Broadcasting History - Various Articles

Network Rates (McLeod)

Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2001 08:51:29 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Network Rates

But a network was often just the conveyance as many ad agencies seemed to be the ones programming the networks with shows they owned. The network didn't seems to care what was on the schedule as long as a certain amount of time was sold. So what determined the asking price of the networks for their air time?

This is a complicated question, because each network had a slightly different system for calculating its rates, and these systems evolved over the years. I'm going to base my answer on conditions as they existed in 1938, because this is the year used by the authoritative "Report On Chain Broadcasting," issued by the FCC in 1941, in preparing its picture of how network broadcasting was conducted. This report is based on sworn testimony provided by network officials and on a detailed three-year study of exactly how the broadcasting industry worked.

As of 1938 both NBC and CBS charged for air time on a per-station basis. You didn't just walk in and buy an hour of time "on the network" -- you had to basically build the network you were going to use, and you were charged on a per-station basis. But it wasn't a totally a la carte proposition either. You had to buy a "basic" network for starters -- a group of stations that served as the foundation for your buy. There were as of 1938 23 basic Red stations and 24 basic Blue stations associated with NBC, extending from New England to Nebraska, north of the Mason-Dixon line. Based on the standard 1935 rate card, which was still in use in 1938, advertisers were charged $120 per hour for the smallest stations used, $680 per hour for average-sized stations, $720 per hour for WMAQ and WENR/WLS in Chicago, and $1200 per hour for WEAF and WJZ in New York and WLW in Cincinnati. NBC set these local rates based primarily on the "potential circulation" for each station’s market, or the number of potential (not actual) listeners in the area served by each station. WLW, of course, was in the high-priced category because in 1938 it was still "The Nation’s Station," running half a million watts, and easily audible coast to coast.

CBS had a similar but somewhat different geographical breakdown. As of 1938 the CBS rate card ranged from $125 per hour for low-powered rural affiliates to $1250 per hour for high-powered metropolitan outlets. These per-station rates were set by the network based on the power of each station, the size of its market, its comparative popularity in that market, and the station’s own local rate card for national "spot" advertising. Daytime rates were generally much lower than evening rates.

In dealing with both NBC and CBS, using the "basic" network as a foundation, you then chose additional groups of stations, laid out regionally, to build your network to the full extent your campaign required. Many programs were sponsored by products with only a regional market -- so coast-to-coast, border-to-border service was not always needed. Many network programs were heard only in portions of the country, and the basic-and-supplemental-network system made it easy to custom-fit your network to the size of its market. You had to buy stations as blocks, however, and not individually. If you needed additional, more specific coverage after assembling a network, extension spotting of recordings of your program was the best option.

Mutual, as always, had a different system. Its advertisers, comparatively few as they were, paid the local rate-card rates for each of the stations used, and then received a 3 1/2 per cent commission for handling the sale. Local stations arranging business on behalf of the network would get a 2 per cent commission for all network time sold. Mutual had no control whatsoever over its national rates -- local rates were set by the local stations.

As noted above, these systems evolved thru the years -- but the status of the situation in 1938 gives a basic idea of how it worked.


A Million Persons Will Hear Coolidge’s Voice When He Addresses Congress This Afternoon

This article appeared in the New York Times on Dec. 6, 1923.

Washington, Dec. 5 -- The voice of President Coolidge, addressing Congress tomorrow, will be carried over a greater portion of the United States and will be heard by more people than the voice of any man in history.

Arrangement were completed tonight for broadcasting the President’s address as delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives through six powerful radio stations and it is expected by the engineers in charge that fully a million persons will hear Mr. Coolidge speak.

The broadcasting will begin at 12 o'clock noon, Eastern Standard Time, when the House meets, and prior to the appearance of the President, about 12:30 o'clock, the time will be taken up by an announcer, who will describe the assembling of the Senate and House in joint session, the appearance of the galleries and the formalities incident to the President’s appearance.

The stations which will participate in the broadcasting and the wave lengths to be used are: WEAF, American Telephone and Telegraph Company, New York City, 493 metres; WCAP, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, Washington 469; WJAR, Outlet Company, Providence, R. I., 360; WDAF, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Mo., 411; KSD, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, 546, and WFAA

The First Radio Commercial (Donna Halper)

Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2001 06:08:33 -0400
From: Donna Halper
Subject: First commercial-- NOT.

From the AP for Tuesday, 29 August --

In 1922, a New York City realty company paid $100 for the first radio commercial, on station WEAF.

Well, there they go again. This is yet another example of how history is written by the winners (or the survivors). Believe me, WEAF was not the first station to air a paid radio commercial, but AT&T (and later NBC) spent large sums promulgating this version of broadcasting history, and I commend them for their very effective efforts. But while WEAF may be the first "all toll" broadcasters, in that they used commercials to pay for some of their expenses, other stations had received payment for air time before August of 1922. Here’s the REST... of the story.

First, at the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, we have discussed on this list numerous times that much "history" is actually myth and legend (no, Uncle Don never said "that oughta hold the little bastards"; no, KDKA was not the "world’s first radio station," etc etc). In the matter of the first commercial, since programs back in 1920-2 were not usually recorded (although the radio magazines would mention occasionally that a fan had managed to record a few minutes of a favourite show by using a dictaphone), we are at the mercy of oral histories and whatever logs/paperwork/memos might still exist. But we do know that by mid-1921, several stations (1XE in Medford Hillside MA among them) were using barter to get phonograph records to play on the air ("This concert is brought to you by [insert name of local record store], who provided the records you are hearing tonight."), and some newspaper ads certainly indicate that there were tie-ins between record stores and radio: by early 1922, a station in Seattle, KFC (no relation to fried chicken-- some of the early call letters are amusing to look at today...), was doing a Tuesday night "Remick’s Radio Concert" and the newspaper copy reminded people that after they heard the songs on the air, they should go into their Remick’s Song Shop and buy them. Also in spring of 1922, WJZ and C.G. Conn Musical Instruments offered the "Conn Radio Concert", featuring performers such as the Irving Berlin Singing Trio and Joseph C. Smith and his Orchestra, who, according to the ad copy in the newspapers, "will demonstrate the wonderful tone values of C.G. Conn musical instruments in a concert extraordinaire..."

But for those who don't think these are commercials, there is documented evidence that WGI (formerly 1XE) accepted money from a car dealer, Alvan Fuller, and broadcast advertisements for his company during the week of 4 April 1922. How do I know this is not a legend? Well, I have copies of the cease-and-desist letters from the Radio Inspector, Charlie Kolster, and later on, in an oral history, Harold Power (who owned WGI as well as its parent company, the receiver manufacturer AMRAD) told a historian that he was told by AT&T that they and only they would be authorised by the Department of Commerce to broadcast "direct advertising". Power recalls being very annoyed that other stations (his among them) were told not to do it, but WEAF was given permission. SO, it’s a tale of intrigue, politics, and who knows what else, but since April comes before August on every calendar I have ever seen, it is not accurate to say that WEAF ran the first commercial. And now you know... the REST of the story.

