As radio was moving into the forties, many programs were beginning to show a professionalism not heard before. Comedies became more sophisticated and more genuinely funny by moving away from a rehash of vaudville routines. One such series which began on this day was The Aldrich Family. Henry Aldrich was like many other teenage boys of the time with his worries about relationships. If nothing else would be remembered about this series, the opening will always be around as it has been used over and over both in satire as well as commercials. As mother screams "Hen-reee...Henry Aldrich" and the adolescent cracking voice of Ezra Stone responds with "Coming, Mother!" the listeners knew they were in for some good laughs. Stone was perfect in the role which was sponsored by Jello over the Blue Network. Along with other memorable characters, Homer Brown, Kathleen, Henry's girlfriend, and the rest of the Aldrich Family, this situation comedy series was well-designed. Stone stayed in the role, except for a stint in the military until it folded in 1953. (The photo shows [left to right] Jackie Kelk, Ezra Stone, Katherine Raht, House Jameson.
In early 1939 both NBC and CBS were preparing ideas for some of radio's earliest comedy shows involving families in situations. The concept later was called sitcom. NBC was creating The Aldrich Family starring Broadway actor Ezra Stone in the role. CBS, however, had purchased the rights to the very popular Chic Young comic strip, Blondie around which to create its family comedy.
With two popular films already on the big screen, they signed the film stars to play in the radio version - Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake. The series had a long run ending in 1950 when dramatic radio was just beginning it's slide to obscurity. Singleton, however, left the role in 1949 and Lake stayed with it to the end. I don't think he could have ever starred in anything without people thinking of Dagwood Bumstead.
The series later became popularly remembered for a later opening where the announcer tells people "Ah-ah-ah-ah! Don't touch that dial! Listen to...Blonnnnnnnnnndie!" However, that wasn't the opening in the first few episodes of the series. The clip included here is from one of the earliest available of the Blondie radio series and is a dress rehearsal only about 16 minutes long. Some of the quality is not as good, but it gives you an idea of what the show first sounded like. This is from episode number six.
On this day in 1943, the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris) reunited for this one time broadcast on Paul Whiteman Presents. This was the last time they were together because in 1931 Bing Crosby had left the group to go solo and never looked back.
This is a rarely circulated boradcast and gives us an idea of what things were like when the trio first began with Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. Of course, I suspect there was much more humility on their part since they were now much bigger than they had been when they first began. Bing and Al first performed together in a Jazz Band when they lived in Spokane, Washington, where they lived. They became so popular, they decided to drop out of college and try their luck in Los Angeles. With the help of Rinker's sister, jazz/blues singer, Mildred Bailey, they found a job on the vaudeville circuit. Some members of Paul Whiteman's Orchestra heard them perform and convinced Whiteman to hire them.
Never one to let his fans down, Jack Webb premiered a new radio series on this day. The series was named Pete Kelly's Blues and starred Mr. Webb as a red hot jazz coronet player with his own band in the 1920's. The
group played nightly at George Lupo's club as Pete told it each
episode: "...every night about ten...till the customers get that
frightening look at each other in the early light."
Pete Kelly's Blues provided a vehicle for Webb to realize his love of jazz. Each episode included usually two complete jazz numbers actually played by Webb's friend Dick Cathcart with childhood friend Meredith Howard as blues singer Maggie Jackson. The episodes were formulaic with Pete getting in hot water with the mob or some individual and trying to get out of it by the episode's end. Like his other series, this was all pure Jack Webb with the cynical comments and ironic humor. The show only lasted for 12 weeks ending at summer's end. However, it was revived in film starring Webb.
