The Radio Career of Carlton Moss, pt. 3

How Moss came to be granted a radio writing assignment is unknown; in fact, all behind-the-scenes information about this radio series is a mystery. Possibly he received the opportunity at such a prominent station so it could direct some programming at the city’s sizable African-American population. Perhaps he’d made connections at the larger station while working at WEVD. Whatever the reason, the weekly Careless Love premiered at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, 1930, over WEAF. In doing so the series must be seen as the first African-American dramatic material written for radio. Despite being overlooked by all other accounts of black radio history, Careless Love should also be considered the first non-musical African-American feature (though it featured musical interludes) and the first such black feature to be aired over a network.

Accounts of Careless Love’s content are rare and brief, giving radio historians only the vaguest sense of its content. The show’s announcer opened each episode with the following: “[They are] stories of Negro life in the South – stories of yesterday and today – simple stories that throb with heart-beat and emotion – the character and feeling of Negro people, written by a Negro pen.”

The earliest account of the series comes from the New York Amsterdam News, just a few weeks after its debut. While the paper did not, apparently, regularly comment on radio features, it felt the need to mention Careless Love due to its “high quality of the acting and singing.” In 1931, after nearly a year of being on the air, the Chicago Defender described it thus, quoting the aforementioned opening and also giving a brief storyline:

“These are stories of Race life in the South, stories of yesterday and today, simple stories that throb with heart-beat and emotion – the character and feeling of the Colored people – written by a young Race boy, Carlton Moss.

Saturday night’s sketch was called “Big Eddy’s Partner.” The history of a young Colored boy who came from an upcountry farm to the docks of New Orleans.”

The only Careless Love installment for which any expanded story synopsis has been discovered was called “Susie’s Solitaire” and was described in depth in the Pittsburgh Courier:

“The Careless Love group which entertains each Sunday over the national network presented a very interesting sketch as part of a series of colored folk stories called “Susie’s Solitaire.” Bringing to the air a little sentimental domestic scene illustrating Negro characteristics. It is well done and those who are devotees of Negro folk tales should make it a point to hook in on future broadcasts, for they will enjoy those stories.

In this one a colored girl, Susie Jackson, has returned to her home in a little town from Nashville, where she works in a hotel. It is Sunday morning and she must go to church with Simon her former sweetheart. But Susie wants them to know that she wishes no further part of Simon because she’s now “the sharpest girl in Nashville” and has won the $200 diamond ring affection of “Jelly Roll” Williams, “not a gambler but a professional sporting man.” And why should she bother about Simon? Tut, tut and tish. She engaged to Simon? No such thing. She’s the “hot baby” of “Mr. Jelly Roll Williams.” So, they go to church without her.

Then comes “Mr. Jelly Roll Williams,” all dust-covered and worried looking. He gave her that ring? Crazy gal: Ha, ha! What a laugh, give him that ring. He smacks her and gets it and she winds up in the arms of Simon with no more Nashville for her.

The little sketch was played with great realism and earnestness and anybody listening to it could easily imagine they were hooked in on the real thing. Good dialogue was delivered with genuine Negro feeling and emphasis.”

Since scripts have yet to be uncovered, the only information now available concerning the content of Moss’ radio work is write-ups in the black press. Folk-lore and legends were popular sources of stories, including “Stack-o-Lee,” “John Henry,” “Hard Trials,” “Corn Cob Roll,” “The Ghost Wrestlers,” “The Fall of the Conjure,” “The Ways of Satin,” and “Aaron’s Conjure Scare.” What the Baltimore Afro-American dubbed “Good … plays of character” included “Big Eddy’s Partner,” “Easter Parade,” and “A Son of the Soil.” Comedic entries included “Callie’s Santa Clause,” “A Good Woman,” and “Luke’s Courtship.” Other stories included “Hard Trials” and “Tinsel Preferred” for which the Baltimore Afro-American provided a short summary: “[The episode] is a sympathetic story of a girl who quit a road show to return to her laboring husband. When she finds that her husband has had his leg amputated, she goes back to the bright lights.”

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