Six stacked records

This reference work must begin with two admissions, either of which usually dooms a database's usefulness:

  1. It is out of date.
  2. It is inaccurate.

Having said this, I hasten to add that as of this writing, it is the best of its kind. The study of radio programming from the start of the "broadcast era" (generally considered the November 2, 1920 election eve coverage by KDKA in Pittsburgh) to the end of the so-called "Golden Age" (I declare that to be September 30, 1962 when CBS radio ended the last two dramatic shows still on the air) is similar to the science of archeology. The researcher is forced to draw conclusions about a great many things from very little evidence. Radio existed long before those sporadic election results came from Pittsburgh. (Guglielmo Marconi is said to have made the first successful radio transmission in 1895). WHA in Madison, Wisconsin was among the several stations broadcasting before KDKA. Radio existed long after "Suspense" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" went off the air. (Rumor has it there are still a few radio stations broadcasting even today.)

We are therefore, dealing with a continuum; a gradual evolution from a scientific experiment, to a practical means of point to point communication, to an amusing novelty, to a creative source of evening entertainment in the living room, to the news/information/recorded music service that has evolved today. As the audio archeologist digs through the sounds of radio's past, it becomes apparent how little we know. I admit that I've turned up recordings of very few broadcasts that I can accurately date before 1930. That's a whole decade of programming by hundreds of different stations, networks and performers of which little or nothing can be heard or is even known! Obviously this situation will improve as the study continues, but I suspect that decades from now, it will still be accurate to say, "how little we know!"

This knowledge vacuum leads to an attempt to organize what we do know and to standardize the way we know it. This is the first database of its kind, but it will not be the last. Previous efforts have been in several other categories;

  1. Histories of broadcasting. The best example being Erik Barnouw's trilogy beginning with "A Tower In Babel."
  2. Picture books about radio. These are essentially photo collections, such as "The Pictorial History Of Radio" by Irving Settel.
  3. Program rosters and cast lists, These attempt to list the better known network shows and those who participated in them. "The Big Broadcast" by Frank Buxton and Bill Owen was the first and is still one of the best of this type.
  4. Program essay collections. The exhaustive "Tune In Yesterday" by John Dunning goes beyond cast lists, giving anecdotal histories of the better known shows.

There are other types of books and hybrids, all of which add to our knowledge of the subject. Most are genuine works of scholarship, involving considerable research and effort. Believe me, I know. This work is an attempt to fill two specific gaps in radio knowledge. 1. It tries to be a compilation of network programs, plus significant local and regional broadcasts. 2. It's a list of the people who were involved in putting these programs on the air. I define "people" as those who received air credits (or should have received air credits) which were usually heard at the end of the show. To list the names of the station management, sales and engineering staff and all the other behind the scenes personnel at the larger stations and networks is beyond the scope of any database. Before the war, it was not uncommon for some stations in larger cities to have hundreds of employees. On the other hand, the entire Mutual network had about 75 people in 1967, including secretaries and mailroom personnel.

So why then, is this database both out of date and inaccurate? 1. It is an analysis of programs that are or were in my possession. There are many programs that have been located, sonically improved, recorded, catalogued and available for study. Discovery continues, books are being written and then revised, in fact, a whole army of amateur archeologists (don't they have anything better to do?) supplies us with new information continuously. This, therefore is a work in progress. It was out of date the day it went onto the Internet.

The information is inaccurate not because I want it to be, nor because of sloppy scholarship, but because the information is still coming in, and some of it is going to be wrong. How do you determine when a network program started or stopped? You can check the newspapers and Radio Guide-type publications as a start. How do you handle that information when you find an original recording of a program clearly labeled as being broadcast a year after the show supposedly went off the air? What do you do when the program was heard locally in New York or Cleveland before it became a network show heard all over the country? What's the date of the show's last broadcast if it went off the network, ran just in Chicago for two years and then went into syndication around the country and was offered for sale to other radio stations for the next ten years (and then perhaps revived and resold a decade after that)? How do you determine the day of the week a show was on if it was heard on different days in different parts of the country! How can you tell its time of broadcast with four time zones, plus the delayed and repeat broadcasts? Who is the sponsor of the show if the product being advertised was different in varying parts of the country or changed from week to week! How do you spell the name of a performer whose name is mentioned on a program's closing credits, but who wasn't important enough to be mentioned in print anywhere? Is his name spelled Steven? Stephen? Stefan? Alan or Allen or Allan? William or Bill? Robert or Bob? Richard or Dick? What should Ira Grossel's listing be since he was called Jeff Chandler for most of his career, except that one western series when he was billed as "Tex" Chandler? How do you handle Myron Wallace when he starts calling himself Mike Wallace, or when Connee Boswell becomes Connie Boswell? Is an actress' name spelled Ann or Anne, is Gil Stratton the same actor as Gil Stratton, Jr.? And was Michael Ann Barrett a man or a woman?