By the early fifties, America was becoming alarmed about the rise in the crime rate. Radio drama, which had already begun its slide in popularity, took on a more service orientation by presenting series which focused on the problems that were foremost in the minds of Americans. The alarm at the crime rate was one of the reasons for a series like Confession. Homer Canfield and Warren Lewis produced the series which claimed to be making an "effort to stem the forward march of crime." The series used actual transcriptions from the California State Department of Corrections and used a format which appeared as if the director of the Corrections department was interviewing criminals about the crimes they committed. Paul Frees starred as Richard A. McGee, the director. The series appeared on this day from the studios of NBC. Staff announcer John Wald presented the opening and closing. The series was short-lived, lasting only the summer. America, it seemed, was too absorbed in its new wealth and growth as a super-power to be interested in those who had gone bad.
Debuting on the Blue Network this detective series based from Rex Stout's "Gargantuan Gourmet" starred initially Santos Ortega. He left in 1944 followed by Luis Van Rooten. It left the air later in 1944. While not the best of the Nero Wolfe radio series, Santos Ortega was quite good. The only copy that exists of his performance comes from a repeat built into the Armed Forces Mystery Playhouse with Peter Lorre. John Gibson was Archie Goodwin. It was revived in 1946 over the Mutual Network starring Francis X Bushman sponsored by Jergens as the Amazing Nero Wolfe." It ended after one year.
It was picked up again in 1950 starring Sydney Greenstreet, known to movie audiences for his role as Caspar Gutman in The Maltese Falcon. This was on NBC and these are most of the series that was preserved today.
The series were really quite good despite the concept from the books of an overweight man who rarely saw the light of day outside of his apartment. He was the thinking man's detective who had his gofer Archie Goodwin doing all of his footwork when it came to investigations. Archie was played over the years by a potpourri of radio actors including Gerald Mohr, Wally Maher, Harry Bartel, Elliott Lewis and others.
While Rex Stout thought the characters were credible, he never listened to the series and wasn't really excited by the plots. But still the series found an audience and thanks to preservation, we can still hear it today.
Lucille Ball had been known throughout the forties primarily as a lovely "B" Movie actress who showed some dramatic chops. However, comedy was her real forte as was first heard on her first comedy radio series beginning on this day in 1948. My Favorite Husband was a radio vehicle designed to showcase her comedic skills. The series was such a success that Ball wanted to take a similar series to television as it was dawning in the early fifties. Her television show, I Love Lucy was similar in some ways to her radio series, but much more zany showcasing her skills as a physical comedienne. The radio series starred Richard Denning as George her long suffering husband and was heard over the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Though many detective shows were premiering during July, 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 mind of Jack Webb, a veteran radio actor. What made Dragnet different is that we got a sense of what being a real police detective was all about. Webb with his dry Sergeant Friday, and his crew of actors played it close to the belt . As a mystery series, we learned things as 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 the success, that did not seem to phase him.
As Westerns continued to become more and more popular on the new medium of television, radio took advantage by bringing new series with Western themes. Shows such as Gunsmoke were making appearances on radio. At the same time, detective stories were just as popular, so why not a western themed dectective series. In early 1950, an audition was put together of a potential series called Tales of the Texas Rangers. It was sold to Wheaties and time on the NBC radio network was purchased and film star Joel McCrea was signed to portray Ranger Jayce Pearson, who used modern science techniques to solve crimes. Jayce was a policeman in a cowboy hat. The series premiered on this day and was produced and directed by Stacy Keach Sr., father of Stacy Keach Jr., who would play Mike Hammer on television.
This episode called The White Elephant is actually the second in the series as the first episode does not seem to be in circulation.
The original idea behind this series premiering on this day was that it would be an FBI series. The hero Ken Thurston would be part of the FBI when he was called into action. As the series began to expand, Thurston became a globe hopping investigator involved in all kinds of criminal activity from spying to protecting secrets. It took on a life of its own as a series but was ultimately a spy series. Thurston was played by the dapper British actor Herbert Marshall whose film career never seemed to be A Level though he appeared in some fine movies including Foreign Correspondent.
The series premiered over CBS sponsored by Lockheed Corporation, an ideal sponsor/vehicle relationship considering the amount of time spent with the hero travelling around the world.
Thurston had an ally whose credentials were spotty, one never knew if he was helping or hindering. This was Pegon Zeldschmidt, played by the wonderful character actor, Leon Bellasco.
