During the early thirties and up to 1940, Cincinnati was a hotbed of radio activity. Powel Crosley Jr. the owner of station WLW was increasing both his broadcast range as well as his quality of programming. Many famous radio, television and film stars got their start at WLW often starting on a program which was created and originated from the studios of WLW. If the program was successful, it often was moved to the bigger Chicago market where it continued to thrive. Sponsored by Avalon Cigarettes, Avalon Time had its beginnings on this day as a vehicle for folksy western style musical variety. It starred Del King, Red Foley, Kitty O'Neill and "the Neighborhood Boys, who offered up western style music and originated from the studios of WLW, Cincinnati. At that time, it was called Avalon Variety Time. In 1939 the series took on a slightly different flavor when comedian Red Skelton was added as a regular along with Marlin Hurt. Two events altered the program:it moved to bigger markets in Chicago and Skelton left before the end of the year; Cliff Arquette was added along with host Don McNeill. By 1940, the series was off the air. Right click here to save a complete mp3 episode of Red Skelton's first appearance on the program.
In the early forties, one of the dominant singing groups heard often over radio was The Andrews Sisters. Haling from Minneapolis, this singing trio of sisters got their big break when they were heard over a taxi radio by Dave Kapp with Decca Records while they were broadcasting a big band remote. Their first big hit was Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen which helped propel them to films and radio appearances. When the war broke out, their music became synonymous with wartime. With their success they finally had their own show beginning in late 1944 called Eight to the Bar. By 1945, the show reformed from its previous name to the N-K Musical Showroom. The show was a musical variety format that was conducive to the singing trio, but featured a guest who would appear from the "N-K Green Room" to perform. The war years seemed to be when this act was at the top of their form. After the war, they began to fade as musical tastes changed. Right click here to download a complete episode.
While there were many detective series that appeared over radio, there weren't as many with a woman in the role. Hot Copy was a series about a newspaper columnist, Anne Rogers, who often found herself investigating criminal activity. The series starred intially Chicago radio actress, Fern Persons, as Anne for the first season. Second season Anne was portrayed by Eloise Kummer, and finally beginning in the fall of 1943, Betty Lou Gerson took over the role. The final scripter for the season was Science Fiction writer, Nelson Bond. The series was rather lighthearted though because it was on during the war years, there were often black marketeers and Nazi sympathizers that Anne found herself chasing down. The series ended in November 1944. Right click here to download a complete episode.
Probably one of radio's most popular sports announcers was Bill Stern (radio's other famous Stern). He was born July 1, 1907 in Rochester, New York. His first job as a sports announcer came in 1925 when he was hired to broadcast football games over WHAM/Rochester. He would embellish the sports he was announcing so much that one wondered if he was at the same event. Stern announced much of the Boxing events on radio. The man was more than just a sports commentator, he was in fact a storyteller. In 1937 he began to broadcast regularly on his own show Bill Stern Review. After a successful run in Bill Stern's Sports Review, he came to NBC on their Blue Network with a new series which told of sports legends and tall tales in the sports field. On these fifteen-minute shows he told tales of sports legends and strange occurrences which kept listeners eagerly waiting for the climax. Many stories were not true, but entertaining nonetheless: stories of dead jockies riding in horse races, ball players without arms. Initially, it was known as Bill Stern's Sports Review until Colgate picked him up as sponsor. In 1941, the series moved to the NBC Red Network. The Colgate Sports Newsreel was more entertainment than sports announcing. Stern was a storyteller through and through, and many listened just to hear his tales. This popular series ended in 1951 after Colgate dropped sponsorship. Some form of the program continued until 1956. Bill Stern died in Rye, New York in 1971.
Beginning as a local New York area children's series on radio, Land of the Lost became an instant hit thanks to its writer/producer, Isabel Manning Hewson (left), even as the series moved to network radio over the Blue Network. This is partly due to its talented creator, who would also oversea the storyline of a credit book version of this series and later a film. The Land of the Lost was an enchanted kingdom at the bottom of the sea with its white sands and pearly castles where things that were lost by listeners would find their way to the kingdom. It included the Street of Lost Shoes and the city of Lead, Pencilvania. Two main characters, Isabel (named after its creator) and Billy were led to the kingdom by Red Lantern, a talking fish, portrayed for a while by the actor Art Carney. The series lasted for several years moving to ABC, then Mutual and back to ABC ending in 1948.
John Dunning called Big Town "perhaps the most famous series of reporter dramas." Premiering over CBS Radio, the early series (there were two) starred the Hollywood actor Edward G. Robinson as Steve Wilson along with Clair Trevor as his sidekick and Society editor, Lorelei Kilbourne. The show was initially created around these two actors, though Trevor was then a young budding actress appearing in movies as well as radio. Producer-Director-Writer Jerry McGill had been a newspaperman and wrote the series about a crusading managing editor of the Illustrated Press. McGill took his show to heart writing stories about juvenile delinquency, drunk driving and racism, though the show was at worst melodramatic at best poignant. Hard-nosed editor, Wilson, as played by Robinson would get the story no matter what it takes. Though sometimes over the top, Robinson was excellent in his role. The stories were well written and directed by William N. Robson as well as McGill. The skill of this group shows in making the series very good radio. The show was a big promoter of the free press and the first amendment with its opening sequence:
"Freedom of the press is a flaming sword! Use it justly...hold it high...guard it well!"
