Broadcasting History - Various Articles

Axis Sally (McLeod)

These articles by broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod are posted here with her permission. See also Elizabeth McLeod's Broadcasting History Resources.

Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 15:32:57 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Beyond "Tokyo Rose"

There's some published material about the woman jailed as "Tokyo Rose"...but less about "Axis Sally" (other than her name). Can anyone provide details on her

The woman known as "Axis Sally" was actually Mildred Gillars -- born in Portland, Maine in 1900. She was an aspiring actress who ended up in Greenwich Village in the late twenties, hoping to crash the stage. When she failed to do so, she picked up again and moved to Europe to pursue a political attache with whom she'd had a casual affair. By 1934, she had settled in Berlin, where she eked out a living as a translator and dabbled at bit parts in German films.

In 1940, she landed a job at the "Bremensender," a German radio station, where she worked as a staff announcer. She became increasingly embittered during these years -- and refused to return to the United States when the government began urging civilian US citizens to leave Germany in 1941. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she swore an oath of loyalty to the Third Reich.

It was at this time that she crossed paths with a fellow broadcaster and another American expatriate. Max Otto Koischwitz had been a fairly-well-respected professor at Hunter College until his drift toward Nazi ideology caused concern among college administrators. He resigned from Hunter in 1940 -- and immediately moved to Germany, where he began broadcasting English-language propaganda talks over the Reichsrundfunk Overseas Service under the name of "Mister O. K."

Koischwitz and Gillars became lovers and before long, Koischwitz was working her into his political broadcasts. They began a joint series, the "Home Sweet Home Hour," beamed to Allied troops in North Africa. Gillars was known in these programs as "Midge," and it was under that name that she did all of her propaganda programming. There was never an actual German broadcaster who used the "Axis Sally" name: this was a slang name given Gillars by GI listeners.

Along with the "Home Sweet Home Hour," Gillars is best known for her disc jockey series, "Midge At The Mike," in which she played antiquated American phonograph records, read the names of the latest Americans to be taken as POWs, and gave blisteringly vicious anti-Semitic talks. She also hammered on the "Hey, Joe, is your girl back home cheating on you?" themes that have come to be the very stereotype of the propaganda broadcaster. Compared to some of the other Berlin propagandists, Gillars' program was extremely crude.

During this period, Gillars also acted in dramatic roles in propaganda plays written and produced by Koischwitz -- including a poisonous pre-D-Day opus aired in May 1944 under the title "Vision Of Invasion."

Max Koischwitz died in August 1944 -- Gillars assumed he had committed suicide, but it was later revealed he had died of tuberculosis. After the war, American occupation forces located Gillars and took her into custody. She was convicted of treason, but was considered a something of a small fry by the prosecution: drawing a sentence of only 12 years. She was released in 1961, and quietly lived out her remaining years as a language teacher at a Catholic girls' school in Ohio. She died in 1988.

An excellent book, by the way, dealing with American radio traitors of WW2 is John Carver Edwards' "Berling Calling!" (Praeger Press, 1991)

Did those who supported Hitler and Mussolini get airtime prior to WWII? Did the German-American Bund and other fascist groups promote any local/national radio programs?

Certainly you'd have to include Father Coughlin's broadcasts as extremely sympathetic to the Nazi cause, particularly during the 1938-40 period. There is some evidence, presented in Donald Warren's excellent 1996 biography of Coughlin, "Radio Priest," that the Father was actually in contact with German agents during this period -- and, in fact, an emissary of Coughlin's had conferred with Joseph Goebbels in January 1939, a time when the anti-Semitic content of Coughlin's broadcasts was at its peak. Coughlin is also known to have conferred in February 1939 with a Chicago Bund leader named William Wernecke. While Coughlin never formally endorsed the Bund, the Bund definitely endorsed him: national Bund leader Fritz Kuhn told congressional investigators that he made "Social Justice" magazine recommended reading for his followers.


Early Impact of Radio (McLeod)

These articles by broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod are posted here with her permission. See also Elizabeth McLeod's Broadcasting History Resources.

Date: Wed, 6 Oct 1999 00:29:47 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Impact Of Radio

It is said that when NBC was formed all the fanfare stirred up some interest in radio purchases. Otherwise it has been said that it was really Amos n Andy that interested the masses in radio purchase. I have always wondered when it was that radio was really in vogue with the average household.

This is a very interesting question, and worth a careful answer. It's a fact that radio was growing explosively between 1921 and 1926, with the biggest part of the boom between 1922 and 1925. Several things happened during this period, ranging from the development of effective loudspeakers to the introduction of sponsored programming and networks. All of these factors helped radio evolve from a mysterious black box with a lot of wires stuck to it into something the whole family could enjoy. By 1926, radio's infancy was over.

The NBC and A&A examples are often used, but they can be over-stated. NBC's inauguration merely marked a corporate change: it was essentially the old AT&T Red Network that had been in operation more-or-less regularly since 1924. Judging from what I've seen in the press of the time, the public viewed the advent of NBC more as the next development in network operations than a dramatic breakthru -- NBC's real impact was found in the offices of the advertising agencies, not really in the homes.

On the other hand, the rise of Sam and Henry/Amos 'n' Andy in 1926-29 did have a major influence in getting people accustomed to the habit of following characters in a continuing storyline as opposed to simply listening to speeches or music -- and they were probably the single most important factor in the early development of radio drama. There's no doubt that there were people who bought radios just to find out what all the talk was about.

But there were also more important developments entirely unrelated to programming, which came on the scene just about the same time that A&A did....

One interesting side note that I have read in the past is that when radio first came on the scene people did not just take up immediately with the idea of radio listening each evening.

