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Radio Soap Operas: The Ratings

Posted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:43 pm
by Larry M
Recently I've been visiting a web site ( which lists the most popular radio shows from the years 1930 to 1956 according to rating services widely relied upon at that time. This is of particular interest to me because soap operas, as one might expect, are well represented among daytime favorites.

There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity about soaps at this site. One exercise I have found enjoyable is to look for changes in which of the shows were top-ranked throughout the years. During the 1937-38 season, for example (the first for which daytime ratings are given), The Story of Mary Marlin was not only the most popular soap opera, but placed number one among all daytime programs.

Five years later (1942-43), a trio of soaps led the pack. They were Big Sister (number one overall), Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories and Young Widder Brown. Moving ahead five more years (1947-48) we find Big Sister again holding the top spot, but now followed by Ma Perkins and The Romance of Helen Trent. And by 1952-53 The Romance of Helen Trent had risen to first place in daytime shows, with Our Gal Sunday and Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories next in line.

In the spirit of some of the other posts on this forum, let me throw out a couple of questions you can investigate for yourself. First, when a show was run on two or more different networks, its numbers were not aggregated but were treated separately. So it was possible for a single soap opera to be listed more than once among a particular year's top-rated programs. Did that ever happen?

Also, the two soap operas I am aware of (there may have been others) which aired more than seven thousand episodes were The Romance of Helen Trent and Ma Perkins, both of which ran for twenty-seven years. How did these two fare against each other in the ratings during the period covered? And how many times was each the overall top-ranked daytime show?

This is a good place to spend some time.

Soap Ratings

Posted: Fri Feb 09, 2007 9:33 pm
by piqueroi
Perhaps my supposition is incorrect but I would guess
Aunt Jenny, The Romance of Helen Trent and Our Gal Sunday maintained high ratings because they were on the air from 12:15 to 1 p.m. for many years ... how convenient for lunch-time listeners. I surmise This Is Nora Drake picked up ratings considerably when it moved to 1 p.m. When CBS let Aunt Jenny go and put Backstage Wife at 12:15, it may also have picked up listeners.
Now I guess I'll have to make the effort to consult the actual ratings. LOL.

Posted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 1:56 pm
by Larry M
I had not thought about a correlation between a program's popularity and the time of day it was broadcast. Upon reading the reply I went back to the site to look around, and one thing that became apparent is the remarkable success of the CBS noonday soap operas beginning with the 1949-50 season. The four soaps airing on that network between 12 and 1 p.m.-- Wendy Warren and the News, Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, The Romance of Helen Trent and Our Gal Sunday-- all finished among the five overall highest-rated daytime shows that year. Three years later (1952-53) they did even better, securing the top four spots.

By contrast, however, When a Girl Marries was number one overall in 1944-45 while airing at 5 p.m. Two years later it repeated that performance in the same time slot, followed by The Right to Happiness at 3:45 p.m. (#2) and Portia Faces Life at 5:15 p.m. (#3).

A larger and related question is what other factors, besides a program's inherent appeal, may have influenced the size of its audience. One possibility is something as fundamental as the network that carried it. In 1950-51 CBS aired the top eight daytime shows and nine of the leading ten, all of them soap operas. In 1955-56 the same network held the top twelve spots. Such dominance invites speculation that more than just the quality of programming might have been involved. Of course that year was during the waning days of OTR, and perhaps CBS had suffered fewer cancellations of its competitive series than rival networks.

Another fact revealed by the site's data is that the numbers listed are based on the Nielsen ratings beginning with the 1949-50 season. Is it coincidence that the CBS ascendancy roughly coincides with the change from Hooper to Nielsen? I think it has been asserted that early Nielsen radio ratings may have disporportionately represented big city audiences. What impact that may have had on the rankings is uncertain, at least to me.

In any event, a consequence of rummaging through this site is that one idea leads to another and you can end up far away from your point of entry. All in all, a pleasant and often informative diversion.

soap opera ratings ... NBC exercised terrible judgment

Posted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 9:50 pm
by piqueroi
NBC in the later afternoon had great soaps up intil 1955 ... Life Can Be Beautiful, Road of Life, Pepper Young, Right to Happiness, Backstage Wife, Stella Dallas, Just Plain Bill, Young Widder Brown, etc., etc. Perhaps because of the demand by affiliates for more local time, the NBC management axed the majority of their soaps.
CBS picked up Road of Life, Right to Happines, and Backstage Wife adding them to their already illustrious soap schedule. If Frank and Anne Hummert hadn't been ready to retire, I bet they had little nice to say in private a bout NBC executives.
CBS must have believed in radio soap opera because they continued many on a sustaining basis for a few years, although the number dwindled slowly.
CBS also had great savvy in TV soaps, sticking with them, while NBC would start them and then abandon them quicker than you could say Procter and Gamble.
Time slot has always been very important to ratings. When CBS-TV aired The Edge of Night at 4:30 p.m., it not only had great ratings but many male fans since guys would be getting home from work in time to see it. The show was hurt I believe when it was moved back to 3:30 p.m. And in an irrational act P&G all but ruined its ratings by moving it to 2:30. When ABC picked it up in 1975, had local affiliates held to the 4 p.m. airtime, I'm sure it would have retained high ratings but by that time the affiliates wanted the 4 p.m. time onwards for syndicated or local shows.
Note that in the radio heyday of soaps many were aired until 6 p.m.,probably vying with the children's serials in many households.
When I was in high school kids who went home for lunch usually followed Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light. I remember that a couple star football players were very upset when Kathy was killed on Guiding Light. Note that the TV soaps were aired at 12:30 and 12:45. Egads! Did JoAnne cause Helen't search for romance and the Bauers cause Sunday Brinthrop to disappear from the airwaves?

Re: Radio Soap Operas: The Ratings

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:44 pm
by Larry M
The web address given in the first post on this topic no longer works, but the information is still out there. Since the new address is a mile long, here's a quick and sure way to get to the site:

(1) Go to (2) Beneath the text of the wiki article, under "External Links," select "Hooper Radio Ratings, 1935-1949." (3) On the page that comes up, select "Individual Season" from the choices at the top left.

On the next page displayed are ratings (C.A.B., Hooper, Nielsen) for the highest rated radio programs from 1930 through 1956.

Re: Radio Soap Operas: The Ratings

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:50 pm
by Lou
Thanks to Danny Goodwin, we have ratings of the top shows for 1930-1956 right here, at the old-time site.