Home / _2006-2015 Albums to Sort Out (Multiply +) / 2013 Oct 9 - Early Radio History and the ACJ and Ziegfeld Connections_jane [12]

This is primarily a text album though I've included an article on the Palmolive Radio Hour that has an ACJ photo of Olive Palmer (Virginia Rae) along with some other ACJ advertising photos. Following my short trip down Memory Lane is a long excerpt from the fantastic Variety Radio Directory 1937-1939.

The connection of early radio to Ziegfeld and ACJ is a simple one. It's all about Advertising. While Flo was advertising his Follies, ACJ had advertising contracts with fashion, cigarette and beauty product companies like Palmolive and Old Gold. These companies also sponsored radio programs. Both Florenz Ziegfeld and Alfred Cheney Johnston (and notable illustrators such as McClelland Barclay, James Montgomery Flagg and Dean Cornwell), participated as judges in Radio Queen and Radio Beauty contests. As I come across photos of those I'll add them to an album.

Ref albums in the ACJ Advertising/Magazine Work section: http://historicalzg.piwigo.com/index?/category/510-advertising_magazine_work

The Variety Directory is on the Internet Archive Media History Project's Broadcasting page: http://mediahistoryproject.org/broadcasting/


I was recently reminded of how exciting the dawn of a new age in radio was for me when I watched the "Radio Unnameable" documentary on Bob Fass of WBAI in NYC. The first time I saw a radio with an FM dial was on a visit to my grandmother's house one Thanksgiving around 1960. I spent the entire day in her bedroom with that radio, turning the dial back and forth, walking around the room to try to get the best signal. I spent every holiday at her house after that doing the same thing. By 1963 I had my own. By age 13 I was listening to Bob Fass from midnight to 6am. It was as new as early radio must have been to those who were there in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Changes were rapid then too and what had been an exciting and interesting force soon was co-opted by radio show sponsors. No more commercial-free live concerts on WPLJ (named for White Port and Lemon Juice), no more Rosko reading poetry late-night on WNEW (Coliseum, on YouTube, and it is by  by Yevgeny Yevtushenko; I called after he finished reading and asked what and by who and that eventually led me to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, thanks Rosko), no more complete LP album airings.

I was reminded of the excitement again when reading articles in the 1920s radio magazines. It seemed there was some new, important development weekly. Following is a long excerpt from the Variety Radio Directory of 1937-1939 providing the history of early radio and the rise of radio programs sponsors. I read a comment recently elsewhere from someone in the UK regarding early radio programs in which the writer said he'd been unaware of how tobacco, cosmetic, detergent and other companies ruled the radio waves in the US since, in England, there had only been one radio station. The wonderfully written history below outlines how radio was co-opted by Big Business and how, when sponsors realized nagging kids were a good source of revenue since they had parents who had money to spend on them, children's programs on the radio came into being.


Excerpted From: Variety Radio Directory 1937-1939
Internet Archive Media History Project: http://mediahistoryproject.org/broadcasting/


By Edgar A. Granwald

Radio has grown so rapidly, and with such demands on its energies 12 hours out of every 24, that records of its past are indeed obscure. Particularly is this true in a field such as programming, where statistical helps are not even the major requirement, but must be tempered with a flair for judgment...


Since 1929, when records of any reliable sort first appeared, radio's program and production trends have roughly paralleled the evolution of the show business in general. Network production started with minstrelsy and music hall. Vaudeville appeared shortly thereafter. Opera, the concert, and the legitimate drama have had extended interludes and revivals. Comparing with the show business' ultimate cash wonder — the motion picture — radio production currently has reached its Era of Big Cash, a phase marked by two phenomena: (1) lavish background filler; and (2) the search for novelty.

During this process, production and programming have threaded the following stages :

1. Music hall and minstrelsy, 1929-32.
2. The mystery drama, 1931-32.
3. The "personality" entertainer, 1932 to January, 1934
4. Concert-opera, 1933-34.
5. Era of big money — Part I — January, 1934.
a. Numerous hour-length programs.
b. Trend toward background production.
6. Era of big money — Part II — 1935.
a. The amateur hour.
b. The continuous musical comedy.
7. Era of big money — Part III — 1936.
a. Trend toward novelty.
b. Eclectic use of dance music, variety, etc.