This has more to do with economics than with programming: prior to 1927, all radio receivers operated off batteries -- a large 45-volt dry "B" battery (or two or three) to provide the high voltage for the plates of the tubes, and a six-volt lead-acid storage "A" battery to light the filaments. The "A" battery was the major issue here -- the filaments drew a high current, and drained the battery rather quickly. While GE began marketing battery chargers for the home market during the early twenties to coincide with the radio boom, most people had to drag their "A" batteries to a gas station to be recharged every couple of days if they were heavy listeners. It was this issue, more than any matter of program content, which kept radio listening a "special occasion" sort of thing rather than a night-in-night-out practice.

The battery manufacturers tried to change peoples' thinking -- after all, the more batteries consumed, the better for them. The National Carbon Company, makers of EverReady batteries, was on the air as early as 1924 with the "EverReady Hour," a big-time variety show featuring name talent -- and their print ads constantly trumpeted the slogan "The Air Is Full Of Things You Should Not Miss!" And, indeed, the Red Network was in operation, under the auspices of AT&T in 1924-26, and most radio owners were within reach of an affiliate. There were plenty of sponsored programs worth listening to -- but as long as it cost money to do so in terms of charging and replacing batteries, audiences were hesitant.

The real turning point of radio listening was the introduction of the all-AC radio in 1927. This required the development of special tubes, but it eliminated the issue of batteries for all but rural families. This innovation -- coupled with single-dial tuning, introduced around the same time -- really made radio into a piece of living-room furniture instead of a piece of technical equipment. And once this happened, people began to treat it as a household fixture rather than a novelty.

Apparently radio listenership declined in the early 30s in correspondence with the waning popularity of Amos N Andy.

Absolutely not true. Radio, in face, prospered during the early thirties as never before, and A&A were in the vanguard. They reached their peak of popularity in 1931, but remained in the "top ten" thru most of the decade -- this was less a decline than a levelling off, caused primarily by the influx of vaudeville and Broadway talent into radio during the 1931-33 seasons. In early 1932, Eddie Cantor was being heard each Sunday night by more than 50 million listeners, topping even the peak of A&A, and setting a record that no other regularly-scheduled radio program ever equalled. Declining ratings for individual shows as the decade wore on have more to do with the audience being more spread out than with it being smaller.

As for the networks, it's interesting to note that as bad as the economy was, they were always in the black during this era: after 1929, neither NBC nor CBS ever again posted a losing year.

Anyone have any ideas of the general radio audience size over the years until it shrunk substantially in the 50s.

It's estimated that during the last six months of 1921, half-a-million sets were sold, and this number had doubled by the middle of 1922 as the radio fad swept the nation. By early 1924, it was estimated by the Broadcasting Department of AT&T that there were more than 3.2 million receiving sets in use, although this is a very rough estimate considering the number of "home brew" receivers being constructed every day. More than half a million sets were believed to be in use in New York alone at the time of AT&T's survey. By contrast, the 1920 census pegged the US population at a bit over 106 million. So, there was quite a ways to go toward achieving full penetration.

But it was happening rapidly: RCA posted sales of $50 million during 1924 -- more than double its 1923 levels, and by the end of the year, the number of receivers in use had topped four million. Growth continued at similarly impressive rates thruout the twenties.

Skipping ahead to 1930, there were, according to figures compiled by "Radio Retailing" magazine, approximately 12,049,000 radio homes in the US at the time of that year's survey. Figuring a conservative average of 4 listeners per household, that makes the total radio audience at the turn of the decade around 48 million (1930 census figures peg total US population at approximately 138.4 million)

By 1935, the total radio homes stood at 22,869,000 -- and the audience thus increases to around 91.4 million. By 1940, the figures were 29.2 million radio homes for an audience of around 116 million. (In 1940, total population stands around 151 million.) 1945 shows figures of 34 million radio homes and 136 million listeners. And, by 1948, there were an even 40 million radio homes for 160 million listeners. At this point, one could say that radio had achieved its saturation point: just about every American had access to it.

All these estimates are on the conservative side, but they give you a general idea of the growth involved. And the most interesting fact is that there was *n*e*v*e*r a decline in either the number of radio homes or in the audience -- there was a substantial increase every single year between 1930 and 1948 -- on the average, about a million homes added every year.

So the networks were frantically creating new forms to keep their audience.

Actually, during the thirties, and into the early forties there was a real sense of follow-the-leader. When a popular show broke new ground, it was instantly copied by a legion of imitators. One of the most common lines of comment for radio critics of the "golden age" is how repetitive and unimaginative most of the programming was: every comedy show follows pretty much the same format, all the drama shows sound like all the others, all the soap operas are interchangeable. It seems to me that the truly innovative years in the development of basic program technique were 1929-33: there was a lot of interesting experimentation going on. But once the big ad agencies -- and big-name stage and movie talent -- got deeply involved in radio, the experimentation really got squelched.

As a result, very few new program forms were developed after the mid-thirties. The important thing for any new show was that it had to sound as much like an existing successful show as possible -- and this remained true for a very long time. With a few notable exceptions, it wasn't until the late forties/early fifties that creative experimentation again found an outlet.


AM Stereo Goes On the Air

This article appeared in Broadcasting on Aug. 2, 1982.

Here's another entry for historic dates in broadcasting: July 23, 1982, when KDKA(AM) Pittsburgh, which claims to be the nation's first commercial radio station, earned the further distinction of being the first AM stereo station. At 6:03 p.m. NYT, the Group W station interrupted its regularly scheduled programing to switch briefly from the monaural to stereophonic mode.

