Broadcasting History - Various Articles

Earliest Canned Laugh Track? (Michael Biel)

Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2010 00:15:57 +0000
From: Michael Biel
Subject: Earliest canned laugh-track?

Rand mentioned "a very badly done canned laugh-track" in Guest Star #12 from 1947 with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and asked "what the earliest instance of canned laughs in a radio show might be." Well, Jack Mullen had given himself "credit" for inventing the laugh track when he saved and reused laughs edited out while tape recording Bing's Philco Radio Time. Perhaps this is an early example of his work since as Rand said "they obviously recorded their segment separately from the Guest Star announcer and orchestra segments." Of course like Rand mentioned it could have been "done with disc dubbing techniques, so it's rather primitive and doesn't come off very well."

While I have been trying to think about any AFRS or recorded syndicated program that used this technique I can cite two specific instances of crowd noise being used. The openings and closings of Mr. First Nighter includes crowd noise in the "theatre" in addition to the other sound effects used to give the feeling of arriving at a theater. And in the surviving air-check of a 1935 Martin Block Make Believe Ballroom it starts with a crowd sound effects record which he brings down when he asks the crowd to quiet down AND THEN HE THANKS THE CROWD FOR GETTING QUIET!!!! Of course he was just kidding -- he NEVER tried to trick any listener in believing that his program was anything but "make-believe"!! That was the whole point of the entire program. (Unlike many sports re-creation announcers like Ronald Reagan who prided themselves of being able to trick their audiences into believing they were in the park -- a practice frowned upon by Red Barber.)

Rand also referred to a Ron Simon blog on the Paley Center's site which gives credit to Hank McCune for adding laughs to his 1949 local LA filmed series. Seems like Hank is a johnny-come-lately. Ron likewise gives credit to Larry Gelbart for crusading against the laugh track, completely forgetting Jackie Cooper's successful campaign to eliminate the laugh track from later seasons of "Hennesy" at least ten years earlier. While sweetening on "I Love Lucy" is brought up, there is no mention of three other very early filmed programs, Jackie Gleason's Life of Riley which exists in both laughless and laugh-track versions, "Amos 'n' Andy" which at least at the beginning showed the film to a live audience and recorded their response, and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" which used the most OBVIOUS laugh track ever -- purposefully, because Ozzie liked the sound of those two or three laughs.

Which once again brings up the point that the Paley Center is not the place to go for historical information. The OTR Digest IS!!!

I want to add that Bob Hope was one of the worst offenders in "sweetening" laughs in programs which were done with a live audience. By the time the 70s rolled around, a lot of his jokes were falling flat. The tapings of his monologue were as much as twice as long as the aired versions. I once attended a taping where a joke fell completely flat. No reaction at all. He even discussed it with the audience. The punchline was about the "Egg McMuffin" which had not yet gotten to the East Coast at that point. (This was the show being taped in NYC's Central Park.) "Haven't you ever heard of an Egg McMuffin?" "NO!", the audience replied. Much to my amazement they used the joke anyway, and gave it laughs AND applause! If you lived in the NY or LA markets where the audio was full 15 KHz, or after 1978 when the network audio went nationwide diplexed hi-fi, you can easily hear the sweetening because they were not careful to match the sound quality of the real audience and the fake one. After about a year of the diplexing they realized that people could hear this, so the fixed that problem. But on the old 5 KHz. lines used in the 60s and 70s until 1978, the difference couldn't be easily heard except in NYC and LA.

Michael Biel

Radio Service Bulletin, Apr. 30, 1927

Broadcasting frequency band - General Order No. 4, April 5, 1927. - In view of the manifest inconvenience which would result to the listening public from any immediate widening of the frequency band devoted to radio broadcasting, the Federal Radio Commission will not at this time allocate to broadcasting station frequencies other than those between 550 and 1,500 kilocycles (545.1 to 199.9 meters), except on specific request of such stations. It believes, however, that the band between 1,500 and 2,000 kilocycles (199.9 to 149.9 meters) should, so far as may be practicable, be held open for experimental work in broadcasting and allied forms of radio service, to the end that, with the further development of the art, this band may be eventually made available for broadcasting, whether for the ear or the eye, if it shall prove particularly well adapted to such type of service to the public.

Extension of broadcast licenses - General Order No. 5, April 5, 1927. - On Sunday, April 24, at 11:59 p. m., terminates the period of 60 days during which, under section 40 of the radio act of 1927, no holder of a license or an extension thereof issued by the Secretary of Commerce, under the act of August 13, 1912, is subject to the penalties provided in the radio act of 1927 for operating a station without a license.

The Federal Radio Commission will issue a temporary permit to operate a radio broadcasting station, good only until final action is taken by the commission on the application for license, to each holder of a license or an extension thereof from the Secretary of Commerce, under the act of August 13, 1912, whose application for a license under the radio act of 1927, has been received by the Federal Radio Commission on or before April 24, 1927, and such temporary permit shall, until withdrawn, be considered as having the force and effect of a license in so far as the penalties provided in the radio act of 1927 are concerned.

After April 24, 1927, any person operating a radio broadcasting station otherwise than under the authority of such a temporary permit or a license issued by the Federal Radio Commission will be deemed by the commission to be operating a broadcasting station without a license.

Portable broadcasting stations licensed only for a limited period - General Order No. 6, April 26, 1927. - Since the exact location of any radio broadcasting transmitter is an essential feature of the license, the Federal Radio Commission, as already announced, will not consider any application for a broadcasting license, except for a very limited period of time, in which the permanent location of the transmitter is not specified. However, for the purpose of enabling so-called portable stations which were duly licensed under the law of 1912 to render service to the public during the spring and summer months, the Federal Radio Commission will issue to such stations licenses for not more than 120 days, to operate with not more than 100 watts power output, and with frequencies of 1,470 and 1,490 kilocycles only. Any such permit may be revoked by the commission at any time if it be shown that the operation of the station thus licensed is causing interference prejudicial to the public interest.

