MUSC 162 Uni of Washington Wk 2 American Popular Song Article Response

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  • Be between 200-400 words in length and free of major spelling and grammatical errors
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The Carter Family on Border Radio Author(s): Ed Kahn Source: American Music , Summer, 1996, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer, 1996), pp. 205-217 Published by: University of Illinois Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.com/stable/3052353 JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at https://about.jstor.org/terms University of Illinois Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Music This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms ED KAHN The Carter Family on Border Radio The Carter Family is one of the most famous recording groups to emerge from the American country music scene of the 1920s. Their recording career lasted fourteen years (1927-41), included eighteen trips into the recording studio, and left a legacy of over 250 recordings. They introduced a number of songs to the American repertory that have since become classics. Among their best-known songs are "Wabash Cannonball," "Wildwood Flower," and "Worried Man Blues." Their more obscure gospel tune "When the World's on Fire" provided much of the melody for Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." The Carter Family's fame is based largely on their recording career, but their radio career was equally important in spreading their fame during their working years. Largely because little of their radio work survives, it is overlooked and difficult to evaluate. In this article I show how their recording career led to their performances on border stations, themselves a fascinating and poorly understood facet of commercial broadcasting. I show the way that the Carters unknowingly helped to define a broadcasting format and the role that the border stations played in working out a power struggle between the United States and Mexico over the allocation of broadcast frequencies. The original Carter Family consisted of A. P. Carter (1891-1960); his wife, Sara Dougherty (1898-1979); and one of her cousins, Maybelle Ed Kahn received his Ph.D.in anthropology from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he wrote his dissertation on the career of the Carter Family. He cofounded and served as the first executive secretary of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation. Currently he lives in northern California, where he writes and does research. American Music Summer 1996 @ 1996 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 206 Kahn Addington Ezra.1 1927 (1909- Although through th 194 commercial hillbill session, the infant ers to bring their By the time they nacular music was of a growing audi Although the hist text of the record ing was equally im oneer Fiddlin' Jo beginning of the they did on wax.3 The earliest statio ed States, but by billy music from the border statio the most sult of tween fascinati diverse the portunity to restrictions der The op station United radio 1919. fo United pr placed pheno States broadcas Canada follo willing to share b Cuba lagged behin however. Althoug quencies with Me answer to the dil whatsoever. Meanwhile, in Milford, Kansas, Dr. John R. Brinkley, a quack physician nationally known for his goat gland operation, which held out hope for impotent men, advertised questionable medical products and services over his station, KFKB (standing for Kansas First, Kansas Best).5 Brinkley, whose broadcasting activities would later involve the Carter Family, attracted a huge rural audience in the 1920s by pre- senting an eclectic collection of programs that included vernacular music designed to appeal to his listeners. At the same time he increasingly annoyed Washington with his vitriolic political broadcasts. In 1930 the Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his broadcast- This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Carter Family on Border Radio 207 ing license. His next move was to ask Mexico for permission to build a powerful station in Villa Acufia, Coahuila, across the border from Del Rio, Texas.6 Brinkley's plan was to beam the same programming that had cost him his license in Kansas to a largely U.S. audience the north. This suited Mexico's needs to perfection. Here was someone who would invest in the necessary broadcasting equipment an at the same time really irritate the U.S. government. Brinkley was able to operate at an arm's length outside U.S. law His new station, XER, began experimental broadcasts on October 1931, with a power of perhaps 75,000 watts, half again as much a the maximum permitted in the United States. Within a year Brinkle raised the power to 150,000 watts. The intrigue between the United States, Mexico, and Brinkley was a cat-and-mouse game. At first Brinkley broadcast directly from his transmitters in Villa Acufia. Soon, however, Mexico barred him from crossing the border. This was, perhaps, a diplomatic attempt to com- municate to the United States that Mexico wished to work with its northern neighbor. Brinkley's next maneuver