Like its claim to being the first commercial station, however, KDKA's claim to being the first AM stereo station may be forever disputed. Because KDKA's inaugural stereo broadcast only lasted about 10 minutes, time enough to play the "Star Spangled Banner" and announce what was happening, KTSA(AM) San Antonio, Tex., which shifted permanently into stereo 11 minutes after KDKA's temporary switch, has also laid claim to being the first.

Regardless of which came first and despite the fact that there are no receivers available, AM stereo broadcasting became a reality last week. Besides KDKA, which will broadcast in stereo intermittently, and KTSA, RKO's KHJ Los Angeles and KFRC San Francisco, Bonneville's KMBZ Kansas City, Mo., and ABC's WLS Chicago and WMAL Washington also went stereo. All the stations had installed and tested Kahn equipment long ago and had only to wait for type acceptance by the FCC to go forward. It's expected that several additional Kahn-equipped stations; Group W's WBZ Boston and WOWO Fort Wayne, Ind.; Meredith's WOW Omaha; LIN Broadcasting's WFIL Philadelphia; Bonneville's KSL Salt Lake City, and NBC's WNBC New York -- will sign on in stereo this week or next.

The number of AM stereo stations will multiply rapidly in the weeks ahead if the Harris system, another of the four processes vying to become the de facto standard in the U. S. by winning the acceptance of broadcasters and receiver manufacturers, wins type acceptance soon. Roger Burns, director of strategic planning for Harris, was sanguine that would happen this week. Jefferson-Pilot's WQXI Atlanta has been lined up to be the first station to broadcast in stereo using the Harris system, Burns said. Within a month of WQXI's stereo premiere, he said, 10 to 15 other Harris-equipped stations would begin stereo broadcasting.

The dawning of AM stereo was not as dramatic as it might have been simply because there are no AM stereo radio sets available to consumers. Manufacturers will be reluctant to build any set until a standard has been fixed. Kahn and Burns hope to provide a temporary solution to the set shortage by authorizing the manufacture of adapters that can convert AM/FM stereo radios into AM stereo/FM stereo sets. (Crutchfield Corp., Charlottesville, Va., is overseeing the manufacture of the Harris adapters, Burns said.) Kahn said that Mura Corp., a Westbury, N.Y., manufacturer, will have Walkman-type units capable of receiving the Kahn signal available in large quantities some time this fall. According to Burns, mass production of Harris radios will not begin until next spring when Harris-produced integrated circuits are available.

Because of the nature of Kahn's system, its signal can be received by spacing two mono receivers and slightly detuning them, one slightly higher, the other slightly lower. The detuning creates distortion, but, as Kahn stereo broadcasters have testified, the technique produces a stereo effect and is not without its promotional value in the otherwise receiverless marketplace.

The ability to get as many stations as possible to go on and stay on with their systems is crucial to Kahn's and Harris's strategy to become the owner of the nation's stereo standard. If most broadcasters adopt one system, they believe, the receiver manufacturers will quickly follow suit. Magnavox and Motorola, the other two proponents of AM stereo system, have been unable to convince many broadcasters of the merits of their systems. Their best hope is that the broadcasters will be unable to come to a consensus on either the Kahn or Harris system and that the receiver manufacturers, to which they have closer ties, will take the lead.

Leonard Kahn, president of Kahn Communications and a promoter of AM stereo for more than two decades, is certain that although stations may go on with the Harris system, they'll only stay on with the Kahn system. "All the other systems will degrade the mono signal and I don't think the AM broadcaster can stand to make that sacrifice," Kahn said.

Harris's Burns is equally certain that, despite Kahn's lead of at least a week, Harris will quickly catch and surpass Kahn in the number of stations using its system. After Harris begins quantity production of its exciters in September or October, he said, stations will begin broadcasting the Harris stereo signal at a rate of 50 per month. (Harris currently claims about 110 firm orders.) Once receiver manufacturers count 200 or 300 Harris stations, and only 50 or 60 Kahn stations, he said, they "will consider the battle over and begin building Harris receivers.

Kahn was able to beat Harris off the starting line by making exciters available for testing three or four years ago and by being the first to file for type acceptance after the FCC authorized AM stereo broadcasting last March. The stations had varying reasons for turning the exciters on.

Everybody wanted the promotional advantage of laying claim to be the first AM stereo broadcaster in his market and most also wanted to give a boost to AM stereo, which is seen by many as the savior of AM broadcasting. "We've looked forward to stereo for so darn long," said KMBZ's Walt Lockman, "that it's sort of a dream come true."

AM stations have been steadily losing listenership over the past decade to their better-sounding FM competition, and it is hoped, as KHJ's Bob Kanner said, that AM stereo will "stem the tide." The shift to AM stereo will not only put AM broadcasters on a technical parity with FM, the AM stereo broadcasters felt, but also encourage manufacturers to make high-fidelity AM sets. The reason AM "sounds as muddy as it does," said Kanner, is due solely to the low quality receivers. "Only the audiophile will be able to tell the difference between AM stereo and FM stereo if the receivers are made properly," he said.

High-fidelity AM receivers will "revolutionize" AM radio, agreed KTSA's Lee Randall, and their production will also be in the best interest of receiver manufacturers. "Someone is going to produce a high-fidelity receiver and that's the one who will make a lot of money."

Not all the pioneer AM stereo broadcasters were completely committed to the Kahn system. Charles DeBare, president, ABC-owned AM stations, said the only reason WLS went on with the Kahn system was that the Kahn exciter is the only one available and type accepted. ABC "is not pushing one system over another," he said. "If another system ultimately proves superior to Kahn's," he said, "we would go with it."