Maintenance of frequency prescribed for broadcasting stations-General Order No. 7, April 28, 1927. - The Federal Radio Commission hereby fixes a maximum of one-half kilocycle as the extreme deviation from authorized frequency which will be permitted to any broadcasting station operating under permit or license issued under the terms of the radio act of 1927. The Department of Commerce is hereby requested to notify its proper agents immediately of this order and to direct them to report promptly any apparent violations thereof. Maintenance of the assigned frequency, within the limits herein prescribed, is the duty of each radio broadcasting station, and violation of this order will be deemed by the Federal Radio Commission cause for the revocation of license under section 14 of the radio act of 1927.

To facilitate the execution of this order, each radio broadcasting station is hereby directed, effective 12:01 a. m., local time, Monday, May 9, to announce twice each day, at the beginning and end of its program, that it is broadcasting on a frequency of --- kilocycles by authority of the Federal Radio Commission.

Radio Service Bulletin, May 31, 1927

Announcing call letters frequently - General Order No. 8, May 5, 1927. - For the purpose of facilitating a more accurate check on station frequencies both by the federal radio supervisors of the Department of Commerce and by the public, each radio broadcasting station licensed under the radio act of 1927 is hereby directed to announce its call letters and location as frequently as may be practicable while it is broadcasting, and in any event not less than once during each 15 minutes of transmission.

It is understood, however, that this requirement is waived when such announcement would interrupt a single consecutive speech or musical number, and in such cases the announcement of the call letters and location shall be made at the beginning and end of such number. This order becomes effective at 12.01 a. m., Wednesday, May 11, 1927, and will remain in force until further notice.

Stations not to be sold or purchased without consent of the commission - General Order No. 9, May 13, 1927. - Section 12 of the Federal radio act provides that no station license shall be transferred or assigned either voluntarily or involuntarily without the consent in writing of the licensing authorities.

It is hereby ordered that any person desiring to purchase a broadcasting station shall make application for a new license to the commission on the application blank forms. In addition thereto the proposed seller or assignor of the station must also write a letter to the commission to the effect that he desires to sell or transfer this station to the applicant for the above-named license and wishes a license issued to this applicant in place and instead of himself. The commission may either grant or refuse the license or grant with modification as to frequency and power.

Applications for increase of power between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. will be given consideration - General Order No. 10, May 18, 1927. - For the purpose of facilitating wider and better reception of daytime service programs, such as those of educational and religious institutions, civic organizations, and distributors of market and other news the Federal Radio Commission will consider applications from holders of broadcasting station licenses, for the use, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., local time, only of a larger power output than is authorized by such licenses. Applications for this daytime privilege must be made to the commission in writing and shall specify the maximum daytime power to be used, the approximate daytime broadcasting schedule, and the reasons why, in the applicant's estimation, the granting of such privilege would be in the interest, convenience, or necessity of the public. In each case where such privilege is granted the Federal Radio Commission will notify the radio division of the Department of Commerce, requesting this division, through the Federal radio supervisors, to check carefully the use of power by such station, both day and night. Any failure to revert to the power specified in the license between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. will be held cause not only for immediate withdrawal of the daytime power privilege but for reduction of the maximum power authorized for use at night.

Temporary permits terminated June 1, 1927 - New licenses issued as of June 1, 1927, for sixty days - General Order No. 11, May 21, 1927. - The Federal Radio Commission hereby orders that all temporary permits to operate radio broadcasting stations under the terms of the radio act of 1927 shall terminate at 3 o'clock, local standard time, on the following of Wednesday, June 1, 1927, and that thereafter all radio broadcasting stations subject to the provisions of the radio act of 1927 shall be operated solely in accordance with the provisions of the licenses issued as of June 1, 1927, by the Federal Radio Commission.

The new licenses are all for 60 days during which period the new allocations can be tested by actual practice. The law provides that any broadcaster who is dissatisfied with his allocation may have a public hearing before the commission, and at such a hearing his claim for a specific frequency or power will be considered in all its relations.

The commission recognizes that no scheme of reallocation which does not at the very outset eliminate at least 400 broadcasting stations can possibly put an end to interference. Accordingly, it regards the new allocations, not as creating in any sense an ideal broadcasting situation, but as providing for the first time a sound basis for radio service to the listener. With the cooperation of the public and the broadcasters, the commission believes that it will be possible to improve conditions progressively by an orderly process of actual experience.

Until such experience has been gained both the listeners and the broadcasters are urged to exercise patience. The listener will, of necessity, have to "relog" his receiving set and may find considerable difficulty in locating all the stations he desires to hear. The broadcasters will doubtless find that many of their listeners are at first somewhat bewildered by the changes in frequencies. It is the belief of the commission, however, that within a very few weeks the material reduction of local or regional interference, the redistribution of frequencies so as to clear most of the broadcasting channels, and the decrease of power for stations in residential districts will combine to render radio reception in general very much better than it has been in a long time.

Special attention is called to the fact that the commission has no unused frequencies to allocate. Every broadcasting channel is filled to its apparent capacity, and in some cases possibly overcrowded. Accordingly, any listener who wants a different allocation of frequency or power for his favorite station, or any broadcaster who seeks increased facilities for service, must be prepared to show specifically what other station should be required to give up its frequency, or have its power reduced, in order to make possible the desired reallocation.