was to broadcast over remote lines that went from his studio above the J. C. Penney store in Del Rio to the transmitter in Mexico. Then Congress passed a law forbidding U.S. citizens from broadcasting from another country by the use of remote lines. Brinkley responded to this restriction by re- cording his broadcasts on transcription disks and shipping them across the border. Transcription disks were custom recordings, generally sixteen inches in diameter, which were usually produced either as single copies or in limited quantity. Brinkley had stumbled onto the idea of using transcription disks in 1932, in the midst of one of his many runs for elective office. Brinkley began to develop the format he used on the border stations while still broadcasting from Kansas. The core of his presentation was a mixture of medical advice, gospel preaching, and hillbilly music, although in their early years both KFKB and XER offered a wide variety of other music and entertainment. The format solidified as the 1930s advanced. By 1937 or 1938 hillbilly and gospel were nearly the sole musical fare coming across the border. Hillbilly music was not regularly broadcast over U.S. networks during this period.7 For advertisers interested in the slice of the population that liked this music, the border stations were the only outlet that could guarantee a large national audience. By as early as 1932 thousands of pieces of mail came to XER each week.8 The week of January 11-16, for instance, brought 27,717 re- sponses, representing every state in the Union, as well as fourteen foreign countries. As the years passed Brinkley expanded his borderland empire. He not only established a sister station, XEAW, in Rey- This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 208 Kahn nosa, but more im renamed XERA) t Soon advertisers sored. Brinkley h some people he h sional hillbilly m Chemical Corpor products: Peruna, In the early days however, the stat on a Presto trans the next morning ing performance made, none has s its later incarna very popular in M ahead, and some They made wond because they we they'd last forev them, I imagine dation to the tale shows. This pract out the broadcast During the Carte knew that person became increasing and Sara Carter w their separation Carter Family's c living away from a railway mail cle ule of trips into for personal app Ralph Peer, the Carter Family in their career. This devote himself ex and by the mid- He earned royalt his artists copyri that if the Carte tion, they would without traveling This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Carter Family on Border Radio 209 This seemed to be the ideal solution. A. P. and Sara could live sep rately yet reach a huge audience daily through their radio work. It appears that Peer got in touch with Harry O'Neill, the advertising agent for the Consolidated Royal Chemical Corporation, and the Carter Family made their original appearance on Brinkley's stati XERA in either 1936 or, more likely, 1937. Their announcer was Har ry Steele, a Chicago newspaperman turned announcer, whom O'Neill sent to Del Rio with the Carters.10 The Carters would broadcast over the Mexican outlets until 1942. The Carter Family's transcription discs for the border radio station came to light in 1963. During that year my parents, Eleanor and Allan Kahn, were spending a portion of each year in Mexico, and I was working on my doctoral dissertation on the Carter Family at the University of California at Los Angeles. I knew of the importance of the border station years in the Carters' career, and I therefore asked my parents to take a day or so to check in with the station personnel of XEG in Monterrey, Nueva Le6n, on their way back to their home in Indiana. The lead paid off handsomely when they discovered seventeen transcription discs the Carter Family had made in 1939. Their recollections of the quest sound more like a story of high intrigue, reminiscent of a Bogart film, than a folklore research project. In any case, soon thereafter I traveled first to Del Rio, home of station XERF (the descendant of stations XER and XERA), and then to Monterrey to see what I could learn about XEG and to investigate whether there were any additional transcriptions of the Carters. Although I found a virtual treasure trove of recorded documents, no more Carter Family discs came to light. By the time the Carter Family broadcast over the border stations that dotted the Mexican-American border, the ensemble had grown to include several Carter children. These transcriptions are the only documentation we have of complete radio shows from this period, except for the commercials. It is doubtful that any more recordings of Carter Family broadcasts from this era exist. There are several transcription discs of syndicated Carter Family shows from the period, but they contain only music and therefore give no hint of the show's overall character. The 1939 transcriptions were recorded in San Antonio (by 1938 the Carter Family had moved to Texas for the winter months and begun making transcription discs instead of going into the studio). During this time they lived in San Antonio and recorded the shows in the garage recording