DeBare's comments were echoed by Kanner and Harrison Klein, director of radio engineering, Group W. Kanner said he still hasn't had a chance to test the Harris system. If another Los Angeles station goes on with Harris and it sounds better, he said, KHJ will switch. Although Group W will soon have three stations -- KDKA, WBZ and WOWO -- broadcasting at least occasionally with Kahn's exciter, Klein said that Group W will not commit to one until it has tested them all. (KDKA's premiere stereo broadcast lasted only 10 minutes, Klein said, because the station has to undergo some "technical fine adjustments" before it can make the permanent switch to stereo.)

On the other hand, some of the stations said that their use of the Kahn system was indeed an endorsement of the Kahn technology. Dom Fioravanti, vice president, general sales manager, WNBC, said NBC's adoption of the Kahn system -- WNBC will go stereo within two weeks and the other NBC AM's will follow -- was based on the belief that the Kahn system was technically superior to the rest in terms of distortion and protection of the monaural coverage area. KTSA's Randall said his station is "strongly committed" to Kahn and expressed the hope that other stations would adopt the Kahn system. Although KMBZ's Lockman wants other stations in his market to follow his lead, he said he can't call them up and encourage them for fear of antitrust retaliation. (The National Association of Broadcasters has advised its members not to get together and agree on a system because of the antitrust implications.) Bruce Holberg of WFIL, which plans to go stereo with Kahn this week or next, would also like other Philadelphia stations to follow WFIL's lead, but so as not to lose the promotional edge hoped that they "would wait a respectable period of time."

Regardless of how strongly they felt about the Kahn system becoming the standard, the broadcasters were pleased with its performance. WLS's John Gehron said the station has experienced no reduction in coverage or quality of the mono signal. "We did a lot of testing," he said, "and we are very pleased with the results." To hear the stereo, Gehron said, the station set up the separated mono radios. "It sounds great," he said. The quality isn't there yet because of the limited frequency response and distortion of the sets, he said, "but the stereo effect -- the separation -- is, and that's very important."

Not only has KMBZ gotten word back from its listeners that the two-radio receiver "sounds tremendous," said Lockman, but it has also received unexpected calls about improved mono reception.

The broadcasters have different ideas about how to promote AM stereo. Because no receivers are yet available, some stations were taking a low-key approach, telling their listeners that they were in the stereo mode and leaving it at that. Kanner said KHJ is not even mentioning the two-radio reception to prevent listeners from getting the wrong idea about what AM stereo sound can and should be.

Other stations, despite the lack of receivers, have decided to promote their novel capability heavily. KMBZ's Lockman said the station reminds its listeners repeatedly that it is broadcasting in stereo and explains four times an hour how to set up the two-radio receiver. KTSA's engineers were working on prototype receivers, Randall said, so that the station can demonstrate stereo at locations throughout San Antonio. To kill two birds, Randall said some of the demos could be set up on the premises of advertisers.

If Harris receives its type acceptance shortly, the country will be faced with the prospect of multiple stereo systems, creating confusion in the minds of receiver manufacturers, broadcasters and the public. How it will all shake out is anybody's guess. What is certain is that broadcasting will see a lot more firsts in the coming months. So far, KDKA is the first AM stereo station, KTSA is the first regular AM stereo station and on Sept. 5 KSL says it will become the first AM station to broadcast in stereo a live musical event: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the 50th anniversary of KSL's affiliation with CBS and CBS's carriage of the choir.

Stereo in the 1950s (Biel)

Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 22:34:23 -0500
Subject: Re: OTR Stereo

vaguely recall a few occasions wherein a TV station would send out a stereo broadcast via the TV audio and a "friendly" AM or FM station. It probably was PBS Channel 13 and WNYC or WQXR.

I remember this being done before there was such a thing as PBS. .... Stereo music was a novelty then - perhaps stereo record players were just being marketed and this was, in part, to promote the concept. Such event were well publicized and listeners were instructed as to which channel/station combination to tune to and how to position your radio and television for best sound.

I've discussed this here in the past. There were some instances of radio programs being broadcast in stereo on AM and FM stations as early as WMAQ's 1953 local radio series "New Dimensions." Then in 1956 the entire season of Lawrence Welk's TV program was broadcast in stereo nationwide, while Art Ford had a local jazz program on WNEW-TV broadcast weekly in stereo. These used the affiliated radio stations for the other stereo channel. On October 28, 1958 there was a special edition of The George Gobel Show that was broadcast nationwide in stereo and color sponsored by RCA Victor which had recently started marketing their Living Stereo LPs but had been selling stereo pre-recorded tapes for almost 4 years. (TV Guide had a fold-out that week that you would put on the lower half of your TV screen at an announced time to supposedly show the difference between what you were seeing on your black and white set and what the rich folks were seeing on their color sets. I've always wondered if those who had color sets also did it and if they were surprised to see how little the colors probably matched!!) By that time WRCA/WRCA-FM were doing nightly stereo broadcasts at 10:05 PM "Jazz, Voices, and Strings." In 1959 ABC telecast Disney's Sleeping Beauty in three channel stereo using the TV for the center channel with the AM and FM affiliates supplying the left and right channels. Many companies were selling tuners with separate tuning knobs for the AM and FM sections to make this procedure easier. You'll see these in electronics catalogs between 1958 and the introduction of multiplex stereo in 1962,

I don't recall which shows, but likely shows might have been the regular Met opera broadcast with Milton Cross announcing, the Voice of Firestone, the Bell Telephone Hour, and the Longines Symphonette.