There is a reason for this succession of stages, just as there was a reason for a similar evolution in the theatre proper. Radio being an aural medium, it naturally found its initial production in music. Minstrelsy — early humor combined with music — was a simultaneous development. Both forms of programming had many adherents, as is evident from tests of audience preferences made in 1929.

1929 Program Leaders

One of the earliest of all popularity indices was assembled for the Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA) by Archibald M. Crossley in 1929 from four sources — a poll of radio editors east of the Rockies; 6,000 personal interviews in 25 large cities; 1,200 personal interviews in 12 cities; and 15,000 personal interviews east of the Mississippi. They showed the following:

Radio Editors:

1. Atwater Kent
2. Lucky Strike
3. Old Gold
4. General Motors
5. Real Folks
6. Eveready
7. Walter Damrosch
8. Roxy
9. Palmolive
10. Collier's

6,000 Interviews:

1. Lucky Strike
2. Old Gold
3. Atwater Kent
4. Amos 'n' Andy
5. True Story
6. Palmolive
7. General Motors
8. Rudy Vallee
9. A & P Gypsies
10. Clicquot Club

1,200 Interviews:

1. Atwater Kent
2. Old Gold
3. Lucky Strike
4. A & P Gypsies
5. Clicquot Club
6. Palmolive
7. True Story
8. General Motors
9. Real Folks
10. Amos 'n' Andy

15,000 Interviews:

1. A & P Gypsies
2. Clicquot Club
3. True Story
4. Real Folks
5. Main Street
6. Lucky Strike
7. Old Gold
8. General Motors
9. Dutch Masters
10. Amos 'n' Andy

The followng ingredients went into these programs:

Atwater Kent: Joseph Pasternack's orchestra with guests from concert and opera.

Lucky Strike: B. A. Rolfe's fast-tempoed dance music.

Old Gold: Paul Whiteman and Mildred Bailey.

General Motors: "Family Party" with Don Voorhees orchestra, and guests from concert and opera.

Real Folks (sponsored by Chesebrough Mfg.): Dramatic sketches of small town life with George Frame Brown, G. Underhill Macy, Virginia Farmer, Tommy Brown, Edwin Whitney, Elsie Mae Gordon and Phoebe Mackay.

Eveready: Nathaniel Shilkret orchestra with guests.

Walter Damrosch: Symphony music.

Roxy: Music-hall-theatrical variety from the Roxy theatre, N. Y., with the famed showman presiding.

Palmolive: Olive Palmer and Paul Oliver (now called Frank Munn), the Revelers, and an orchestra directed by Walter Haenschen.

Collier's: Dramatizations from stories in the magazine with Lucille Wall, William Adams, Adele Ronson, Allyn Joslyn, John B. Kennedy, and Ernest La Prade's orchestra.

Amos 'n' Andy: Blackface serial comedy by Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll.

True Story: Dramatizations from the magazine.

Rudy Vallee: (sponsored by Fleischmann): Rudy Vallee orchestra with guests.

A & P Gypsies: Harry Horlick orchestra.

Clicquot Club: Harry Reser orchestra.

Main Street: Sketches with Don Carney (Uncle Don of WOR, New York), Lila Ward Gaston, Allyn Joslyn, Eunice N. McGarrett, Edith Thayer, Roger Bower, Elsie McCormack, Tad Stout, Gaire Stenz, and Reynold Brooks. Sponsored by various advertisers via WOR, New York.

Dutch Masters: Minstrel show with Al Bernard and Paul Dumont as end men, Harold Sanford orchestra, and Steel Jamison, soloist.

A sizable portion of this commercial production was done by the networks.

Breakdowns of the accounts of one broadcasting system in 1929 showed that:

33 1/3% of the programs were produced by advertising agencies.

28% were produced by the network (for its sponsors).

20% were produced by the sponsors themselves.

19% were produced by special program builders.

In ensuing years, the 28% produced by the networks plus the 20% produced by the sponsors was gradually swallowed by the advertising agencies. Currently network commercial program production stands virtually at zero — attesting the profit derived from radio by the advertising agencies, and indirectly indicating no compliment to the networks for their style of commercial programming.

Programming in 1930

Trends operative in 1929 in music hall, minstrelsy, and their natural offshoots — "homey" comedy or serials — continued in full force during 1930. There were about 50 evening programs on the NBC and CBS schedules, many of them holdovers from the previous year.

