This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
Click here to return to the index of selected articles.
Researching a Lost Treasure:
THE HOWIE WING TRANSCRIPTIONS, Part 2
by Kathy Hammel © 2005
(From Radio Recall, June 2005)
In part one, “Discovering a Lost Treasure,” Kathy recounted how she and her husband, Jim, located, quite by happenstance, three transcription disks containing six hitherto unknown episodes of a juvenile radio serial, “Howie Wing." In this segment we learn that finding the transcriptions turned out to be the easy part; figuring out what, if anything, they were, was the start of an unexpected, but gratifying, adventure.
When Jim and I found the transcription disks we had no idea what - or who - “Howie Wing” might be. All we knew is what the transcription labels told us: the copyright date was 1938, the sponsor Kellogg’s, the producing agency NW Ayer & Son and the transcription company was World Broadcasting System (WBS). The 16-inch records were black, and inside buff colored dust sleeves which had darkened to an odd pink color over the years. The labels were red, with black printing and the recordings themselves looked so bright and glossy that I had to question if they could really be 67 years old.
Relatively new to collecting, and never before being close enough to a 16-inch transcription to touch one, I was clueless as to what to do with them. The Internet was an obvious starting place, so I checked to see what Google would find for me. There was darned little on the Internet, but it was a beginning.
One of the first things I found was a reference to an advertising blitz Kellogg’s used to launch the show and sell cereal. They sponsored an elaborate publicity stunt that used a series of airplanes to transport suitcases around the world. Remember, in the 1930s, airplanes were fairly fantastic machines, with lots of potential, but still not entirely practical for many of the things they do routinely now, so an around the world airplane race was big news. (To read about this, go to: www.wingnet.org/rtw/rtw002ee.htm)
From this initial Internet search I learned that Howie Wing was a 15-minute juvenile series that ran from 1938-1939 and that it had to do with the adventures of young aviators at a training school. The 21-year-old hero of the series, was, as you might suspect, a cadet named Howie Wing.
In the quest for additional information I also contacted a few people I know from my Yahoo OTR groups. One of them, George Hughes, didn’t know the series, but suggested someone who might be able to play the recordings. Unfortunately that person was not in the US, and I didn’t want to risk mailing the transcriptions anywhere. While they didn’t appear fragile, they are 67 years old. Yet, without someone with the equipment to play them, we couldn’t verify what was on the recordings.
At this point, I had just enough information to consider, if they were playable, that they might actually be of some rarity. So, it was back to the Internet, to do a bit more digging, during which I found an article entitled “Keep ‘Em Flying: Radio Aviators” by Jack French. In the article Jack mentioned Howie Wing as one of a series of aviation related radio shows popular in the 1930s and 40s. He also noted that no episodes were known to have survived to present day, and the series was considered 'lost'. This, of course, was extremely exciting information, as I was now pretty sure I did have something that might be 'important' and perhaps find a warm welcome from the OTR community. Still, I didn’t know how to get it out there. It did occur to me that Jack might.
It was apparent, through postings at the MWOTRC website, Jack’s articles published on other websites such as the Otter Project On Line and the many favorable reviews of his wonderful book “Private Eyelashes” that Jack was something of a celebrity. I was a bit daunted by a fear of imposing on someone of such vast repute. Two things encouraged me to overcome my scruples: my excitement at the possible discovery of long lost OTR, and the fact that Jack appeared purposely accessible.
I easily found two current email addresses for him, and shot off a query before I could talk myself out of it. I knew I’d done the right thing when I got a response from Jack almost before my finger had lifted off the “send” key of my computer’s email. After a little question and answer, we both felt that the transcriptions were authentic and very likely to be “as labeled”. Then the fun really started.
Jack is a man of resources and resourcefulness. Within a few days he put me in touch with Jerry Haendiges, who, it turns out, lives less than an hour from me, so I didn't have to risk mailing the transcriptions. Jim and I drove them over and had the added treat of getting to meet Jerry and his wife, Elaine, as well as to see Jerry's work room first hand. Jerry has a lot of electronic toys, and knows how to use them. Not only does he have the skill to coax sound out of nearly extinct recordings, but he also has a genuine love for the work of preserving old radio shows. With Jerry’s help, we finally were able to listen to one of the 15-minute episodes that day. Since the recordings were dirty and worn, we had to strain to hear the action through quite a bit of snap, crackle and pop, but it was enough to confirm they were definitely as the label claimed.