Even though programs like "The Voice of Firestone" were simulcast on radio and TV in the late 50s, I do not recall ever hearing that these were done in stereo, and they have not been mentioned in any of the contemporary newspaper articles that discussed some of the above programs. The PBS/NPR efforts discussed yesterday were from the late 70s to mid 80s, but by then the stereo was totally on the radio station, not split between the radio and TV stations. Once the current system of TV stereo audio was authorized, FM-stereo simulcasts became moot. The last one I recall was when the Disney Channel did a series of Prairie Home Companion simulcasts in the late 80s before they were stereo on their cable channel. The Met may have gone stereo when it was moved over to WQXR-FM from WOR-FM in the mid-60s. But again, it was not a dual-station type of stereo.

C. P. McGregor's "Heartbeat Theatre" was in stereo from the mid 1960s although this fact was not marked on the disc labels! Thus many of them have probably been dubbed off only in mono.

BTW, as to why musical shows are not more popular among collectors, well, mp3's aren't helping. . . . Bad sound quality is easier to overlook in a drama or comedy.

True, but the good wideband hi-fi sound that is present on many of the original discs can enhance the enjoyment of drama and comedy also.

Michael Biel

The Beginnings of Soap Opera on Radio (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 8 Dec 98 07:58:15 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
To: (
Subject: Re: Soap Operas

I am looking for any information on the beginnings of soap operas, with Irna Phillips and such?

"Soap Operas" evolved from late-twenties midwestern roots. There were experiments in the serial format at WLW in Cincinnati in the mid-twenties, but the first original serial to be devised for radio was Gosden and Correll's "Sam and Henry" over WGN in 1926-27 -- an idea directly inspired by the "continuity" comic strips then appearing in the Chicago Tribune (especially "The Gumps") and echoing the storytelling style of these strips. "Sam and Henry" moved to WMAQ in 1928 as "Amos 'n' Andy," and gained national popularity during 1928-29 via syndication and later over NBC. While the series is generally considered a comedy, it was, during these years, a melodrama containing many of the familiar soap ingredients -- romantic entanglements, cliffhanger endings, courtroom conflict, mysterious illnesses, near-deaths, et al.

Its success inspired imitation. Jim and Marian Jordan were among those picking up the serial idea, beginning a "family" continuity called "The Smith Family" over WENR in 1929, a year before Irna Phillips arrived at WGN to begin "Painted Dreams". Gertrude Berg began "The Rise of the Goldbergs" over NBC Blue in late 1929, as a nighttime show intended as a sort of counterpart to "Amos n Andy" (both were carried by the same sponsor, and often aired in adjacent time slots).

Another important stepping stone was the McFadden True Story Hour, a nighttime show heard over CBS from 1928-31. While the show wasn't a serial, it did treat soapish themes -- in radio adaptations of stories from True Story magazine. And, it inspired soapish interest in the lives of its characters -- there was a great deal of debate in the fan press over the question of whether "Mary" and "Bob" were married in real life. (It was something of a scandal when it was revealed that they weren't.)

Irna Phillips became a member of the WGN staff in 1930, and "Painted Dreams," the story of the Moynihan family, began shortly after her arrival. Phillips wrote the series and played the lead role of Mother Moynihan, with members of the WGN stock company, notably Ireene Wicker, playing the other roles. The program continued as a purely local feature thru 1932, when Phillips left the station during a legal dispute over ownership of the series -- and took the same concept to NBC as "Today's Children."

During the early 1930s, daytime radio consisted primarily of fifteen-minute musical programs and household-hints features -- but several serial programs preceded "Today's Children" onto the network schedules. "Clara, Lu, and Em," the creation of sorority sisters Isabel Carothers, Helen King, and Louise Starkey, had started as a local Chicago feature in 1930, and moved to the NBC Blue network as a nighttime show in 1931. In February 1932, it became the first network dramatic program to follow the traditional soap schedule -- five-a-week in the daytime. This show was a light comedy-drama about three Midwestern housewives who spent their days gossiping about the trivia of everyday life.

"Judy and Jane," another show of Midwestern origin, became the first CBS daytime serial (albeit a regional one, heard only on midwestern affiliates) around the same time that "Clara, Lu, and Em" was becoming established in daytime radio. This program was notable in that it was written by Robert Hardy Andrews, who would go on to script the long-running "Just Plain Bill." The show moved to NBC's midwestern circuit later in 1932.

"Vic and Sade" was the next daytime sketch of note -- beginning on NBC in September 1932. It wasn't really a soap -- but it was a notable daytime series just the same.

"Betty and Bob" began over NBC Blue in October of 1932, the first show to be produced by Frank Hummert and Anne Ashenhurst (who would marry in 1935). An early afternoon serial, the show was the first network daytimer to stress all the classic soapy themes in the tale of poor-but-pure Betty Drake and her once wealthy-but-now-disinherited husband Bob.

"Just Plain Bill" began as a nighttime feature in September over CBS, and moved to daytime in January 1933. This was the first daytime serial to be heard coast-to-coast over that network. Written by Andrews, and produced by Hummert and Ashenhurst, this series had a lighter, more folksy touch than "Betty and Bob," but still contained all the melodramatic basics.

Elaine Carrington's "Red Adams" premiered as a nighttime feature in October 1932, evolving in 1933 into "Red Davis", and moving to daytime as "Forever Young" in 1936. The show finally settled into its longrunning format as "Pepper Young's Family" in mid-1936. Carrington had a much lighter touch than the Hummerts, and while her shows had their share of melodrama, they never poured it on quite as thick as the Hummert productions.

Phillips' "Today's Children" arrived on NBC in September of 1933. Phillips essentially carried her entire "Painted Dreams" format to the network, including Ireene and Walter Wicker in her supporting cast, and changed only the names of the characters. Heavy family melodrama remained the central theme, and the show remained quite popular thru the end of 1937.