The series ran almost continuously jumping to various networks with various sponsors through 1952.
Despite a decade of violence and war in the sixties, one thing that will stand out as an achievement for America during this period was the landing of men on the moon. Practically everyone was glued to a television set when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out onto the surface of the moon. However, what was not as well watched was the launching of the the Apollo 11 spacecraft from Cape Canaveral. But radio was there and CBS correspondent Reid Collins reports on the launch. Four days later, the first men had landed on the moon. This clip gives you a taste of radio's coverage of all of it as the launch is described. You can hear the excitement of the success which reflected how most Americans felt after the last few years of tragedy.
In the days when networks had large chunks of sustained time, that
is, time which was unsponsored, William Paley of the Columbia
Broadcasting System wanted to explore the network's use of that time.
For that he hired William B. Lewis as Program Chief. Lewis was a man who listened very carefully to others' ideas.
When he was approached by studio engineer, Irving Reis about a series to be called Columbia Workshop in which experimental drama could be tried, Lewis grabbed the idea quickly. Reis had been the engineer on shows such as Buck Rogers and was interested in taking radio drama technically to new frontiers. Premiering on this day, many experimental presentations were tried, some heavy on the technical side, but gradually most presentations tended toward the dramatic including Shakespere adaptations, one-man presentations, poetry presentations and other genres. The series attracted the literary elite. One standout was a script from a lawyer turned poet, Archibald MacLeish, called "The Fall of the City." With the darkening events occuring in Europe, the play, in poetic verse, was about a mythical city full of people awaiting their conqueror with eager anticipation. However, the conqueror turns out to be a horrible subjugating figure who strips the people of their freedom. Given the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the play was perfect for Reis' intentions of the series. Among the cast were Burgess Meredith and Orson Welles (then an unknown). This clip is from that broadcast. The series would provide for an opportunity for some of the best and brightest in radio to experiment. It was through this vehicle that Norman Corwin found his voice. The series would continue in many iterations until 1947. Then in 1956 it was brought back as the CBS Radio Workshop by CBS VP Howard Barnes.
Our Miss Brooks began on this day in 1948 and became one of the most popular situation comedies on radio. It starred the sardonic Eve Arden in the role of Connie Brooks. With a strong supporting cast including Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna and others, the show was an instant success. It began over CBS running until 1957. It was popular even after moving to television in 1952, where it achieved equal popularity. Originally, the producer wanted actress Shirley Booth for the role but realized she was not able to turn the character into a fun role. Arden's popularity won her numerous awards in the role.
The Helen Trent soap serial was created by the soap opera factory of Ann and Frank Hummert. They wrote many of the daytime serial dramas on radio and this was one of their brightest stars. Unfortunately, the series was one of the worse that radio listeners had to hear. Despite that, to many mostly women listeners, it was the best of all serials. The plot was about a middle aged widow of 35 who worked originally as a dressmaker in New York and built a career as a successful Hollywood dress designer. Perhaps it was one of the best to many women because Helen had independence, charming acquaintances, a successful career, modest wealth, and an endless line of suitors!
The series premiered on this day as a regional series from Chicago, but it caught on and CBS picked it up for National broadcast beginning in October 1933. Virginia Clark played Helen until 1944, when Julie Stevens stepped in portraying the designer until it left radio in 1960. Helen's chief suitor throughout was Gil Whitney, portrayed initially by David Gothard for many years.
The series is probably best known for the endless supply of suitors vying for Helen's hand. Her adventures with the men "hardened into folklore," John Dunning wrote.
From the opening notes of the theme song - Juanita - Helen Trent was one of radio's most enduring serial dramas. The episode heard here is undated but from a little later in the series.
Wave the flag for Hudson High, Boys - here comes Jack Armstrong which premiered on this day over CBS as a 5 times a week juvenile adventure serial. Jack's adventures certainly carried him much beyond his high school adventures as the series developed, though they started modestly when the series premiered with an adventue from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair before they took off to Canada. Jack was molded in the likeness of a Frank Merriwell, but went beyond with his inventions and mechanical devices devised with the help of his friends Betty and Bob Fairfield and his Uncle Jim.
