Imagine an old time radio show that spawns an annual festival, led to the renaming of a town, and 55 years after its first airdate, keeps a small town grocery store in business.
You needn’t imagine. The show is called Lum and Abner, radio’s two-man show featuring Chester Lauck and Lum Edwards and Norris Goff played Abner Peabody. The two managed the Jot ’em Down Store. The town had several other residents such as Dick Huddleston, who owned a competing general store, Squire Skimp, an unscrupulous lawyer, Cedric Weehunt, their hired hand, and Grandpappy Spears. All of these parts, plus a few others were played by Lauck and Goff, showing great flexibility as actors. The show’s 24-year run with a variety of networks and sponsors was impressive, but what makes its so impressive is how well its endured.
A 2-day festival is held every June in Mena, Arkansas in their honor, and the show is still run in reruns over radio stations in Mena and Chicago. Two proprietors run the Jot-Em-Down Store and the Lum ‘N Abner Museum in the unincorporated community of Pine Ridge, where the stories were based. The store draws visitors from around the U.S. and even around the World.
What got me interested in the show was a series of high quality audio downloads posted at the archive.org known as the Pine Ridge Project. They amounted to a series of 34 seperate entries in the Archive, each featuring a whole MP3 CD’s worth of Lum and Abner in High Quality Audio, as well as one with some extra Lum and Abner clips. I was curious about why the show would have such devoted fans and began listening.
Lum and Abner’s strength comes in its simple conversational nature. Unlike many radio shows of the era such as Burns and Allen, Lum and Abner weren’t doing radio vaudeville. It was an easy going style of comedy that still got into some amazingly zany places. (Ex: When Lum receives a chain letter asking everyone to send a dime to the person at the top of the list, they have the idea to write a chainletter that has everyone send hogs rather than dimes.)
The show’s serial format also gives the show a continuity lacking in other old time radio comedy shows with their sketch mentality. Actions have consequences for Lum and Abner.
The comedy was well done with Lum, Abner, and friends coming up with some of the most fascinating dialogues in old time radio. (For an example, see the family tree discussion on this page.)
The show did have some heart. Lum and Abner’s friendship was often tested and tried made their way through business, but they invariably made up after each row. The show also did a good job of teaching good rules of business and financial conduct through negative examples.
The show gives a peak into the world of Rural America of the 1930s. And it has an air of authenticity from the fact that it was based on a real life town in West Arkansas that was called Waters, and many of its citizens. For example, Dick Huddleston was not only a character on the show, but the real life owner of the only general store in town.
As the town was unincorporated, Huddleston got permission from the Post Office to rename the community to Pine Ridge in1936. The one unrealistic thing about the fictional Pine Ridge was there there were too many people. Currently, Pine Ridge has 21 inhabitants, only slightly less than it had back in the age of Lum and Abner, so the cast of hundreds that showed up as Pine Ridge residents wasn’t realistic. However, then again, a community the size of the real Pine Ridge couldn’t support two grocery stores either.
While, I’ve only been listening to Lum and Abner for a few weeks, they’re already like old friends. Their 15 minute length makes them perfect for short little pick me ups or can leave a smile on my face before bed. Nealry 80 years after they started, the laughter continues.
The Pine Ridge Project (All 35 Parts)
The Road to Pine Ridge
The National Lum and Abner Society