At this time — all things considered — radio listening was at an extremely high peak. Some 74% of set owners used their sets on the average weekday. In the same year, the average talent expenditure probably figured in the neighborhood of 28% of the average total radio budget. Today the figure (evening network programs) is 40%.

Sponsor interest in radio decidedly increased during this year, and to provide some statistical guidance in the unexplored program cavern, the Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting began making program popularity ratings. According to the C.A.B.'s first cumulative year's report, the following 12 shows commanded the highest evening listener attention:

March, 1930, to February, 1931, Cumulative Rankings*

1. Amos 'n' Andy
2. Rudy Vallee
3. Standard Oil of California
4. Lucky Strike (Sat. program)
5. Collier's
6. General Motors
7. General Electric
8. Atwater Kent
9. RCA-Victor
10. Camel
11. Cities Service
12. Interwoven

As to type and talent, the shows not previously described were set up thus:

General Electric: Floyd Gibbons' talks on adventure in science.

RCA-Victor: Nathaniel Shilkret band with guests.

Camel: Charles Previn orchestra, the Glee Club, and guests; John S. Young announcing.

Cities Service: Concert orchestra, Cavaliers, and Jessica Dragonette.

Interwoven: Jones and Hare.

Daytime leaders were Aunt Jemima (Quaker Oats); Cheerio; Radio Homemaker's Club (participating); National Farm and Home Hour; and the Household Institute (participating).

1931 Programs

Mystery drama was added to minstrelsy and music hall in 1931. This move was significant, if short-lived on the whole. Program producers felt — it was obvious — that program ideas eventually peter out. Mystery was a new trend, competitively exercised, to capitalize on incipiently waning interest in the old style of programs.

The two most notable practitioners of mystery were Harold F. Ritchie & Co. (Eno Crime Club) and G. Washington Coffee (Sherlock Holmes). Both programs almost at once inserted themselves into the C A. B. leaders, thus setting off a number of other, similar series. Campana soon had "Fu Manchu"; Bourjois had "Paris Mysteries"; Blue Coal brought forth 'The Shadow"; and Standard Oil of New Jersey had a "Charlie Chan" series. So many adherents of the trend burned it out with considerable rapidity, although to this day mystery is an ever popular subject for electrical transcriptions. Leaders at this time were:

April, 1931, to April, 1932, Yearly Average Rankings

1. Amos 'n' Andy
2. Eddie Cantor (Chase & Sanborn)
3. Rudy Vallee
4. B. A. Rolfe
5. Eno Crime Club (Tues. program)
6. Sherlock Holmes
7. Seth Parker
8. Crumit-Sanderson (Blackstone Cigar)
9. Sinclair Minstrels
10. True Story
11. Lowell Thomas (Literary Digest)
12. A & P Gypsies

Daytime leaders were the Early Birds; Cheerio; Little Orphan Annie; Tony's Scrapbook (Tony Wons); Quaker Man; Skippy; and the National Farm and Home Hour.

Other daytime notables included Pat Barnes for Swift; the Damrosch Symphonic Hour; Moonshine and Honeysuckle; New York Philharmonic Symphony; the Singing Lady (Ireene Wicker, for Kellogg); and the Yeast Foamers.

At the same time, in the evening division, Arthur Pryor, Sr. was leading a band for Cremo, while Pacific Coast Borax had Death Valley Days in its initial run.

1932-1933 Programs

That the era of minstrelsy and music hall was dying in 1931 had been evident from several significant angles. Mystery drama had come in for a brief, stopgap interlude, competitively made feasible by the waning interest in other, older programs. Just as significant was Chase & Sanborn's new contract with Eddie Cantor. It heralded the "personality" performer who was to be the symbol of the ensuing two (1932-33) years.

The sequence in which these changes from an old regime into a new one took place hinges partially on a freak occurrence in programming.

Specifically, Amos 'n' Andy — a single program, and probably the only one ever to have such weight in radio — brought the trend on, if not directly, then assuredly with underscored indirection.

For when Amos 'n' Andy eventually crossed the apex of their popularity and began to backslide, the aggregate of the evening listening audience slid with them. In 1930, 74% of the set owners used their sets on the average weekday. Now the figure fell to 64%; then to 58%; and finally, in August, 1933, it hit an all time low with 54.5%. In short, all this meant that within two years about one-quarter of the evening audience was no longer as enthusiastic about radio as previously.

