Broadcasting History - Various Articles

African-Americans on Early Radio (McLeod)

Date: Sat, 6 Jan 2007 12:34:44 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: More African-Americans on Early Radio

To add to those programs and personalities already named, here are more —

There are mentions of the jazz pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines making an appearance over KDKA, Pittsburgh as early as 1921, but this may not have been the first instance of a black performer on radio—defining "firsts" in the earliest days of radio is a very risky proposition, because there's so little solid documentation available. I've seen a Ethel Waters-Fletcher Henderson joint appearance over WGV New Orleans dated 1921 or 1922—although WGV wasn't licensed until March of '22, the appearance could have taken place over an experimental transmitter prior to the granting of the license.

Also in 1922, newspaperman Jack L. Cooper made his radio debut over WCAP in Washington DC as a "one man minstrel show." Cooper went on to become a towering figure in African-American broadcasting—appearing as an actor, a master-of-ceremonies, a comedian, a newscaster, a sportscaster, and a disc-jockey on various Chicago stations until 1961. He wrote, produced, directed and sold advertising for all of his various shows, and eventually established Jack L. Cooper Radio Productions Inc. By the 1940s, Cooper was taking out ads in Variety proudly promoting himself as "The Highest Paid Negro In Radio."

I've also seen mentions of Bert Williams, the legendary Ziegfeld star, making at least one broadcast in 1921, possibly in connection with his role in the Broadway revue "Shuffle Along," but I've not seen any documentation for this. Williams died in early 1922—had he lived longer, he undoubtedly would have been a significant figure in broadcasting.

Duke Ellington was involved in radio very early on—his orchestra was being heard regularly over WHN in remote broadcasts from the Cotton Club as early as 1924, and these were probably the first regularly-scheduled broadcasts by African-American performers in New York.

Ellington's remotes were being heard regularly over CBS by 1929, but the first non-musician black performers to have a regular network series seem to have been the comedy team of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, who had a brief run over CBS in 1931-32. Miller and Lyles had a stage career dating back to the turn of the century, emphasizing traditional blackface material—and this may have been their biggest weakness. Although CBS clearly hoped they would offer stiff competition to "Amos 'n' Andy," the series failed—most likely because A&A's appeal had less to do with "blackface comedy" than it did with the attraction of a continuing serial story. Miller and Lyles, by contrast, offered minstrel-style jokes and routines—with little to set them apart from the army of white blackface comics then on the air.

The first network variety program to be hosted by an African-American performer was Louis Armstrong's Harlem Revue, sponsored over NBC by Fleischmann's Yeast in 1937. Armstrong got this job at the insistence of Rudy Vallee, who was probably the most color-blind personality in radio at the time—he regularly featured black talent on his own program, and many important performers of the era, from Josephine Baker to Paul Robeson, had appearances on the Vallee hour.

A couple of programs mentioned by Jack French deserve more detailed mention.

"Americans All—Immigrants All" was not exclusively about African-Americans, but rather on the whole range of immigrant groups that make up the US population. Each episode focused week on the story of a specific ethnic or racial group: how members of that group first came to the US, and how they've contributed to the growth of the nation. Advocates of identity politics would probably be appalled by the melting-pot point of view expressed in this series, but for 1938-39 it was an earnest, intelligently-presented effort at exploring racial and ethnic subject matter. CBS was so proud of this series that it distributed transcriptions of the program to school systems for classroom use for several years after the series aired.

"Freedom's People," however, did specifically focus on African-American history and culture. Each program focused on the contribution of black citizens to specific areas of American life—science, commerce, technology, the arts, and so forth. There was an impressive roster of guests on this series—just about everyone who was anyone in Black America circa 1941, from A. Philip Randolph to Fats Waller. It wasn't quite as self-importantly full of itself production-wise as "Americans All--Immigrants All," but like the earlier series, NBC distributed recordings for classroom use. Like any depiction of blacks in the mass media during this period, the program walked a very fine line in order to avoid offending the sensibilities either of northern blacks or white southerners, so a lot of issues, including segregation, voting rights, and racial violence were glossed over or not mentioned at all.