"Ma Perkins" was the last of the major soaps to appear in 1933, starting out as a local feature at WLW that summer, and arriving on CBS in December. It started out as "Just Plain Bill" in a dress -- Andrews was the writer and Hummert and Ashenhurst were the producers -- but quickly developed a flavor and following of its own.

1934 thru 1937 were years of slow but steady growth for soaps -- it wasn't until 1936/37 that they really began to dominate the daytime schedules, and by the end of the 1930s, they were a national institution, not losing steam until the late 1950s. Irna Phillips. the Hummerts and Elaine Carrington remained major factors in the production of these programs thruout the era, and Phillips was very important in television as well.

(who still follows "Guiding Light," the last remaining soap from the radio era!)

Mechanical Reproduction Announcement (McLeod)

Date: Thu, 14 Jan 99 07:54:11 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: the Mechanical Reproduction Announcement

What does "transcribed" means when the announcer on an OTR program says it?

This is a later version of the Mechanical Reproduction Announcement -- a bit of phrasing once required by federal law whenever recorded material was broadcast. It's a sort of Truth In Labelling requirement, with an interesting political history behind it.

The MRA goes back to the late twenties, when controversy was raging over the proper use of phonograph records on the air. Ordinary records had been used as filler programming since the earliest days of radio, but beginning with "Amos 'n' Andy" and the various offerings of the National Radio Advertising Company pre-recorded material made especially for broadcasting began to appear. These recordings were designated "electrical transcriptions" to distinguish them from ordinary records -- even though technologically, these early 12" 78 rpm "transcriptions" were no different from any record you could buy in a store.

One of the early regulations imposed by the Federal Radio Commission was that an announcement had to be given whenever a recording of any kind was played. Originally, it was necessary for the announcer to say explicitly "this is a phonograph record," in announcing each recorded selection (or, "this is a player piano roll" if that was what it was.) This was seen as a sort of consumer-protection law -- to ensure listeners weren't tricked into believing that recordings were actually live broadcasts. There was a lot of sentiment in official circles that recorded broadcasts should be discouraged -- that they were a waste of broadcast bandwidth. What it all comes down to is that the Mechanical Reproduction Announcement was a way of stigmatizing recorded programming.

With the advent of "electrical transcriptions" in 1928-29, the MRA was modified to allow for recordings that had not been made for the consumer market. Stations were required to introduce syndicated programming with "This is an electrical transcription made exclusively for broadcasting purposes." This announcement had to be given at the start of every transcription -- meaning programs recorded on more than one side had to have the announcement read at the start of every side. This meant a half-hour show recorded on 78rpm discs would have to have this announcement inserted eight times -- and broadcasters (and syndication companies) were very unhappy. The adoption of 16" discs helped this situation -- only one or two interruptions would be required in a half hour show using these larger discs --but the MRA remained a sticky point thruout the early thirties. Eventually, a hearing was held before the newly-formed Federal Communications Commission, with the National Association of Broadcasters and the World Broadcasting System (a major ET producer) arguing for the relaxation of the rule -- and the networks and the American Federation of Musicians arguing that it should be kept. The conflict here is obvious -- on the one hand, local broadcasters saw recordings as a source of cheap but high-grade programming, while the networks and the musicians union saw them as a continuing threat to the value of live broadcasts. THe situation for NBC was especially complicated -- the network had begun to produce programming for the syndication market, even as it was trying to protect the prestige of live broadcasts.

The result, in early 1936, was a revised MRA regulation, requiring the announcement at fifteen-minute intervals, unless the announcement would interrupt a continuous "play, speech, or concert." Stations were also allowed flexibility in how they made the announcement, as long as it was in clearly-understandable language and as long as differentiation was made between transcriptions and ordinary phonograph records. Thus, it took such forms as "The music is recorded," "This program is transcribed," "Here is a transcription," and so forth. The differentiation between ETs and ordinary records led to an occasional forced redundancy: a DJ program which announced that "portions are recorded and transcribed" meant that it used both commercial records and material from a transcription service.

The MRA requirement was increasingly liberalized as recordings became more and more accepted, and eventually it all but disappeared. Currently, the only vestige of it which remains is the rule that a recorded program in which the time element is critical, and which could "create the impression" of a live event" must be announced as pre-recorded. This usually means a tape-delay broadcast of a sports event or a news pickup. And no one says "transcribed" any more.


Mechanical Reproduction Announcement (Biel)

Date: Sun, 7 Sep 2003 10:27:25 -0400
Subject: Re: question about transcribed and recorded

can anyone explain the difference between transcription and recording? I hear OTR shows as being transcribed. Why not pre-recorded? Was the transcription like a record?

In the late 1920s the Federal Radio Commission introduced a regulation that required that each recording be announced as such at the time of broadcast. Under the overall category of "Mechanical Reproduction" were three categories: "Player Piano Rolls," "Phonograph Records," and "Electrical Transcriptions." Such as: "The following is a phonograph record." or "The following is an electrical transcription." The distinction between the latter two was that although phonograph records could be bought and played by the public on home machines, ETs were to be recordings designed ONLY for broadcast and were either not to be sold to the public or were to be of a format that would not be readily playable by the public. Additionally, the broadcasters liked the term "electrical transcription" and "transcribed" rather than recorded because not to many people really realized that they meant the same thing. This allowed them to say that it was recorded without having to say that it was recorded. Some people felt it was a waste of spectrum space to have radio stations play records that they could play themselves, and the networks propagandized against the use of any type of recording. So most stations would have liked to hide the fact they were using recordings.