First Commercial on WEAF (McLeod)

Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2007 10:13:08 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: WEAF and "toll broadcasting"

All of this, to me, suggests that these were commercial efforts, i.e. attempts over the air to persuade the public to purchase something. Once the new idea caught on, WEAF officials reneged on a previous hard-line stand against advertising and permitted it, in limited quantity, starting August 1922. (WEAF’s first pitch pronounced the joys of residential apartment living.)

WEAF’s efforts have been exalted for the wrong reason—but nonetheless, they were vital to the development of commercial broadcasting, because WBAY/WEAF was the first station to be established specifically for the purpose of what AT&T officials referred to as “toll broadcasting.” This wasn't simply a matter of taking a few dollars under the table for a plug, or announcing that phonograph records were being provided by Joe’s Music Store, but rather, the advertisers themselves would be fully responsible for how their air time was to be used—the station functioning merely as a hired hall. The initial announcement of AT&T’s entry into broadcasting, a press release issued in January of 1922, makes it explicitly clear that far from taking a stand against advertising, the new station was intended from the start to fully embrace it.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company will provide no program of its own, but provide the channels thru which anyone with whom it makes a contract can send out their own programs...There have been many requests for such a service, not only from newspapers and entertainment agencies but also from department stores and a great variety of business houses who wish to utilize this means of distribution.

That was the concept that was revolutionary, not the simple idea of advertising on the air. Unfortunately, that fine point has been lost in subsequent popular histories of broadcasting—it wasn't "the first commercial" that was important at all, but rather the concept of an entire station devoted to "toll broadcasting" that was essential, and AT&T does deserve full credit for the first successful implementation of that idea. That idea would go on to become the very foundation stone of commercial network radio.


Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 10:51:30 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: WEAF real estate ad.

Does anyone know the source of the oft-repeated audio clip of this sales pitch? It can't be original for sure, the audio is too clear.

No genuine recording exists of any broadcast from 1922. The clip in question comes from a WNBC broadcast called "The Billion Dollar Show," broadcast in 1952 in celebration of the 30th anniversary of broadcast advertising.

BTW while we're at it, I always heard the real estate pitch on WEAF ran for a full half hour...quite possibly making it broadcasting’s first informercial! Is that true and were there any sales pitches that ran near that long or longer beforehand, that anyone knows about?

The talk ran from 5:15 to 5:30 pm, and wove the specific sales pitch for the Hawthorne Court complex into a discussion of the general philosophy of cooperative housing. The full original script of the talk appears on my website, at As you'll see, the advertising pitch itself was exceedingly indirect—hard sell advertising was still years in the future.


Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2001 14:54:15 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: "First Commercial"

So to make absolutely sure, I'll check right now -- is there a recording of this commercial?

No. The earliest surviving genuine recording of a voice broadcast dates to November 1923. There is a recreation of part of the so-called "first commercial," however -- it was made at WNBC (the former WEAF) in 1952 as part of a special program observing the thirtieth anniversary of the broadcast. Clips of this excerpt have been floating around ever since, muddying the waters for researchers.

Aside from the chronological issues raised by Donna Halper in her discussion of this subject, I'd add that this broadcast was probably not what most people would actually think of as a "commercial" in the modern sense of the word -- it was neither a spot announcement nor a direct sales pitch. It was, instead, a dry ten minute talk on the philosophy of Nathaniel Hawthorne and how it applies to the idea of getting away from the unhealthy life in the cities. The sales pitch for the apartments was indirect to the extreme -- at the very beginning of the talk, the speaker acknowledged that the Queensboro Realty Company was paying tribute to Hawthorne’s ideals by naming its new cooperative apartment complex in his honor, and then went on for the next ten minutes to discuss the benefits of suburban living. The closest thing to a sales appeal came in the final paragraphs of the talk:

Imagine a congested city apartment lifted bodily to the middle of a large garden within twenty minutes travel of the city’s business center. Imagine the interior of a group of such apartments traversed by a garden court stretching a block, with beautiful flower beds and rich sward. so that the present jaded congested section dweller on looking out his windows is not chilled with the brick and mortar vista, but gladdened and enthused by colors and scents that make life worth living once more. Imagine an apartment to live in at a place where you and your neighbor join the same community clubs, organizations, and activities, where you golf with your neighbor, tennis with your neighbor, bowl with your neighbor and join him in a long list of outdoor and indoor pleasure-giving health-giving activities.

And finally, imagine such a tenant-owned apartment, where you own a floor in a house the same as you can own an entire house with a proportionate ownership of the ground, the same as the ground attached to an entire house but where you have great spaces for planting and growing the flowers you love, and raising the vegetables for which you are fond.

Right at your door is such an opportunity. It only requires the will to take advantage of it all. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your family to leave the hemmed-in, sombre-hued, artificial apartment life of the congested city section and enjoy what nature intended you enjoy.

Dr. Royal S. Copeland, Health Commissioner of New York, recently declared that any person who preached leaving the crowded city for the open country was a public-spirited citizen and a benefactor to the race. Shall we not follow this advice and become the benefactors he praises? Let us resolve to do so. Let me close by urging that you hurry to the apartment home near the green fields and the neighborly atmosphere right on the subway without the expense and the trouble of a commuter, where health and community happiness beckon -- the community life and friendly environment that Hawthorne advocated.

As Donna has demonstrated, this wasn't "the first commercial" by a long shot -- it was simply the first time to be sold by AT&T for WEAF. But one shouldn't get the idea that because it wasn't "the first" it wasn't an extremely important occasion -- AT&T’s thought-out philosophy for WEAF, the idea of "toll broadcasting," was the cornerstone on which the entire OTR era was constructed -- the idea of a broadcasting station simply being a "hall for hire," where sponsors could buy blocks of time to present programs of their own creation. Implementation of this idea was a major step beyond the experimental philosophies of the other broadcasters of that time, and toward the creation of a self-sufficient broadcasting industry. AT&T clearly spelled out this plan in a press release in January of 1922:
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company will provide no program of its own, but provide the channels thru which anyone with whom it makes a contract can send out their own programs...There have been many requests for such a service, not only from newspapers and entertainment agencies but also from department stores and a great variety of business houses who wish to utilize this means of distribution.
It took AT&T six months to actually get its station on the air -- and another month beyond that to make the first sale -- but the idea was clearly in place well in advance. Regardless of who was actually the first broadcaster to log a sale, AT&T was clearly in the vanguard of promoting what became "commercial broadcasting."


The First Radio Commercial et al (Biel)

Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2010 12:07:33 -0400
From: Michael Biel
To: "Old Time Radio Digest" Subject: Re: Oldest Programs/Trace of Reality

Joe Salerno is right that there are published excerpts of the NY Philharmonic-Symphony broadcasts from 1924, and I do have transfers of some others going back into 1923. As they were made by Western Electric, the recordings might be line-checks rather than air-checks of their radio station WEAF.