The second series began immediately in the 1943 season when the production moved from Hollywood to New York. Robinson left (Trevor left two years earlier as her career starting taking off) and McGill reorganized the series placing Edward Pawley in the role of Wilson opposite Fran Carlon as Lorelei. Pawley's Wilson was more mellifluous compared to the rather nasty Robinson. The series' success continued on radio until 1952 leaving only the television version (which began in 1950). (Thanks to Robert G. Corder, author of a new biography of Edward Pawley.)
When a young actress, who was a devoted fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, approached the National Broadcasting Company with two scripts she had written from two Holmes' stories she had adapted, she was told that while the scripts were good the chance of finding a sponsor was slim. Dramas were not popular while Comedy and Music programs ruled. Undaunted, she pitched her idea to a number of ad agencies until she hit upon one company, G. Washington Coffee, a maker of instant coffee, bought into the new concept.
Thus began a long relationship with radio for Meiser though sponsors and networks would change. Sherlock Holmes became one of the most popular detective dramas ever on radio. Though the first audio that exists is from 1933, the series began on this day in 1930. The first episode starred the stage actor, William Gillette, but he was replaced by episode two with Richard Gordon as Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Watson.
Historian John Dunning called Myrt and Marge "one of the first important dramatic serials of radio." Premiering on this day as an evening series once a week over CBS, this soap opera was written by one of its stars, Myrtle Vail (with help from Cliff Thomas) about two chorus girls who competed for the same roles and men in their daily lives. Also starring Donna Dameral as Margie. In 1937, it moved to the mornings as a true daytime serial five times a week. Later Helen Mack would take over the role of Margie in 1941. The series continued on CBS until 1939 when it moved to Mutual, then finally into syndication in 1946. Myrtle Vail herself was a former vaudevillian, who with her husband were poverty stricken when they lost everything in the 1929 crash. Turning to radio she came up with the story idea based partly on her own life casting her daughter in the role of Margie. Myrtle was Myrtle Spear and her daughter was Margie Minter and the show was sponsored by the Wrigley Company which had not previously been involved in radio. Of course, the last names were based on the "spearmint" gum product! Myrtle Vail's daughter, Donna, died suddenly in 1941 during childbirth and Helen Mack stepped into the role but by 1947, the series had lost its edge and died.
The journey began on Wednesday, November 7, 1932 when NBC launched a new series, Buck Rogers in the Twenty-fifth Century. First heard on CBS as a 15 minute serial, the series was an important early step in the development of juvenile adventure serials based on comic strips. The opening year was sponsored by Kellogg. When Buck Rogers awakes from a 500 year sleep, he finds himself in the 25th century. Along with his new friends, Wilma Deering and Dr. Huer, the scientist, Buck took them to distant galaxies. He fought many enemies, including two arch-nemeses, Killer Kane and Ardala Valmar. Curtis Arnall was Buck, Edgar Stehli was Dr. Huer and Adele Ronson portrayed Wilma Dearing. The series was produced first by Carlo De Angelo and then by veteran radio producer, writer, director, Jack Johnstone, who also produced much of the Johnny Dollar series during the Bob Bailey years. Later, Johnstone recalled that the sound effects included using the building's air conditioning as the sound of the rocket. Special effects were handled by Ora Nichols, who was the first woman to be in charge of sound effects.
The series went through 4 versions - the first beginning in 1932 through 1936. The second began in 1939 over the Mutual Broadcasting System still in its 15 minute format, but returned within a few months as a 30 minute once-a-week program. But by mid-year, 1940, the show was finished. However, in 1946 it returned as a 15 minute serial again over Mutual and sponsored by Popsicle. This lasted until 1947 when it left the air, never to return.
Mandrake, the Magician comes from the pages of the comics originally, a comic strip created by Lee Falk. Mandrake and his able assistant/servant, Lothar resided in a "house of mystery and many secrets." The show opened with Mandrake invoking his chant, "invoco legem Magicarum" which moved the story forward. Raymond Edward Johnson portray Mandrake, who like the Shadow was educated in Tibet. This kids' show was fifteen minutes long and on three days a week during the early war years.
In the news this month, we stop on Monday, November 15, 1941 with an announcement that Nazi Germany has sunk the British fleet carrier, Ark Royal. This was the ship that "could not be sunk" and was involved in the sinking of the German ship that "could not be sunk" - the Bismarck. In fact the Ark Royal was hit by a Luftwaffe pilot, prompting the British to announce it had been sunk. Actually, it had only been damaged, but several days later was hit by a German U-boat. Due to crew negligence, the damage was not contained, and the ship sunk with the loss of only one crewman. The Germans then proudly announced they already knew it had been sunk because the BBC had previously announced it.