It's easy to ask the above questions; it's a lot harder to answer them. Obviously, I've made decisions and compromises. Much time consuming research was necessary, some of it is bound to be wrong. That's why this work contains inaccuracies. One final question: how do you spell a name or describe a program when two trusted sources disagree?

I encourage readers to help me correct the many errors to be found in this book, both with "program" information and with "people" spelling. Please have some form of documentation beyond "I've always spelled it that way," or "the show is dated differently in the XYZ catalogue." My fellow collectors may be as perplexed, stubborn and wrong as I am. I would be most appreciative of those with definite information, and offer them immortality in the "acknowledgments" section of future editions, as well as my gratitude.

"The Programs" section:

To understand the symbols and abbreviations used, it helps if you're a professional broadcaster who's been in the business several decades, or a vintage radio hobbyist who pauses every half hour during the day for a station I.D. or "signs off," sings the national anthem and kills the plate voltage before kissing his wife goodnight and turning off the light. Assuming you're neither, let's briefly go through some terms and definitions you'll need to know.

A. Networks and stations:

In the beginning, there were only radio stations located in cities and towns around the country. Most used the same frequency (a concept similar to quantum theory in that it defies logic and common sense). For years afterward, shared frequencies were common ("you transmit Monday through Friday, I've got the weekends"). Enlisting the aid of the the phone company (there was only one at the time), a series of "ad hoc" networks were put together for special occasions. One of the earliest broadcasts in our archive is a September 12, 1924 "National Defense Day Ceremonies" broadcast. Originating at WCAP in Washington D.C., the program was also heard over WEAF, WOAW, WFAA, KLZ and KGO. If you're a radio fanatic, you can name the cities just by these call letters. If you're normal, take my word that General Pershing was heard that day from sea to shining sea, two years before there was an NBC.

NBC (The National Broadcasting Company) formalized the concept of "chain broadcasting" on November 1, 1926 when it started two different networks, the Red and the Blue. There are several legends as to how these two strange names came to be, but please accept that research as a homework assignment. The New York station owned and operated by the Blue Net was WJZ. The New York station owned and operated by the Red Net was WEAF (both were NBC). This is important to know as much early programming came from New York. WEAF turned into WNBC on November 2, 1946. WJZ turned into WABC March 8, 1953.

The ABC (The American Broadcasting Company) network should be mentioned here because it was merely the Blue Network changing its name and ownership on June 14, 1945. The government forced NBC to sell off one of its two networks, so on this date (please make a note), the Blue Net became ABC. Just to make life interesting, for a considerable period of time before this date, Blue Net programs identified themselves as being on the "Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company." After this date, some system cues (system cues are the last words on a radio show that identify the network of origination) on the new network were "this is the ABC Blue Network." There were many variations on this theme, but it is important to remember that no matter what the announcer said, before June 14, 1945, it was the Blue Net of NBC, on/after June 14, 1945, it was ABC. Any reference (in the "Programs" section of this database) to just "NBC" before this important date is an admission that I haven't information as to whether the show was on the "Red" or the "Blue" Network.

(The Columbia Broadcasting System) started programming September 18, 1927, the New York "O & O" (owned and operated station) was WABC. Trying to drive fewer listeners nuts, WABC changed its call letters to WCBS on November 2, 1946, so people wouldn't think they were listening to the ABC network. I choose to not go into the locations of all these stations on the radio dial, as they shifted frequency frequently and therein lies madness.

The Mutual Broadcasting System started September 30, 1934. It's main reason for existence was "The Lone Ranger," which was then a very popular program being heard over WXYZ in Detroit. Mutual was always the poorest of the four networks, both in revenues and programming. The big name comedians, the prestige dramatic programs and the wealthy sponsors were all to be found elsewhere. One significant problem Mutual never overcame was that it had no "O&O." It didn't own a radio station. The other networks owned several. In fact, Mutual came to be owned by WOR in New York. This is the best known (perhaps the only) example of a station owning a network instead of the other way around. When WLW in Cincinnati was allowed to begin transmissions with 500,000 watts (ten times maximum normal power), it called itself a "one station network," but that's not the same thing (even though its programs could be heard all over the country).

There were other networks as well. The Don Lee Network consisted of Pacific coast stations. Don Lee was part of the CBS network as of July 16, 1929, but switched to Mutual on December 29, 1936, and did a lot of its own programming as well. It's beyond the scope of this book to discuss all the many local and regional networks. You should however, leave with the clear understanding of the difference between a network and a radio station. A radio station has a definite location and is authorized to transmit by the FCC with a certain amount of power in a well defined way. It originates many of its own programs. A network is a "chain" or group of radio stations, all carrying the same program at the same time (or almost the same time). It's all over the place, not just in one city. It only originates programming and does not own a transmitter. A radio network can own a radio station, but they're not the same thing. For example, programs heard on WOR might come from the Mutual network, or originate just at WOR to be heard only in New York. Mutual programs were not always heard on WOR. The situation was confused further by the use of the phrase "WOR-Mutual" for both local WOR program "station identifications" and Mutual net system cues.