What a magical moment! The announcer came on and said (in slightly muffled tones), "Stand by for Howie Wing, a Saga of Aviation!", and I was entranced. I’m not sure I really attended to the actual sequence of events being played out in that episode; I was so totally enchanted with knowing this was the first time in almost 70 years the recording was being heard. Realizing that we were also listening to something considered lost, but now found, added immeasurably to the elation of everyone in the room.
Jerry Haendiges (center), a sound engineer and OTR dealer in Los Angeles listens to a transcription disk with Kathy and Jim Hammel as they become the first three people in over 65 years to hear a recording of radio's "Howie Wing."
With the confirmation that the disks did contain episodes of a previously lost series, things moved rapidly into high gear. Jerry kept the recordings to work his digital magic on them; Jack, like a general commanding troops, went on to marshal an amazing force of people in order to get the word out about the find and to see what else we could uncover about this series. He contacted Jim Widner and a few other folks to announce the discovery through various OTR lists and websites, and alerted several researchers, including Karl Schadow, to keep an eye out for references to Howie Wing. Jack also ransacked his own research files to drag out every little reference he had to the show, which gave us good material to start from.
For example, even though most OTR reference books cite that the series ran from October 1938 – June 1939, Jack’s files indicated the show may have had an earlier run starting sometime in February 1938. The second series would have commenced in October 1938 as the references say. Jack also had notes naming the main players in this little drama, but not a great deal else.
However, with Jack’s troops on the job, we got almost immediate confirmation that there was a first season for the series when Karl obtained a "New Show" announcement from a February 1938 edition of the Los Angeles Times that invited radio listeners to "Tune in each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the same hour, as Kellogg's Corn Flakes presents -- Howie Wing". The station was KHJ and the time was 5:30 p.m.
With Karl Schadow on the trail, we rapidly came up with additional leads. Within short order, Karl had delved into the Library of Congress archives where he found information that further confirmed Howie Wing ran for two seasons and that there were two different ad agencies involved in its production; the NW Ayer & Son agency noted on the label of the recordings we had, and J. Walter Thompson, another agency of some repute that is still doing business today. Karl also found out that the second series (October 1938-June 1939) was broadcast coast to coast by the Columbia network and various affiliates. As of this writing, we still have questions about where the first series was broadcast. We know it was broadcast in the Western States as early as February 14, 1938, but it’s not clear if it was done coast to coast at that same time. We also couldn't tell, from what was on the label, if our transcriptions, with their copyright of 1938, were from the first or second series.
Finding out that J. Walter Thompson was the ad agency for one of the series was a major boon. Karl knew that the J. Walter Thompson Company had donated its archives to Duke University, and Duke told Karl they actually had Howie Wing scripts on microfilm. Karl, who thankfully lives near enough to drive to both the Library of Congress and Duke University, immediately began planning a trip to visit the archives. As I write this, he’s in the Duke archives seeing what he can find.
One thrilling find during Karl's initial visit to the Library of Congress was yet another transcription of the show, one more 15 minute episode! This one was from late June 1939 and was the very last show recorded of the series. Karl is working on tracking down the copyright holders to see if they will allow us to add a copy of this seventh episode to the six we already have in hand.
While our research has turned up some solid bits of history on the show, it's also engendered a rather large handful of new questions. When Karl listened to the final episode of the series at the Library of Congress, he discovered it wasn’t supposed to end there. A third season was planned. So here was another mystery to solve... and not the only one. Karl also made an unexpected discovery that was to spin us off onto path that took us out of the U.S., across the big waters, to the Land of Down Under, and then back again to our northern neighbor.
Join us next time as we uncover why there was no third season of “Howie Wing”, learn if our found transcriptions are first or second season, hear what Karl found at the Duke University Archives, and explore with us Howie Wing’s international connections.