And I agree with Jim Cox’s "Just a trace of reality" when he describes his "lifetime trying to correct the mistakes that were originally penned by a nameless hack sans accurate data." and trying to "set the record straight on behalf of those to whom little details matter. I guess it’s probably a quirk of the journalistic craft." As a fellow nit-picker, and someone who has recently been scolded by our listmaster for (gasp!) wondering what research a posting was based on, I have been meaning to correct a couple of things in Jim’s books -- knowing that this IS what he wants! In two books there are scripts of the 1922 Queensboro Corp WEAF paid-broadcast for Hawthorne Estates. The footnote tells us that part was from Gleason Archer’s book and part was from Bob Schulberg’s 1989 "Radio Advertising: The Authoritative Handbook." Don't believe the title. That last paragraph starting with "Friends, you owe it to yourself and your family . . ." is FAKE. It was invented for the August 1952 30th anniversary program "The Billion Dollar Show". As usual, NBC screwed up their own history by not being able to find the easily accessible real script and making up this little excerpt. So don't trust a book even if it has "Authoritative" in the title!!!!

The other error concerns a typo from a source that has also been copied by several other books. The station which AT&T first started in NYC was WBAY in 1922, not WBNY in 1921. WBNY is a different station, not owned by AT&T, and was somewhere listed as the station that preceded WEAF by a TYPO. I've seen the bound original WBAY/WEAF logs, and this is discussed in the Banning WEAF book which is not in your bibliography but is vital for any history of early broadcasting. (Edgar H. Felix, who was the pre-NBC publicist for WEAF, personally endorsed the veracity of the Banning book to me.)

Nit picks which have traveled from book to book to book!!!

Another nit pick. While putting on the final touches of my announcing styles of the 20s paper for FOTR I noticed the preview of the "1930" audition program for "Clara, Lu and Em" on Jerry Haendiges' site and started editing together just the opening announcements. I was amazed. This could be the greatest announcing job of the first decade of radio -- but it ain't! Not only is the style way, Way, WAY ahead of its time, the theme song "You" wasn't written until 1936!!! This program has been falsely identified as 1930 going back as far as Jay Hickerson’s 2nd edition, and maybe even further. If it really is an audition program, it might be for the 1945 attempt at syndication that Dunning mentions as "unsuccessful".

Here’s my nit. Somebody (Jerry??) had or has the disc. If it was an audition -- the opening says "NBC presents" -- it might be on a pressing, rather than being a one-off lacquer disc. If it is a vinyl or shellac pressing there will be matrix numbers in the material, most likely RCA Victor numbers since this is NBC. Those numbers will give us the date of the recording. If it really is 1930 -- and it can't be -- the prefix would be MVE. If from the mid 30s it would be MRC, MS, or NS. If 1945 it would probably be ND5. The numbers after the prefix would help give more accurate dates. I have been amazed for the past 40+ years that OTR dealers and collectors who have access to syndication discs would rather guess at a date, make one up, or put "unknown" instead of writing down the matrix numbers that are actually there on the disc. (Penciled dates on syndication discs are always wrong.) If this disc still exists, send me a scan of the label and/or a description and the matrix numbers.

Michael Biel mbiel@mbiel

Early Station Identifications (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 22:14:18 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Station Breaks

So did local broadcasters have varying rules about identifying their station? Does anybody know more about what the custom of that time was?

There seemed to be quite a variation in local custom during the pre-regulatory era of the 1920s, with some stations making a point of IDing before every musical selection for the benefit of DX listeners who were only interested in logging as many different stations as possible. By the end of the decade, with the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission, the law mandated an ID at least every fifteen minutes, unless this would disrupt a continuous performance. The comparatively few surviving recordings of 1930s local programming seem to indicate that stations rarely identified beyond the required breaks, and some stations were more punctilious than others about following the rules. I was listening recently to a 1936-vintage foreign-language broadcast from a tiny station in Brooklyn in which a female announcer is abruptly thrust in with a rushed station ID as a record of Lithuanian folk music carries on behind her. Apparently the station operator had suddenly realized that the quarter-hour break had been missed, and wanted to make sure that the law was carried out.

At the network level, NBC originally made provision for four IDs per hour, at :00, :15, :30, and :45. Given that all programs on the network were 1/2 hour or 1 hour long until 1929, the network required that the performances be designed to stop cold at the :15, :30, and :45 mark for a station break, with dramatic programs and speeches being the only exceptions to the rule. During the pre-NBC era of the AT&T Red Network, the program announcer would read the call letters of all stations carrying the program, but this quickly became too cumbersome to manage, and by early 1929 the announcer would verbally cue the break by simply saying "There is a brief pause for station announcement." The introduction of the chimes later in the year made this interruption less intrusive -- a musical selection would end, the chimes would be rung by the studio announcer (five notes for Blue and seven notes for Red) with no verbal cue, and the network would go silent for fifteen seconds to allow the local announcer to insert the identification. The program would then resume. This sequence would continue every fifteen minutes until the end of the program, when the announcer would indicate the end of program with the verbal cue "This program has reached you from the New York/Chicago/San Francisco studios of the National Broadcasting Company" followed by the chimes. The "studios" cue alerted the local announcer that following the chimes the network would go silent for thirty seconds to allow for the insertion of local continuity (spots, weather forecasts, timechecks, etc.) before the start of the next program. Programs heard only on the West Coast would close with "This program has reached you from the San Francisco studios of the Pacific Coast Network of the National Broadcasting Company." (I've never found any evidence to suggest that the "Orange" or "Gold" networks were ever identified by those names on-air.)

Oddly, the one exception I've discovered to the use of the specified-location studio cue in this period was "Amos 'n' Andy," which closed with "This program has reached you from the studios of the National Broadcasting Company" without mentioning that it originated in Chicago -- apparently NBC wanted to keep up the illusion of the program originating in New York, but couldn't come right out and lie about it on the air.

Interruption of half-hour and hour music/variety shows at the :15 and :45 points continued thru the end of 1931, but the quarter-past and quarter-to breaks were eliminated as of 1932, leaving the top and bottom-of-the-hour breaks intact, and gradually phasing out the use of the "studios" system cue in favor of a simple "This is the National Broadcasting Company" and the now-standardized three-note chimes. (Verbal identification of Red or Blue was added to the system cue in 1936-37, and again in 1941.) By the mid-thirties, CBS had a somewhat different ID policy, with its break in hour shows coming closer to the :40 mark than right on the half hour.


WLS Success Story (McLeod)

Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2001 15:39:25 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The WLS Success Story

Elizabeth or someone else, let us know how the exhaustive the WLS expenses were and how the heck they made a profit with the huge overhead!

I don't have any specific information on salaries at WLS, but I can tell you that their advertising rates were quite high -- as of 1940, they charged a base rate $750 an hour for evening time, and $450 an hour for daytime shows. Of the other 50 kw Chicago stations of the day, WGN and WBBM charged the same rates as WLS, with NBC’s stations WMAQ and WENR charging slightly less. What’s rather remarkable about this is that WLS was able to charge top dollar even though it wasn't a full-time station: as noted, it was sharing time on 870 kc with WENR.

