‘Lum and Abner’ show – alive and well in 2010
There’s not been a live broadcast of the Lum and Abner radio show since 1954, but the show still has fans today. From 1931 through 1955, the Lum and Abner show gave rise to seven movies, hours of classic radio and was even responsible for changing the name of the west Arkansas town on which the series was based.
Norris “Tuffy” Goff and Chester Lauck – two Natural State natives who attended the University of Arkansas – devised the series based on characters in Waters, Ark. Goff played Abner Peabody and Lauck played Columbus “Lum” Edwards, who owned and operated the Jot ’em Down store in Pine Ridge. The show – which existed primarily in 15-minute, daily installments – endured through 1954 and ran at various points on the ABC, CBS, NBC and Mutual Broadcasting networks.
Dick Huddleston, the owner of the general store and post office on which the show was based, petitioned the U.S. Post Office to change the name of the community from Waters to Pine Ridge. The current day owners of Huddleston’s store – Noah “Lon” and Kathryn Moore Stucker – still operate the post office and run the original stores owned by Huddleston as the Jot ’em Down store and Lum and Abner Museum.
The popular theory is that the Waters City Council changed the name of the town from Waters to Pine Ridge in 1936 in honor of the show. That’s not exactly true, Kathryn Stucker said. Waters – much like present day Pine Ridge – never was large enough to be a town with a city council. Instead, she said Huddleston petitioned the U.S. Post Office for permission to change the name of the local office from Waters to Pine Ridge.
That request was granted and the name of the community changed with the post office. Pine Ridge still isn’t large enough incorporate as a town as only about 21 people live there – just slightly less than were in the community back when it was called Waters.
Stucker said the Jot ’em Down Store and Lum and Abner Museum still pulls in visitors from around Arkansas, the United States and even some international visitors attracted by nostalgia and a desire to understand a bit about the history of rural America. Indeed, the Lum and Abner show is part of that history.
“This is clean, honest humor,” Stucker said of the series. “This is good Americana.”
Stucker said the “clean, honest humor” of the show may be one of those things that keeps people interested. And, yes, people are indeed interested in Lum and Abner. Nationally, the show can be heard on Sirius and XM satellite radio outlets and – in Arkansas – radio stations in Benton, Fort Smith, Mena and other areas carry reruns of the show. Stucker said the show can even be heard in Chicago and some other American cities where people still have an interest in old time radio (OTR) programs.
It only makes sense for Lum and Abner to run on radio stations in Chicago and Mena. Pine Ridge, located in Montgomery County (Mount Ida is the county seat there) is located just 20 miles from Mena and the show originated from Chicago for years.
The appeal of the show certainly helped convince the Stuckers to run the store, post office and museum for the past 30 years. In fact, ownership of Huddleston’s original store is generational. Ralph and Dorothy McClure – Noah’s step-father and mother – purchased the store in 1969 from Ethel Graham, Huddleston’s daughter. The Stuckers took over the business in 1979 and have since helped develop the museum.
Stucker said the store still has episodes of the Lum and Abner show for sale and some other material, such as a book she wrote called Hello, this is Lum and Abner: The story of Lum and Abner’s Jot ‘Em Down Store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas. That book is available for $5 – inquiries about purchasing the book, past radio shows and a list of items for sale at the store can be had by sending Stucker an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To visit the Jot ’em Down Store and Lum and Abner Museum on the Internet, point your browser to www.lum-n-abner.com – a very solid and concise history of the show is available there.
Who buys items from the store? Stucker said there are a number of new – and longtime – old time radio show fans who make the trip to Pine Ridge and a good number of people are led there through nostalgia – they grew up listening to the show with the parents and grandparents and can’t resist the urge to stop by the store when they’re in the area.
Donald “Donnie” Pitchford, president of the National Lum and Abner Society, is one of those people who was attracted to the show through nostalgia and a “family connection.” After a few episodes, however, he was an avid fan of the series.
“I got interested in Lum and Abner as a kid,” Pitchford said. “I heard my dad talk about it because he grew up hearing it.”
Pitchford said he first ran across Lum and Abner back when “rural” comedy programs such as the Andy Griffith Show, the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction were on in vogue on television. Pitchford said his dad described Lum and Abner as being similar to those programs. He said those conversations led to his interest in old time radio – he noticed that television shows ranging from The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke to Dragnet and Burns and Allen started out on radio.
Pitchford started seeking out tape reels of radio shows and record albums in high school. He eventually started buying cassette tapes with OTR shows on them and, in 1981, he started recording Lum and Abner shows that were played on a local radio station. That was when he was on summer break from college.
