When America Tuned In To “The Frolic”

I’m so excited to introduce our guest blogger today!

Jane M. Tucker is a proud Midwesterner who writes Postcards from the Heartland at JaneMTucker.com. Her novel, Lottie’s Gift, about a little Iowa girl with a big gift for music, is available at CrossRiverMedia.com.


In the 1930s, WHO-Radio in Des Moines dominated the Midwestern airwaves. Not only did they employ a crack sportscaster named Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, they also broadcast the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic every Saturday night. The live country music revue featured top talent, and reached listeners far beyond the Iowa borders. In 1935, the Barn Dance Frolic received fan mail from every state in the nation.

Photo courtesy of Hillbilly-Music.com.
Photo courtesy of Hillbilly-Music.com.

“The Frolic” was set in fictional Sunset Corners, Iowa, where all the citizens were gifted in either music or comedy. Each week, Mayor Tillie Boggs (Shari Morning) bantered with Pappy Cliff (Cliff Carl); Lem and Martha (Tom and Martha Lewis) performed their clever brand of musical humor, and Gene Godt shared his wisdom as “The Homely Philosopher.” Between comedy bits, musical artists like Mary Randolph and Dalton Norman performed a mix of folk music and modern country hits.

While professional, this was no slick Hollywood production. Much of The Frolic’s charm lay in its identification with its audience. The following description appeared in the show’s 1937 souvenir picture book:

“Sunset Corners…is a mythical, typical small town in Iowa. Its citizens….glorify American Folk Music. They know the tunes our fathers and mothers sang—the same tunes that delighted their fathers and mothers as they rolled into Iowa’s fertile plains and valleys in covered wagon days—for most of them were born and raised in small towns or on farms.”

 

Photo courtesy of DesMoinesBroadcasting.com.
Photo courtesy of DesMoinesBroadcasting.com.

The Iowa Barn Dance Frolic packed the 4200-seat Shrine Auditorium every week during the 1930s and ‘40s, but over time its popularity dwindled. The show was cut to one hour in 1953, and played its last in 1958. Over time its memory has faded in the brighter light from television and movies. But its Midwestern flavor and musical comedy lives on every Saturday evening in Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

 

One comment on “When America Tuned In To “The Frolic”

  1. I never know what’s fiction and what’s real when I read historical fiction. It’s always fun to learn about the parts that are real. Thanks for sharing this bit of history.

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