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“The Golden Age of Programming”
by Morgan Granoff
Radio, just like life, has gone through major changes. From the way it was run, to the way it is run today is somewhat the same. There are more regulations today on what is able to be broadcasted on the radio and what is not able to be broadcasted on the radio.
Programs that started up were news, daytime serial dramas, quiz, commentary, and also audience participation programs.
Let’s break down the listening pattern of early listeners. 53% of listening went towards music. 11% of listening was devoted to talks and dialogues. 9% went to dramas, 9% went towards variety, and also 9% went to news. 5% went toward religious listening and the last 4% was divided evenly between special events and miscellaneous.
One man changed the face of radio FOREVER. his name was Orson Welles. “Welles at twenty-three was the guiding light behind a new CBS series in fall 1938, the Mercury Theater on the Air. As writer, director, and star, he built up a company of actors whose names were famous for decades: Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moor-head, Everett Sloane, and Ray Collins. His Sunday evening, October 20, 1938 Halloween program probably ranks as the most famous single radio show ever presented”203. He pretty much set up this broadcast that aliens were coming down into the New Jersey area, and that people were being killed and were fleeing. People who tuned in from the beginning caught on and knew that this program was purely for show. Others that tuned in late, on the other hand, had no idea and started to take his show seriously. People were nervous that this was real and started seriously freaking out. His program was called” War of the Worlds”, and scared people so badly. People were preparing for the end of the world, literally. “In the East, especially near the ” landing site,” thousands of people–a small proportion of the population but a large number nevertheless–called police, fled their homes, or otherwise reacted as though the invasion were real” 204.
“This drama showed better than any other program or episode the impact of radio on society–”if it was on the radio, then it must be true” “204.
Peoples view on radio was changing; the radio was a form of communication, and entertainment that was to be taken seriously.
The Golden Age
Radio took a big change in the late 1930’s and 1940’s for many reasons. By 1939 radio stations broadcasted full-time (twelve to eighteen hours to be exact). It was mostly filled with audience- participation programs, daytime serial dramas, commentary and news. But what occupied most of the stations was music. 53% was invested in the music, most like today’s kind of radio. A look at how much of it is advertisement would be interesting. But by the late 1930’s “music remained the staple of most radio schedules.” (page 201) But it was at this exact time that that live programming grew more than ever. 64% became live.
Subscription to several transcription services was very common by this time. Transcription firms “usually dealt with only one station in a particular market to avoid program duplication, and payment by the station was either a percentage of its gross revenues or a flat sum.” Several other changes occurred as well. As time passed by, classical musical programs declined in importance.” Of course there was only one exception. The NBC Symphony Orchestra. They hired the best musicians possible. They were very talented and popular. In my opinion this pushed everybody to push themselves. It no longer was a career you can make out of just deciding to do it, becoming popular on the radio now requires your passion, your determination, and your everything. This competition brought only the best and got these hard workers recognized. Being noticed by these stations was the difference between performing locally or nationally.
When a conflict between broadcasters and ASCAP arose, radio music was never the same. It was during 1940 -1941 when amateur shows suffered greatly. The “uneven” quality of these shows was shown very clearly. It is because of this that Major Bowes and His Original Amateur Hour went on a search for talent. This show supported contestants from all over the country and gave these talents the opportunity to go on and do great things. Frank Sinatra is an example. A network favorite was a station that had variety and could adapt to the changes in society. Keeping up with the people, made Radio the source of communication that it is today.
Wings Over America was one of the many common broadcastings in the WWII era. These originated from military camps and bases. They definitely had audiences from all over the country. It is because of this that new shows developed. What eventually became the “most important network dramatic programming, in hours per week, was the woman’s serial drama, or soap opera.” A total of 75 hours were devoted to these (From 1935 to 1940 Thrillers and Situation Comedies filled more network time per week than any other form of Drama). Some of these long running programs included Back Stage Wife. One of the many popular soap operas. “In each case, domestic life was emphasized with its ups and more usually, downs.” Most of these were driven by very well done narration, good enough to pull off a great story. The “soapers” were very slow and simple. This gave its audiences an opportunity to catch up if they missed one of the episodes. “Slow and simple, giving time for character development and allowing a listener to miss an episode or even two, painlessly.” Being on the radio a person a lot of credibility, “if it was on the radio, then it must be true.”