This decline in aggregate listening was so pronounced that the program builders needed no statistics to count the casualties. But an analysis' of the situation was something else. It was at first suggested that hard times accounted for the lapse in listening. This theory, however, was abandoned as eminently false when it was found that the poorer (class D) homes were listening as avidly as ever. Furthermore, the advent of the midget set actually was a boon to class D radio interest. Nor did the daytime audience slip. Under the stimulus of the children's serial programs it was rising. The entire drop was in the evening audience.

No matter how the problem was figured out, it eventually always came around to a dual proposition — the slipping of Amos 'n' Andy had pulled an entire sector of the audience with it; and this sector consisted of the richer listeners, not the poorer ones.

It is probable that the 1932 figures on set use, instead of being far below normal, were merely below abnormal highs set up in 1930 when nearly everybody, rich and poor, stopped in their tracks at the stroke of 7 to listen to Amos 'n' Andy. The current programs were not enticing richer listeners as they should, or as Amos 'n' Andy did.

But whether the 1932-33 set-use figures were merely below abnormal 1930 highs or not, it was clearly the lowest ebb in listening that radio has ever experienced, and the advertising agencies and sponsors forthwith began manufacturing new programs.

These did not at first seek to bring back the A, B, and C income classes which had been partially lost via Amos 'n' Andy's decline. The advertisers found an easier way out of their dilemma — they took a chance on concentrating what audience there was left, and accumulating as much of it per program as they possibly could. Sheer numbers were sought, welded together by program pressure. It was the era of deflation, marked by high-pressure measures to monopolize the existing, less numerous, audience.

The Personality Performer

To concentrate numbers of listeners under extreme program pressure, the program producers brought on the "personality" performer — generally a vaudeville personality. But with the emphasis always on solo performance that concentrated attention on a single-handed entertainment feat. The Cantors, Bennys, etc. of that time differed from their 1937 counterparts primarily in the lack of any kind of production that would distract attention from Cantor as a solo performer, or Benny as a gag man (which he then was). The advertisers bought performers strictly because they came from fields where they had ready-made audiences to pull along behind them, and the idea was not to bother with any production distractions.

Among the names that came up in radio during this period was for instance, Russ Columbo, graduate of a night club on the Pacific Coast who was sponsored by Maxwell House, chanting his theme "You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love." So also Bing Crosby, originally one third of Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys, who soon had a niche on the networks crooning (and whistling) and selling phonograph records in vast numbers because of his radio-stimulated reputation. Morton Downey came into the pay of Camel cigarettes, with his dual theme songs "Carolina Moon" and "Wabash Moon." Kate Smith left her musical comedies ("Flying High"), made some guest appearances with Rudy Vallee, then branched out, after a sustaining interlude, into sponsored programs.

At the same time Jack Pearl shot into prominence. So also Ed Wynn (from musical comedies) for Texaco. The Marx Brothers were engaged bv Standard Oil of New Jersey from pictures and musical comedies. Walter Winchell got his start with Lucky Strike. Phil Baker secured a place on WGN, Chicago, with Ted Weems' orchestra backing him up. Jack Benny's first major program was the Canada Dry Series, where, in 1932, he had a spot with George Olson and Ethel Shutta. Irvin S. Cobb was on the Gulf gasoline series. Fred Allen, of musical comedies, was sponsored by Linit.

And there were many, many others including George Jessel, Harry Richman, Ruth Etting, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Al Jolson, Burns & Allen, and, slightly later, Block & Sully.

If vaudeville did not produce the desired solo performer to win the concentrated evening audiences, then the night clubs of the prohibition era, or the motion pictures did. And the "personality" performers all accentuated the "solo-ness" of their solo performances with theme songs, or taglines and gags reiterated over and over until the nation absorbed them into its idiom.

The effect of the solo "personality" performer, both in terms of audience and product sold, was all that could be desired. Ratings of these artists got into astronomical figures, when the size of the audience is taken into consideration.

Political Personalities

But the personality performer did not increase the total audience. With few exceptions, he still counted his biggest following in the lowest income brackets. Nor did the political campaign of that year help. Like the "personality" performer of the then current commercial radio programs, the presidential candidacy produced a solo performer whose results in the 1932 election, especially by income classes, showed exactly on whom the personality performer could depend for his proportionately biggest followng — the class D homes.