Rules for hearings before Federal Radio Commission - General Order No. 12, May 27, 1927. - In all cases in which the 60-day license, effective June 1, offered the licensee is not in accord with the application, the applicant is hereby notified that the commission has not determined that public interest, convenience or necessity would be served by the granting of such application.

Any applicant for license who is dissatisfied with the allocation as to frequency, power, or time division granted him in the 60-day license issued by the commission, which is effective June 1, and who desires a hearing upon his application, may notify the commission in writing of such desire by June 15, 1927.

The commission will thereupon fix a time and place for such hearing. Pending the hearing and the decision thereon by the commission, the applicant will be permitted to broadcast only under the terms and conditions and in accordance with his 60-day license issued by the commission.

The applicant for license may introduce, at the hearing before the Federal Radio Commission, any witnesses he may desire. In addition thereto, he may introduce any affidavits relating to relevant facts.

The fact in issue is whether or not public interest, convenience, or necessity will be served by granting to the applicant a license upon the wave length or frequency requested in the application, or in the application as amended in the request for hearing, and with the power therein requested and the place for said station therein designated.

All persons interested in the granting or refusal of the application and the frequency therein applied for, including other licensees authorized to use the frequency requested, licensees upon frequencies where interference is claimed, other applicants for the same frequency, and representatives of the public in general, may appear and will be heard upon any relevant matters.

Radio: Voice of America's Helpers

7 U. S. Stations Beam Programs to Cuba

This article appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 26, 1962.


The group of seven standard radio stations actively assisting the Voice of America in reaching listeners in Cuba is performing an unusual public service that should not go unnoticed. Moreover, it is an example of imagination in broadcasting that apparently caught the Castro regime off guard.

Since President Kennedy went on the air at 7 o'clock Monday night some of the most powerful stations in the East and South have scrapped their regular evening schedules and relayed the Voice of America's Spanish-language broadcast to Cuba.

The importance of using the standard stations is that after sundown their signals travel a sky-wave path that reaches loudly and clearly into Havana and can be tuned in on regular receivers enjoying the most extensive use. The disadvantage of short-wave radio, also employed by the Voice, is that receivers to pick up the higher frequencies are not as commonplace.

For many months, stations in lower Florida, including WCKR, WMIE and WGBS in Miami and WKWF in Key West, have been carrying Spanish-language programs designed by refugee groups to combat Castro arguments.

When it was announced that President Kennedy would go on the air at 7 on Monday, it was feared that the outlets identified with anti-Castro programing would be logical targets for jamming.

The United States Information agency, accordingly, hit upon the idea of bringing other stations into play. The stations chosen were WSB, Atlanta; WWL, New Orleans; and WCKY, Cincinnati.

The stations operate with 50,000 watts and are regularly assigned to clear channels, virtually free from the interference that plagues so much of American radio. With the advent of darkness, their signals spray out in all directions for hundreds of miles and indeed can frequently be heard distinctively in the New York area as well as in Havana. WSB operates on 750 kilocycles, WWL on 870 and WCKY on 1530.

J. Leonard Reinsch, executive director of WSB and chairman of the broadcaster's advisory committee to the United States Information Agency, said that from all indications the Castro Government was caught "flat-footed" by the surprise arrangement.

The supplementary service has been continued on a night-to-night basis at the discretion of the U. S. I. A.

Mr. Reinsch noted that WSB, WCKY and WWL had received many favorable calls from listeners applauding the special service in the emergency. He noted that while the U. S. I. A. was prepared to reimburse the outlets for operating costs, they were glad to volunteer their facilities.

One by-product of the incident is to emphasize the importance of the clear-channel stations still in regular radio. Were there a national emergency in the Untied States, many persons in the rural areas would be dependent on the "clears" for prompt information. The jumble of stations on shared channels at night has led to an aural bedlam of whistles and double talk as multiple signals collide.

The U. S. I. A. use of the clear channel stations is the latest development in the running radio battle in the Caribbean. Recently, Cuba began broadcasting under the name of "Radio Free Dixie," a propaganda program intended for Negroes in the South, on 690 kilocycles.

Havana stations also carry other propaganda programs directed at the United States. In the late evening the signals of two Cuban stations, CMQ on 630 kilocycles and CMHQ on 640, frequently reach the northern United States.

On short-wave radio, Cuba has substantially expanded its facilities since its closer relationship with the Soviet Union; its transmitting stations now are among the most powerful in the Western Hemisphere and manifestly intended to influence opinion throughout Central and South America.

WPAB Opened

This article appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 13, 1924

Station WPAB, State College, Pennsylvania, resumed broadcasting during the past week. The schedule of programs will be confined to about one hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights of each week starting at 8 o'clock. The Monday night programs will be of special interest to farmers, as it will consist of information on agricultural topics. Student and faculty musicians will provide entertainment. WPAB uses the 283-meter wave length.

Penn. State Radio Night

This article appeared in the New York Times on Apr. 6, 1924

Students and former students of Pennsylvania State College throughout the country are preparing to tune in for the first annual "Penn State Alumni Radio Night," to be broadcast from the college station WPAB on April 11, from 8 o'clock until 11 Eastern Standard Time.

Ever since the college station had its first trial programs less than a year ago, graduates and friends of the college throughout the country have been clamoring for "a Penn State night on the radio."

The alumni night will be featured by student musical talent, including a dance orchestra playing college songs, a varsity ... quartet, mandolin sextet and other groups.

Dr. John N. Thomas, President of the college, will make a special address and will be personally greeting the student graduates of the various schools by their deans. [...]

The station's call is WPAB and the wave length is 283 meters.