studio of Don and Dode Baxter (Don Baxter had earned the reputation of being one of the top pitchmen on Brinkley's station). The announcer on the Carters' 1939 transcriptions was Bill Guild. This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 210 Kahn Brother Bill, as h York State on M on he learned to several years. In ter which he founded a church in San Antonio and devoted himself to his ministry." Brother Bill Guild seems to have been involved with the Baxters from the earliest days of the Monterrey broadcasts. When Don Baxter died, apparently before 1942, Brother Bill officiated at his funeral. A minister friend of Rev. Guild had introduced him to Don Baxter, who was searching for an announcer to host the Carter Family show. The friend tried out, and Baxter coaxed Guild to audition as well. Brother Bill was exactly what Baxter was looking for, but he refused the job, explaining that his ministry had to come first. Baxter finally worked out an arrangement with Guild whereby he would accept $6.66 per hour as an announcer but could fit his radio work around his church commitments. Baxter also told Guild that he could men- tion God whenever he felt like it, which accounts for the many biblical references sprinkled throughout Bill Guild's announcing.12 The Carter Family's mixture of gospel and secular music, coupled with the folksy overtones that Brother Bill brought to the show, fitted perfectly with the border station format, and the appearance of the Carter children on the show strengthened the image of a wholesome family making music together. The Carter Family appeared nightly for a segment of the "Good Neighbor Get Together" program, which lasted from 6:00 P.M. until 10:00 P.M. and consisted of four one-hour segments. The Carters had the middle slot, after Mainer's Mountaineers and Cowboy Slim Rinehart and before Doc and Karl. The 1939 transcriptions present a picture of the Carters that complements what we know of them from their commercial discs. In the recording studio the trio recorded carefully worked out arrangements and took pride in timing their songs down to the second. The transcription recordings, also performed flawlessly, are generally a good deal shorter than their commercial counterparts. It is generally assumed that the three-minute limit of a 78-rpm disc imposed limitations on performers. On these transcriptions, where there was no technological limit on the length of a performance, most of the selections are under two minutes. Although station personnel may have asked the Carters to keep presentations short to make time for more commercials, it is also possible that they felt comfortable with this length and that they stretched out, rather than limited, performances to fill up 78-rpm discs. We really do not have much evidence to indicate the length of performances before recordings. Field recordings all had time limitations, much like commercial discs. Although we know that This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Carter Family on Border Radio 211 traditional ballads often lasted longer than three minutes, we do not know how long musicians liked to perform in general. These transcriptions contain seventy-eight Carter Family selection (see the appendix). Twenty of these were never previously record by the Carters. It is clear that they never stopped incorporating new material into their repertory. Although the Carters collected some o these pieces, as they did throughout their career, others are their ver sions of songs learned from recordings of other hillbilly acts. Through out their career they generally did not make commercial records of songs popularized by other artists. The transcriptions likewise contain eight recordings of A. P. accom panying himself on guitar (see the appendix). Although there are sev eral Carter Family records that feature A. P. Carter's solo singing, no includes his guitar. "When the Spring Roses Are Blooming," whic is included on these transcriptions, appears to be the only recording A. P. ever made of this selection. In addition A.P.'s bass singing with the trio is a good deal more forceful on the transcriptions than o many of the commercial recordings. In interviews various members of the Carter Family paint a picture of A. P. wandering around t stage or recording studio singing whenever the mood struck him. (I get the feeling that he was less nervous at these daily sessions than he was in recording studios.) Sara and Maybelle, who often sang and played without A. P. on commercial recordings, perform ten instru- mental duets on the transcriptions, and Maybelle plays "I Have N Honey Baby Now" as a guitar solo. A final facet of these transcriptions is the presence of the Carter children. A. P. and Sara's youngest daughter, Janette, who was si teen at the time these recordings were made, visited her dad in 1937 or 1938 for a short time and remembered singing over station XERA when the Carter Family was still broadcasting live. In 1939 Janet came to Texas for the entire season and sang regularly on the broadcasts, accompanying herself on either the guitar or autoharp.13 She recalls being paid $20 a week. Maybelle's children, Anita, June, and Helen, were