B. Some of my favorite abbreviations:

  • B1 is the Blue Network.
  • ABC is the American Broadcasting Company.
  • Mut is the Mutual Broadcasting System.
  • CBS is the Columbia Broadcasting System.
  • WEAF, etc. represents the call letters of individual radio stations. I do not identify what city each station is licensed to. Broadcasters and radio show enthusiasts usually know the location of a station by its call letters. Those who do not can easily find this information elsewhere.
  • BBC is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • NPR is National Public Radio.
  • AFRS is the Armed Forces Radio Service (and includes some "Special Services Division Of The War Department" programs that were heard before the AFRS formally began). The operation later became the AFRTS with the addition of television.
  • Syn means the program was "syndicated." You'll see this abbreviation a lot, as syndication was a popular method of program distribution. Today we would call these shows "off-line." Syndicated programs were not sent to radio stations by a network, but were recorded (on discs at first, later on tape) and mailed to stations around the country. Syndicators also used something called "Railway Express," but that was before your time. Syndicated programs might have been network shows being re-sold after their network run ended (we now call them "re-runs"). More usually, they were programs recorded just for syndication. Syndicated shows could have sponsors just like network shows (in which case, the sponsor paid the syndicator who paid the stations to run the program), or a syndicated show could be "sustaining" (see below). In this case, the station would buy the show (or get it free) to present to its listeners. Recruiting and public service shows, as well as charity fund appeals were often syndicated. The syndicated program could also be intended for local commercial sponsorship (by the station buying the series). The station theoretically sold the program to a local merchant. The syndicator would leave a "hole" in the program by having the announcer say, "we'll be back with more in just a moment, after this important message," followed by a minute of silent grooves on the record while the station engineer would add the commercial. There were many variations on this theme.
  • PBS-TV is the Public Broadcasting Service.
  • C-SPAN is the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network.
  • Sus means "sustaining" which meant that the program was not intended to be sponsored. If the sponsor of a program is known, I identify it as much as possible. It's easy to do when the sponsor is something like "Lucky Strike." But what happens if the sponsor is a company with many products, one who advertises more than one of them on the program? Instead of cluttering up the listing with the names of multiple products, I've sometimes just listed the manufacturer and let the reader sort out the greater detail by listening to the program. The phrase "air trailer" refers to a program-length advertisement for a movie, usually with the stars from the film and scenes from it as well. Some program types are gray areas. Paid political announcements are one long commercial, but the product is a person. Religious, charity and recruiting broadcasts can't really be called "sponsored," but it's not correct to call them "sustaining" either. I deal with this problem by ignoring it.

C. Times and dates:

The times listed are East Coast times unless otherwise noted (or a West coast only program). The length of the program is indicated by a number and an "m" (for minutes). "25m" would mean the program ran 25 minutes (actually 24:30, but don't get me started on that).

D. Non-radio programs:

Since this database is about "The Golden Age Of Radio," when is a radio program not a radio program?

  1. When it's a radio transcription. These 16" discs were the stuff from which radio programs were made, but they were not complete shows by themselves. They were usually music selections or dramatic vignettes recorded on records that radio stations could play as part of their own local programming. In short, they were the phonograph record albums of their day. They contained (with few exceptions), no voice announcements to tell the listener what was to come. That was done by the local announcer. The main transcription manufacturers listed in this database are: World, Thesaurus, Standard, Capitol, Lang-Worth, SESAC, MacGregor, BMI and Muzak. There are others.
  2. When it's a television program. The listings contain many programs that were the sound portion of television shows. Therefore, a listing that says "CBS-TV" indicates television audio.
  3. When it's a film soundtrack or strip film audio, it is so indicated.

So, why have non-radio material listed in a database about radio programming?

  • Good question! It's because many of these non-radio recording are about radio, or contain people who were often heard on radio, or just because I think they're a valuable part of the archive. Don't give me a hard time. There are many recordings listed of a political nature as well as those dealing with space exploration because I consider them both to be an outgrowth and continuation of program types that started with those election results broadcast on November 2, 1920.

Uses That Can be Made of This Research

  • Determine what programs were on network radio (and significant local programming).
  • Research what the exact names of these programs were and what were the alternative names used. What you call "The Jack Benny Show" was actually ten different program names (starting with "The Canada Dry Program." The most famous of them was "The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny").
  • Find out broadcast data about these programs and the changes they went through while they were on the air.
  • Get information about sponsors, networks, stations, program length, etc.
  • Discover who were major contributors to some of the more well known programs (other books address this area far better).
  • Learn how many examples of any given program are currently in the archive (see "Where Do Old Radio Shows Come From?" and allow me to vent my spleen).
  • Obtain a list of major (and minor) "people" who contributed to these broadcasts, and (hopefully) how to spell their names correctly.
  • Learn how many examples of the work of these people are in the database.
  • Trace the broadcast career of people like Frank Sinatra. Paul Whiteman or Red Skelton.