What made the series unique is that it kept the same sponsor - Wheaties - throughout its 20 year run on radio. Jack was initially played by Jim Ameche, the real-life brother of actor Don Ameche. But he left in 1938 and other Jack's began to step into the role. The series originated from Chicago and carried listeners through adventures during the war when Jack and friends were fighting spies and sabotuers. During its best years, the adventurers would travel in Uncle Jim's hydroplane, the Silver Albatross and on his yacht, the Spindrift.
Before it ended in 1951 as "Armstrong of the SBI" it had appeared on all the radio networks.
Norman Corwin, already well-known for his outstanding radio drama over the Columbia Network was in England after this country had entered the war nearly a year before. With the help of William B. Lewis, CBS Program Chief, now head of one of the Office of War Information's radio units, he convinced CBS that he wanted to do a series of six broadcasts relating in various dramatic forms his own experience as an "American in England." This was a new form of drama broadcast from overseas via shortwave back to the United States. CBS bravely took on the costs involved and with Corwin writing and directing and Edward R. Murrow acting as producer, the series began to take shape. Corwin had met Murrow when one of his first CBS works, The Plot to Overthrow Christmas was produced and aired. The new project involving the two was a perfect match with Corwin's genius for drama, and Murrow's own sense of the dramatic in news broadcasting. The first snag came with the director not being able to get his first choice to play "Corwin in England." Burgess Meredith, who was in uniform was unable to get out of his military commitments. His second choice hit pay dirt. News chief Paul White contacted Joseph Julian, who had appeared in previous Corwin work. Julian flew to England and the first broadcast came together being broadcast overseas back to America. Julian relates a story in his autobiography, This Was Radio
"Finally went on the air. Everything clicked. Everybody Happy. Mutual congratulations...Phone Corwin to find out if there were reports from America. There were, indeed! ... [CBS Engineers] thought the simulated disconnection was real - that something had actually gone wrong. So they pulled their plugs...America never heard that broadcast."
But the series continued and the next one's were heard and the broadcasts received rave reviews.
In May, 1945 Victory in Europe was achieved. However, Japan continued to fight on alone. They wanted peace but with conditions. The Allies would accept no conditions. But Japan was dominated by a militaristic group who continued to try to negotiate. Fearing that many more lives would be lost in a continuing struggle with the Japanese, Truman decided to act. The world would never be the same again when this country dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in order to force Japan to surrender. In a race with Germany, this country was able to produce the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos. In determining that the deaths of Hiroshima would not outweigh the deaths that would result from continued fighting with Imperial Japan, Truman decided to authorize the drop. This soundbite is his brief announcement of the event. The dropping of an atomic bomb raised the stakes and the consciousness of this country. As other countries also developed the bomb, a pall of total destruction enveloped the world and mankind began to think in new terms as technology became a dominant force.
Quiz shows were always a staple of radio since the first one, Professor Quiz, appeared in the mid-thirties. While the quiz show evolved out of such "man-on-the-street" programs as Vox Pop, the concept of answering questions for prizes probably came from Professor Quiz. By the late forties, the quiz show was an established genre that would reach its zenith on television. The goal by this time was to come up with a twist on the standard question and answer show. One that had an unusual format began on this day, was What Am I Offered? hosted by veteran announcer Bob Dixon. The twist was that the audience would participate in an auction of small items such as sheets, cans of food and candy usually to the tune of $2 to $5 dollars. Whoever won the bid would have to answer a question, which if guessed correctly would be given the prize without charge. If the winner failed to answer, the contestant would pay the high bid and the money would build and be given to the next high bidder who answers a question correctly in addition to the item for which they bid. The show was more of an audience participation show that did little to get the listener involved and originated from the WOR studios appearing over some Mutual stations. It did last a couple of seasons with time off in the summer.
