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In the 1930s radio stations filled the airwaves with programs and musical performances about rural Americans—farmers and small-town residents struggling through the Great Depression. One of the most popular of these shows was Lum and Abner, the brainchild of Chester “Chet” Lauck and Norris “Tuffy” Goff, two young businessmen from Arkansas.
Beginning in 1931 and lasting for more than two decades, the show revolved around the lives of ordinary people in the fictional community of Pine Ridge, based on the hamlet of Waters, Arkansas. The title characters, who are farmers, local officials, and the keepers of the Jot ’Em Down Store, manage to entangle themselves in a variety of hilarious dilemmas. The program’s gentle humor and often complex characters had wide appeal both to rural southerners, who were accustomed to being the butt of jokes in the national media, and to urban listeners who were fascinated by descriptions of life in the American countryside.
Lum and Abner was characterized by the snappy, verbal comedic dueling that became popular on radio programs of the 1930s. Using this format, Lauck and Goff allowed their characters to subvert traditional authority and to poke fun at common misconceptions about rural life. The show also featured hillbilly and other popular music, an innovation that drew a bigger audience. As a result, Arkansas experienced a boom in tourism, and southern listeners began to immerse themselves in a new national popular culture.
In Lum and Abner: Rural America and the Golden Age of Radio, historian Randal L. Hall explains the history and importance of the program, its creators, and its national audience. He also presents a treasure trove of twenty-nine previously unavailable scripts from the show’s earliest period, scripts that reveal much about the Great Depression, rural life, hillbilly stereotypes, and a seminal period of American radio.
"As a longtime fan of the wonderful comedy team of Lum and Abner, I couldn't be more pleased with Randal L. Hall's new book, which captures the true 'characters' behind the characters. Mr. Hall effectively highlights the social importance and social contributions of the program and its stars, Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, recognizing that the duo did more than simply entertain radio audiences across the nation; they also accurately introduced Southern culture to many areas of the country unfamiliar with it. By including a number of the original scripts as well, Hall provides listeners with their own opportunity to see (and speak) the language of Lum and Abner."—Greg Bell, host of XM Satellite Radio's Old Time Radio channel 164
"An original look at mass culture and rural America during the 1930s through the lens of one of the most popular radio programs of all time."—Lu Ann Jones, author of Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South
"A delightful and engaging study of one of the rare national radio shows that explored rural themes. . . . Instead of portraying the hillbilly as a degenerate and violent drunkard and rube, the southern mountaineer of Lum and Abner was forward-looking, likable, ambitious, and authentically rural. The show may have tapped the audience's attraction to what Hall calls 'mountain exoticism,' but it did so in a way that celebrated rural values and character."—Melissa Walker, author of Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meanin
"Hall shows how Lum and Abner gave dignity to a group of people, the ‘hillbillies,’ that were otherwise maligned and stereotyped by other radio programs of the era."—Cleveland (OH) Star Beacon
"Hall offers a rare scholarly discussion of Lauck and Goff’s successful radio duo, as well as ruminations on the show’s symbolic role during an era of sweeping change for rural Americans."—Arkansas Historical Quarterly
"The book contains nearly 300 pages of joy for radio history fans."—Radio Recall
"Randal Hall is a perceptive interpreter and introducer of the lessons."—Southwest Historical Quarterly
"Lum and Abner attains Hall’s goal of recapturing a time when radio entertainment was vital and important to United States culture. [The book] is entertaining, informative, and enjoyable. Just like the radio program."—Material Culture
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Lum and Abner, Rural history, Radio history, Arkansas
Film and Media Studies
Hall, Randal L., "Lum and Abner: Rural America and the Golden Age of Radio" (2007). Film and Media Studies. 19.