Between politics and the audience-concentrating tactics of the advertisers, 1932-1933 had a plethora of subsidiary developments, all of the same stripe, including the important advent of newscasters. In this group were Boake Carter for Philco; Floyd Gibbons for Palmer House; and Lowell Thomas for Sunoco. Not only that. Mrs. Roosevelt was sponsored by Pond's, while Louis McHenry Howe appeared under the aegis of RCA.

To cap it all off, there appeared the radio-name explorer. Admiral Byrd's expedition to the South Pole was broadcast by General Foods, while Phillips H. Lord (Seth Parker) undertook a cruise in an adventurous, but not too auspiciously fated schooner, for which Frigidaire largely paid the bills. Exploration became an angle for "name" twists, and eventually it was largely responsible for the stimulation of international broadcasts.

By April, 1933, there were 12 programs with "personality" performers — nearly twice as many as any other ranking type.

Whether this was a development that would have occurred in radio programming anyway with the advent of more sponsor money — and regardless of Amos 'n' Andy — is an idle speculation. The "personality" performer came when he did because the advertiser found in him an easy way to accumulate audiences, and not specifically because of more sponsor money in the aggregate (1933 was a notably poor revenue year for the networks). The trend might have happened some other way, at some other time. But it happened, in radio, specifically when it did because of two blackface comedians who had marshalled together a listening audience, rich and poor, so vast that it obscured for a few blissful years the technicalities of reaching listeners by income levels.

Likewise, it is quite probable that because of this sudden, almost freakish turn of events, radio forever after was accused of not developing its own talent. The explanation, in part, is that sponsors clutched at a program life-saver in the 1932-33 adversity, and this life-saver was simply a borrowed success from another field. Lock, stock and barrel the "personality" performer was drafted into selling soap, toothpaste, etc. on the strength of an audience accumulated in the theatre, the night clubs, or via the films. The tactic served its purpose at that catastrophic time, though its after-effects are matters of individual conjecture or cynicism.

C. A. B. evening ratings during the winter of 1932 to 1933 were as follows:

November, 1932, to February, 1933, Ranking

1. Eddie Cantor
2. Ed Wynn
3. Jack Pearl
4. Capt. Henry's Showboat (Maxwell House)
5. Amos 'n' Andy
6. Rudy Vallee
7. Big Six of the Air (Al Jolson for Chevrolet)
8. Bums & Allen
9. Ben Bernie
10. Myrt & Marge
11. Sinclair Minstrels
12. Voice of Firestone
13. Cities Service Concert
14. Sherlock Holmes
15. General Electric Sunday Circle

During this same 1932-1933 period, the daytime programs also were revamped. The advertiser was currently becoming aware of the children as a sales force for his product, so long as he got them to join a club — a radio club — of course — which was commanded and marshalled via the power of the ear. So strong was this emotional power over children, and so strong the emotional power of children over their parents, that while evening listening was not up to 1930, the daytime was racing to new highs.

Some of these children's programs were: Lone Wolf Tribe (Wrigley); Captain Jack (Jelke Margarine); Cowboy Tom (Remington-Rand); H-Bar-O Rangers; Jolly Bill and Jane (Cream of Wheat); Secretary Hawkins (Ralston Purina); Buck Rogers (Kellogg). Far at the head of this list stood Little Orhan Annie (Ovaltine) and Skippy (General Mills).

As the titles of these programs suggest, the contents were powerful brew. A sales lever such as only emotion can provide, they undoubtedly were too good a thing. A reform movement that crackled in another year or so eventually wiped them all out.

Programs destined to entice the housewife at this time made a great ado about cooking and beauty, with some love and home-life serials mixed in. Du Pont had Emily Post. Wrigley had the Culbertson Bridge Club. Colgate-Palmolive-Peet had Clara, Lu and 'Em. Tony Wons (Tony's Scrapbook) rated high on sustaining. The Cathedral Hour (religious music) was another ranking sustainer.

Among serials, Betty & Bob (General Mills) and Today's Children (Pillsbury) had commanding edges. The Voice of Experience (Wasey Products) was another form of daytime program that rated well.

