Pierce Brothers Spot Ad for Ports of Call over KFWB from Los Angeles Times of September 9 1935
Pierce Brothers Spot Ad for Ports of Call over KFWB from Los Angeles Times of September 30 1935
The mid-1930s were rich with some of the most fascinating programs to air over broad-cast Radio waves (and yes, 'broad' casting radio waves was still new then--on both coasts). Music and serial drama were the predominant features over Radio, but the 1930s also ushered in several compelling adventures and educational air features. Most of these features were presented in a standard 15-minute format. When a feature could sustain an equally compelling 30-minute format it was an even greater treat.
Historical and educational features were even more compelling for many listeners of the era. The West Coast, in particular, spawned hundreds of locally produced, early Radio air features broadcast primarily throughout the CBS Pacific, NBC Orange, and early Don Lee-Mutual networks.
Ports of Call was a Transco-produced 30-minute 'musical travelogue' of sorts. Often billed in the newspaper listings of California as either 'musical' or 'drama', the fifty-two Ports of Call programs were more a combination of travelogue, geography lesson, World Music, and docudrama.
Ports of Call Production History and Details
First heard simultaneously in the Bay Area and Southern California, the program appears to have debuted in September 1935, running almost continuously throughout California and as far away as Washington, D.C., as late as 1937 during its first runs.
The Los Angeles run premiered over Los Angeles radio station KFWB, a Warner Bros.-owned station. Pierce Brothers Funeral Directors picked up the tab for the entire KFWB run of twenty-six programs as weekend or Monday night features. Don Lee-Mutual network station, KFRC, premiered its first broadcasts of Ports of Call in the San Francisco Bay area as a Sunday afternoon feature.
It would appear that when it picked up a sponsor, the Philip J. Meaney Company, a West Coast advertising firm, began relabeling the series as a Philp J. Meaney feature, acting as the agent for its sponsor(s).
The full symphony orchestra and chorus that accompanied the musical excerpts throughout each program were exceptional for the musical fare of the era. As a tour of World Music alone, the series holds up as well today as it did in the mid-1930s. As a geography or geopolitics feature, the series shows its wear over the years--or rather, the geopolitical World shows its wear over the years. Coming as it did upon the heels of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, the somewhat idealized world view of the era managed to keep propaganda at a minimum. This lends an even more--at once idealized and dispassionate--even tone to each country highlighted during the productions.
The Radio Guide of April 2nd 1938 shows Ecuadorian Ambassador
Colon Eloy Alfaro accepting a transcription of the "Ecuador"
episode of Ports of Call
The subject forty-three countries we can currently account for represented every predominant ethnicity, language and region of the modern world of the era. The pure escapism that the series provided, as well as an undoubted element of nostalgia for the various ethnicities that comprised the great melting pot of our post-Depression nation, were an equally compelling attraction for West Coast listeners.
Notably absent in the currently circulating exemplars, but almost certain to have been included in the original fifty-two programs, were: China, France, Spain, Brazil, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, Poland, and possibly the Baltic States. It's worth noting that the World of 1935 was a far different geopolitical landscape:
- Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan were still simply 'Persia' to the rest of the world.
- Israel didn't even exist until 1948.
- The countries of Indonesia and Southeast Asia were apportioned and reapportioned throughout the 20th Century.
- The British Empire still retained many of its colonies, as did the Dutch, Spain, France, and Portugal.
- Thailand was simply 'Siam' until 1939.
- The mysterious North African countries of Morroco, Algeria, Tripoli, and Tunisia were referred to as simply 'The Barbary States'
- Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, while already 'territories' of the United States, were still quite independent 'states' for all intents.
- Russia was still a monolith, with several far-flung colonies of its own.
- Germany had only still recently been reapportioned in the wake of World War I
As a time capsule of pre-World War II geography and geopolicy, Ports of Call remains a fascinating snapshot of the pre-World war II globe.
World Music, by contrast, is timeless. The producers of Ports of Call went to often great lengths to capture the most appropriate and representaive music score and musical selections to highlight each country's episode. Today's History students will find great value in the relative historical accuracy of the dramatized vignettes that comprised each episode as well.
For the romantic traveler or adventurer, the series simply fans the fires of wanderlust. Romance and adventure are, after all, equally timeless. And indeed, for the adventurer at heart, the era of the mid-1930s was an incredibly compelling and intoxicating period of World History. The various 'great empires' of the World were in decline, for better or worse. Democracy was gaining momentum throughout the still-free nations of the world. Travel was still by the marvelously romantic 'Clippers' of the era, by the still romantic trains of the era, and by the ever-romantic great steamship lines of the era.
Indeed, the great oceans and seas of the era themselves, were still romantically idealized and treated as areas of seagoing adventure, irrespective of their geography. Even the poles, North and South, had become the targets of contemporary wanderlust. Quite literally the best of times, romantically, and the worst of times, economically, the environment of the mid-1930s simply compounded the adventure for the truly adventurous at heart.
To those ends, Ports of Call fired the imagination, fueled an adventurer's wanderlust, reassured an ethnically diverse nation, and unquestionably created renewed interest in World travel, for those who could still afford it. For those who couldn't afford it, but still undertook World travel, the sense of adventure was almost certainly even greater.
This production was an unqualified gem of The Golden Age of Radio.
Philip J. Meaney Transcription No. RR1385; Ports of Call Episode No. 32 Sweden
Philip J. Meaney Transcription No. RR1383; Ports of Call Episode No. 33 New Zealand
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide, Ben Kibler, ProQuest, randesoteric.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
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