Fred Bals
12 min readMay 8, 2017

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Back Where I Come From: The Roots of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

Everything has a past and a history. All trees have roots. All rivers have a source. There is nothing new under the sun.

A weekly, one-hour radio show hosted by Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour aired from 2006 to 2009 on XM Radio, and later on Sirius XM when the two satellite radio services merged. Each episode was an eclectic, mix of blues, folk, rockabilly, R&B, soul, bebop, rock-and-roll, country and pop music, centered on a theme such as “Weather.”

Fifty-odd years ago, in a New York City loft apartment, a young man rummages through a shelf of old audio tapes. He stops, re-reads a label. He doesn’t know the title on the box, but he definitely recognizes the performer’s name.

“Can I listen to this?” Bob Dylan asks.

Sixty-six years before the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, when radio was just radio and the word satellite was only used by astronomers, there was another radio series that was organized around themes. A fifteen minute radio program that aired three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — at 10:30 p.m., and ran from September 1940 through January 1941. The show, titled Back Where I Come From, featured Woody Guthrie, and was written by Alan Lomax and directed by Nicholas Ray, who would later go on to direct Rebel Without a Cause.

Alan Lomax

In the summer of 1940 Alan Lomax began work on one of his long-time pet dreams, a folk music series for prime time network radio. Lomax would act as the writer and long-distance producer for Back Where I Come From from his Washington, D.C. home base, while his pal Nick Ray would be the on-scene New York City director.

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Fred Bals

Corporate Storyteller. Tech enthusiast. Mini Cooper fanboy. One-time chronicler of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. Husband of Peggy. Human of Lily Rose.