It's interesting to listen to these series and compare them with "New World A'Comin'" and "Destination Freedom." Both of these later series are widely praised in discussions of racial progressivism in broadcasting -- perhaps excessively so, because one should keep an important fact in mind: these were NOT network programs. "New World" was heard exclusively in the greater New York area, over WMCA, and "Destination Freedom" was a local WMAQ production heard in Chicago and the surrounding areas of the midwest. Because of that restricted audience, the producers of these programs had far more freedom than they would have had—there was no need to blunt the programs' message to avoid offending southern racial attitudes, or more specifically the racial attitudes of the men who were in positions of authority in the corporations that ran Southern radio stations. On the whole, black participation in radio during the OTR era was far more common at the local level, in communities with substantial African-American populations, than on the network level or in areas with little or no black population.

As far as surviving recordings of African-American programs are concerned, there is only one known recording extant from the 1920s—a 1928 excerpt of the NBC "Eveready Hour" featuring the Hall Johnson Choir and blues singer Martha Copeland, an excerpt that puts the lie to the common assumption that blacks were completely closed out of network radio until the 1930s. This recording was preserved by the Edison Historic Site in New Jersey, and they can be contacted for further information about it.

1930's material is also scarce, other than segments from the Rudy Vallee program. Unfortunately, Vallee's collection was scattered among several collectors after his death, and many of the programs that do exist have yet to become available.

Other than prestige programs like New World and Destination Freedom, practically none of the local programming featuring African-American talent survives—local radio of the OTR era, in general, has an extremely poor track record for preservation.


The Term “Fireside Chat”

Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2006 23:30:38 -0500
Subject: Fireside Chats

Roosevelt's famous Fireside Chats. The name, incidentally, was coined by newsman, Robert Trout. He thought that the President sounded as if he was sitting with us in living rooms all over the nation next to a roaring fire, just telling it like it was.

Intending to take nothing away from a superior CBS newsman, Robert Trout, my research indicates that some historiographers have gotten this wrong. While Trout introduced most of FDR's talks from the White House, actually it was WJSV station manager Harry Butcher who proposed it because FDR spoke from the Diplomatic Reception Room furnished with a fireplace. Thus, as millions of citizens tuned in, it was as if the chief executive was right by people's home firesides, speaking one-on-one, Butcher reasoned. The idiom clicked and Trout introduced it to the common man's everyday vernacular. Butcher, then and now, was seldom credited for what he had offered.

Jim Cox

Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2006 23:31:50 -0500
From: "Bob C"
Subject: Trout and Fireside Chat

Re Joe Mackey's "This week in radio history" entry about Robert Trout coining the description "fireside chat." I had an opportunity to interview Trout when he was in Dallas in 1984 to cover the Republican National Convention for ABC Radio. Here's a bit of the transcript of his response to my, "You're the creator of that bit of Americana."

In a way. I did not invent it. The new station, when it was on the network, was run by a man named Harry Butcher, who later, I might say, for another digression, became quite famous when he went to war as General Eisenhower's naval aide and later wrote a book about it called, 'My Three Years with Eisenhower.' But Harry Butcher an Iowa farm boy originally, and he went to Washington as editor of something - I don't recall the exact title - but it was something like 'The Fertilizer Review.' His friends never let him forget it. (chuckling) Somehow he got into broadcasting; he became the representative - which is another way of saying 'lobbyist,' I think - for CBS in Washington, when [it] had no station there. But he was responsible for rounding up senators and making friends with them and putting them on the air occasionally to make speeches and all that sort of thing.

So when President Roosevelt was inaugurated the first time, on Saturday - those days the inauguration was March 4th - that was the last March 4th inauguration - and it was a Saturday and all the banks were closed. That was the first thing he did, was to close the banks, and for the whole week they were closed. And things were a little difficult ... it was hard to get enough money for ordinary living ... during that period.

A week went by and the following Sunday, that would be eight days after the inauguration, the president said he wanted to go on the air and make a speech from the White House and talk about the banks, which would be re-opened on Monday, explain why they had been closed, how they would be opened, the whole thing, tell it to the country. So I was picked to be the one to go over and introduce him at the White House on the air.