When Roy Rogers came to radio after his successful film career, Radio Life said Rogers was "shy, drawling, courteous" and the boyish charm projected on the show did not keep him from facing up to the bad guys he encountered. He was a singing cowboy following the trail of rival Gene Autry. Rogers was born Leonard Sly of Cincinnati, Ohio, but he became a cowboy early in his career. He was married to a woman named Arlene, who died in 1946 before he was joined by singer Dale Evans, whom he later married. The show was for kids, but had an uplifting charm about it that made it a hit. The early episodes were sponsored by Goodyear Tire and Rubber and did not include Gabby Hayes or Pat Butrum. This episode is from that period though the photo reflects Evans, Buttrum, Rogers and Hayes at the microphone.
On this day modern tragedy struck the American people as we witnessed the death of our president. Shot to death in Dallas, Texas as he was traveling to a location to give a speech, John F. Kennedy died at Parkland Hospital. At first the reports were of "shots fired," but the bulletins continued to role in and the depth of tragedy gradually sank in as we heard that the President had been killed. For many, the Kennedy aura and youth brought feelings of hope and renewal. John and Jacqueline were the closest we came to royalty within this country. For others, the man was a demagogue. But despite our feelings about the man himself, we all felt the loss on this day. On board Air Force One as the body was being returned to Washington, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president in a tearful ceremony. Most of us watched those awful images on television as the body was returned. But it was on radio that that we caught those first terrible moments. This collage of reports from Dallas radio station WBAP demonstrates the development over time and the realization of just what occured.
There were a few shows that actually moved from television to radio. As dramatic radio was beginning its death knell in the middle fifties, one series, Have Gun Will Travel began on television but because of its popularity, the powers that be thought it might be successful on radio too. Given that dramatic radio was being mishandled during this time, the series did not last long. CBS brought the series to radio on this date. It lasted two years. The radio version was like its tv twin with the lead character Paladin strongly opposed to evil-doers. But with John Dehner as the radio Paladin the character was different from Richard Boone's TV version. Dehner portrayed a stronger softer side to the character. Unlike Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon (both series were directed by Norman MacDonnell and Frank Paris) who was more of a "loveable bear," Dehner's Paladin bordered on the effete, yet surprisingly he showed himself tough when confronting the enemy. This paradox resulted in a highly interesting character. The series itself was well done utilizing all of the production staff of the Gunsmoke series, but just too late for radio to survive. Regular characters appearing included Hey Boy portrayed by Ben Wright and Miss Wong by Virginia Gregg. Sound effects were by Ray Kemper and Tom Hanley who were also involved in the sound patterns heard on Gunsmoke. The announcer was Hugh Douglas. To keep production costs of the radio series down, the tv theme, written by Johnny Western, was not used to avoid royalty payments.
The early thirties brought intrigue and mystery to radio listeners. Stories with exotic locales and exotic music were very popular to the radio listener. One series, full of intrigue, murder and mayhem, premiered on this day. The series starred an oriental detective along with his number one son. Charlie Chan and his first radio case was heard on NBC Blue sponsored by Esso starring Walter Connolly. Moving to Mutual briefly before returning to NBC, the first run ended in 1938. Then in 1944 it reappeared with Ed Begley in the main role on NBC sponsored by Lever Brothers. Santos Ortega finished the role later in the run. Well-known science fiction writer, Alfred Bester wrote for the latter series.
Charlie Chan was the creation of Earl Derr Biggers, a newspaper and magazine writer, born in Warren, Ohio . His character became popular through its serializations in The Saturday Evening Post and increased its popularity in the thirties mostly from the movie run which began in 1931. The radio series was partly the result of that popularity.
The day that will live in infamy. On this day, the Japanese Imperial Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the World War. Click to read and hear much more about this fateful day.
News of the World from CBS Radio on the one year anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The United States is fully engaged in war and have troops, along with the British, in Africa in Algiers. They are moving swiftly to meet Rommel's troops who have retreated to Tripoli. Reports from Algiers and other places around the world along with news of the war in general read by John Daly.
Over the years, Chesterfield Cigarettes had sponsored a number of musical variety shows including Fred Waring and Johnny Mercer. On this day in 1944 another one of their sponsored musical variety shows, Chesterfield Supper Club, began with announcer Martin Block and a regular soloist. This soundbite hosts Johnny Johnson as soloist. Others later included Jo Stafford, Perry Como, and Peggy Lee. Orchestras over the life of the show included Glenn Miller's with Tex Beneke, Mitch Ayres, Paul Weston and others. The series was heard weeknights at 7:00 PM over NBC as a fifteen minute series. It was heard on the air until 1949.
After many appearances on various radio shows and in films, the Andrews Sisters finally came to radio in their own musical vehicle called the Eight to the Bar Ranch in which they opened a dude ranch out west. The show was really a vehicle for their singing and acting with the help of Gabby Hayes and various well-known guests including Bing Crosby. Gabby gave it a western flavor, but the show was mainly all Andrews Sisters with their guests. The second year, the series was renamed the N-K Musical Show to reflect their new sponsor Nash-Kelvinator. By the end of the war, the series disolved as did the whole sister act as they moved on to separate projects with occasional reunions.