New York Times, July 6, 1924

The 500-watt radiocasting station recently opened by the North Shore Congregational Church, Chicago, has been assigned the call letters WDBY. The station will be used for religious purposes only. It is planned to radiate daily bible lessons taught by the leading preachers of Chicago and to organized bible classes.

Chicago Stations Quit 'Silent Night'

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 1, 1928

CHICAGO (AP)--Twisting the radio dial to bring in faraway stations no longer is Monday night's indoor sport for Chicago fans. The city's broadcasters have abandoned 'silent night,' inaugurated four years ago.

At that time all local stations entered a 'gentlemen's agreement,' to stay off the air on Monday evenings, so the distance hounds could get what they wanted, or try to get.

Broadcasting has now been resumed every night in the week for various reasons, but principally because it was feared Chicago wave lengths would be permanently assigned on Monday nights to other stations, thus preventing even emergency broadcasting should circumstances necessitate it.

Silent night has had a controversial career. It resulted in the country's first 'listener strike.' Incensed because several Chicago stations continued to broadcast on Monday night, listeners banned together and decided not to tune in on them during the week. The fans won.

While the family of distance hunters may not be as large as it once was, with radio taking its place in the homes with other forms of entertainment, listeners have reported almost as much luck in tuning for distance with the locals on the air as on Monday nights. This class, of course, includes only those with the more modern receivers. Owners of the older type sets did not have so much luck anyway on Mondays.

New Station to Open in New York This Week

This article appeared in the New York Times on July 13, 1924

The Hotel Majestic, New York, plans to open its new broadcasting station on or about July 15. At present experiments are being conducted on the experimental call letters 2XBG, pending the assignment of regular call letters. The station will have a power of 500 watts and will operate on a wave length of 273 meters. The studio, which is on the ground floor of the hotel, will be connected by wire to the station on the roof. No definite schedule has been decided upon, but at present it is planned to broadcast from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until either 7 or 9 o'clock in the evening daily, and from 11:30 at night until about 2 o'clock in the morning, three days a week. The programs will consist chiefly of music.

Notes from Radio Broadcasting Stations

This article appeared in the New York Times on July 27, 1924

The Third Avenue Railway System radio broadcasting station, located at 130th Street and Third Avenue, opened last Friday night. The call letters are WEBJ, and the wave length 273 meters. The station will broadcast once a week from 7 to 9 p.m. Programs up to September 9, will be preliminary tests prior to the official opening on that date. Harry A. Bruno, Program Director, said that the programs will be made up of talent among the employees, and the chief motive of the station will be to create good will among the employees, many of whom have radio sets in their homes. He said, "No advertising or paid advertising talks will be broadcast from WEBJ."

Early Uses of Jingles (McLeod)

Date: Sun, 4 Jul 99 08:42:11 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Jingles, Theme Songs, and Commercials

The old Longines OTR album, with Jack Benny and others, left the impression the first (or one of the first) jingles was for Interwoven Socks with the Happiness Boys, Billy Jones and Ernie Hare. Or is this contest much like the "first radio station" depending on definitions?

The whole question of jingles is a difficult one -- because jingles weren't invented. They evolved out of theme songs during the twenties, and many of the earliest theme songs were clearly intended to advertise the sponsor's product, even though they never mentioned the product by name. I think one of the early master strokes in this technique was the use of "Brighten The Corner Where You Are" as the theme for Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman, a.k.a. Goldy and Dusty, The Gold Dust Twins. The opening announcement for their WEAF/Telephone Group program clearly tied the theme song to the product, by suggesting that Gold Dust Washing Powder really did "brighten the corners." In the same era, Harry Reser's "Cliquot March," introducing the Cliquot Club Eskimos, was a purely instrumental piece -- but its "sparkling" banjo-driven melody was obviously intended to evoke the image of ginger ale, and it was accompanied each week by a barrage of sled-dog sound effects clearly meant to remind the audience of the company's Eskimo Boy trademark. And what better theme song for a toothpaste program than "Smiles," the weekly intro for Sam Lanin's Ipana Troubadours?

There have been claims that the "Have You Tried Wheaties?" jingle was first used around 1926 on WCCO, Minneapolis, then owned by Washburn Crosby Company, the makers of that cereal, but I've never seen proof of that claim. By 1933, this theme was used with slightly altered lyrics, as the closing theme for "Jack Armstrong."

As far as I've been able to determine, 1928-1930 was the period which really led to the flowering of the "singing commercial" idea -- in part as a way to get around NBC's lingering restrictions on direct advertising in nighttime shows. During this time, the names of sponsors and specific product plugs were being inserted into the theme songs on a number of programs. Some of the more famous examples were "Hello! Hello! The R-K-O!" which each week opened the RKO Radio Pictures Hour; "On The Road To Sunshine" (or, "Sunshine Vitamin Yeast") which was used as the theme for Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour until Vallee put his foot down over how ineffably lame a song it was; "Tastyeast Is Tempting," which introduced Dwight Latham, Wamp Carlson, and Guy Bonham as the Tastyeast Jesters for a nauseating-sounding chocolate flavored yeast bar; and "Oh, My! It's Eskimo Pie!," which cued the adventures of the Jenkins Family over CBS (and via Judson syndication) beginning in the fall of 1930. The Interwoven "Socks! Socks!" jingle also came out of this era, so while it wasn't precisely the first, it was part of the first wave.

There were probably many other such "singing commercial" theme songs during this early era -- these are just ones that immediately come to mind. None of these theme songs were meant to stand alone in the manner of the famous Pepsi-Cola jingle -- and Pepsi may well have been the first sponsor to use a stand-alone jingle as part of a national campaign, beginning in 1939.