I think it was Friday, before the Sunday, I sat down at a typewriter in the little broadcasting station and Harry Butcher was there, and he was talking and I was talking, and he was dictating and I would type and sometimes I would talk. We wrote two introductions for me to use. One of them was quite formal and dignified, you know, 'Ladies and gentlemen' sort of thing. And the other one was more folksy, which was really Harry Butcher's style - that's why I [mentioned] his being an Iowa farm boy originally. 'Fireside chat' was exactly the way he thought and spoke. And the second introduction, the very informal one, said that the president wants to come to talk to you now, just as if he had the privilege and were able to be invited into your homes and to come in and sit down beside the fire and have a fireside chat at the hearth and talk to you.

So that's the way I wrote the second introduction, and then we sent them both over to the White House. A little bit later, Friday afternoon, Marvin McIntire, the president's secretary, telephoned and said the president likes that folksy one. And that's the one I used, so that was the first time it was used on the air.

In short, it was a collaborative effort, with Trout giving Butcher most of the credit. I must say that Mr. Trout was every bit as interesting as I had imagined him from years of listening to OTR and, of course, seeing him on CBS Television - particularly, at one time, when I was a teenager, as he gave a half-hour news report on Saturdays. He told me that was a sort of trial run to see if there was actually enough news to fill a half-hour and work out the logistics of doing it.

Bob Cockrum

Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2006 21:08:19 -0500
From: Jim Widner
Subject: Re: Fireside Chats

Intending to take nothing away from a superior CBS newsman, Robert Trout, my research indicates that some historiographers have gotten this wrong. While Trout introduced most of FDR's talks from the White House, actually it was WJSV station manager Harry Butcher who proposed it because FDR spoke from the Diplomatic Reception Room furnished with a fireplace.

Robert Trout would agree with you 100%. In correspondence with Edward Bliss, Trout himself credits Butcher saying that the two (Trout and Butcher) discussed a couple of approaches to the introductory scripts of Roosevelt's speech (Trout was one of two "official" announcers for the talk): one was a cold statement of the facts and the second was more folksy saying that the talk was like one visiting the President and sitting down and having a fireside chat.

Butcher took the concept they worked out and put it into the copy even though the discussion about what exactly to say was not intended to include the term. The copy was sent to the White House for a decision and Roosevelt chose the folksy version.

Jim Widner

Highest-Rated Special Broadcasts in the 1930s (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 13:15:42 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: "Largest Audience"

In the first reference he says that the famous match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was "heard, we are told, by the largest audience in history. Businesses closed for the afternoon so their employees could tune in."

I don't have a ratings figure for the race, which took place on 11/1/38 -- but it doesn't show up in the listing of Highest Rated Special Broadcasts compiled by Edgar H. Gruenwald of "Variety" from official C. A. B. figures, appearing in the 1939-40 Variety Radio Directory.

Here, for the record, are the highest-rated single-event special broadcasts of the 1930s:

1. Boxing: Louis vs. Schmeling 6/22/38 (63.6)
2. Boxing: Schmeling vs. Louis 6/19/36 (57.6)
2. Boxing: Louis vs. Braddock 6/22/37 (57.6)
3. Boxing: Louis vs. Farr 8/30/37 (56.9)
4. Abdication Speech of King Edward VIII 12/11/36 (45.0)
5. Boxing: Braddock vs. Farr 1/22/38 (35.9)
6. Jackson Day Address by Pres. Roosevelt. 1/8/36 (32.6)
7. Fireside Chat by Pres. Roosevelt. 3/9/37 (30.1)
8. Acceptance Speech by Gov. Landon 7/23/36 (28.5)
9. Human Needs Campaign speech by Pres. Roosevelt. 10/24/35 (27.0)
10. Campaign Speech by Pres. Roosevelt 10/10/36 (24.6)

The highest rated horse racing broadcast of the 1930s was the 1938 Kentucky Derby, on 5/7/38, which attracted a C. A. B. rating of 16.6.


Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 09:17:07 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Most Listened To

I wonder if Elizabeth feels a random episode of Amos and Andy may have taken the prize in '29-30.

Actually, I can tell you that according to CAB figures, the most-listened-to broadcast of the 1930s in the US was the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling heavyweight boxing match, heard on June 22, 1938 by 63.6 million people. Championship boxing matches were by far the most dominant radio broadcasts of the era -- Louis's fights from 1936-37 are also the second, third, and fourth most-listened-to broadcasts of the decade.