What made WLS profitable was that it very deliberately targeted itself to the huge Midwestern farm population, more than any other station of the era. During the 1930s and 1940s, the station was owned by the Agricultural Broadcasting Corporation -- the broadcasting arm of the Prairie Farmer Publishing Company -- and the "agricultural" in the name was not just for show. The station programmed its entire schedule -- or at least the part of that schedule where it wasn't obligated to carry NBC Blue programming as part of the time-share arrangement with WENR -- to reflect the tastes and the interests of farm families. As a result, and thanks to its powerful signal WLS was, year after year, the most popular station in the US among rural listeners. (WLW was its only real rival.) Rurally-oriented advertisers flocked to take advantage of this market, and in trade magazines the station proudly trumpeted its unimaginative-but-accurate slogan "WLS Gets Results!"

This loyal rural audience was the secret of the station’s success -- not just in its appeal to advertisers, but as a direct source of revenue for the station. The station operated a "WLS Artists Bureau," and regularly promoted personal appearances by its staff of artists all over the Midwest. Between 1932 and 1939, over ten million people paid admission to attend more than 4700 such performances. During 1938 alone, total attendance for WLS personal appearances came to 1,229,025 people -- meaning they outdrew both of Chicago’s major league baseball teams during that year! The station also charged admission to the regular Saturday night performances of the National Barn Dance, and between 1932 and 1939, over 777,000 people paid 75 cents a head to see these shows.

There were still other sources of revenue for the station: all of its staff performers were under contract to the WLS Artists Bureau, so the station received a percentage of their recording proceeds and profits from licensed merchandise. Any collector of 78rpm records knows how common records by Lulu Belle and Scotty or the Hoosier Hot Shots are even today -- so it’s pretty obvious these were selling quite well. Plus there were various novelty products marketed over the years around the Barn Dance performers, things like guitars, clothing items, and other sorts of doodads. All this meant more money for the station.

And, finally, the station operated a "WLS Home Talent Show" department, which was an enterprise along the lines of the old Joe Bren Producing Company -- an organization that sent professional talent coaches to work with local lodges and civic clubs in putting on hometown minstrel shows or barn-dance revues: receiving fifty per cent of the gate as their fee. The WLS Home Talent department put on nearly five hundred of these shows during 1938, bringing in still more money.

Even without detailed profit-and-loss sheets, then, it’s very obvious that WLS had no need to fear the wolf at the door. It was, without question, one of the most extraordinary success stories of 1930s broadcasting.


WLS - Paid Admission (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 22:32:09 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Paid Admission

The 2nd edition of "The Big Broadcast, 1920-1950" by Buxton/Owen states that "The National Barn Dance" which debuted from Chicago Sept. 30, 1933 on NBC, was one of the few radio shows to charge admission.

In fact, paid admissions to the National Barn Dance were a major source of revenue for WLS thruout the 1930s -- the program itself actually dated back to the 1920s before Miles Laboratories placed an hour-long segment on NBC. Paid admissions were instituted in 1932 because the program was *so* popular that there simply wasn't room enough to accommodate the crowds wanting to see their favorite performers in person. Between 1932 and 1939, paid attendance for the Barn Dance totaled more than 770,000 at 75 cents a head -- at a time when a first-run movie ticket could be had for 50 cents (or even a quarter for the balcony). That’s over $580,000 in total revenue over seven years -- or more than $82,000 a year. Not a bad contribution to the WLS bottom line -- and evidence that the Barn Dance was one of the great cash cows in 1930s local radio.

There were also cases of paid admissions being charged for programs and the proceeds going to charity. When Ed Wynn took his Broadway revue "The Laugh Parade" on tour thru the East and Midwest during the fall of 1932, he put on his regular Tuesday night Texaco Fire Chief broadcasts from the theatre stage in each city, charging admission for each performance. The money was then turned over to local charities seeing to feeding the unemployed and homeless -- and given that the latter months of 1932 marked the absolute rock bottom of the Depression, with unemployment in excess of 25 per cent and no Federal relief programs in sight, this gesture was very much appreciated.

The two "Mystic Knights of the Sea Friday Night Minstrel Show" broadcasts put on by Correll and Gosden in December 1936 were also run on a paid-admission basis, with the proceeds from the December 4th broadcast donated to the Harlem Community Fund, and those of December 11th going to the American Lung Association on behalf of the annual Christmas Seals campaign.


Uncle Don (McLeod)

Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 09:35:14 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Uncle Don

if it’s an urban legend then why was uncle don fired???

He wasn't. Not ever. Don Carney broadcast continuously over WOR from 1928 to 1949 -- the biggest change in his schedule being when his daily show was dropped in 1947 and replaced by a weekly Sunday morning program. His departure from the station in 1949 was retirement, not dismissal.

As Snopes' account of the "Uncle Don Affair" points out, a variation of the "little bastards" story first appeared in print in 1930 -- but you will search the radio press in vain for any reference linking this alleged incident to Uncle Don until 1935. But his career continued without interruption thruout the 1930s and 1940s -- with no firing, no disciplinary action of any kind.

Uncle Don appeared over Mutual for a brief run in 1939-40, and this was really the only chance children outside the WOR listening area had to hear him. When the series lost its national sponsor in 1940, it was because the contract had run out and the sponsor chose not to renew -- so the program disappeared from Mutual, perhaps giving rise to the myth that "Uncle Don was fired." But he wasn't -- and he continued over WOR for another decade without incident of any kind.


24-Hour Operation (McLeod)

Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2001 11:29:31 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: All Night Radio

All-night broadcasting was largely a field for the major metropolitan independents that could afford backup transmitters and were able to keep engineers on duty through the night. I suppose it was the development of remote-controlled transmitters that allowed 24-hour broadcasting to become so common.

The war also proved a major boost for all-night broadcasting, with stations providing "swing shift" programming for overnight workers in defense plants. These were usually phonograph record programs along the lines of WNEW’s long-running "Milkman’s Matinee." Movie-Radio Guide even listed these round-the-clock stations in a special box for the convenience of those who would be up all night.

The first station to operate on a twenty-four hour schedule was KGFJ in Los Angeles, which went to round-the-clock operation in 1927, and continued on this schedule well into the 1930s. It was a 100-watt station at 1200 kc, but was received all over the US as a result of being the only US station on the air during the overnight hours. Most of its programming took the form of phonograph records, and in the 1930s it filled its overnight schedule with syndicated sponsored transcriptions: a sort of precursor to the use of infomercials as overnight paid filler programming in modern television.


Date: Tue, 11 Jun 2002 19:07:04 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: 24-Hour Operation

In addition to the 24-hour-operation stations already mentioned (a list which expanded considerably during the war years, to accommodate "swing shift" defense workers), note should be made of the very first US station to maintain a round-the-clock operating schedule: KGFJ in Los Angeles, which began round-the-clock operation in 1927, and remained on this schedule thru the 1930s. It was the only 24-hour station in the US for much of this period, and even though it was running only 100 watts, the fact that it was the only station on the air round-the-clock led to reception reports from all over the country.