Others which must be classified here, but which were really in a different category entirely, were the Sunday afternoon type. Here was the Capitol Family (Major Bowes, sustaining), Lady Esther Serenade (Wayne King orchestra), Roses and Drums (Union Central Life Insurance), and Crumit & Sanderson (now for Bond Bread).

Among symphonies, the Damrosch Music Appreciation Hour and the New York Philharmonic had high rankings.

1933-1934 Season: First Half

Competition eventually called a halt to the "personality" performer's sheer domination of the network evening field as it had halted every other previous program type. Comedians and gagmen don't last forever — anymore than Amos 'n' Andy or the mystery drama did — and furthermore there were certain sponsors who wanted to make use of radio, but had to pry away audiences from sponsors who had bottled them up under the pressure of a borrowed name from vaudeville, the stage, and the screen. This competition now utilized another alternative — it tried to find an audience among those richer listeners who for two years had evidenced a diminished interest in radio.

In short, competition forced the pendulum the other way and began an era of audience inflation. This tack was maneuvered with the aid of class music — opera and symphony.

In the fall of 1933 Lucky Strike signed the Metropolitan Opera for a season of broadcasts. Chesterfield got Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony. Castoria sponsored violin concerts by Albert Spalding. Cadillac had the New York, Minneapolis and other symphonies under Bruno Walter's baton, with Heifetz, Ponselle, and similar soloists as guests. Vince scheduled John McCormack. Linit's offering was Nino Martini. Firestone had Lawrence Tibbett and Richard Crooks. While on sustaining time appeared Howard Barlow, Damrosch, and the Boston, St. Louis, Rochester, and Los Angeles symphonies.

It was clearly the greatest array of clasical music ever broadcast up to that time, and with it the desired effect set in — the listening audience once more began expanding.

By January, 1934, it had climbed 10%, standing at 64.6%, a remarkably good level. It appears from these statistics that symphony and opera accomplished the purpose to which they were put.

That neither symphony nor opera, however, showed up strongly in the C. A. B. ratings for this time is not surprising. Any experienced statistical sample naturally throws its weight upon the most numerous subjects — which in this instance happened to be the class C and D homes. And the class C and D homes had been listening all along anyhow. They had listened to the personality performer before, and they preponderantly listened to him now.

October, 1933, to February, 1934, Ranking

1. Eddie Cantor
2. Showboat
3. Rudy Vallee
4. Magic Carpet (Jack Pearl for Lucky Strike)
5. Ed Wynn
6. Will Rogers (for Gulf; George M. Cohan on in December only)
7. Ben Bernie
8. Amos 'n' Andy
9. Burns & Allen
10. Sinclair Minstrels

Other evening network programs of note at this time were the Byrd Expedition sponsored by General Foods; the Royal Gelatin Review with Bert Lahr (and later Jack Pearl, who left Lucky Strike sponsorship); Fred Allen for Sal Hepatica; the Saturday Night Terraplane Party with Believe-It-Or-Not Ripley; the Swift Revue with Olsen & Johnson; Armco band; and Eddie Duchin under the sponsorship of Junis Face Cream.

Daytime leaders were the following:

November, 1933, to February, 1934, Daytime Ranking

1. Father Coughlin
2. Metropolitan Opera (American Tobacco)
3. New York Philharmonic
4. Little Orphan Annie
5. Radio City Concert
6. Roses and Drums
7. Betty and Bob
8. Lady Esther Serenade
9. Baby Rose Marie (Tastyeast)
10. Crumit & Sanderson (Bond Bread)

Just as the era of the "personality" performer must be lumped together into one understandable whole, so the period succeeding the concert-opera of the first half of the 1933-34 season must be grouped into one unit (1934-1936). It was at this time that signs of returning prosperity coupled with a restored audience, brought sponsor expenditures of a sort that year by year have grown more lavish in size.

One of the first manifestations of money was an increase in the number of hour length programs. In March, 1934, out of the 10 C. A. B. leaders, exactly half were 60-minute programs. Four months later, six of the 10 were hour programs.*

A second manifestation of this moneyed competition was a change in the presentation of the "personality" performer. During the low-audience days, it was deemed most feasible to put as little production behind the solo name artist as possible, thereby to enhance his "solo-ness." With the audience restored, however, and the competition increased, there suddenly came a bloom of heavy production. It was now a "personality" performer plus something else. By the fall of 1936, the "personality" performer, as he was known in 1933, had well-nigh vanished.