Coming in fifth was King Edward VIII's abdication speech of December 11, 1936, heard by an even 45 million Americans. However, this figure doesn't include the global audience for this broadcast, and it's probable that when worldwide figures are added in that this would have been the single most-heard broadcast of the decade.

I don't have figures for the 1940s or later, but an educated guess would suggest that various bits and pieces of D-Day coverage might rate quite high on the list.


Women as Announcers (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2003 11:54:48 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Women as Announcers

Was it difficult for Women to be accepted on Radio, both by management and audience?

There was a lot of conventional wisdom which suggested "audiences don't like or trust women as announcers" and "only male voices can speak with authority," and while there were a considerable number of women working successfully as announcers at the local level during the 1920s, this attitude made it very difficult for women to break into announcing at the network level. There was a great deal of fanfare in 1935 when World War 1 entertainer Elsie Janis was appointed to the NBC-New York announcing staff, but she didn't last long. Probably the most successful female announcer at the national level was Rosaline Greene, who began her career in the 1920s, became well-known as the voice of "Lady Esther" in the 1930s, and was on the announcing staff of WOR as late as 1945.

One radio fan magazine awarded Greene their "Most Perfect Female Voice" title in the early 1930s—and it was exactly her sort of low, smooth voice which was preferred for women working as announcers. (This is, by the way, still pretty much the rule in radio. In these days of squealing twentysomething pop divas, it's one of the few places we contraltos get any respect.)

I'd strongly recommend Donna Halper's recent book, Invisible Stars—A Social History of Women in Broadcasting. She goes into much detail on the accomplishments of the many women who had successful careers in both network and local radio during the OTR era.


Censorship (McLeod)

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002 09:53:29 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Censorship

Censorship at the network level evolved gradually over the 1930s. During the first half of the decade, "hells" and "damns" were quite common in dramatic programs, along with the occasional "you silly ass." Broadcast Standards codes were becoming stricter as the decade wore on-- due in part to agitation from decency groups and in part to the networks' general fear of offending anyone. It all came to a head, however, in 1937-38.

The "Mae West" affair of 1937 was only one of several censorship-related controversies to break out during that period. Even more significant was the so-called "Beyond the Horizon" matter, which involved a sustaining broadcast of that Eugene O'Neill play over the NBC Blue network in July 1938. The play was broadcast with its original language unexpurgated—with hells and damns and adult situations intact. Two months after the broadcast, one listener in Minneapolis complained to the FCC—and the Commission challenged the license renewal application of station WTCN, the Minneapolis Blue Network affiliate which had carried the play, on the grounds that carrying such a program was not in the public interest, convenience or necessity. Newspapers immediately jumped on this case as an excuse to continue their attacks on the broadcast industry—they had already blown the Mae West affair way out of proportion, they did the same with the "Beyond The Horizon" matter, and later in 1938 they would do the same with "War of the Worlds."

This exaggerated newspaper coverage in turn, whipped censorship advocates -- notably Senator Clyde Herring (D-Iowa), who suggested that radio was a major contributor to juvenile delinquency, rising violent crime rates, and the general decline of American family life —into an even more self-righteous frenzy, and terrified the National Association of Broadcasters, which took steps to tighten up its own self-censorship code, because Herring and his disciples were strongly hinting that if they didn't the Government would step in and do it for them. The networks also tightened their internal censorship codes and enforced them more rigorously. Although the FCC ended up taking no action in the WTCN case, the affair was seen as a warning shot at broadcasters by the Government. As a result, the events of 1937-38 essentially marked the end of "hell" and "damn" and "adult situations" in general for years to come.

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 16:32:34 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: More About Censorship

The whole subject is fascinating and makes me wonder: does anyone know of an actual list of words, situations, people (other than poor Mae) or characters forbidden from the air? In other words, was the censorship codified, as it was in the film and comic book industries? Or was it just ad hoc until the McCarthy era targeted liberals? Any info much appreciated, as always.