Some of the first recorded programs, such as "Amos 'n' Andy" and the many programs produced by the National Radio Advertising Company were manufactured on standard 12-inch 78 RPM lateral discs that could have been played on any home phonograph. But these were announced as ETs because they were made specifically for broadcasting only and were carefully kept out of the hands of the public--which accounts for their unfortunate rarity. In 1929 several companies started distributing their programs in the format that had been developed for motion picture sound, the 16-inch 33 1/3 RPM lateral disc. Practically no players were in the hands of the public which could handle this size or speed, and the introduction in 1930 of vertical recording by several companies made it even more difficult for individuals to be able to play them. So there were no second thoughts about calling these ETs. But when stations played regular home-type phonograph records that you could have bought in your local record store, they had to call them "phonograph records."

Over the years the announcement regulations changed and generally became less strict, but ironically by the 1960s the television broadcasters started using the old general term "Mechanical Reproduction" to identify recorded programs although the technology was much less mechanical than had been the case with records or ETs. The term "Pre-Recorded" also started to be used at that time although it is really redundant. A program is either recorded or it is live. A recorded program MUST have been recorded IN ADVANCE, so why say that it was PRE-recorded? It was recorded. Period.

Michael Biel

Integrated Commercials (McLeod)

Date: Sun, 14 Feb 99 08:24:48 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Integrated Commercials

I'm sure Elizabeth will have a more detailed answer, but in the '20s commercials were not allowed at all and the program the name of the sponsor "Clicquot Club Eskimo's", "Everready Hour", etc.

This was the Great Debate of the twenties -- Direct versus Indirect advertising. Some individual stations did allow the hard-sell approach, but the higher-class stations, such as WEAF, insisted on an indirect technique in order to maintain the dignity of the presentation. What this meant, in essence, was that there were no "middle" commercials. Sponsors and products were identified at the beginning and the end of the program. Thus the wide use of sponsor names in program titles and the close identification of program personalities with the sponsor: Joseph Knecht's Orchestra wasn't just a dance band, it was the Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra -- and its vocalist wasn't plain old Joe White, he was the Silver Masked Tenor -- all subtle ways of making the listener aware of the sponsor's product thruout the program.

Theme songs were another way of reinforcing the sponsor's identity -- ancestors of the singing commercial. Thus, when you heard "Smiles," you knew that Ipana toothpaste was presenting the Ipana Troubadours, or when Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman sang "Brighten The Corner Where You Are," you knew that the Gold Dust Twins were on the air -- and that Gold Dust Washing Powder would help brighten your corners.

These policies were enforced on the AT&T Network during the mid-twenties, and when this network was turned into NBC, there were a few adjustments. Commercials, in the sense that we think of commercials, were permitted during daytime broadcasts, but nighttime shows were still required to use the indirect format. Some programs could be very creative in getting around these rules: the "Johnson and Johnson Melodramas," for example, were bloodthirsty little playlets which usually found one of the protagonists in need of bandages or absorbent cotton, "Soconyland Sketches" would often take the listener on an imaginary motor tour of historical sites in the Northeast -- where a Socony dealer was never far off, and "Empire Builders" took a similar approach to the Northwest -- describing experiences along the Chicago-Seattle route of its sponsor, the Great Northern Railroad.

These rules were relaxed by late 1929, and commercials As We Know Them came to NBC's nighttime programs. These were pretty straightforward and simple -- I have a script for a Fleischmann's Yeast Hour from February 1930 which includes only two commercials: one is a short, direct sales message delivered by Graham McNamee during the first half hour of the show, and the second, in the second half of the show, is an "indirect" health talk by Dr. R. E. Lee. While there were no "singing jingles" in this era aside from theme songs, commercial slogans were already becoming very important: before the end of 1929, Bill Hay's nightly closing commercial on "Amos 'n' Andy" had coined a national catch phrase: "Use Pepsodent Twice A Day -- See Your Dentist Twice A Year."

After commercials were "allowed" the company owned the program, thus you have "The Jell-O Program when Jello-O sponsored Jack Benny for example, later "Grape-Nuts Program", "Lucky Strike Program", etc.

This was true even in the twenties -- programs were packaged by ad agencies on behalf of sponsors, and every effort was made to tie the program to that sponsor. As far back as 1923, Anna C. Byrnes and her Orchestra were under contract to perform only for their sponsor, Browning, King and Company, and this policy was continued by most of the sponsors who would follow.

As far as true "integrated" commercials are concerned, it's difficult to say when the first one was, if you consider the many shows which thru indirect methods were essentially program-length advertisements. But if you're thinking in terms of the Fibber McGee/Jack Benny approach of having the program star interact with the announcer in delivering the commercial message, then Ed Wynn was probably the first, on the Texaco Fire Chief Program in 1932. There would be two commercials on each program in this series -- the first would be woven into the comic patter between Wynn and Graham McNamee -- and would usually end with Wynn's refusal to use the product, pledging instead to "stick to (his) horse!" The second would be a straight sales talk delivered by announcer Louis A. Witten.

Wynn's way of merging direct advertising with program content was hailed as a major innovation by radio critics -- and it was immediately imitated. Wynn's program premiered on 4/26/32, to considerable critical acclaim -- and only six days later, Jack Benny began his series for Canada Dry using the same "integrated commercial" technique. Wynn's sponsor was much more enthusiastic about the comedy approach to advertising than Benny's was -- Texaco would use variations on this theme in most of its subsequent radio presentations, while Canada Dry eventually dumped Benny because of his jibes at the product -- and insisted on a very straightforward, dignified approach on its subsequent radio shows (think Milton Cross on "Information Please.")

When sponsors money was later pulled from radio to that other medium they still owned the show (i.e. "Texaco Star Theatre" rather than "The Milton Berle Show"). In the mid-50s or so companies owned fewer programs and commercials were sold on a spot basis. Since no one company sponsored the show the integrated commercials disappeared.