KGFJ was owned by a young man in his twenties by the name of Benjamin McGlasnahan, who made a good living running this station thru the Depression era. Most of the station’s schedule was taken up by phonograph records, paid broadcasts by assorted storefront religionists and fringe politicians, and program-length transcribed advertisements for weight-loss scams, laxatives, and other dubious merchandise -- the ancestor of today’s infomercials. Despite the shoddy programming, the novelty of a round-the-clock station managed to attract a lot of attention, and KGFJ was very popular with insomniacs and late-night DX enthusiasts.


24-Hour Operation (Bill Jaker)

Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 04:04:53 -0400
From: Bill Jaker (
Subject: Re: All-Night Radio

when did 24 hour radio begin? Such as the first station, why it went 24 hours, what was on the air, etc? Also when did it become popular/acceptable to be on 24 hours a day?

I'm always a little hesitant to credit a first (something always happened before it happened). In the 1920s stations regularly stayed on the air into the wee hours for the benefit of listeners who stayed up to try to hear distant stations. It was a big thrill, and some of those stations did make a special play for the late-night DXer, as with the Kansas City Nighthawks on WDAF ("good night on the East Coast, good night on the West Coast").

But regular twenty-four hour operation would require a constant audience and a lot of dependable equipment, including a standby transmitter. Also, during the days when the networks forbid any recorded programming they would carry live big band remotes from across the country till about 2:00 AM Eastern Time. It wasn't really worth it staying on the air past that time.

The station that first established itself as a 24-hour operation (certainly in New York) was WNEW, which premiered d.j. Stan Shaw and the "Milkman’s Matinee" on 6 August 1935. At first the program started up after the usual late-night dance band fare had ended and ran from about 2:00 AM to 7:00 AM. It later began at midnight and ran to 5:30 or 6 and remained on the station’s schedule under various hosts until WNEW’s demise in 1992 (by which time it was heard on weekends only).

As noted previously, with the coming of World War II and the greater number of overnight workers -- and with the increased information needs of wartime -- many stations began to remain on the air twenty-four hours a day.

"When the world should all be sleeping,
Then a melody comes creeping,
It’s no cabaret,
It’s the Milkman’s Matinee..."

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2002 22:38:54 -0400
From: Bill Jaker
Subject: Re: 24-hour operation Is any one aware of any radio stations broadcasting 24 hours a day in the golden days? I notice in 1944 that NBC went off the air at 3 AM eastern time. Thus I imagine station would need to provide other programs during 3 AM to dawn hour in order to broadcast all hours.

There have been several responses to this query and no one has yet mentioned WNEW, New York and the "Milkman’s Matinee." "Radio’s original all-night entertainment" (according to "the station that invented music and news"­ the Big W hyped itself with energy and style, like it did everything) premiered in the early hours of 6 August 1935 and remained on the schedule more or less continually until the station’s lamented demise in 1992. The original milkman was Stan Shaw, later Art Ford had a long stretch, and then there was a respectable parade of deejays, including Dick Shepherd, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins and Alison Steele ("the Nightbird").

Other stations may have had 24-hour schedules earlier than WNEW, and when "Milkman’s Matinee" debuted it actually rounded out a schedule that was already about 20 hours a day. Such an expansion required a second transmitter to be on standby as well as expansion of facilities and staff, including a phone operator to take listener requests. But the "Milkman’s Matinee", even if not the first was in many ways an original. It became the favorite program for many night people, including musicians getting home from their gigs as well as overnight hospital workers, postal workers and even milkmen. It created a kind of nocturnal fraternity in "the city that never sleeps". With a select listenership tuned to that very special independent station, the big network stations in New York would forgo overnight operation till the need for wartime readiness caused some of them to extend the broadcast day, or night.

"...'Round the Milky Way each morning,
Dance your cares away till dawning.
Everything’s Grade-A
at the Milkman’s Matinee".

33-45-78 (Biel)

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2001 17:12:24 -0500
From: Michael Biel
Subject: Re: 33-45-78

Okay, first there were 78 rpm records, then 33, then 45. Is it just a coincidence that 33 plus 45 equals 78? Or did choosing speeds that added cleanly make it easier to engineer 3-speed record players?

You forgot that 78 was actually 78.26 in the 60 Hertz A.C. part of the world. It actually is 77.92 in the 50 Hertz areas. This speed was set at these fractions when the strobe disc started to be used in the late 20s. (It was NOT because of fractional numerical gear-radio division from the RPMs of high speed A.C. motors, so don't waste your time posting that myth. Turntables were not gear-driven in those early days.) There is an additional difference when you consider 45 RPM. It is 45.00 RPM here in 60 Hertz-land, but it is really 45.11 in 50 Hertz areas.

The 78 speed was never really accurate in the early days of recording. It could be anywhere from 72 to 86 on different records, but Victor advertised using 78 and Columbia and Edison advertised using 80. Actually Victor usually recorded at 76 and Columbia at 78. Nobody knows why they told consumers to play their records back two RPMs faster than they were recorded--and believe me, this subject has been well researched by many experts.

The 33 1/3 speed was selected in 1925 by the Western Electric engineers working on their motion picture sound-on-disc system. They were trying to get a 10 minute recording on a 16-inch disc which would not vary much in surface speed from the inner groove to the outer groove. If they used a faster speed they would have to go closer to the center, and there would be too great a contrast in surface speed and sound quality. Just this week I received a recording of a British interview that had been broadcast in 1982 with one of the engineers of that system, Arthur C. Keller, who also developed stereo recording in the 20s. He mentioned that the 33 1/3 speed was ideal for 16-inch records but not for 12-inch records. I myself had a long discussion with him on this subject at about that same time.

The answer to the original question really centers on the choice of the 45 RPM speed. This was selected by the RCA engineers in 1943 when they were developing a tiny slow-speed disc. They originally used 40 RPM on a 6 1/2 inch disc in 1942, but they also were trying to reduce the contrast between the surface speed of the outer and inner grooving. They found 45 RPM on a 7-inch disc to be ideal. I have not found any paperwork at RCA/BMG yet that indicates any thought that 78 minus 33 is 45.

And as for the idea of this making it easy to make 3-speed turntables, it doesn't. It would have been easier if it were halfway between! And furthermore, the RCA engineers did not approve of the concept of a 3-speed changer. The first RCA Victor 3-speed consoles in 1949 had TWO CHANGERS. One was for 78 and 33. The other was for 45. The 45 was designed to be changed VERY quickly. But that could only happen if the tone-arm only had to move an inch during the changing cycle. A changer for the 7-inch records that had to be sized to fit 12-inch records would require the arm to move at least 6 inches in each direction, so that made the changing cycle much slower. The first RCA 45 changers could change the record in one revolution--just over one second.