In 1933 over WLW Cincinnati, a comic strip was developed into a radio drama broadcast locally. The radio program called The Puddle Family was based upon a comic strip called The Bungle Family. The series immediately got into rights violations between the comic strip creators, WLW and Proctor and Gamble who sponsored the series. After a year, it was yanked off the air and WLW, needing something to quickly fill in the air time. That filler was Ma Perkins and a young woman, Virginia Payne was hired to portray the somewhat elderly Ma.
Sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, the series was not called a soap opera at that time and premiered in August 1933 for broadcast within the WLW region. In December the series gaining in popularity moved to Chicago over the NBC radio network. Though Virginia Payne continued to live in Cincinnati, she stayed with the series. It remained on radio until 1960.
What you will hear is a clip from December 1933 in which you will hear a very different, somewhat malicious Ma, from the way the character developed. Most know the character as a sort of benevolent head, but not as you will hear in this rare clip.
In 1929, on this day, Amos 'n' Andy debuted over the NBC radio network. I have a more detailed history of the series including a clip of their previous series, Sam and Henry and then a 1929 recording of the two in the roles of Amos 'n' Andy. This 1929 recording is a record that was made and was not necessarily broadcast, but it does give you an idea of the early series.
Holiday was a writer of mystery novels who sought his adventure ideas
from the real world. He would run an ad in the papers that read
"Adventure wanted; will go anywhere; do anything - Box 13."
The series starred Alan Ladd whose production company, Mayfair, created
the series as a radio vehicle for him. It premiered on this day over
the Mutual Broadcasting System. The series featured as his sidekick, a
dizzy secretary named Suzy portrayed by Sylvia Picker. A stable of
veteran radio actors appeared regularly. The series was better than
many of the detective shows partly due to Ladd himself and the writing
of Russell Hughes.
For more on Radio Detectives, click here.
In 1939, the world was on the brink of war. As Adolph Hitler continued to grab territory - first Austria, then Czechoslovakia's Sudentenland - he now threatened to invade Poland. Under the guise that Polish troops were invading Germany and stirring up trouble at the border, Hitler claimed he must act. After the fiasco of the Munich Agreement, the United Kingdom and France would have no more of Hitler's empty promises. But still, the leaders were trying to avert war. Hitler had made demands of the western powers and after meeting on the demands, Neville Henderson was to fly to Berlin on the 28th with a reply to Hitler's demands. Here in this clip, which is cut short, we hear H.V. Kaltenborn speaking from London explaining the four points that Hitler is demanding and his opinion as to what might happen.
The Great Gildersleeve is probably one of radio's most popular comedy series and still very funny today. This was one of radio's successful characters and probably the first spinoff from another series, Fibber McGee & Molly.
The character was head of the Gildersleeve Girdle Works in Wistful
Vista and Fibber's next door neighbor. At the end of the summer run,
Gildersleeve left for business to Summerfield, but never returned.
Instead he popped up in Summerfield as the new Water Commissioner. The
fine cast made this series one of radio's success stories. With Harold
Peary as Gildy, Walter Tetley as the hilarious Leroy, Lurene Tuttle
originated the role as Marjorie. There are many other memorable
characters, too many to name. But this series, premiering on this day
on NBC continued until 1958. After Peary left, Willard Waterman, a
Peary sound-alike stepped into the role and made it his own.
For more on Radio Comedy, click here.
As September dawned in 1939, Adolph Hitler was continuing his quest toward European domination. With Austria and the Sudetenland now under his control, he set his sites on Poland, despite his "promise" to Chamberlain. Hitler was claiming that the Polish government had been attacking Germans near the border, but on hindsight it was just another one of his ruses to take territory. On this day Germany issued an ultimatum to Poland for the return of Danzig and the Danzig corridor or invasion would begin. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the move to invade had already begun. This action would lead to the start of World War II. This soundclip is from a BBC Regional Program outlining the "points" of the German ultimatum. Though many in the United States felt this was a European affair, radio would soon come of age with the start of this incident and play a major role in turning this isolationist country into a warring nation.
