April 2, 1947: The Big Story

Following up on an article in Newsweek Magazine, radio producer Bernard Prockter began developing an idea for a radio program in which real major stories from the newspapers would be dramatized while at the same time honor the reporters who "broke the story." Ernest ChappellBeginning on NBC, The Big Story was an immediate hit at times even beating Bing Crosby's Philco Radio Time. Sponsored by the American Tobacco Company the producer's stories tended toward crime and even dramatized old stories long past and buried in the newspaper morgues around the country. A number of veteran radio actors helped make the show the success it was including Quiet, Please's Ernest Chappell who as announcer brought the real reporters before the microphone after the broadcast presenting them with a $500 honorarium. The series ran for eight years airing initially on Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. and was even on TV for a short time. The opening program "The Kid and the Box" starred Barry Kroeger, Anne Seymour and other veteran radio actors. The Big Story was one of the precursors of TV series such as 911 and Cops.


April 3, 1939: Mr. District Attorney

When Thomas E. Dewey was elected Governor of New York, part of it was due to his high profile in fighting racketeering in the state. His vigor in cleaning up these criminals became legendary. In 1939, a new radio program premiered written and directed by Ed Byron, a former law student and admirerer of Dewey. The program was built around a figure similar to Dewey who was presented as if he was heaven-sent to fight the rackets and clean up crime in New York City city. He was so legendary that he did not even have a character name in the program other than "Mr. District Attorney."

Dwight WeistThe series began on this day as a fifteen minute serial starring Dwight Weist as Mr. DA. Only this first episode of the fifteen minute serial seems to exist. This stylized fifteen minute version did not catch on with listeners who were usually used to quick story arcs which in this format could take weeks. And so after 3 months, the program was re-designed. It had been hoped that like a soap opera, listeners would be satisfied with little short clips of events each night and tune in again the next night. Since this did not seem to be happening, the program shifted to a 30-minute once-a-week format. Beginning in June 1939 with Raymond Edward Johnson as Mr. D.A., the professed commitment to stopping crime continued to be dominant, but less excessive than the fifteen minute episodes. The storylines engaged listeners in more solid characterization and satisfactory closure. Now each episode had a beginning, middle and ending interrupted by Bristol-Myers commercials. The storylines were simple as with many of radio programs of that time with less complexity in arriving at the satisfactory conclusion.

The series went through two other actors in the lead role, with the bulk of the episodes as well as the popularity of the character being portrayed by Jay Jostyn and then David Brian in the syndicated version at the end of the series run by 1953.

Papke, David Ray: "Mr. District Attorney: The Prosecutor During the Golden Age of Radio", Marquette Law Scholarly Commons

Photo of Dwight Weist: New York Public Library


April 5, 1942: The Army Hour

The concept seemed simple. Provide a show for listeners to understand what their military is doing and how it did it during World War II. The production, however, was another matter. The show was a production of the War Department and it enlisted veteran radio personnel to put it together. Key to the series was Lights Out and, later, Quiet, Please creator Wyllis Cooper as Producer, Director and Writer. The show provided a glimpse into life at war including some live coverage of invasions, interviews with Generals and Privates. Some described aspects such as how they fed the troops, where theaters of war were at given times and so on. Radio Guide described the show as having "the feel of Iceland snows, of the dust and mud of training camps, of the sting of powder, of courage - and of sweat." NBC was the only network willing to schedule the series and by 1943 there were over three million listeners. It was first heard at 3:30 P.M. Eastern War Time every Sunday for one hour from NBC's studio 8-H in New York. Despite the other networks reluctance, overseas facilities were opened to the show including the BBC, CBC, the Voice of Freedom and radio facilities in the Soviet Union. The Army said the show had three aims: to inform American civilians of the nature of their fighting forces; to cheer our allies in the United Nations and the underground by giving honest reports on American's growing military might; and finally to give our fighting men contact with the American way of life with fragments of baseball games, music and other back-home touches. The series did have its technical problems, but overall it proved a valuable tool in the role of radio during the war.


April 5, 1950: Beyond Tomorrow

Whether this series ever had any episodes broadcast has never been established. If so, it certainly could have been the first adult science fiction series, but two things occured which prevent that distinction: 1)It is not known if it ever was broadcast and 2)it only had three episodes in its stable, one of which was a repeat of a previous production.
   At the end of the forties, the networks were all planning adult science fiction series. Realizing that with the dawn of the Atomic Age upon them and increasing interest in science fiction, they needed to provide shows to cater to those tastes. NBC was developing Dimension X, Mutual - 2000 Plus and CBS a series possibly to be called Beyond Tomorrow or Beyond This World. In the New York Times in March, 1950 are a few lines mentioning that CBS has pegged Mitchell Grayson to produce the science fiction series, Beyond Tomorrow. However, it appears it was not broadcast, at least on this day, though the audition certainly exists. In May, again in the Times, an announcement is made that the series was under consideration as a summer replacement for The FBI in Peace and War. But that never happened. Despite its doubt at being broadcast, the episodes that survive are fine examples of radio science fiction.