To bring this back to OTR, the earliest existing 33 1/3 RPM recording is an aircheck of WEAF in August 1925. A vinyl pressing of it is in the Library of Congress. The earliest ledger listings for the experimental 45 RPM records are of line-checks of segments of NBC programs from June 11, 1943. I do not know if any of these exist, but they sure look interesting. There are segments from the Cities Service Orch, a Lucky Strike Program conducted by Mark Warnow from Carnegie Hall, and recordings of John Gunther with Glen ("Speed") Riggs, Gracie Fields on a Pall Mall program, and Alec Templeton. Seven excerpts were recorded on small glass based lacquers at both 33 and 45, and a 16-inch lacquer reference discs of all but the John Gunther master were being recorded in another studio. Later tests also used the NBC line for audio source, but earlier tests at 40 RPM seem to all be dubs from 78 RPM masters.

Michael Biel

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2002 14:02:34 -0400
From: Michael Biel
Subject: Re: "Long Playing"

In reminding us that the 1948 Columbia LP was very late in the game, Both Bryan Wright and Elizabeth mentioned the Edison Long Playing discs that were introduced to the public in the mid-1920s. Bryan had thought that the 24 minute discs that were sold to the public ran at 36 RPM, and then without mentioning what speed the public records were recorded at, Elizabeth also mentioned the 30 RPM discs the Edison company was experimenting with for broadcast purposes. Let me clarify things a little.

The discs sold to the public ran at the regular Edison speed of 80 RPM, but the grooving was an ultrafine 450 threads per inch! That is more than TWICE as fine as the Microgroove introduced by Columbia in 1948! After the Edison LP reached the market, Edison’s youngest son, Theodore, continued to experiment on even longer playing discs. He slowed the speed down to 30 RPM (and even tried 12 and 16 RPM!) and made the grooving a little wider to make the tracking more secure: 300 threads per inch.

It was an ideal system. 30 RPM meant that the disc revolved once in exactly two seconds. Couple that with a grooving of 300 and you get a tone-arm movement of exactly 1/10-inch per minute, or ten minutes per inch. That meant the he could use a micrometer dial on the tone arm locating mechanism to allow for placement of the arm at relatively exact timings. They could easily get a 30 minute broadcast on one 12-inch side.

Elizabeth mentioned that "the failure of the project may have hastened the end of Edison’s phonograph division." I don't think it hastened the demise--in October 1929, several weeks BEFORE the stock market crash--but if it had been successful it would have extended the company’s life. Occasionally we have mentioned the National Radio Advertising Company. This Chicago firm in late 1928 was the first to syndicate recorded programs containing advertising--the Amos 'n' Andy syndicated recordings did not contain ads. In the Spring and Summer of 1928 NRAC was in contact with Edison in an attempt to use this system to make its recordings. But the Edison company was too slow in perfecting the system and they had already entered into an unfortunate arrangement with the owner of a nearby radio station. Both of these situations created problems for Raymond Soat of NRAC, and he instead contracted with the Brunswick Record Company to do the recording. This resulted in thousands of master recordings in the Brunswick Chicago and New York studios between 1928 and 1933 and kept that company alive for a while, while the depression killed off most other record companies. Edison lost out on this opportunity, and gave up on the slow speed experimental discs in 1930.

The Edison experimentals have been the source for some very interesting late 1920s airchecks and demo broadcasts. I used excerpts of some in my Mark 56 LP "Edison Speaks", and some others are now starting to be posted on the web. In the past few months the Edison Site has received from the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village the original metal masters of all of the Edison discs, and this includes the EXP series. So there is hope that we might find even further broadcast material among these. I'll try to drop by there next month when I'm in the area and see what might be developing.

Michael Biel

33-45-78 (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2001 13:14:23 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Disc Speeds

Well, the lowest of these speeds was 33 1/3, so there'd be a 1/3 RPM difference. I know that in terms of revolutions per hour, it'd be 2000, 2700, and 4680; in this scenario, the first and second don't add up to the third.

The 33 + 45 = 78 equation is purely coincidental.

33 1/3 rpm was developed in the mid 1920s by Western Electric for the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process. A WE research technician by the name of Stanley Watkins is believed to have been the individual who decided on that speed -- and it was chosen based on (1) the need to fit ten minutes of audio on a single side, that being the average length of a standard reel of motion picture film running at 90 feet per minute, and (2) the need to avoid audio degradation at the center of the disc. Watkins determined by experimentation that a 16" disc running at 33 1/3 rpm, with the inner groove having a starting diameter no less than eight inches would best achieve this purpose. In 1929, this system began to be used for radio syndication discs, and eventually became the industry standard, even as it fell out of favor with the film industry (Vitaphone went to 12" 33 1/3 rpm discs in 1930.)

Interestingly, at the time the Vitaphone system was being developed, the 78.26 rpm speed had yet to be standardized, and it can be a real challenge to figure out the proper speed for playing back "78 rpm" records of pre-1930 vintage. Recording speeds ranging from 71 to 80 rpm were common, and all phonographs were equipped with adjustable speed regulators for those who wanted to be sure they were playing their recordings at the correct pitch. (This was especially important to collectors of classical recordings!)

45 rpm was developed by a trial-and-error experimental process as well, one that had been underway at RCA Victor for nearly a decade before the 45 rpm speed was commercially introduced in 1949. Speeds as low as 40 rpm had been used during the experimental period, but 45rpm on a 7 inch disc yielded the best quality of sound for the groove width used.

Now to bring an OTR twist to get this on-topic: the transcription disks for OTR shows were huge 78 RPM affairs, and the George Garabedian (and other) LPs were, of course, 33 1/3.

78rpm 16" discs were very rare, although I have encountered one or two, usually test cuts never intended for commercial use. I believe Mike Biel has actually seen a pressing of a 16" 78rpm disc, but it was also an experimental recording,

Most 16" discs were 33 1/3 rpm, with the 78 speed reserved for 10" and 12" sizes --- but just to show that there are no hard and fast rules, the 12" size discs are also often found recorded at 33 1/3, many years before the so-called "invention of the LP." (There were even experiments with microgroove recording, twenty years before the supposed breakthru by Peter Goldmark.)

Anybody know of any OTR manifestations in 45 RPM other than novelty songs sung on OTR shows, like Phil Harris' "The Thing" or "The Old Master Painter"?

The "Amos 'n' Andy" Lord’s Prayer sequence was released on a Columbia 45rpm disc, complete with A&A picture sleeve, and was still available in at least some stores well into the 1960s. Likewise, a number of popular Stan Freberg routines -- St. George and the Dragonet, Green Chri$tma$, and such -- were released in the 45 rpm format.


Milton J. Cross (McLeod)

Date: Wed, 7 Jul 99 07:44:43 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Milton Cross

A relative and I were discussing Old Time Radio programs yesterday during a July 4th reunion. He said he remembered Milton Cross reading poetry on the radio and that he had a wonderful voice. Does anyone know anything about this and are there any programs available? The only thing I could remember about Milton Cross was that he was announcer for a classical music program. I would like to know the programs he was on and something about him. I'm sure my cousin would greatly appreciate it.