"Spot advertising" became the dominant system during the fifties, when most programs were being produced directly by the networks instead of agencies or other outside program packagers. But even into the 1960s, there were vestiges of the old format. Occasionally a syndicated TV show would be distributed by a sponsor, just like the old days: Pacific Coast Borax was still presenting "Death Valley Days," complete with twenty mules and Ronald Reagan. And even at the network level, sponsors would try to get a piece of the action: often special commercials would be filmed using cast members of the shows "sponsored in part by" a given company. Thus Sheriff Andy and Opie and Aunt Bee would gather 'round the breakfast table to eat Post Toasties, Dobie Gillis would brush with Colgate, or Rob and Laura Petrie would extol the pleasure of Kent Cigarettes. While these spots weren't integrated into the storyline of the episode itself, the actors were appearing in character -- and the line between program and advertising was still being blurred. These methods lasted right thru the sixties.

Probably the last preserve of real "integrated commercials" is sports programming. Right up to the present day, you can hear your favorite baseball broadcaster shilling for beer, or gasoline, or whatever, between pitches -- along with such tie-ins as "Your New England Ford Dealers Scoreboard." These drop-in ads may seem annoying, but they're the last survivor of a once-important radio tradition.


Live or Transcribed Old-time Radio? (McCleod)

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 99 07:27:23 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Transcribed

For a long time I've been under the impression that most OTR shows were live. Pre-recorded or transcribed shows were rare, or so I thought, because of the sound quality and because the public supposedly wouldn't tolerate a canned show. That changed after WWII when Bing Crosby introduced tape recording and it proved successful. Now I under stand that a certain amount of transcribing was in fact done in the 30s and early 40s. Can anyone enlighten me on the history of this practice?

The perception that most OTR was live grows out of the fact that thru most of the era, both NBC and CBS (but not Mutual!) had a strict policy against the use of recordings over the network. But that policy didn't prevent individual stations from using recordings -- and from the late twenties forward, there were literally dozens of companies in the business of supplying syndicated transcription programs.

Syndication was a huge business by the early thirties. Many syndicated shows were on more stations than network programs, and many big-time sponsors were using the transcription medium. Network affiliates would often carry these programs instead of network sustainers, and it's possible to find listings indicating that some independent stations would fill most of their schedules with transcribed programming.

In addition, many sponsors had their live network shows recorded, and placed these transcriptions on independent stations to extend the reach of the program: you could hear a show live on a network station one night, and the identical show by transcription a week later on an independent station. And, finally, beginning in 1939, a limited number of shows began to be recorded for West Coast rebroadcast. This began with "Information Please" -- since this was an ad-lib show, it was impossible to restage it for the West. So, Pacific Blue was authorized to transcribe it from the eastern feed and air the recording three hours later.

The myth of poor sound quality and the public not accepting transcription shows was promulgated by the networks in an effort to suppress competition, simple as that. It's interesting to read the letter columns in the fan press of the time for a hint as to how the public actually felt --- there is no evidence to support the idea of a major outcry over "canned" shows. For most listeners this simply wasn't an issue. Many of the transcription shows attracted followings as avid as those of network shows: "Chandu The Magician" became nationally popular as a disc program, as did a comedy serial of 1930-34 called "Cecil and Sally." I've just read an article in "Radio Digest" (December 1930 issue) about this latter series -- a full two page spread with pictures --which mentions in a simple matter-of-fact manner that this was a transcription show. No big deal is made of this fact, because it didn't seem to be a big deal to the audience. All they wanted was an entertaining program, and whether it came from a disc or was live seemed to be of little consequence.


Baseball Re-creations (McLeod)

Date: Thu, 20 May 99 07:24:25 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Recreations

When did recreations of baseball games end? Was the reason for recreating game because of the costs involved in broadcasting live or because of resistance from major league baseball?

Most teams that broadcast baseball up until the mid-to-late-forties broadcast only their home games live -- the road contests were recreations. This was primarily to save the cost of broadcast lines back to the home city. In addition, it was usual for announcers in two-team cities to broadcast for both teams -- in Boston, for example, Fred Hoey broadcast both the Red Sox and Braves, depending on which team was home. The game for the team at home would be broadcast live, and there might be a recreation of the road game that evening (or at least recreated highlights.)

The first announcer to go on the road with his team on a regular basis was Mel Allen, who began accompanying the Yankees on road trips in 1946. Other teams began picking up on the idea as well, and by the mid-fifties all teams had live coverage of all games, both home and away. The last major league club to recreate road games was the Pittsburgh Pirates -- and this was done as a concession to announcer Rosey Rowswell's failing health. Rowswell died following the 1954 season, and beginning in 1955, the Pirates began live coverage of road games.

There were special cases of recreations beyond 1955. The Brooklyn Dodgers had a special "recreation" network which provided coverage of Dodger games outside the reach of the regular WMGM-anchored Dodger chain. An announcer named Nat Allbright, based in Washington DC, would recreate all Dodger games, home and away, and feed them to a network which covered much of the South. This service endured from the early fifties up to around 1959. And, many minor league teams continued to use recreations on a regular basis right thru the 1960s.

Were some of the college football games I listened to at about the same time recreations as well?

Probably. While recreations were not used on the big networks, it's quite likely that they were used on some smaller local stations. The major colleges, however, arranged for live broadcasts of home games using local announcers.

Any sport that could be broadcast could just as easily be recreated: I have a recreation broadcast by station KFWB, Hollywood of the end of the marathon race from the 1932 Olympics, complete with recorded crowd effects and a semi-hysterical studio announcer.


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