Money and competition, between them, forced radio into heavier production, and they vastly complicated programming. Trends no longer stood out — or stand out today — as they once did. Refinements in aiming entertainment at income classes has caused an eclectic structure whose developments more and more aim toward novelty, if toward anything at all. Sheer cash brought with it crudities and a long list of program casualties. It also brought questions, designed to eliminate some of the useless squandering, and many of these are still in the process of statistical probing.

For instance, on the matter of the guest artist — one of the outgrowths of the "personality" performer — research currently is attempting to define his status, or ''pull," with a rural audience as compared to a metropolitan audience. So also for the component parts of an individual program. Via telephone calls or interviews analyses are being made into the individual segments of a program "qualitatively." And on other fronts debates are held on the merit of network vs. agency program production; the selling power of this or that program; and a host of similar subjects. All are competition-bred, eclectically growing out of the 1934-1936 era of big cash.

This era of cash has traversed over roughly three stages. As already indicated, its first phase was to increase the length of the leading programs and to change the status of the "personality" performer. Phase one required virtually a year, and had asserted itself completely by January, 1935. It thereafter remained permanent.

Heavy Cash and Escape

Phase two came as an overlay atop this predecessor. It represented a dual tendency, one half of which sought to outdo existing production with something still more pretentious, while the other half divergently sought to escape the towering expenses and perils of production by a figurative "sneaking away."

* Aside from a pure framework on which to pin production cash, the hour-length program also had the advantage of being a vast net in which to snare such listeners as
remained home evenings due to the depression. In short, because many people were stay-at-homes, the hour-length program fitted its picture neatly.

These two tendencies were incorporated into: ( 1 ) the continuous musical comedy; and (2) the amateur hour.

The continuous musical comedy — i.e., a musical comedy especially written for radio in serial form — was not successful. The most notable practitioners of it — Gibson Family (Ivory Soap) and Music at the Haydn's (Colgate-Palmolive-Peet) — did not linger long, or encourage any successors. But they amply demonstrated that heavy production was underscoring musical revues, or partial revue types, simply because these theatre-borrowed forms ably lend themselves as frames into which to fit ostentatious production. As of February, 1935, there were 19 musical revues on the network evening air, more than any other program type. The breakdown, made by the C. A. B., runs thus (numbers indicate a count of programs, not a percentage):

Musical Revues: 19
Personality: 13
Serial: 12
Dramatic: 10
Classical: 9
Dance orchestras: 8
Semi-classical: 8
Variety: 6
Amateur Hour: 1

This breakdown suffices to show that under radio's recent programming eclecticism, old types of programs frequently linger into an era in which they are doomed. But more outstanding are the changes in programming themselves. Many a "personality" performer had by 1935 shot his bolt, and a category known as "variety" was rising in importance. Variety is simply what the term implies — a whirligig of "acts," name performers used only once, and constant, increasing change. At this time (1935) the variety programs were recruiting their guest stars from every branch of the theatrical field with the result that a new and different star each week had stimulated interest in that type of program. Cash and competition had wrought this dizzy pace.

Parenthetically, it may be remarked that the musical revue, spawned during this era of increasing production, continues to the present day as a notable contender for time, and that like the continuous musical comedy, it has produced several offspring. Early in 1936 one such offshoot was represented in Texaco's broadcasts of the theatrical spectacle "Jumbo"; while at the same time Colgate-Palmolive-Peet was staging a "Ziegfeld Follies of the Air" with Fannie Brice, Benny Fields, and Al Goodman's orchestra.

The Amateur Hour

Of the aforementioned dual developments, the amateur hour was No. 2, and it represented both a "sneaking away" from the obvious glitter of sheer cash production, while at the same time capitalizing on the interest of the cash-produced variety program. Fred Allen's "Town Hall Tonight" (Bristol-Myers) had the first amateur hour on a national network. Health Products (Feenamint) with Ray Perkins as master of ceremonies was on next. Meantime, Major Edward Bowes over WHN, New York, gave the trend its really emphatic momentum.

Once Major Bowes left his single station for an hour of Chase & Sanborn's time, he immediately outclassed all other programs in C. A. B. value. But this was not the significant angle, or contribution, of the amateur hour. Its importance is that, in establishing the commercial validity of escaping from burdensome production efforts while still utilizing heavy production's enticements, it is today accountable for the trend toward novelty. This includes "talks," and interviews — and, in short, "letting the audience itself broadcast to the audience."