There actually is a strong parallel between the creation of the Comics Code Authority and what happened in radio in the late thirties, although I've always wondered whether Sen. Herring was as sincere about his complaints as Dr. Wertham seems to have been—for all the unnecessary ruination he brought to the comics business, Wertham also accomplished a lot of good running free clinics in Harlem during the 1930s and 1940s, and despite his personal kinkiness, he seems to have at least been motivated by a genuine concern about delinquency as a social issue. Herring on the other hand, seems to be a political cipher—he only had one term in the Senate and didn't accomplish much besides complaining about radio. One of his supporters was the Iowa-based Meredith Publishing Company—which no doubt felt the pinch in its revenues from the competition of radio advertising, and if one wanted to be cynical one might suggest that his anti-radio activities might have been a bit of Quid Pro Quo in exchange for Meredith's political and financial support.

In any event, pressure from Herring and the "concerned citizens" in the newspaper business led directly to the adoption in 1939 of the revised "Code and Standards of Practice of the NAB," a detailed program of rules and regulations governing program content that would be binding on Association members. David Sarnoff of RCA-NBC proposed self-regulation as the best approach to program censorship when appearing before a Congressional hearing in late 1938, and the NAB immediately took the hint.

There had been a rudimentary NAB "Code of Ethics" in place since 1928, and it was revised and expanded in 1935. But the 1939 revision was the first to really stress rules for program content. While it didn't ban specific words and phrases, it did lay out strict rules for children's programming:

Such programs must not contain horror, or torture, or use of the supernatural, or superstitions, or any other material which might reasonably be regarded as likely to overstimulate the child listener or be prejudicial to sound character development.
The code also prohibited the sale of time for "discussion of controversial issues" —all such programming had to be presented on a sustaining basis so as to avoid commercial influence in the viewpoints presented. The primary target of this clause was Father Coughlin, who bought his broadcast time "at regular commercial rates." Coughlin was also the reason for the code clause prohibiting religious broadcasts that attacked "another's race or religion."

Otherwise, programming on stations under the NAB Code was required to adhere to "accepted standards of good taste." Strictly prohibited were any programs relating to or promoting astrology, fortune-telling, crystal-gazing, palm-reading, numerology, graphology, or mind reading; any programs advertising spiritous liquor, any programs promoting "speculative finance" or illegitimate investment schemes, any programs promoting matrimonial bureaus or agencies, any programs promoting race-track "dope sheets" or tipster publications, any programs promoting "learn while you earn" or "work at home" propositions and any program continuity that "repellently" describes certain internal body functions -- this last targeted at laxative, liver tonic, and weight-loss-scam advertising.

All these forms of advertising were rampant on many of the smaller independent urban stations in the 1930s—and few of these types of stations rushed to sign the NAB Code. Out of 774 stations on the air in the US in 1939, only 425 were NAB Code signatories—for everyone else, it was What The Market Would Bear.

Networks had their own rules and restrictions—and these evolved gradually over time. By 1939, NBC strictly prohibited any use of the Deity's name except in a religious program or "when used reverently or as part of a standard classic work." Hell and Damn were specifically prohibited in the wake of the "Beyond the Horizon" matter, and a few of the most familiar racial and ethnic slurs had been specifically banned by the Vice President in Charge of Programming in 1935. In addition to these specific bans, any "statements or suggestions that are offensive to religious views, racial traits, and the like, must be avoided" and "Obscene or off-color songs or jokes, oaths, sacrilegious expressions, and all language of doubtful propriety must be eliminated." These regulations were administered by the NBC Continuity Acceptance Department which required that all scripts be submitted at least 48 hours before broadcast for clearance. The only exceptions to this rule during the 1930s were "Amos 'n' Andy" and Bob Burns, who usually wrote their scripts only a few hours before broadcast, making network review impractical. However, A&A and Burns had also proven that they could be trusted to stay in line even without supervision—you can bet that Fred Allen would never have been allowed such an exemption, no matter when his script was written.


Date: Sun, 19 Mar 2006 21:22:08 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The "N" word on radio

I know later network censorship disallowed lots of words and references--was that one of them?

The "N" word was prohibited by NBC's Continuity Acceptance division as of May 1, 1935, as ordered in a memo from Vice President for Programs John Royal to Continuity Acceptance director Janet McRorie. The word had been used in both songs and dramatic programs prior to that date, but criticism from African-American groups finally put a stop to it. Royal's memo reveals, unfortunately, that the attitudes of the time were well entrenched at the highest levels of the network—Royal states to McRorie that, direct quote, "these darkies put a lot of pressure on us, and sometimes they are too exacting."

Interpret that one as you will.


Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2007 00:19:05 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Swearing and OTR

Does anyone else find this odd? Does anyone know, or remember, if other shows ever let a little curse word slip out? I've been listening to as much OTR as I can since I discovered it back in December of last year but I can honestly say this is the first time I have ever heard a swear word on the shows that I listen to.

"Hells" and "damns" were in fact not uncommon in adult radio drama up until the late thirties, in keeping with the rather sophisticated tone of the times. Strong language usually didn't occur in shows designed for the "family" audience, and especially not in comedies -- although Fred Allen, in particular, liked to play cute games with the censors by including puns on words like "dam/damn." But shows clearly intended for grown-up listeners seem to have had some leeway on the use of language: there were never any sexual or scatological terms allowed, but mild oaths did turn up, as did the occasional use of "ass" in the British sense.

I've heard "hells" and "damns" in broadcasts dating back as early as 1930, and dating as late as 1938, and it was in 1938 that the whole issue of strong language really came to a head. As part of its "Pulitzer Prize Plays" series , the NBC Blue network broadcast a relatively unexpurgated version of Eugene O'Neill's "Beyond The Horizon", complete with frequent "hells," "damns," and "for God's sakes." Among the eighteen stations to carry this program was WTCN in Minneapolis -- and a single listener in that city submitted a complaint to the FCC about the language in the play. The Commission appears to have been ultra-sensitive about such things at this particular point in time (it was just eight months since the Mae West affair), and WTCN was formally served with a warning. In September 1938, station officials were required to appear before the Commission to consider whether just cause existed to revoke their broadcasting license -- and while WTCN ended up getting off with just a slap on the wrist, the effect on broadcasting in general was a definite tightening-up of language standards, one which would in general remain ultra-strict into the 1960s.


The Amalgamated Network and the WNEW Call (Biel)

Following are two posts by Dr. Michael Biel of Morehead State University to the Old Time Radio Digest, reproduced here with his permission.

Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 22:41:24 -0400
From: Michael Biel (
Subject: Re:Amalgamated Broadcasting System

WNEW was the key station for the Ed Wynn Network (Amalgamated Broadcasting).

Unfortunately, Bill, this is not true. This is an often repeated error that I believe began when Ben Gross incorrectly stated in the caption of Ed Wynn's picture in the book "I Looked and I Listened" that the EW of WNEW stood for Ed Wynn. I first became suspicious of this when I saw an article or an ad about the sign-on of WNEW which stated something like that their call letters signified that they were the NEW station in NEWark, NEW Jersey.

Then the sound recording of the entire four-hour inaugural broadcast of the Amalgamated Broadcasting System turned up. There are 14 station breaks and a sign-off, all for WBNX, New York. I started to do some research and it culminated in a presentation I gave at the Broadcast Education Association and the Popular Culture Association.

WBNX had been one of four stations sharing a frequency, 1340 I believe. When Wynn was starting the network in early 1933 the company acquired WBNX and tried to buy the other three stations. They got two of them, scrapped them and assigned their shares of the time to WBNX, but they couldn't get WAWZ of the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarepath, N.J. which only had a couple of hours per week of the time share. There was speculation as to which of the three call letters they would now use or whether they would change the call letters. Several were suggested including WYNN, but they decided to keep WBNX. Lavish studios for Amalgamated were built in a building on Madison Avenue, but fortunately for WBNX the station's studios and facilities were maintained separately at their old location. Thus the station continued to operate after Amalgamated went bankrupt. Merely by coincidence, shortly after Amalgamated went out of business, WNEW signed on in (I believe) early 1934 in Newark, NJ Both WNEW and WBNX were on the air as distinctly separate stations for many, many, many years.

But let me tell you where some of the confusion might have occurred. In 1934 the remnants of some of the line up of Amalgamated Broadcasting System stations were brought into a short-lived network called the American Broadcasting System. Donald Flamm's WMCA was the key station. After a few months he became dissatisfied with the restrictions of networking and he longed to be a fully independent station again (although he later set up a co-op with WIP and several other stations called Inter-City Productions.) In early 1935 WNEW became the New York affiliate of the yet-again realigned network which was renamed the American Broadcasting Company. This network was in place during Martin Block's arrival at WNEW, and the recording of part of his show from 1935 which I mentioned earlier tonight in another post includes segments from several American Broadcasting Company programs. ABC was probably disbanded by 1936.