“After a couple of weeks, I was hooked,” he said. “It was almost like listening to my dad’s brothers and my uncles when they were still alive. … It was almost like a family reunion, listening to some of those shows.”
Pitchford, now a Texan, said his father grew up in Arkansas (Mountain Home, to be precise) and always thought of the show as a local phenomenon. He was unaware that the show was national and, at least once, international. Pitchford said the Lum and Abner show was the first one to feature a transcontinental, live broadcast with Goff in Chicago and Lauck in London.
Pitchford said the Lum and Abner Society has a copy of that broadcast and a whole lot more – over the years, the society has built up a large collection of radio shows and hundreds of transcription discs (16-inch master recordings of the show). The society started in 1984 after Pitchford, David Miller, Sam Brown, Tim Hollis and George Lillie (Pitchford never met Lillie — he linked the fans together through correspondence) met through their mutual enthusiasm for the radio show.
In 1982 and 1983, they met during the annual Lum and Abner day in Pine Ridge and discussed organinzing the society. In 1984, the society was organized – Hollis put together a prototype of a newsletter and Pitchford was “volunteered” as the society’s president. His first duty was to contact Chet Lauck Jr. to get permission to organize the society.
Lauck Sr. died in 1980 and his son helped handle the estate’s affairs. Pitchford said he visited with Lauck Jr. and got permission to organize the society.
The society started publishing the Jot ’em Down Journal in earnest and held its first convention in the summer of 1985 in Pine Ridge. The conventions were yearly events through 2005 and featured radio actors, writers, announcers and a producer affiliated with the show.
One important role the society played was building “probably the single largest collection” of Lum and Abner programs. Pitchford said programs were donated to the society and there was a time when recordings were sold to the general public.
Perhaps the most important aspect of building up that library of programs, Pitchford said, was to preserve them. For years, OTR programs were preserved on media – cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes and record discs – that deteriorate over time.
Preserving those shows, Pitchford said, is easier with MP3s and digital audio. However, Pitchford said that’s a dual-edged sword – people can build collections of shows for very little money these days so it’s difficult for an archival group to recover its costs for preserving shows.
Still, Pitchford said he’s glad there are groups out there that are preserving shows on MP3s because the very fact that classic shows like Lum and Abner will be available for future generations is important.
Pitchford said he’s learned first hand that Lum and Abner fans can come from those future generations. He’s retiring from his role as a broadcast journalism professor at Carthage, Texas, High School and has introduced his students to Lum and Abner over the years.
“I think if they’re exposed in the right way and they have an appreciation of the history of broadcasting … there’s a good chance they’ll get interested,” Pitchford said.
Pitchford said the society hasn’t had a convention since 2005, but there were some attendees who were teenagers coming to those last conventions. The appeal for the show, he said, is still there. Pitchford said he’s proud that the society had a role in that – a lot of the shows out there today were originally preserved in the society’s archives and are now widely available for people to enjoy.
Pitchford said he hopes more people listen to them and get past the notion that the program casts a bad light on Arkansans. He pointed out that the comedy actually presents Arkansans in a positive light – the characters on Lum and Abner were primarily rural (and based on people who actually lived in Waters/Pine Ridge) and they typically managed to get a leg up on slickers that came to town with schemes to dupe the citizens. The wit and wisdom displayed by the characters was novel and fairly representative of people in Arkansas in the 1930s through the 1950s.
Pitchford said the society peaked with about 800 members and has had about 2,000 total members over the years. He said the society once published the Jot ’em Down Journal bi-monthly for 20 years, but went quarterly and stopped publishing it a few years ago in favor of running the National Lum and Abner Society site on the Internet.
He said the society scaled back for a simple reason – a lot of the people who were very active in it had to cut back on their involvement.
“We just kind of ran out of time and people, but we don’t want to let it die,” Pitchford said.
Pitchford is retiring and said he’s got a lot of plans for the society. He plans to start putting some of the back issues of the newsletter up for sale and to offer some copies of original Lum and Abner scripts to the public, too. He said there are plans in the works to start having conventions again, but they’ll probably be called reunions when they are reinstated. Pitchford added that the Lauck family is working on getting more programs and Lum and Abner movies in circulation and pointed out that Stucker family has always done an excellent job of keeping people interested in the radio show.
Lum and Abner may have gone off the air almost 60 years ago, but there is still plenty of interest in the series. Pitchford, the Stuckers and other groups and individuals have worked over the years to make sure Pine Ridge, Ark., is a frequent stop for those who enjoy American popular culture.
For more information about Lum and Abner, visit the National Lum and Abner society at www.LumAndAbnerSociety.org or the Stuckers’ site at www.lum-n-abner.com. You can buy shows through the Stuckers or visit the famed OTRCat on the Internet (just click here for The Cat).
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.