six, ten, an twelve years old, respectively, in 1939, and they also worked as regulars that year, when the group made the transcriptions for the Bax ters. Their numbers are of additional interest because they are the fir recordings by this trio, which went on with Maybelle to achieve suc cess in Nashville after the original Carter Family disbanded in th spring of 1943. According to all the information I have gathered, the Carter sister made their own decisions about their repertory and worked out thei own arrangements. The girls play their own accompaniments on a most all the numbers they perform on the 1939 transcriptions, and This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 212 Kahn several of their p the three sisters cess, and the 193 forming. In add here, even at the Besides displayin jected a much mo cial recordings. F with the announ their numbers or bine the informa cision of their re Epilog Although border radio has fascinated researchers for many years, and despite a considerable body of knowledge about this chapter in broadcasting history, unanswered questions remain. The Carter Family's transcriptions of 1939 raise an additional question: this collection came from station XEG in Monterrey, Mexico. Why then do the announcers making the station identifications clearly enunciate in English and Spanish the call letters XET? There was a station with the call letters XET in Monterrey; it was perhaps the earliest powerful radio station in Mexico. None of the literature mentions it broadcasting in English for a U.S. audience, however. Station XEG, on the other hand, utilized that for- mat for many years and is well documented as a border station. There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy. At first I thought that station XET might have changed its call letters to XEG at some point, but this appealing hypothesis is not supported by the evidence. Some of the transcription discs are labeled XEG, yet the announcers unmistakably identify the station as XET. Communication from Oma Guild, Rev. Guild's widow,15 mentions Bill Guild and Don Baxter's having traveled to Mexico in the early days of station XEG to help set it up (Baxter seems to have been a silent partner of the station in the 1930s). This mystery will have to be solved by other scholars working on the border station phenomenon. APPENDIX Alphabetical Listing of Songs on the 1939 Transcriptions Title Personnela Alabama Galb guitar and autoharp) 3 This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms (instru The Carter Family on Border Radio 213 Anchored in Love 1 Are You Tired of Me Darling? 1 Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party 11 Beauitiful Brown Eyes 11 Better Farther On 1 Birmingham Jail 8 Bonnie Blue Eyes 1 Broken Down Tramp, Ab 1 Broken Engagementb 3 Bury Me beneath the Willow 1 Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie (Sara and Maybelle accompany) 6 Bye and Bye 6 Can the Circle Be Unbroken 1 Cannon Ball Blues 1 Cannon Ball Blues 7 Can't Stop Me from Dreaming 11 Charlie Brooks (Charlie and Nellie) 1 Chime Bells 9 Chinese Breakdownb (instrumental) 3 Church in the Wildwood 1 Coal Miner's Blues 3 Columbus Stockade Blues 11 Come Back to Meb 1 Come into My Heart Jesus 11 Corrina 11 Cowboy Jack 1 Cowboy's Sweetheart 6 Cowboy's Wild Song to His Heard 6 Cumberland Gapb (instrumental) 3 Curtains of Night, Theb 1 Cyclone of Rye Cove 1 Dark Haired True Lover 6 Darling We Are Growing Olderb 1 Death Is Only a Dreamb 1 Diamonds in the Rough (playing guitar) 2 Dixie Darling 1 Don't Forget This Song 1 Drifting Too Far from the Shore 11 Engine 143 8 Farther Along 11 Fatal Wedding (instrument Freight Train Blues 6 From Buffalo to Washington (Ca Funny When You Feel That Way 3 Gathering Flowers from the Hillside 8 Gathering Up the Shells on the Sea Shoreb 1 Gently Lead Meb This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 1 214 Kahn Appendix, Title Personnela Giddiup Give cont Me the Go 9 Roses 11 Give Me Your Love and I'll Give You Mine 1 Glory to the Lamb 11 God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign 1 God's Gonna Trouble the Water 6 Going Back to Texasb 1 Gold Watch and Chain 1 Great Speckled Bird 11 Happiest Days of All 1 Happy in Prison 1 Happy or Lonesome 1 Hello Central, Give Me Heaven 8 Hello Stranger 1 Homestead on the Farm 1 I Cannot Be Your Sweetheart ( I Have No Honey Baby Nowb (instrumental) 4 I Have No Loving Mother Nowb 1 I Never Will Marry 6 I Shall Not Be Moved 11 I Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart 7 I Want to Be Loved 7 I Was Seeing Nellie Home 11 I Wouldn't Mind Dying 1 I'd Like to Have Been with Him Then 11 I'll Be Satisfiedb 1 I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes 1 In the Highway 11 It's Hard to Please Your Mind 11 I've Been Working on the Railroad 11 Jealous Hearted Me 1 Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam 11 Just a Few More Days of Sorrow 1 Just Another Broken Heart 1 King's Highwayb 1 Kissing Is a Crime 1 The Last Letter 6 Let the Church Roll On 1 Little Buckaroo 11 Little Church in the Wildwood 1 Lonesome Valley 1 Lord, I'm in Your Care 1 Lover's Lane 1 Maple on the Hillb 1 