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Soaps and the Cities: Radio Logs 1930-1960

Posted: Sun Mar 04, 2007 1:53 pm
by Larry M
There's an almost brand new web site that promises to be of immense help to researchers as well as lots of fun for OTR fans. The address is http://www.jjonz.us/RadioLogs. There you will find radio broadcast schedules from newspapers in four major American cities-- New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles-- for the years 1930-1960. Some of the years are not yet completed, but many are and the rest should be up by summer.

Besides experiencing a nostalgia trip like few others, visiting this site will allow you to satisfy your curiosity about any number of things. I was able to indulge my own fascination with the day September 21, 1939 there. As many know, the entire broadcast day of radio station WJSV, Washington D.C. on that Thursday has been preserved. You can read a review of it and download it free of charge at http://www.archive.org/details.php?iden ... dtimeradio. The title to search for is "Complete Broadcast Day."

A considerable amount of regular programming was pre-empted on that Thursday by coverage of President Roosevelt's address to a joint session of Congress and other content related to the war that had just broken out in Europe. Almost twenty soap operas were aired, but I have always wondered whether any were sacrificed that day to the greater cause or at least moved to a different time slot. In looking at Friday the 22nd and other contiguous days on which there were no pre-emptions, it seems that Joyce Jordan, M.D. was the only soap opera omitted from the regular line-up on Thursday. Heard in its stead, however, was Jean Abbey, a fifteen-minute show advertising items of interest to women at various D.C. department stores which had nothing to do with politics. One other soap (The Career of Alice Blair) and one near-soap (Scattergood Baines) were broadcast at a different time than usual and thereby avoided pre-emption.

Another question I have pondered concerns the issue of competition. What soap operas on other local stations aired at the same time as those on WJSV, forcing the devoted listener to make a perhaps painful choice? I did find a few matchups worthy of note, including Hilltop House (WJSV) going against the venerable Just Plain Bill (WRC) at 9:30 and Big Sister (WJSV) facing Young Widder Brown (WRC) at 10:30. An amusing one to those of a certain age would be WRC's opposition to The Story of Myrt and Marge at 9:15, a soap called John's Other Wife. When people wanted to make fun of soap operas forty or fifty years ago, they would often cite John's Other Wife as if the title alone were evidence of the show's lack of seriousness or credibility. I have never heard an episode of that program or even seen one listed as available, but here is a log proving that it was once part of the daily line-up of domestic dramas.

When engaged in this sleuthing, it is always possible to come across an unexpected nugget of information. It turns out that three different soap operas were aired daily at that time on more than one local D.C. station. Listeners could drop in at the Slightly Read Book Shop and enjoy Life Can Be Beautiful at 8:45 on WRC, or wait until the lunch hour and hear it at 12:15 on WJSV. Road of Life was presented at 10:45 on WRC, then at 12:30 on WJSV. A third one, The Story of Mary Marlin, was not on WJSV at all but aired instead on WMAL at 10 a.m. and on WRC at 2 p.m. It appears to have been the only soap carried on WMAL, but then it was a "hometown" program. As John Dunning writes in his book "On the Air," The Story of Mary Marlin was "a glittering soap opera of Washington politics and exotic globetrotting." The only other radio soap set in D.C. that I am aware of is Lora Lawton.

I haven't even looked at the logs for the other three cities yet. Did The Romance of Helen Trent appear on more than one station in Los Angeles, or Today's Children in Chicago, or Backstage Wife in New York? Questions saved for another day.