Milton J. Cross is probably my single favorite announcer -- he was versatile, had a warm, friendly personality on the air, and an utterly magnificent voice. He was also an enduring figure -- spanning the entire era from radio’s infancy all the way to the mid-1970s.

Born in 1897, and a native New Yorker (from Hell’s Kitchen, no less!), Cross started out as a singer -- a tenor -- and when radio burst upon the public consciousness at the turn of the twenties, he was intrigued. He presented himself at WJZ’s original studio in Newark for an audition as a singer -- and ended up being hired as a man-of-all-work. On that day in 1921, Cross began a career that would last for the rest of his life: he would work at WJZ (and its descendants WABC and the ABC network) until his death.

During the twenties, Cross did just about anything a radio announcer can do: he sang, he read short stories or poetry for the grownups and bedtime stories for the kiddies, he introduced programs, he did station IDs. The earliest surviving recording of a Cross broadcast dates to March 1925, and finds him doing a station break during the first successful attempt to relay an overseas pickup. While another announcer might have approached this with a ponderous sense of the history of the moment, Cross is remarkably nonchalant -- he gives the WJZ-WRC ID, and then ad-libs (apparently) a quick explanation of what’s going on with his usual sort of casual dignity. His style, it would seem, was fully formed even at this early date.

When WJZ became part of NBC with the formation of the Blue network in 1927, Cross was part of the package. He announced dozens of programs on both Red and Blue, among them "The A & P Gypsies," with Harry Horlick’s Orchestra; Rudy Vallee’s first network show, the ill-fated and short-running "Clopin Hour" of 1928; "The Old Company Songalogue," a program of old-time music; the "Sylvania Foresters Quartet" with Bernard Altschuler’s Orchestra; the "Armour Program," a concert-music feature with Joseph Koetsner’s Orchestra; "The Fuller Brush Man," a program featuring the singing Brush Man himself (actually tenor Earl Spicer, with Lou Katzman’s Orchestra.); and the "Ship of Memory," an old-time-music feature featuring Joe White (formerly the Silver Masked Tenor.) Cross also announced -- and exercised his singing talents -- as a member of the NBC "Arm Chair Quartet." And, of course, Cross conducted the Sunday morning WJZ Children’s Hour, on which he acted as MC for a very talented troupe of kids and, at least during the early years, also read the Sunday funnies aloud.

There are two programs during this pre-1931 era on which Cross might have read poetry: he was the announcer for the late-night Kellogg’s Slumber Hour program, which featured sleep-inducing music by Ludwig Laurier’s Orchestra and it’s possible that Cross might have been featured in poetic interludes. Also, Cross was the reader for "The Silver Flute," a fifteen-minute feature billed as "tales of a wandering gypsy," and this sounds like a format that might have featured poetry. Sadly, no recordings of either of these features are known.

During the thirties, Cross continued as an NBC staff announcer -- often announcing "cultural" programming like "The Magic Key" or "Radio Guild Dramas" or "Pulitzer Prize Plays." He also became associated late in the decade with "Information Please," where his cultured-but-never-snooty voice fit right in with the tone of the program. But, of course, his best-known work began in 1931 with the inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. Cross announced the series from the beginning -- although he originally ceded the commentary duties to Deems Taylor, and occasionally had to share the microphone with such later associates as Nancy Davenport, John B. Kennedy, and Geraldine Farrar. But by and large it was Cross’s domain, and it became his lifelong passion -- any trip thru a second hand bookstore will probably net you a copy of "Milton Cross’s Complete Stories Of The Great Operas."

By the early forties, Cross had become so identified with "classical" programming that he was able to delightfully parody his own reputation as announcer of the NBC Chamber Music Society Of Lower Basin Street -- a wonderful jazz series which presented its music as a satire of the whole classical-radio style. Cross is superb in this series -- with his tongue just far enough in cheek to make it funny without being over-the-top.

Cross died in 1975, one of the last working links to radio’s beginnings. He is missed.


The Gambling Shows (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2000 15:19:00 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The Gambling shows

John B. Gambling began the morning show in early summer, 1925. He left his show in 1959 to his son, John A., in 1959, I believe, who in turn gave the show to his son John R.

The Gambling show has a rather complicated lineage -- it had its roots in a Morning Gym Class series begun over WOR by the forgotten morning-radio pioneer Arthur Bagley in 1924. When Bagley’s series was taken to WEAF by sponsor Metropolitan Life in early 1925 (where it would continue for over a decade), the slot was taken over by health crusader/publishing magnate Bernarr MacFadden, who broadcast under the sponsorship of his own Physical Culture Magazine.

Gambling was a WOR staff engineer assigned to work on the MacFadden program, and ended up taking it over when MacFadden and WOR came to a parting of the ways in mid-1925 (few people in any field of endeavor were able to get along with MacFadden for any length of time, it would seem.) The gym-class format continued with sponsorship taken over by Colgate-Palmolive. In 1930, Gambling began a long association with Broadcast brand canned meats, which sponsored the series thruout the 1930s. Thruout this period, the show owed a great deal to the basic format created by Bagley -- vigorous exercises of the jumping-jack variety combined with cheery music and humorous patter.

Dunning, in his entry on Gambling, contends that the "gym class" format had ended by the mid-1930s, but this is incorrect --as proven by a surviving recording from December 1937, in which Gambling conducts his morning exercises with considerable gusto, to the accompaniment of Vincent Sorey’s orchestra. As far as I've been able to determine from my own research, the exercises were still part of the program into the early 1940s.

As Dunning correctly notes, however, "Rambling with Gambling" was originally a separate show from the morning wake-up program, an afternoon talk feature which began in 1942, and was subsequently transferred to early morning as a lead-in for the regular Gambling show. So "Rambling" as a series actually only goes back to the early forties -- even though WOR’s publicity people have long since folded the two series into one for their own official history.

(who gave up on NYC radio when WNEW went off the air....)

Call Letter Origins (Biel)

Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 00:02:59 -0500
From: Michael Biel
Subject: Re: Call Letters

Many were for calls which used the initials of a slogan. . . . Other calls represented the name of a city, or state in which the station was located, or the local climactic conditions. . . . Calls were most often representative of names reflecting the owners or corporate entities controlling the station.

Other than the philosophical difference of whether The Chicago Tribune was REALLY the Worlds Greatest Newspaper--(I certainly don't think it ever was!!)--there are a couple of the names on the list that are factually incorrect.

WJZ - Newark, N(J)er(Z)ey

This was a sequentially assigned call, so there was no intentional purpose to this far fetched explanation. As a native New Jerseyite, if you're gonna spell it with a Z, youse guys ought to spell it Joizey like it should be pronounced. :-) Starting in 1962 there was a Newark station WJRZ, which later moved to Hackensack, N.J. and changed its JeRZey calls to WWDJ and tried to compete in the NYC market as a rock station. I could see its Hackensack tower from my bedroom window during the winter. (I always thought they should have done a promo with Elmer Fudd proclaiming they had "Weally Wondeful DJs" but in reality they had "Weally Wousey DJs.") I really missed the Newark WJRZ because they had been the first station in the area to broadcast OTR. They had several hours of it on Sunday night around 1965.