I was listening to a Fibber McGee and Molly show the other day and Fibber mentioned that he counts the cost of his new suit at $50.00 because he saved $10.00 by going upstairs. This is not the first reference I've heard about saving $10 by going upstairs. I also heard it on a Jack Benny program. Was this referring to a certain store like Macy's or Gimbel's, etc. or was it some kind of inside joke among the people on the radio shows.

It was probably a reference to a specific discount tailor, whose name escapes me -- there were quite a few "Walk Up One Flight To Save

Dollars!" sorts of businesses in the OTR era, sort of along the lines of the occasional OTR references to Madman Muntz or Doctor Cowan, Credit Dentist. These were all specific LA references, or at least West Coast, and must have been rather puzzling to listeners outside the Hollywood orbit. This was actually a big complaint for radio critics by the mid-forties: that comedy and variety shows were becoming so dependent on Hollywood-specific gags that the rest of the country had no idea what they were talking about.


Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2004 16:23:21 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Singing Commercials

I suspect that I may be opening the proverbial can of worms here, but was this really the first singing radio commercial? I'm always suspicious of "world's first" things, since they seem to be open to so much debate. Is it even possible to pin down the first singing commercial? Are there other contenders for this title? Anyone want to shed some light on very early radio advertising practices?

It's been claimed that the "Have You Tried Wheaties?" jingle was first used around 1926 on WCCO, Minneapolis, then owned by Washburn Crosby Company, the makers of that cereal, but I've never seen proof of this claim. (By 1933, this jingle was used with slightly altered lyrics, as the closing theme for "Jack Armstrong.") But it's quite probable that this wasn't the first, because singing commercials weren't a sudden innovation. Nobody invented them -- they evolved.

Musical themes with a link to the product dated back to the 1923-25 era, and such original compositions as the "Cliquot March," for Harry Reser's Clicquot Club Eskimos or the appropriation for commercial purposes of such pre-existing compositions as "Smiles," used as a theme by the Ipana Troubadours -- S. C. Lanin, Director. One of the first vocal examples of this genre of musical theme song was the use of "Brighten The Corner Where You Are" as the theme for Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman, a.k.a. Goldy and Dusty, The Gold Dust Twins. The opening announcement for their Red Network program clearly tied the theme song to the product, by suggesting that Gold Dust Washing Powder really did "brighten the corners." Strictly speaking these theme songs weren't commercials -- but they got the point across.

1928-1930 was the period which really led to the flowering of the "singing commercial theme song" idea -- in part as a way to get around NBC's lingering restrictions on direct advertising in nighttime shows. During this time, the names of sponsors and specific product plugs were being inserted into the theme songs of many programs. Some examples were "Hello! Hello! The R-K-O!" which each week opened the Radio Pictures Hour; "On The Road To Sunshine" (or, "Sunshine Vitamin Yeast") which was used as the theme for Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour until Vallee insisted otherwise; "Oh, My! It's Eskimo Pie!," which cued the adventures of the Jenkins Family over CBS beginning in the fall of 1930; and "Tastyeast Is Tempting," which beginning in 1930 introduced Dwight Latham, Wamp Carlson, and Guy Bonham as the Tastyeast Jesters. Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, of course, were early practitioners of the singing theme song, and by 1929 were integrating Interwoven Socks into the lyrics of "How Do You Do Everybody, How Do You Do?" as they would continue to do with subsequent sponsors.

There were many other such "singing commercial" theme songs during this early era -- these are just ones that immediately come to mind. But the idea of commercial messages set to music was well established long before the craze for free-standing singing jingles hit in the late thirties.

The Death of FDR (Elizabeth McLeod)

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 98 08:00:01 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: FDR's Death

My question to the experts on this list is what time on April 12, 1945, did the networks first announce the death of President Roosevelt or was it not announced until the 13th?

White House press secretary Steve Early alerted the wire services by conference call at 5:47 pm EWT on the 12th -- more than two hours after the President had passed away -- and the first bulletin moved over INS before he had finished his first sentence. ("FLASH -- WASHN -- FDR DEAD") AP and UP waited until Early was finished, and at 5:49 fed their own flashes.

These flashes went on the air almost instantly on each of the networks. NBC broke into "Front Page Farrell," CBS interrupted "Wilderness Road," Blue/ABC broke into "Captain Midnight," and Mutual's bulletin interrupted "Tom Mix." For the most part, it would appear that the kids of America were the first to learn of the President's death!


NBC Chimes (Elizabeth McLeod)

Date: Mon, 10 Aug 98 08:36:31 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: And Yet Even More on the Chimes

Now here is where I find a discrepancy between what Mr. Morris had to say and the information I had when writing my article which states that this seven note sequence was first used in 1929, but if the three note sequence of G-E-C was used with the move in 1927 then that cannot be true. I would tend to believe Mr. Morris.

For what it's worth, here are a few more bits of info, gleaned from existing recordings of actual broadcasts.

Chimes are not present in the earliest complete NBC broadcast I've heard -- the Cascade Tunnel Dedicatory Program, from 1/12/29, heard over NBC Red. The station breaks in this full-hour broadcast are cued by the announcer stating simply "There will be a brief pause for station announcement." However, it is possible that chimes were sounded by the local announcer in giving the station ID, and that they were simply not recorded in this Victor Talking Machine Company linecheck (no local IDs are heard, either.)

Chimes are heard at the close of the "Light's Golden Jubilee" program from 10/21/29. This is a WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison company. The system cue is "thru the associated stations of the National Broadcasting Company," and the chimes follow immediately, sounded by the local announcer. The chimes are a five-note progression, high G-C-E-C-pause-low G. If the seven-note progression mentioned by Bill is the Red network identifier, then the progression cited above may be that of the Blue.