With the trend toward novelty established, any history of programming reaches its terminus in the present day. As remarked before, the picture thus arrived at is no unified whole, but an eclectic conglomerate in which a new trend will assert itself, not completely, but only atop layers of previous "heavy production" accretions. Thus dance music — an old form of programming — has currently many adherents. So also the serial drama. So also some "personality" performers, and some solo singers. That all these forms have changed since they originally were utilized is certain — cash and competition accounted for that. But that they are used at all is the best demonstration of the complications of making sheer cash applicable as entertainment, as well as realizing that different audiences, by incomes, have different tastes.

Program Types

An analysis of 920 evening hours from October, 1935, to April, 1936, showed:

Serial drama: 13.8%.
Musical review: 12.5%.
Dance music: 11.4%.
Variety: 9.4%.
Drama: 8.5%.
Personality: 8.2%.
Semi-classical: 6.8%.
Novelty: 5.4%.
Classical: 4.4%.
News Topics: 4.2%.
Talks: 2.4%.
Amateurs: 2.3%.
Popular singers: 2.1%.
News drama: 1.9%.
Concert-poetry: 1.5%.
Operetta: 1.1%.
Concert band: 1%.
Mystery: .8%.
Minstrel: .8%.

Half a year later, 572 evening hours broke down into the following percentages:

Dance Music: 15.5%.
Musical Reviews: 12.9%.
Variety: 12.8%.
Serial drama: 12.7%.
Personality: 8.6%.
News Topics and Dramas: 7.4%.
Novelty: 7.2%.
Drama: 6.4%.
Semi-classical: 3.8%.
Classical: 5%.
Talks: 2.9%.
Amateurs: 2.7%.
Concert-poetry: 1.9%.
Minstrel: 1%.
Popular Singers: .7%.

With the summer of 1936, the ratings hereby presented historically, to illustrate program trends, became a maze of breakdowns — showing perhaps better than anything else, the divergent forms sought out by cash. At this time 40% of total radio budgets for evening shows, on the average, were put into talent along (Variety Radio Directory figures).

Daytime Programs

As regards daytime programs — a change has taken place here, too. Barring the Sunday afternoon programs, which really are in a category by themselves, the daytime programs are now nearly all serials. This development is one of salesmanship, not showmanship. The serial for the housewife, like the serial for the child, is designated to sustain interest in a continued story, day by day, and with it bring sales. Crude, perhaps, as compared to the evening program, it nonetheless has not yet burned itself out. Contests periodically stimulate, and their success seems even more notable than the beauty and cooking-school formula of some years back.

A breakdown of daytime sponsored programs in late 1936 shows the following:

Adult Serial Dramas: 55.3%.
Talks: 16.1%.
Juvenile: 11:4%.

The insertion of "talks," i.e., partial novelty, into daytime, however, might be interpreted as an omen of coming change. As yet, however, this change is barely incipient.

Popularity standings for the period herein described are illustrated by the following two C.A.B. examples:

March, 1935, Ranking (Evening)

1. Jack Benny (Jell-O)
2. Eddie Cantor
3. Maxwell House Showboat
4. Rudy Vallee
5. Baker's Broadcast (Joe Penner)
6. Fred Allen (Bristol-Myers)
7. Baker's Broadcast (Bob Ripley)
8. Palmolive Beauty Box Theatre
9. Lowell Thomas
10. Ed Wynn
11. First Nighter

March, 1936, Ranking (Evening)

1. Major Bowes (Chase & Sanborn)
2. Rudy Vallee
3. Jack Benny
4. Burns and Allen (Campbell)
5. Fred Allen
6. Maxwell House Showboat
7. Hollywood Hotel (Campbell)
8. Baker's Broadcast (Bob Ripley, Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Hilliard)
9. Bing Crosby (for Kraft-Phenix with Bob Burns, Jimmy Dorsey orchestra)
10. Shel1 Chateau
11. Eddie Cantor (for Pebeco)

[... read or search the rest of the text on Internet Archive: http://archive.org/stream/varietyradiod19371938vari/varietyradiod19371938vari_djvu.txt ]

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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    Gumlegs, you're the resident early radio expert here aren't you? Please do tell us a few things we should know.
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