Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Special Guest Curt Ladnier Finds $3.00 Worth of Adventure

I have an awesome special guest today, Curt Ladnier (who also writes as Debussy Ladnier) recounting an adventure he had in an unlikely place. This post pushes all my geeky buttons and it's perfect for February and the week after Valentine's Day. I love history and I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did.

$3.00 Worth of Adventure 
by Curt Ladnier

Okay, I'm just going to say it ... history is cool. And it's all around us, if we open our eyes to it. I'm not talking about history of the high school text book variety -- Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941; the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognized women's right to vote; that sort of thing. All of that is awesome, too, but it's so big that it's almost abstract. History with a capital H. I'm talking about the little fragments of history that wander through our lives almost daily, unnoticed because at first glance they seem so commonplace.

For example, last week I was killing time before meeting a friend for lunch, and I decided to pop into a local secondhand shop. Meandering the aisles, I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but a basket full of 78 RPM records soon caught my eye. I'm not much of a record collector, but the discs were priced at a meager $1.00 each, and flipping through them seemed as good a way as any to eat up a few more minutes. Toward the bottom of the stack, three discs caught my attention. Something about them looked different from the rest, and it occurred to me that these had no labels identifying their contents. Even stranger, instead of a single hole in the center of the platter, these each had four holes placed in a Y formation. I'm not a record collector, but I am a vintage radio enthusiast, and I recognized these mystery records as transcriptions discs such as were used in radio stations in the 1930s and '40s. Without labels, there was no way to tell if the recordings were music, news, or anything else that a station would have aired during the golden age of radio. But for a paltry three dollars, I couldn't resist the chance to find out.

For the rest of the day I told myself that I had probably wasted my three bucks, that even if the discs were still playable, the odds of them holding anything interesting were slim. But when I got home that night, it didn't take me long to break out my 78 turntable. To my delight, sound crackled from my speakers, and the discs proved to hold an ABC Radio daytime program from 1949. It was a show originating from Hollywood called BRIDE AND GROOM, which interviewed real life couples minutes before their marriage in the chapel at the Chapman Park Hotel in Los Angeles. It's a charming little program, both a snapshot of the time in which it was produced and a distant precursor of the reality shows popular on television today.

BRIDE AND GROOM ran on radio from 1945 to 1950, and then successfully jumped to television where it lasted for another half decade. And yet, how many people remember it today? Certainly not me. Out of curiosity, I went online and ran a few quick searches to see how many episodes might still be around. Several old time radio fan sites confirmed that a few episodes are in circulation among enthusiasts. Very few, in fact -- somewhere in the neighborhood of a half dozen. That's remarkably few, considering that over a thousand episodes were produced during the series' five-day-a-week run. And most excitingly, the episode on my turntable was not listed among those currently in circulation. I had unearthed a scrap of "lost" radio history.

But I also realized I had found something more than that. The recording held the moments just prior to a couple's wedding in 1949. This was potentially a priceless piece of someone's family history. Out of curiosity, I Googled the names of the couple on the show, and was rewarded with a list of their children and grandchildren. I took a shot, and emailed a woman living in the Illinois town where the newlyweds had settled, who bore the same name as one of their daughters. I figured it was worth a try, and if it turned out to be the wrong person I could simply apologize for bothering her. But the next day I found a message in my inbox saying that I had, indeed, found a member of the family I was after, and that her parents had often spoken fondly of their wedding on BRIDE AND GROOM. Sadly, both are now passed away, and none of their children have ever heard a recording of their wedding day radio appearance. Their daughter was thrilled to hear that I had found a copy of the broadcast, and I assured her I would send along CD burns of it for her family to enjoy.

Shortly after helping this family connect with a piece of their personal history, I also decided I should do something to preserve the recording as a piece of broadcast history. Visiting the websites of both the Library of Congress and the Paley Center for Media, I found that each lists only one recording of BRIDE AND GROOM in their archives. Since the Paley Center's mission is specifically dedicated to the preservation of broadcast media, they seemed the best choice as a home for "lost" transcription discs. So I've contacted them, offering to donate the recordings to their collection if they are willing to curate them. With any luck, the April 8, 1949 episode of BRIDE AND GROOM will soon be preserved for posterity.

So my three dollar investment at the secondhand shop turned out to yield a huge dividend -- a personal adventure. The discovery of a couple's wedding day preserved on acetate is minor in the grand scheme of things, but it's something I never expected. And for at least a little while it will remind me that history is all around us. Maybe not the world-changing, forever-studied History with a capital H, but history all the same. And if you keep your eyes open, it could lead you on an adventure, too.
The host of BRIDE AND GROOM, John Nelson, has the groom hold the microphone as he gets to kiss the bride, first.

As a special treat for my blog readers, Curt placed the episode mentioned in this post on YouTube!
You can Listen To It Here





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