WMCA - Memphis Commercial Appeal

Was this set of calls ever really in Memphis?? If so, how did it get to New York City, where the calls originally stood for the Hotel McAlpin from which it broadcast when it went on the air in 1925.

WNEW - Ed Wynn, NY

This one is extraordinarily wrong. This legend is a figment of Ben Gross’s imagination which grew out of his libelously inaccurate description in "I Looked and I Listened" of the shortlived Amalgamated Broadcasting System. WNEW was a station in NEWark, New Jersey which when it went on the air on February 13, 1934 on 1250 Kcs. it advertised itself as being the NEW station in town. It was the result of the combining of WAAM, Newark and WODA, Paterson. It was not on the air until several months after Ed Wynn’s Amalgamated Broadcasting System was off the air, and neither of those two original stations had been a part of Amalgamated.

When Ed Wynn and his partners undertook the formation of the Amalgamated Broadcasting System in 1933 they bought a station, WCDA which shared its frequency of 1350 with three other stations, WBNX (which I have been told was in the Bronx), WMSG (which was NOT an ingredient in Chinese food), and WAWZ owned by the Pillar Of Fire Church in Zarepath, N.J. They were able to buy up WBNX and WMSG, but the church wouldn't sell. There was a guessing game for a while as to what they might name the station made up of the remnants of the three. Two guesses were WYNN and WFDR (which was suggested when FDR’s son-in-law Curtis V. Dahl was named to the Amalgamated board of directors). In the end they settled for . . . WBNX! So when the Amalgamated Broadcasting System went on (and quickly off) the air in September 1933, its flagship station was WBNX, and those are the call letters heard every fifteen minutes on the four hour recording of the inaugural broadcast. When the network folded in October, WBNX continued on the air for many years on 1350, side-by-side with WNEW when it went on the air alongside it on the dial at 1250.

BUT there is some honest cause for confusion, other than Ben Gross’s hazy and vindictive memory. A year later, in October 1934, George Storer put together a small network partially comprised of some of Amalgamated’s former affiliates. He called it the American Broadcasting Network and talked Donald Flamm, the owner of WMCA--the one in New York, not Memphis--into being the flagship station. When Flamm soon decided he rather go back to being an independent station, Storer switched the flagship to WNEW--still over on the other side of the Hudson in Joizey--renaming the network the American Broadcasting Company on January 13, 1935. There is an identification of this network at the end of a Victor H. Lindlahr program with WNEW identifications in the August 1935 air-check that also includes the opening of a Martin Block "Make Believe Ballroom." So, WNEW, not in New York at that time, never had any connection with Ed Wynn, went on the air after Wynn’s Amalgamated network was defunct, and was only later affiliated with Storer’s American Broadcasting Company.

So you should change the listing to read WNEW The NEW station in NEWark, N.J.

While we are on the subject of call letters potentially named after people, I don't think anyone has mentioned KWKH in Shreveport, La. which was named after its original owner, W.K. "Old Man" Henderson, a rather eccentric individual who used the station to foretell the demise of our world due to chain stores like Sears, and chains like NBC and CBS. I can just imagine what he would have thought of Wal-Mart!!! He probably cheered when Amalgamated went under. (Come to think of it, I wonder if any of the wits at the chains ever used the first K in KWKH to call it "Kill W.K. Henderson" or at least "Kick W.K. Henderson.")

Michael Biel

Date: Sat, 9 Dec 2000 19:56:23 -0500
From: Michael Biel
Subject: Re: WNEW and Amalgamated

The coincidence of WNEW later locating themselves into Amalgamated’s studios could very well have caused faded memories to merge these two separate organizations into one. I do remember discussing this with Bill Murtough at FOTR in 1997. The irony is that the true Amalgamated flagship station, WBNX, never actually was located in the Amalgamated studios at 501 Madison Avenue. Remember, this station existed both before and after Amalgamated’s brief lifespan. The WBNX station breaks we hear every fifteen minutes during the four hour recording of Amalgamated’s Sept 25, 1933 inaugural program have a very detached feeling about them. The announcer, John Tram (sp?) seems entirely unaffected by the ups and downs of the evening’s activities. Indeed, at the end of the exhausting evening he is heard signing off the station with the information that WBNX maintains studios at 101 Park Avenue, New York City. That was a lucky break, because when the network ceased operations on October 28, the 501 Madison Avenue facilities were shuttered to protect the creditors, while the station itself was able to continue operations separately.

Several off-list messages confirmed to me that the WBNX studios in the 40s and 50s were located in the Bronx in the Melrose Central Building on East 161st Street. I wonder if the 101 Park Avenue studios had originally been the WCDA studios, and if the original WBNX has originated in the Bronx and then returned there. I've never investigated what happened to the stations before and after their Amalgamated adventure. I did make a pilgrimage to 501 Madison Avenue a few years ago and saw nothing that would hint of the grand studios that once were there. The hallways of the floors Amalgamated occupied all seemed to just sport entrances to doctors and lawyer’s offices. The ground floor lobby was amazingly small in comparison to the stories that were told of the crowds that inaugural evening.

Michael Biel

Call Letter Origins (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 17:11:42 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: WNEW and Amalgamated

WNEW - Ed Wynn, NY

There’s evidence that the legend of Wynn’s involvement with WNEW predates Gross’s account by nearly a decade -- dating back as far as 1945. In the chapter on Wynn appearing in There’s Laughter In The Air, a treatise on radio comedy by Jack Gaver and Dave Stanley, the story of Amalgamated is briefly outlined -- and it is incorrectly stated that WNEW was the flagship outlet. (See page 155, par. 1) The "EW stands for Ed Wynn" fiction is also offered in the Gaver-Stanley book, and this is the earliest appearance of it in print that I've seen.

A likely explanation for where Gaver and Stanley got this myth can be found in the next paragraph. It is stated that ten years after the collapse of Amalgamated he returned to "the studios he had created" to be interviewed on a program conducted by Paula Stone, the daughter of his old vaudeville colleague Fred Stone. Paula Stone indeed had a program over WNEW during the mid-1940s -- and in checking industry trade publications, we find that during that period WNEW’s New York studios were located at 501 Madison Avenue. This was the very building which had housed the Amalgamated Broadcasting System studios in 1933, and WNEW had eventually moved into those very same studios when it set up a New York City presence -- even though there was no business connection whatsoever between Amalgamated and WNEW. Thus, Gaver and Stanley are correct in stating that Wynn was returning to "the studios he had created" but they made the mistake of assuming that the station occupying those studios in 1943 was the same one which had been there in 1933.

There’s Laughter In The Air has been picked over for source material by many subsequent OTR writers, but in this case at least, Gaver and Stanley are a badly garbled and unreliable source. Let the researcher beware!


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