Orson Welles and Franklin D. Roosevelt were able to prove how Radio can really do make an impact. Orson, being the talented storyteller that he was, created the most single radio show ever presented. At the age of 23 he was able to scare America. Those who listened to his show would have known that all of this was made up but for those who tuned in late “were due for a surprise.” The words: “A LARGE METEORITE, MARTIANS, MARTIAN WAR MACHINES, ROUTS FOR U.S MILITARY FORCES and GOVERNMENT REACTION” all gave it reality to this hoax. Thousands were praying and fearing for their lives. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt, the radio looked to be one of his prime helpers in re-elections. His famous “Fireside Chats” were the past time for many families. It went on to prove that Radio has come a long way. His second administration took notice and was going to increase the use of Radio. There could have been problems but like any other means of communication,
“Without the audience’s imagination, radio drama never would have succeeded…”
If it Wasn’t for the Audience
The 1930s began the golden age of programming for radio. Radio had really taken off and in many different directions. Most full-time radio stations broadcasted at least 12 hours a day sometimes more. According to an FCC programming survey in1938, “53% [of show programming] was devoted to music, 11% to talk and dialogues, 9% to drama, 9% to variety, 9% to news, 5% to religion and devotion, 2% to special events, and 2% to miscellaneous.” In addition to that an amazing 64% of those figures were live.
By 1939 over 500 stations used a transcription service. These services would deliver several hundred musical selections to the stations. To avoid program duplication within the market these transcription providers limited themselves to one station in an area. National station did not see as much need for these services as local stations did. Musical remained the most played on the schedule however classical music went down in importance, however NBC was the exception. Three months after the drop they announced that Toscanini would lead the orchestra another three years however, the show continued on for 17 years until Toscanini retired. Bands that had their music played on the Radio were a win-win situation, the radio would have material to play and the bands would game more profits in concert tickets by the exposure of the radio.
Variety programs remained on the air, many of them were geared toward the army or consisted of army characters. In 1935, the most important programs of the network came about. The programs were dramatic; they were called woman’s serial drama, soap operas or “soapers”. By 1940, 75 hours a week was devoted to this kind of programming. The actors would perform “live, convincing emotion-filled episodes with little rehearsal,” writes Sterling & Kittross. However this fad eventually went out of style and new ones replaced them. “Prestige” drama became the new craze. Although announcement of originality were made, people began to think that the instances and stories about aliens on the radio, for entertainment, were real. They would begin relating everyday habits back to the show. I”A small proportion of the population but a large number nonetheless- called police, fled their homes, or otherwise reacted as though the invasions were real,” Sterling & Kittross wrote in astonishment. People had the mentality that if it was on the radio it must be true. As very well stated, without the audiences; imagination, radio drama never would have succeeded.
The Wireless World: advancing towards modern communication
The world of wireless radio has been a part of our society of communication dating back to the tragedy of The Titanic. Although The Titanic lacked the communication of radio that we have today, it still was enough to get in contact with Newfoundland in the hopes of getting rescuer ships. The Titanic only had a wireless range of 1,500 miles, which delayed the process of saving the victims of the sinking ship. Back in 1912, when The Titanic sunk, wireless radio was very new and lacked distant communication. When The Titanic sent warning signals to Europe, the signals were forced to go through New York first.
“When the world weeps together over a common loss…when nature moves in the same direction in all spheres, why should not the nations clear the sea of its conflicting idioms and wisely regulate this new servant of humanity?” (Pg. 188.) The devastation of The Titanic brought than infliction of pain over the families and friends of the victims, but it also allowed the world of communication to take a step in a new direction. Wireless radio had been used for emergency purposes at sea for saving lives in situations like The Titanic. But this form of wireless communication had never been used for a method of communicating news.
The Marconi Company established the wireless news service in 1904 and from that point on it took off with the communication of news. Stories of murder and current events immediately began to spread the world through means of the wireless radio. Shortly after that, the telephone was used for public broadcasting in 1876. This form of communication was known as telephonic journalism which immediately spread to parts of world including Budapest where an engineer received as many as 6,000 news subscribers.
The world of news and communication was rapidly changing before our eyes and with inventions taking place across the world, people began growing more and more connected. Modern journalism was taking a step in a new direction and many people were growing satisfied. Paul Claudel was accurate with his words when he admitted that newspapers give us a sense of “the present in its totality.”