Never too old for storytime

U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial

By Karen Obermeyer-Kolb

To start the new year, this month we are focusing on the Minnesota School of the Air programming. Our episode today is from Old Tales and New, one of the first and longest running programs of the Minnesota School of the Air.

Betty T. Girling wrote the stories as well as a few adaptations heard on this program for approximately 38 of the 41 years this program aired, 1938 until 1979. This particular episode was chosen for the podcast as it achieved a national award for Education by Radio and for its timeless lesson. You can listen to the episode in the browser here and read the script below.

Episode 6: Never Too Old for Storytime or a Good Lesson

You are listening to U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial podcast and this is episode 6 – Never Too Old for Storytime or a Good Lesson

Hello! Karen here at the University of Minnesota Archives and for this episode we are going to imagine ourselves children again…in the classroom…seated around the radio…maybe on a brightly colored rug… all ready for Old Tales and New.

We are introduced to the story of “The Dragon with the Sweet Tooth” with dramatic music and a narrator who tells us about the village of Pebble with villagers whose only fear is of a dragon who they had never seen. The dragon lives in the dark forest on top of the rocky hill overlooking the village. He is adored by all the forest animals who live around him and he loves to eat.  One day he smells something wonderful and is determined to seek it out despite warnings from his friends to never go to the village. He feels the villagers can’t be dangerous or mean to him since they don’t even know him.

The narrator introduces himself as Mr. Fudge, the owner of the only candy shop in Pebble. The dragon makes his way down to the village and into the shop where the children run away screaming and we find out it was peppermint that he had smelled. He produces a pink smoke while he eats the peppermint and the shop owner is delighted by the dragon’s enjoyment of his candy.

The dragon loves the peppermint and the candy shop so much he stays. Mr. Fudge teaches him how to make all the various candies and names him Dunwoody, after the brand of peppermint flavoring. However, the villagers remain scared of the dragon, avoiding the shop completely, and Mr. Fudge tries to convince them not to be.

“I’d go to them and explain that Dunwoody was a kindly, gentle dragon, a great help to me and wanted only to be liked and eat peppermint sticks. Nobody believed me. They said, “all dragons were alike and all of them were terrible[…]”

In the end, it is Dunwoody’s kindness and hard work that gets all the customers back and convinces them that dragons are not all terrible.

“You see they’d come to know him so they couldn’t be afraid of my friend, the gentle dragon, the dragon with the sweet tooth.”

“The Dragon with the Sweet Tooth” was just one of the many stories written by Betty Girling for the program Old Tales and New. It was one of the most popular shows in the Minnesota School of the Air programming.* We could dedicate many episodes to Girling and her achievements over the course of her 34-year career as director of the Minnesota School of the Air, but instead, I will recommend a search on our website for the Betty T. Girling Papers.

Betty T. Girling, 1947. Photograph Collection, University Archives. Available at http://purl.umn.edu/81619.

This program as you may have guessed, was geared towards elementary school-aged children, but storytime had a much bigger message and lesson for everyone. When first broadcast in 1962, this story brought Old Tales and New its ninth national award and in researching the program I came across the University’s Press Release for the award on May 8th, 1962 in which it says,

[…] “The Dragon with the Sweet Tooth,” [was] an allegory representing the story of school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Through the story, in which all the townspeople are needlessly afraid of a dragon who turns out to be very friendly, the program attempts to teach children not to generalize their fears.  The series, based on social and moral precepts, has been widely broadcast across the country by school systems [and different] radio stations[…]

It seems Girling and the Minnesota School of the Air had their sights set on tackling bigger issues like the “dragon of integration” through the power of education. Although not award winning episodes, the program went on to do a follow-up story on Dunwoody at the County Fair related to the arrest of the Freedom Riders and in a later episode introduced a cousin dragon as a means of encouraging the integration of even more cultures.

Teacher’s Manual, 1961-1962. University of Minnesota Radio and Television Broadcasting records. University Archives.

That’s all for this episode. Listen in next time to discover more about KUOM through the Minnesota School of the Air. Thanks for tuning in!

The U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial podcast is produced every other week for your enjoyment. Subscribe or download on iTunes or GooglePlay so you don’t miss another moment of historic Minnesota radio.

If you enjoy our clips and want to hear or learn more, go to www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives, and search KUOM in the collection guides.

Digitization of University Archives recordings was financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Learn more

*Bianchi, William (2008). Schools of the Air: A History of Instructional Programs on Radio in the United States.

Karen Obermeyer-Kolb is a project archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives.

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