The Amalgamated Broadcasting System went on the air September 25, 1933, and went bankrupt before the end of October 1933. Ed Wynn resigned his position at Amalgamated on October 22 and had absolutely nothing to do with either of the two follow-up networks, American Broadcasting System or American Broadcasting Company. The Amalgamated studios on Madison Avenue were closed and dismantled. The other two networks originated from somewhere else, I believe, if not from the WMCA and then WNEW studios. Ed Wynn worked to pay off the debts of Amalgamated 100% His son Keenan felt that the failure of Amalgamated broke his father's spirit.

Most of the information the OTR people have about Amalgamated has come from the four page description in Ben Gross' book. You all should know that Ben Gross had a personal vendetta against Wynn's partner in Amalgamated, a Hungarian violinist Ota Gygi. Gross felt that Gygi had insulted him at a press conference because he wrote for a tabloid and not the New York Times. Gross' description of the opening gala broadcast is very entertaining, but if you listen to the broadcast itself--something that Gross was not able to do since he was AT the broadcast--you soon realize that the listening audience heard something very different from what Gross thought they had heard. It was not as chaotic as he describes the scene. If anything, it sounded exciting! But by the end of the four hours it becomes clear why the network failed. The programs they sampled during the last half of the evening were nothing outstanding. There's only one show I like--a band which featured a jazz harp player. And I don't mean "mouth harp" I mean a real harp with strings. That was good stuff; the rest was ordinary or less than ordinary.

Michael Biel

Date: Wed, 20 Aug 1997 20:58:15 -0400
From: Michael Biel (
Subject: Re: Amalgamated--More Info

I have some more exact information about the key station for Ed Wynn's Amalgamated Broadcasting System. I had done last night's posting from memory and squinting at microfilm. Now I have the script of my presentation here.

It turns out that WBNX was the second of the three time-sharing stations that the company took over. WCDA, owned by Walter Whetstone, Sr., was the first, WBNX was next, and WMSG was the third. As I mentioned, WAWZ of the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarepath, New Jersey, was the lone hold out. In addition to the suggestion of changing the call letters to WYNN, also mentioned was WMET, and when Roosevelt's son-in-law Curtis V. Dahl was made Chairman of the Board of Directors, WFDR. But they chose to use WBNX, and the frequency was 1350, not 1340 as I had written.

The station that Bill and many others had mistakenly thought was Amalgamated's flagship station, WNEW, did not go on the air until 1934. It too was a combination of several time-sharing stations. It was formed by the merging of WAAM, Newark and WODA, Paterson, and was on 1250.

The two networks that operated in the two years after Amalgamated went bankrupt, the American Broadcasting System and the American Broadcasting Company, were both owned by George Storer. Other than the fact that a few of the affiliates had also been Amalgamated affiliates, there was no connection between Amalgamated and Storer's networks.

The full list of Amalgamated stations is as follows:

WBNX, New York
WPEN, Philadelphia
WTNJ, Trenton (Did not broadcast first prog.)
WDEL, Wilmington
WCBM, Baltimore
WOL, Washington

WCAP, Asbury Park
WCNW, Brooklyn
WJBI, Red Bank
WFAS, White Plains

WHDH, Boston (signed off at sundown-Denver)
WCAX, Burlington
WSYB, Rutland
WPRO, Providence
WNBH, New Bedford
WSAR, Fall River

There were some other stations announced, but never joined:
WMIL, Brooklyn
WCAM, Camden
WJBI, Red Bank
WLBX, Bangor
WCFL, Chicago (to become link with mid-western stations)
WWSW, Pittsburgh (to become link with Mich. State Network)

The Michigan State Network was started by George W. Trendle on January 31, 1933 and was planning on becoming totally affiliated with Amalgamated, but it never did. WXYZ, Detroit; WOOD-WASH, Grand Rapids; WIBM, Jackson; WELL, Battle Creek; WKZO, Kalamazoo; WFDF, Flint

Ed Wynn resigned from Amalgamated on October 23, 1933, and the network ceased operations at midnight on the night of October 28, 1933. Ed Wynn paid back all of the debts of the network 100%. It cost him 305,000 depression era dollars.

Michael Biel, Ph.D.

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