Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gerald Breckenridge's Radio Boys

by Pa Rock

A new trend in book publishing was emerging in this country in the very early days of the twentieth century.  Books were beginning to be written specifically for children and young adults.

One of the primary founders of that movement was a very sharp businessman by the name of Edward Stratemeyer who came up with the concept of books in a series.  The idea was to hook young readers with a good yarn about a particular character or set of characters, and then use that book to promote the next in the series.  Stratemeyer only wrote a few of the books himself.  Usually he would draft an outline of the story that he had in mind, and then farm it out to a ghostwriter.    He would copyright the finished books, making the completed works and characters the property of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  Stratemeyer's books were published by Grosset and Dunlap.

Some of the series in the Stratemeyer canon of fine literature included The Rover Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew.  In the 1920's another title was added to the Stratemeyer list:  The Radio Boys by "Allen Chapman" (a pseudonym for a ghostwriter).  There were ultimately thirteen titles in the Stratemeyer series of The Radio Boys.

Oddly enough, two other publishing houses also had their own series entitled The Radio Boys during this same time period - probably due in no small measure to the fact that radio was the hot technology of the 1920's.  M.A. Donohue and Company had six titles in their series, all penned by various authors using pseudonyms.  The third publisher, A.L Burt, ran ten titles in its series, The Radio Boys, all written by Gerald Breckenridge, an actual author who was a former journalist.  Breckenridge promoted the books himself with readings on a New Jersey radio station.

I recently came across a 1922 edition of Gerald Breckenridge's The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition.  As someone who has read a goodly number of The Hardy Boys mysteries, several within the past year or so, I anticipated that my new find would bear a strong resemblance to the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy.  The tale of the Alaska rescue was entertaining, but the similarity to the exploits of the Hardy's ended there.

Frank and Joe Hardy were brothers, high school students from a fairly well-to do family.  The boys had their own roadster, motorcycles, and a speedboat.  There father was a famous detective who would occasionally involve them in his cases.  They were often caught up in risky situations, but readers (at least this one) never felt that the lads were in any mortal danger.  Even if they did occasionally carry revolvers, the boys would certainly never shoot anyone.  Their adventures were entertaining, but highly formulaic - and after reading just a few of the books, it became rather easy to guess who-done-it early on in the tale.

Admittedly, I have only just finished my first Radio Boys by Gerald Breckenridge, but some distinctions between it and The Hardy Boys are obvious.  While still aimed at an audience of adolescent males, this story, The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition, had a more realistic feel than the tales of Frank and Joe Hardy.  The "boys" in the Breckenridge were older - three unrelated college students at Yale University.  The three had a common interest, radio, and had a working knowledge of how to assemble, use, and repair radio equipment.  One of the young men was also working on inventing more powerful radio tubes.  Predictably, they carted along radio equipment on their travels, equipment which proved to be instrumental in righting wrongs and saving the day.

Whereas Frank and Joe Hardy were just barely past the age where girls were considered icky, the Radio Boys (Jack, Bob, and Frank) did care what girls thought of them and had a focus on winning the hearts of certain young ladies - though there was no sexual component - implicit or implied.  The feeling was present that engagement and marriage was not too distant in the young men's futures.

Breckenridge was a good storyteller, and, being a former journalist, he had a more than passable skill in describing his characters and the environments in which they operated.   The wilds of northern Canada and Alaska felt exceedingly real in this book.  The situations that confronted the three college students also had an edge that superseded anything that the Hardy's had to suffer.  At one point in this book, two of the young men landed in a confrontation where the only way out was to kill some men - which they did.  The author did not treat the incident lightly.  One of the young men was so traumatized by the fact that he had just shot and killed two men, that he sank into a deep, troubled sleep for several hours.

The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition, had the obligatory twists and turns of a good mystery, but the path to the satisfying conclusion was much less predictable than the escapades of Frank and Joe Hardy.   In addition to a good story, this book by Gerald Breckenridge infused a fistful of realistic action, as well as moderate doses of danger,  geography, education on the basics of radio communication - and just a hint of romance.

If Frank and Joe Hardy had ever grown up and made it into Yale, they would have probably hooked up with The Radio Boys!

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