just send me an email, if you would be willing to let me know what brought you to this blog (e.g., railroad history, radio history, genealogy or related interest, etc.). If by chance you are related to any of the personnel associated with the Empire Builders series, I would especially like to hear from you.