No chimes are heard on the 1930-31 "Empire Builders" programs. These programs are KYW, Chicago airchecks, and go straight from the "This program comes to you from the Chicago studios of the National Broadcasting Company" to the KYW station ID. A "beep" time signal is heard here, but no chimes.

Chimes do show up in at least two existing 1931 NBC broadcasts -- the 2/4/31 Wendell Hall "Pineapple Picador" program and the undated 1931 Mary Hale Martin cooking show mentioned by Mike Biel. In both cases, five note progressions are heard: high G, low G, E, C, C. These were both daytime programs. The Martin program is a WBZ aircheck -- with WBZ at that time a basic Blue network station, and the Hall show is from WTMJ, Milwaukee, which was Red/Blue optional. Both shows originate in Chicago, using the "This program comes to you from the NBC studios in Chicago" system cue. WTMJ's own local chimes also show up at the beginning of the Hall program: E-C-G-C.

From early 1931 to early 1932, there is a real scarcity of available recorded documentation -- and this appears to be a critical period in the evolution of the chimes. It is especially important to locate any surviving NBC nighttime programs from this period -- I've confirmed the existence of a few, but so far I've been unable to get access to them.

That being so, the earliest use of the standard G-E-C (and the "This Is The National Broadcasting Company" cue) that I've heard on an actual recording is the Jack Benny Canada Dry Program of 5/2/32. These are the manually sounded chimes, which also show up in the Rudy Vallee program from 7/14/32 and the surviving Ed Wynn programs from July and August of 1932 (the circulating Wynn show dated 1/18/32 is misdated -- it's actually the 11/8/32 program.) The Wynn program of 10/18/32 uses the electro-mechanical New York chimes, indicating that they were put into use sometime between late August and mid-October. Chicago appears to have used manual chimes at least thru 1933, and Hollywood thru mid-1937.

Obviously, there are a lot of holes here -- and the more early material that can be examined, the better. Documents may be scarce, and memories may conflict, but recordings provide solid evidence of what was actually heard.


Date: Thu, 19 Aug 2004 10:17:12 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: For NBC Chime Enthusiasts

I've recently unearthed what is now the earliest known recording of the three-note NBC chimes, dating to November 3, 1931.

The chimes are heard in the midst of a seven-and-a-half minute section of a Lucky Strike Hour broadcast, discovered on a ten-inch Speak-o-Phone aluminum disk, and mark the mid-show synchronization break. The chimes are hand-rung on the usual Deagan dinner-chime set, with the first note decidedly off-mike, and the final two coming loud and clear. There is no verbal system cue, but Walter Winchell makes note of the impending break by commenting "here comes that man with the chimmies." The chimes are immediately followed by a WEAF station ID.

This discovery is also noteworthy in that it's the earliest known recording of a Walter Winchell broadcast, and present him working in a style that's drastically different from the approach with which he's usually associated. There is no telegraph key and there is no shrill theatricality: Winchell delivers a series of Hollywood gossip items in a casual, conversational manner. There is no hint of the "Jergens Journal" Winchell in this recording -- all in all, a rather fascinating find.


Red and Blue Networks (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 18:50:53 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A Red and Blue Primer

I have read in many of the postings the Blue and Red Networks mentioned Could anyone provide some information on these networks? I know nothing about them.

A common question with a rather complex answer -- but here is a basic rundown on Red and Blue:

Both of these networks were based on networks that existed prior to NBC's formation in 1926 -- the claim by NBC to be "the first network" is true only if one interprets it as meaning NBC is descended from "the first network." The NBC Red network was the direct descendent of the original Red Network operated by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which began operation on a part time basis over six stations in 1924, and was running a sixteen-hour-a-day schedule to seven stations and part time service to twelve others by the time the operation was taken over by NBC in November 1926. The AT&T station WEAF, New York originated most of the programming for the original Red network.

There are various stories of how the "red network" was named, some relating to colored lights or patchcords -- but probably the most reliable account comes from AT&T historian William Banning, who stated in his 1946 history of WEAF that the practice originated from the colored pencil lines used to trace the network circuits on the AT&T long-lines maps.

The "Blue Network," meanwhile, is an outgrowth of what was most often called "the Radio Group Network," formed in 1924 by the alliance of stations owned by the Radio Corporation of America -- WJZ, New York and WRC, Washington; Westinghouse - WBZ in Springfield, Mass.; and General Electric -- WGY, Schenectady. Although each of these stations was capable of contributing quality programming to the network -- WGY was the first station in the US to regularly feature radio drama -- the Radio Group was unable to secure favorable telephone circuits for its network, nor was it able to secure paying sponsors to the extent that the Red network did so. WEAF and WJZ were aggressive, bitter rivals during these years -- and this attitude spread over to the respective networks.

The acquisition of WEAF by the newly-formed RCA subsidiary NBC in 1926 changed the situation. The plan had always been to continue both networks under a common corporate control, and the Radio Group network formally became the NBC Blue network on 1/1/27. For the first half of 1927, service to the Blue network was limited -- but on 7/17/27 full time service was offered for the first time on all three NBC chains -- Red, Blue and the west-coast Orange network (Until the early 1930s, Red and Blue extended only as far west as Denver, requiring a separate network to serve the Western stations.)

NBC Red and NBC Blue were never separate parts of the National Broadcasting Company. The networks shared a common sales force, a common production staff, common studio and technical facilities, and in fact only a few "basic" stations were permanently assigned to either the Red or the Blue network full time. Other affiliates could be shifted between the chains at the whims of a sponsor. Some historians have argued that Red was always the "popular programming" network and Blue was always "cultural," somewhat in the manner of the BBC's old "Light Programme" and "Third Programme" arrangement -- but this isn't really true. There was no evident "separate programming philosophy" for Red and Blue before 1938.