For more on Science Fiction on Radio, click here.


April 6, 1931: Little Orphan Annie

By 1930, radio began experimenting with children adventure programs. The real milestone in this experiment came on this day when a program began broadcasting out of Chicago based upon a popular comic strip. While there hadn't been a children's adventure show that lasted more than two years, Little Orphan Annie achieved the distinction of being the first. Its focus was on the adventure as well as the humor from the comic strip by Harold Gray. It also was truly directed at the kids.
While it is known that the radio program existed locally prior to this date, this day marks its going more regionally 6 times a week via NBC Blue sponsored by Ovaltine. Early Annie was based, like the strip, on life on a farm owned by the Silo family and with their neighbor Joe Corntassel making appearances as adventures took Annie and Joe into the the town of Simmons Corners. Later years, the show grew probably too big making Annie into an agent for the government. This episode is from 1935.


April 8, 1950: Dimension X

With the explosion of the atomic bomb, the country began to turn its interest to things scientific. The fifties were an explosion of science fiction radio programs both for adults as well as children. Last month we featured the first truly adult sf series on radio, 2000 Plus. Dimension XThat series just barely beat out NBC which began its series, Dimension X, on this day in 1950. This was a fine series featuring stories out of the pages of the sf print medium, mostly from John Campbell's Astounding but also from other sources including the primary magazines such as Collier's. The series was put together by a group of people at NBC very dedicated to science fiction including its producer Van Woodward, writers Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts, and several in-house directors. Some of the finest writers of science fiction had their works dramatized on this series including Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Murray Leinster and Isaac Asimov. Mostly sustained, this show had one major sponsor, Wheaties for a short time. The series run ended in 1951 but the format was resurrected by NBC several years later called X Minus One.

For more on Science Fiction on Radio, click here.


April 8, 1941: Death of Lone Ranger

In the early morning hours of this day in 1941, Earle Graser, the radio voice of the Lone Ranger, was killed in an auto accident on his way home around 5 AM. His popularity as the Lone Ranger and having no one who could easily stand in on a nightly radio children's program broadcast out of WXYZ in Detroit, threw the station into chaos. They quickly had to re-write scripts which would temporarily remove the Ranger from the program and attempt to phase in a new, though somewhat similar, radio voice - that of Brace Beemer, who previously had been the announcer on the program.

Click here to read about how radio handled this emergency transition.


April 13, 1945: Death of FDR

America was at war, though we were seeing Victory in Europe the war with Japan was continuing. The nation looked to its leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to guide us to total victory. But Roosevelt was ill. Though elected for his fourth term, his spirit seemed strong, but the pressures of office and his polio was taking its toll. He had just returned from Yalta, meeting there with Churchill and Stalin to plan out a post war world. The long trip left him tired and ill. He retreated to his beloved Warm Springs hideaway, "the Little White House," for some much needed rest. It was there that he suffered a cerebral hemmorage and died. The White House released a press bulletin at 5:48 PM Eastern War Time. This news bulletin announced to the country that their president was dead. No outpouring of grief for the loss of an American leader has been seen or heard since except perhaps John F. Kennedy. This leader had guided the country through a depression and a major American war. Love him or hate him, his loss was strongly felt by the whole world.


April 16, 1945: Truman before Congress After Death of FDR

The United States nearing the end of a devastating war in Europe and still looking for the end in the Pacific was faced with the passing of a man, Franklin Roosevelt, who had been their leader for 13 years. A little known man from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, was suddenly thrown into the limelight as he took on control of a nation emerging into world leadership. Burial of the former president was passed, now it was time to get on with the business of a nation. Truman appeared before Congress on this day in 1945 to lay out how he was going to continue what Roosevelt had begun.


April 26, 1952: Gunsmoke

Westerns were always popular on radio, but mostly had juvenile appeal with the likes of The Lone Ranger, Tom Mix and others. Adult westerns were never heard until the appearance of Gunsmoke. This series took the science of sound effects to new heights through the genius of Tom Hanley, Ray Kemper, and Bill James. One was literally taken back to the town of Dodge with its many sounds of horses, spurs, barking dogs and other background noises that made the imagination work overtime. Gunsmoke castThe shows themes were sometimes violent, sometimes gentle humor, but always adult. With its repertory of veteran radio actors, including William Conrad as Marshall Dillon, Parley Baer as Chester, the show was produced by the brilliant Norman MacDonnell, who was also involved with Escape and Suspense.