This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Carter Family on Border Radio 215 My My New Kitty 9 Virginia River Train 7 Rose No Hiding Place 11 No Home 6 No One to Welcome Me Home 11 No Telephone in Heaven (playing guitar) 2 No Telephone in Heaven 1 Nobody's Darling 6 Old Faithfulb Old The Old Old Old Joe Ladies 1 Clarkb Homeb 1 Susanna Texas Trail (in 8 11 On a Hill Lone and Gray 1 On My Way to Canaan's Land 1 On the Sea of Galilee 1 One Little Word (playing guitar) 2 Out on Old St. Sabbathb 1 Please Oh Death 6 Polly Wolly Doodle 10 Prisoner's Dreamb 1 Reap What You Sow 11 Redwingb (instrumental) 3 River Room of for Jordan You and 1 Me 1 Room in Heaven for Me 1 Saying Goodbyeb 1 Shortnin' Breadb (instrumental Show Me the Way to Go Home 11 Single Girl 5 Sinking in the Lonesome Sea 1 Sitting on Top of the Worldb 1 Sleep Baby Sleep 6 Soldier and His Sweetheartb 3 Something Got a Hold of Me (playing guitar) 2 Sourwood Mountain 11 Spirit of Loveb (instrumental) 3 Storms Are on the Ocean 1 Sugar Hillb (instrumental with two guitars) 3 Sun's Gonna Shine in my Back Door Somedayb 1 Sweet Fern 1 There'll Be Joy, Joy, Joy 1 This Is Like Heaven to Me 1 Trouble 11 Two Blue Eyes 7 Two Sweethearts (playing guitar) 2 Wade in the Water This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 6 216 Kahn Appendix, Title cont Personnela Waves on the Sea (in Way down Yonder i We Shall Rise 1 Weary Prodigal Son 1 Western Hobo 1 What Would You Give in Exchangeb 1 When Our Lord Comes Againb 1 When the Roll Is Called up Yonderb 1 When the Spring Roses Are Bloomingb (playing guitar) 2 Who's That Knocking at My Window 1 Why There's a Tear in My Eye 1 Will My Mother Know Me There 1 Will You Miss Me 1 The Winding Stream 1 The Wondering Boy 1 Worried Man 11 Worried Man Blues 1 Yankee Doodle 7 Yodel Chime Bells 9 You Are My Flower 1 You Are My Sunshine 6 You Note: pendix. Denied The Your author Love wishes 1 to acknowled a. Key to personnel: 1 = Carter Family; 2 = A. P. Carter; 3 = Sara and Maybelle Carter; 4 = Maybelle Carter; 5 = Sara Carter; 6 = Janette Carter; 7 = Helen Carter; 8 = June Carter; 9 = Anita Carter; 10 = Helen and June Carter; 11 = Helen, June, and Anita Carter. b. Denotes a song performed by A. P., Sara, Maybelle, or any combination of them that was never recorded by the orginal Carter Family. NOTES This paper is dedicated to the memory of Eleanor W. Kahn (1909-94). 1. This paper is not intended as a discussion of the Carter Family's career. For er discussions of the Carter Family see John Atkins, "The Carter Family," in Malone and Judith McCulloh, eds., Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Rodriguez, Music in American Life Series (Urbana: University of Illinois Pres and my study, "The Carter Family: A Reflection of Changes in Society" (Ph. University of California at Los Angeles, 1970). 2. Hillbilly, although originally a pejorative term, has been adopted as the de tion for commercial country music recorded between 1922 and the beginning of This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Carter Family on Border Radio 217 War II. The music industry itself used the term until the late 1940s. For a discussion how the term came to describe this brand of music, see Archie Green, "Hillbilly M sic: Source and Symbol," Journal of American Folklore 78 (July-Sept. 1965): 204-28. 3. See Gene Wiggins, Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin' John Carson, His Real World, a the World of His Songs, Music in American Life Series (Urbana: University of Illin Press, 1987). 4. For a thorough discussion of border radio, see Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987). 5. See Gerald Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), for an excellent portrait of Brinkley, including his role in radio. 6. Ibid. 7. Networks did not allow delayed broadcasts of any kind, including records, un the late 1940s. Occasionally network broadcasts featured live country entertainmen but they did not regularly schedule rural music; the only network venue for the genr was the Grand Ole Opry (from Nashville). 8. The station kept sheets showing weekly responses, for advertisers paid on a per inquiry basis. These figures are drawn from one of these sheets, which I acquired du ing the course of my research in Del Rio. 9. Interview with Don Howard, Del Rio, Texas, July, 18, 1963. 10. Telephone interview with Harry Steele, Mar. 12, 1970. 11. Letter, Oma Guild to Ed Kahn, Sept. 19, 1987. 12. Ibid. 13. Telephone interview with Janette Carter, Apr. 8, 1993. 14. A recording of a selection of these transcriptions was released as JEMF 101 by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation. This LP has been out of print for many years A new three-CD collection containing almost all the material is being released. The firs of these CDs has been released on Arhoolie Records as CD 411. 15. Letter, Oma Guild to Ed Kahn, Sept. 19, 1987. This content downloaded from 128.95.104.109 on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 22:01:06 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
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Carter Family and Border Radio
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