Federal regulators began to wonder what the rationale was for having two networks, and whether this could be considered a monopolistic practice. In 1938, the FCC began a series of hearings investigating business practices of the radio networks, and in 1941 published its findings in the landmark "Report on Chain Broadcasting." In this document, the Commission determined, among other findings, that the operation of more than one network by a single corporation was not conducive to competition, and thus not in the public interest. The Commission thus required that NBC divest itself of one of the two chains.

On 12/8/41, the Blue network was spun off from NBC into a separate company under RCA ownership -- Blue Network Company, Inc. -- as the first step in compliance with the FCC ruling. RCA continued to operate the Blue Network until a buyer could be found -- until it sold the network for $8 million to Edward J. Noble, the founder of Life Savers, Inc., and at that time the owner of WMCA in New York. There were delays in this deal because of allegations of shadiness surrounding Noble's interest in WMCA -- but these problems were resolved and the deal was closed in July 1943. In December 1944, the name of the company was changed to "American Broadcasting Company, Inc," and at the end of 1945, "Blue Network" was dropped from the on-air system cue, leaving only ABC in its place.

The terms "Red" and "Blue" were actually used on-air only rarely during the time in which NBC operated two chains -- for a brief period spanning the latter half of 1936 and the first half of 1937, and again for several months in mid-1941. The two networks did use different sets of chimes during 1929-30 (and possibly earlier) with the Red being signified by a seven-note progression and the Blue by a five-note progression. The terms did turn up in the press, however -- even though it was more common in fan publications to refer to the Red as the NBC-WEAF network and the Blue as NBC-WJZ.


Date: Sun, 29 Dec 2002 18:07:39 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: More Red and Blue

why is it that most of the system outcues heard are 'generic' as "This is the National Broadcasting Company" with no reference to the Red Network or the Blue Network?

Most of the time, Red and Blue seem to have been largely internal/industry designations -- you would find references to Red and Blue in internal company documents or the trade press, but most of the time civilian publications referred simply to the "NBC-WEAF" or "NBC-WJZ" network. NBC doesn't seem to have been especially interested in drawing attention to its bifurcated structure for most of the time it ran two networks -- and indeed, until 1937-38 there *were* no administrative distinctions between the two networks. There was only one Program Department, only one Sales Department, and so on down the line. This being so, "This is the National Broadcasting Company" was a perfectly acceptable system cue for both chains.

There were two exceptions to this -- the only two periods in NBC's history where Red and Blue were routinely used as on-air designations: 1936-37 and 1941. The 1936-37 period was probably the result of the early rumblings of a Federal investigation of NBC's activities -- and was done to create an apparent distinction between the two networks where no real distinction existed. The 1941 use of Red and Blue was concurrent with the release of the FCC's Report on Chain Broadcasting, and was probably a way of conditioning the public for the upcoming separation of Red from Blue.

I also believe that there may have been an early effort to indicate Red or Blue by means of distinctive chime sequences. The three-tone G-E-C chime was not standardized until 1931 at the earliest -- indeed, the earliest known recordings of the three note chime date to March 1932. But there are surviving recordings from 1929, 1930, and 1931 in which a seven-note chime pattern is used on the Red network, and two different five-note chime patterns used on Blue. (Audio clips of these chimes can be heard on Bill Harris's website.) While no documentation has emerged to support the hypothesis that these chimes were used consistently to designate Red or Blue, it is certainly suggested by circumstantial evidence.

It's also important to keep in mind that there were many NBC sustaining programs that were neither Red nor Blue -- these were programs made available to Supplemental stations not being used by either network at a particular time, and were usually musical fillers, band remotes, and so forth.


Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 19:29:31 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Red and Blue

I have read in the past, from quite a few sources, that also indicate that NBCs blue network was geared to the more "upscale" and carried a lot more sustaining prestige programming . However, some of the programs that aired on NBCs Blue would seem to counter this statement . How much actual truth is there in the statement ? If true, was it a deliberate programming attempt or did the Blue just end up that way while part of NBC ?

It depends on the period under consideration. Prior to about 1937, there was no perceptible difference in programming between Red and Blue, nor was there any deliberate effort to direct "popular" programs to Red and "prestige" programming to Blue -- indeed, "Amos 'n' Andy," the most popular program of the first half of the decade, was a Blue feature from 8/19/29 to 7/12/35. Conversely, "prestige" programming like the Atwater Kent Hour, the Voice of Firestone, and Cities Service Concerts, were always Red features.

In all cases, these network choices were the result of advertiser decisions, not any integrated "network programming philosophy." Network decisions were made by advertisers on the basis of the most powerful stations for the best per-station per-hour price for the specific time period desired, and there was very little difference in terms of rates or station power between Basic Red and Basic Blue.

Around 1937, however, this began to change. At this point, as a direct result of mounting sentiment among federal regulators that the operation of two networks by a single corporation was not in the public interest, NBC began to make a conscious effort to differentiate Red and Blue, and for the first time a separate Blue Network sales office was established in order to create the fiction that the two networks genuinely competed for advertising clients. This issue was investigated by the FCC during its 1938 hearings, and the fiction of "competition" thoroughly exposed.

It was also at this time that NBC began to emphasize sustaining "Educational" features on the Blue. These were the so-called "upscale" programs that created the impression that Blue was a more highbrow alternative to the mass-audience Red network. This was a rather overt attempt at convincing investigators that the Blue served a higher purpose than simply ensuring that NBC had a greater number of available affiliates than its competitors. It's also likely that NBC feared federal intervention forcing it to divest itself of one of the two networks, and was taking care to ensure that its big money contracts were lined up on one side of the scale before this happened. (As, in fact, it did with the issuance of the FCC's "Report on Chain Broadcasting" in 1941.)