Gunsmoke was first heard on this day over CBS and was an immediate hit, despite the beginning decline of the radio dramatic form. Moving the series to television while still broadcasting the radio program did not really help this series. Television featured a different cast, one which had the Hollywood image of the cowboy. Yet Gunsmoke on the radio, as on tv was perhaps one of the finest radio series ever broadcast. The show finally left radio in 1961 near the end of dramatic radio's final gasps.


May 2, 1932 Jack Benny

Radio had several well-known actors who are strongly identified with the medium. Jack BennyOne of the few who spanned Vaudeville, radio, then television and even the film industry was Jack Benny. Jack Benny's shows developed gradually over time. At the top of his form on stage (though he was beginning to flirt with film - Hollywood Revue of 1929) Jack Benny felt radio was the up and coming medium and accepted an offer from Canada Dry in 1932 to host his own radio show over NBC. The show initially included as co-star Ethel Shutta and the Don Olsen orchestra. This sound bite is from that first broadcast. It is obvious from the soundbite that Jack Benny had not yet achieved his best form, but the beginnings were there. Gradually, as other members of the cast joined Benny, and as the comedian began developing his miserly style, the show began to click. By the late thirties and early forties, the Benny repertory was like a finely oiled machine. The humor has never faded and Benny draws laughs even from those who never experienced his humor while he was alive.


May 7, 1945 Victory in Europe

Radio News had come of age during World War II. Victory in EuropeAnd now, on this day, probably the greatest story in its history was announced. The German's had officially surrendered, ending a long and deadly struggle against the Hitler war machine and Victory in Europe was proclaimed. Never again has this world known such an outpouring of relief. Never again has this world pulled together in such a way to defeat a common threat. This sound bite, which demonstrates such an outpouring, is a composite of a number of clips announcing and celebrating VE Day. Some are from the BBC as well as US Radio News organizations.

Despite the signing in the early morning hours of May 7th, the official day was not until May 8th. After the signing, Churchill wanted to announce right awy, but Stalin would not have it. And so the official date was set to May 8. Some of these clips refer to the second day rather than the actual signing day.

You can read and hear more about Radio News by clicking here.


May 14, 1946 Let George Do It

One of radio's great character actors starred in his first series beginning on this day in 1946. Bob BaileyThe actor, Bob Bailey went on to portray one of the best Johnny Dollars in the mid-1950's. When one listens to Let George Do It, one can't help but think of Johnny Dollar. Like Dollar, George Valentine is a detective who like Box 13's Dan Holliday, advertised in the newspapers. The title of the series comes from the ad which read "If the job's too tough for you to handle, you've got a job for me." Initially, the format of the series was light with a lot of humor but gradually became more serious. Throughout it all, the character was the same wise-cracking, though more bumbling, detective we get from Bailey as Johnny Dollar. The series was syndicated by the Mutual-Don Lee organization and first heard in the west.

For more on radio's detectives, click here.


May 28, 1931 The Witch's Tale

Near the end of the 1920's decade, radio was slowly developing a genre that echoed the printed pulps of the times. This mysterious or thrill genre saw early examples in the likes of Street & Smith's Detective Story program, Detective Magazinea precursor to The Shadow. As the genre took shape, the format usually involved a storyteller affecting a strange voice, usually one with a disembodied character. One of the earliest series to come to radio with this format was The Witch's Tale. Imagine sitting around a campfire, telling ghosts stories to scare the life out of the others. Beginning on this day in 1931, the format used a storyteller called Old Nancy, a Salem Witch with her cat Satan. Under the theme music (Orgies and the Spirits by Leginski), Old Nancy would begin the episode by setting a mood of the strange and horrible, then introducing the night's episode. The series began on radio station WOR (which would later produce The Shadow) and was written by Alonzo Deen Cole with Adelaide Fitzallen as Old Nancy. The series was anthology in its format with no special radio stars and eventually moved into national release via Mutual. Though it sounds crude by today's standards, The Witch's Tale was certainly a scary experience for its listeners in the early 1930's.
For more on radio mystery, click here.


June 1, 1936 Lux Radio Theatre

The Lux Radio Theatre was one of radio's premiere dramatic shows. With its big budget and top Hollywood film actors, the show was extremely popular. However, all was not always rosy. When the series first came to NBC in October, 1934 the original concept was to produce a show that would duplicate in dramatic form the best of both Broadway and film. But Broadway was simply not able to provide sufficient material of interest to listeners for a weekly series. Ratings were dropping rapidly. J. Walter Thompson, the ad agency responsible for the Lux account assigned one of their executives, Danny Danker to try to save the show. Danker saw a wealth of material coming out of Hollywood, but the budget could not handle film stars coming to New York, where the series was produced week after week. Danker suggested to the ad agency that the series be moved to Hollywood and given a budget that allowed the original actors of the films to appear.

