Perhaps the first black-centric radio series that didn’t consist entirely of music was the Pittsburgh Courier Radio Hour heard over WGBS, New York, beginning in November 1927. Hosted by the Courier’s New York writer Floyd Calvin, it was an hour of musical performances surrounding a ten-minute talk on a topic of African-American interest. The Courier Hour began as a monthly broadcast and eventually received a weekly slot after moving to another New York station, WCGU, in early 1928 where it was renamed the Floyd Calvin Program (or Hour). Two months after the unveiling of the Courier’s hour, The Negro Achievement Hour broadcast debuted over WABC (also New York City) on January 26, 1928. It too was a mix of music and presentations on matters of interest to African-American listeners. Sponsored by various African-American businesses, topics included the history of black newspapers, the growth of Harlem, and black members of the Elks Fraternal Organization. A year later in 1929 The All Negro Hour, perhaps the most frequently cited example of early African-American radio, went on the air over WSBC in Chicago. The series was produced and hosted by Jack Cooper. Accounts describe it as a variety show with skits, interviews and plenty of musical numbers. This effort has earned Cooper recognition as the first African-American to make a career in radio; indeed, he was on the air for decades to come. The program did feature what may have been the first ongoing sketch performed by black actors, Luke and Timber. Basically a song-and-patter show, contemporary reviews indicate there was some degree of continuing storyline from performance to performance. Notably, none of these shows are known to have received network distribution.
In addition to The Floyd Calvin Hour, The Negro Achievement Hour, and The All Negro Hour, there were occasional one-shot broadcasts that were more than musical concerts. These included Ridgely Torrence’s play Rider of Dreams presented over WOR by the New Art Theatre, Harlem, and stage shows like the first successful all-black musical “Shuffle Along”. Still, these pioneering African-American series and one-shot broadcasts rarely offered dramatic fare that reflected a serious introspection of black life in America. The few dramas that were broadcast, such as Rider of Dreams, were not original creations for radio. The closest such feature was Amos ‘n’ Andy, the story of Harlem African-Americans as written and played by two white men. Amos ‘n’ Andy was a daily (except Sundays) program that debuted March 19, 1928, after a two-year run as Sam ‘n’ Henry. The merits of the program, which was alternately a comedy and drama, have been debated practically since its aural inauguration, and need not be reviewed here.
When a young black actor named Carlton Moss arrived in New York City sometime in the summer or early fall of 1929, there was little indication that he would become the first African-American dramatic writer for radio. The first record contemporary scholars have of Moss’ artistic inclinations are reviews of his theater work while a student at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) in Baltimore. There he found notable success in theater productions during the late ’20s. The Baltimore Afro-American gave some ink to Morgan College’s dramatic productions, several of which featured producer-turned-actor Moss. Under the leadership of Randolph Edmunds, Moss played in the College’s productions of “The Goose Hangs High” and “Nothing But Truth,” both during the spring of 1928. By his last year of school Moss was the drama club’s vice-president and starred as the title character in “Aaron Boggs, Freshman” (fall 1928). During the spring of 1929 the Morgan troupe played in New York, performing three plays as a fundraiser: “The Man Who Died at 12 o’clock”, “The House of Shame,” and “Shirlock Bones.”
Sometime between finishing at Morgan College after the spring semester and October 1929, Moss returned to New York (having been raised in nearby Newark, New Jersey) where he got a job working with the Alhambra stock company. For the time being he continued to be referred to as “Ritz” Carlton Moss (presumably after the hotel), a moniker he’d acquired in college. Though details of these early days in New York have yet to be uncovered, within a year of his arrival the aspiring dramatist had worked his way into a radio gig. By May 1930, Moss was appearing on WEVD’s Intercollegiate Dramatics, a Sunday afternoon program. Unfortunately, radio listings from the era generally don’t include smaller stations like WEVD so it is virtually impossible to reconstruct a broadcast record for the show that would make clearer how long it ran and what its content may have been. This appears to be Moss’ first work in radio.
After toiling away in theater for a year upon arriving in New York and working the aforementioned stint on WEVD, Carlton Moss was hired by WEAF (NBC Red network’s New York City affiliate) to write, produce, and act on a weekly series entitled Careless Love, an all-black dramatic radio production. One of the very few contemporary accounts of the series during its earliest days claimed “the themes for the sketches were suggested by W. C. Handy’s ‘blues’ and Negro plantation life.” The title surely reflected the classic blues tune of the same name, the melody of which was used by Handy in his song “Loveless Love.”