Date: Sat, 28 DEC 2002 09:43:03 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Red, Blue, and Supplemental

Throughout most of the 1930's, it seemed that NBC had separate distinct facilities for distribution of both the "Red" and "Blue" networks only in the northeast and urbanized midwest (including Omaha and Kansas City).

Exactly -- these facilities were "Basic Red" and "Basic Blue." A sponsor planning an NBC program buy was required to purchase time on one of these two units as a minimum. As of 1933, Basic Red was made up of 20 stations, and Basic Blue was also 20 -- although the Blue count is slightly deceptive, since it counts WBZ and WBZA as separate outlets, when in fact they broadcast in synchronization covering the same market, and counts the four Chicago outlets that carried Blue program as separate outlets, even though they usually did not operate simultaneously.

Not all markets in the Basic territory were covered by both Red and Blue. There was no Blue service to Northern New England, for example -- listeners thruout the region had to rely on WBZ/WBZA for Blue programs. Likewise there were no Blue outlets in Philadelphia, Schenectady, Buffalo, or Hartford -- all markets which were covered by Basic Red.

But the rest of the country, such as the southeast, south-central states, rural upper Midwest (rural Minnesota, rural Nebraska, the Dakotas), the mountain states, etc., it seemed that there were single-line "legs" of the network... i.e., there was only one NBC affiliate in all markets, all fed along a single telco line in that region of the US, where all of those stations would be carrying the same NBC program, whether "Red" or "Blue". And it was up to NBC and the sponsor as to whether that part of the country would be "Red" or would be "Blue" at whatever specific day/time.

These were the "Supplemental" stations -- and indeed, there was nothing in their affiliation agreements which would designate them as Red or Blue. Supplemental stations could not be taken on an a la carte basis -- they had to be purchased in groups: Canadian, Southeastern, South-Central, Southwestern, Northwestern, or Mountain. Coast-to-Coast coverage for a program required purchase of the Basic Pacific Network -- which could only be used if the Mountain group was also part of the network, since the link was made via Salt Lake City. Additional western coverage was available via the Pacific Supplemental group -- and NBC also offered "Special Hawaiian Service" via a shortwave link to KGU in Honolulu.

An hour of time on the full Red Network -- Basic plus all available Supplemental groups -- during the 1932-33 season would cost a sponsor $12,880. The full Blue Network, with three fewer outlets, offered an hourly rate of $12,270.


The Pallophotophone (Michael Biel)

Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998 22:47:50 -0500
From: "Michael Biel" (
Subject: Pallophotophone, was Jackie Coogan On A "Pollophotophone"

Today's Syracuse NY Post-Standard, in its "On This Day" feature, reports (March 23) 1923: "At 6:30 p.m., child actor Jackie Coogan was in Hollywood, but his Grandmother, Mrs. John H. Coogan, and his Aunt, Urania Coogan, heard him talking from Schenectady over the pollophotophone, a new device that records the human voice on a film."

Well, kiddies; my question to you is "what the heck was a 'pollophotophone'?!"

A Pallophotophone was a recording system developed by Charles Hoxie of General Electric that recorded a variable area soundtrack on film. In this case it was used without picture to make sound recordings on photographic film to be played on WGY. There were several component parts of it which were later put to use separately. The microphone part, the Pallotrope, became the "Light Ray" microphone used by Brunswick records in 1925 to make records electrically along with the Hoxie developed electrical disc recording head. Another part of the system became the "Brunswick Panatrope," which was the first commercially available electrical phonograph. All of these devices were licensed thru RCA (which was partially owned by GE at that time) when Brunswick could not get access to the superior Western Electric recording system.

There is another interesting OTR tie-in here. In December 1924, Brunswick began sponsoring a series of broadcasts of its recording artists on WJZ--owned by RCA--and the RCA network of affiliated stations. On January 1, 1925, the Victor Talking Machine Co. began a much more famous series of radio broadcasts of ITS stars on WEAF--owned by AT&T--and the AT&T network of affiliated stations. Is it any wonder that in the next two months Western Electric--the manufacturing arm of AT&T--would license its recording system to Victor, and NOT to Brunswick?!!! And that in desperation Brunswick would have to go to RCA to find an electrical recording system?!

Some additional notes. After a summer break, the Victor Hour returned to radio in the fall of 1925 on WJZ instead of WEAF!!!! AND, the following fall it all became moot when AT&T sold its stations and network to RCA! It ALL ties together! And lastly, the Pallophotophone other component part, the recorder for the film sound, became the "RCA Photophone" variable area system of synchronized motion picture sound.

Also, let me mention that this March 23, 1923 broadcast of the Jackie Coogan recording was not the first. The Pallophotophone was first used on WGY on Oct. 13, 1922. Shortly thereafter Hoxie took the device to Washington, DC to record Vice President Coolidge, Sec. of War John W. Weeks, and Sec of the Navy Edwin Denby. These were aired on Christmas Eve 1922. Other recordings made and broadcast in 1923 were by Dr. Charles Steinmets, Thomas A. Edison, Pope Pius XI, General Pershing, and reportedly David Sarnoff.

Some of these recordings were known to have been also broadcast in the 1930s but I have never been able to get a full accounting of this, find out if the films themselves still exist, and/or if a full dubbing of the films were ever made. Bill, you're near GE, WGY, and the GE Museum/Archive. Show them this and find out!

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