England and France had signed a pact with Poland to act should Germany show aggression toward them. But should Germany invade, would these two powers come to Poland's defense? They failed to act when Hitler took the Sudetenland, but time was running out for Chamberlain and Deladier. On the first in 1939, Hitler made good on his ultimatum and invaded Poland. England and France had no choice but to react to the invasion by declaring war on Germany. In this clip, a depressed Chamberlain regretfully announces that his country is at war with Germany. World War II had begun.
rograms from the early thirties are rare today. Though there was some drama, many were musical programs reaching back to the roots of even earlier radio. Some were intended to educate, some provide strictly pleasure. One that seemed to bridge the gap and still create a sense of early radio satire was BugHouse Rhythms, which premiered this day. Not much is known about this series, but from this example, there was the requisite music, primarily geared to swing rhythms popular at the time. Yet the listener was educated on comparisons to rhythms in the classical world. This particular soundbite provides comparisons between Minnie the Moocher and Wagner's Valkyrie! The series originated over NBC Blue from the West Coast.
The history of The Fitch Bandwagon
is similar to some other programs that began in one format and eventually
migrated to a completely new format, possibly to stay popular with the
times. Such was this series. It began as a bandstand series with
popular music of the time and often on location. Each week would
feature the popular big bands of the time with a brief bio on the
bandleader. Beginning on this day as The Fitch Bandwagon, the
series was slow to become popular garnering only a 9.0 Hooper rating
its first year. But by the second year it was up to 22.4. Featuring
bands such as Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, Duke Ellington and special
guests such as Eddie Cantor, Ivey Anderson and others, the show's
success was fixed.
By 1945, the series was joined with comedienne Cass Daley, who along with "Dink" Trout were in comedy skits with the band music surrounding them, the show was moving more into a musical variety period. This eventually led to the arrival of Phil Harris and Alice Faye as the next regulars in a situation comedy format. The "Bandwagon" by this time was for all appearances, the future Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. The show included here is from that period. The series ended when these two left for a show with their own name.
NOTE: to collectors - there is a copy floating around called "Fitch Is On the Air" which is actually an evening big band live performance by Duke Ellington from the Cotton Club over the Mutual Broadcasting System via WOR from 1937. The opening line by announcer Roger Lyon actually begins "Duke is on the air." [special thanks to Andrew Steinberg for pointing that out.]
The Forties were full of the macabre genre of radio series. Despite the darkness of the war years, listeners loved being scared to death! One of the better sinister programs to make the airwaves, Murder At Midnight, premiered on this day. The series was syndicated and produced out of the studios of KFI, Los Angeles. Many of radio's great actors appeared on the show. The storylines were of the horrible with severed body parts and open graves. Some of radio mysteries better scriptwriters provided episodes including Robert Newman (Inner Sanctum), Joseph Ruscoll (Molle' Mystery Theater), and Max Ehrlich (The Shadow, Suspense).
Based on the life of the real life cowboy from the turn of the century, The Tom Mix Ralston Straightshooters, began life on this day. One of the best known of juvenile fiction, Tom Mix on radio was really a Western-style detective show. The real person had indeed been a person of adventure fighting with Teddy Roosevelt's Roughriders, as a state lawman, and a Texas Ranger, finally as a rodeo star. The early shows from radio reflected that lifestyle. But soon the character developed into the western detective that the rest of the series run reflected. The major characters included Sheriff Mike Shaw, Wash and Pecos Williams along with the Old Wrangler who provided the comic relief. Since the show was for juveniles, there was the requisite child characters Jimmy and Jane. When the Mutual Network took over the series a lot of the previous flavor changed. The Old Wrangler was out replaced by Don Gordon as the announcer (you can hear him in early Captain Midnight episodes), Curley Bradley who had played Pecos became Tom and added the element of the singing cowboy. The series was extremely popular especially with its premium give-aways from Ralston. The final episode was broadcast on June 23, 1950.