Cecil B. DeMilleAnd so, on this day, the show was heard from Hollywood for the first time. To add additional glamour, the agency hired director Cecil B. DeMille to host. DeMille never really "produced" the series as it implied. He would simply show up to do his lines. But the weight of his fame added to the series and he became integral when it was heard each week. Later he would leave the series after a dispute involving the Union. But when the series is remembered, it was DeMille's distinctive voice matched with the announcer opening the program with "Lux Presents Hollywood!"


June 3, 1949 Dragnet

Though many detective shows were premiering during these months, one police show that premiered on this day had repercussions that would carry it onto TV and set a precedent for many "cop" shows to come later. This was Dragnet, a series that came from the imagination of Jack Webb, a veteran radio actor. What made Dragnet different is the sense we got of what being a real police detective was all about.

DragnetWebb with his dry Sergeant Friday, and his crew of actors played it close to the belt . Like many mystery series, we learned details when the detectives did. We had no idea about the crime, except as it was investigated bit by bit.

Early on, Friday's partner was Ben Romero, played by another veteran radio actor, Barton Yarborough (of Jack, Doc and Reggie fame). After Yarborough died, the series went through several partners before settling on Frank Smith, portrayed by Ben Alexander (see photo right). Despite its dryness, this series had a powerful attraction. It was so true to life that listeners were keen to follow the exploits of Friday and his partner. It ran until 1956 on radio though it had already moved to television by that time. Webb would always be known as Joe Friday, but because of its success, that did not seem to phase him.


June 6, 1944 D-Day

D-Day InvasionThe United States had been at war now for three years, most other countries even longer. Scores were still dying and Nazi Germany had a strong hold on the continent of Europe. It had been rumored that an invasion by Allied forces was in the works. Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union had certainly been asking for it as a second front for years. The German government thought it would happen near Calais and so concentrated their troops there. The weather reports for this weekend were miserable. Strong rains and winds made the channel separating Europe and England very choppy. Gen. Eisenhower had to make a decision to go or hold. Holding could delay an invasion for weeks. Suddenly, a window of reasonable calm opened and the word on Operation Overlord was "go." And so on this day, the world's largest invasion force began moving toward France in an effort to gain a foothold onto the western continent of Europe. D-Day was here. This operation would change the face of broadcasting journalism. The events set in place would produce vast amounts of eloquent words and alter the whole of news reporting. This would be one of news radio's finest moments.

Additional information on D-Day is found at George Hicks historic eyewitness recording.


June 18, 1939 Adventures of Ellery Queen

Detective mystery was rapidly becoming a staple of radio. In the early thirties we heard Charlie Chan, Detective Story Hour, which evolved into The Shadow and others. Most of the programs were based upon characters from books. One of the more successful detective mystery characters which moved from radio & film to television was the Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee detective, Ellery Queen. Ellery QueenThis detective series, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, was born on this day over CBS on Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. The show was initially scripted by Dannay and Lee and featured a format which allowed guests to try to figure out who the killer might be. These guests from the entertainment field were not very good at guessing and eventully the producer, George Zachary, solicited guesses from a panel of mystery writers. The first Ellery Queen was played by the mild-mannered Hugh Marlowe. One of the announcers (as in this clip) was Ernest Chappell (Quiet, Please). The series was heard off-and-on over radio for the next several years including runs on NBC and ABC.
For more on Radio Detectives, click here.


June 29, 1932 Vic and Sade

Probably one of radio's greatest serials began on this day in 1932 over NBC. Vic and Sade, a domestic comedy that Time Magazine in 1943 called the best soap opera, was the mind-child of Paul Rhymer, a reporter turned scriptwriter from Bloomington, Illinois. He was called upon to create a program about family life. He chose to pull memories of his own youth to create the characters that became Vic and Sade Gook. For most of its run, this show was a three-character comedy, but Rhymer was so good at drawing characters through the mouths of others that listeners thought they knew those they never heard as well as their own neighbors. During the complete run, Vic was played by Art Van Harvey and Sade by Bernadette Flynn with Billy Idleson as Rush. When Rush went off to war another character came on board, Russell Miller, the Gook's orphaned nephew. Sade's peerless Uncle Fletcher, played by Clarence Hartzell, sooned joined. Unlike other serial dramas each episode of the serial was a complete story. The joy of this show was in its humor. For example, there was Rush's dog, Mr. Albert Johnson, who suffered from astigmatism and could not bark. Even the character names were humorous: Smelly Clark and Bluetooth Johnson. But after 13 years, the show finally ended. Rhymer had simply decided he'd had enough.
For more information on Vic and Sade, visit this site!


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