In late 1999, broadcast Historian Elizabeth McLeod listed her top 100 old-time radio moments of the century. Here is her list, reproduced with her permission.
100. The Flight Of Alan Shepard 5/5/61.
America's entry into the Manned Space Age comes as the OTR Era enters its final year, but millions of Americans follow the flight by means of portable radios, car radios, and other receivers -- as if to confirm that there'll always be a place for the audio medium.
99. Truth or Consequences: The "Mr. Hush" Contest. Winter 1945-46.
A harbinger of things to come, this guess-who-it-is contest ushered in a new era of listener-participation quiz shows that would help change the face of radio in the postwar era.
98. Sherlock Holmes on the Air. 10/20/30.
Famed actor William Gillette is the first Holmes to take the network air -- the first of many to follow. The Holmes story format is ideally-suited for radio, and the program proves to be one of the most successful dramas of the Depression era.
97. Cruise Of The Seth Parker. 1934-35.
Radio listeners follow the adventuring Phillips Lord around the world by shortwave -- an adventure that takes on a harrowing real-life flavor when Lord's schooner is wrecked by a tropical storm. The program's reputation is wrecked as well, when it's revealed that Lord wasn't exactly living up to Seth Parker's Yankee-parson image during his adventure: accompanied by wine, women, and the sort of songs that weren't found in the hymnals back in Jonesport
96. The Rise Of Dorothy and Dick. 1945.
Charming chit-chat in the morning with Richard Kollmar and Dorothy Kilgallen -- foreshadowing the modern man/woman TV talk show teams. Think of them as the Regis and Kathie Lee of the forties.
95. The Rise Of Wendell Hall. 1923-24.
He was a bombastic Southern-fried ukulele-playing balladeer -- and radio's first national superstar, thanks to his long series of appearances on the pioneering "EverReady Hour." Everyone who owned a two-tube regenerative in the twenties knew all the choruses to "It Ain't Gonna Rain No' Mo'," and thousands flocked to his personal appearances, helping to prove the power of the new medium.
94. Walter Winchell Hits His Peak. 1941.
Loud, brassy, and abrasive, Winchell was the most influential newspaperman in the country at the dawn of the forties -- and his Sunday night news-and-comment program was by far the most-listened-to news-related program on the air in the last months before US involvement in WW2.
93. Arthur Bagley, Network Radio's First Morning Man. 1926.
He's forgotten today, but he paved the way for all the network early-bird shows. His "Tower Health Exercises" program for Metropolitan Life got NBC listeners up and doing from the formation of the network well into the mid-thirties, even as his zany antics with his mascot, the Goofus Bird, set the tone for a legion of morning-men who would follow.
92. One Man's Family goes National. 5/17/33.
Already a hit on the West Coast, Carlton Morse's sensitively-written and deeply-textured study of an upper-middle-class San Francisco family gained a national reputation over the full NBC network, and ran for nearly three decades. There was never another a show quite like it: too serious to be a soap opera, too thoughtful to be a melodrama -- and sometimes, even too adult for the kiddies. Morse's mystery shows may have a stronger modern-day following: but for me, "One Man's Family" stands as his greatest accomplishment.
91. The Talent Raids 1948-49.
CBS skims away the cream of NBC's comedy crop by means of some complicated tax maneuverings, and the revenues from these programs gives the junior network a needed boost at the dawn of the television era.
90. Elsie Hitz and Nick Dawson and the rise of Romantic Adventure: 1932
Sexual tension in serial drama is nothing new. The smoldering relationships of Elsie and Nick brought a vicarious thrill to Depression-weary women thruout the mid-thirties. The couple starred in three different series of "exotic, romantic adventure" during these years -- "Dangerous Paradise," "Follow The Moon," and "The Magic Voice." Different titles, different settings -- but the sublimated passion never changed. The concept of the "Super-Couple" is key to soap opera technique to this day, and it can be argued that Elsie Hitz and Nick Dawson were the pioneers. Granted, "Mary and Bob" of the Macfadden True Story Hour came first -- but Elsie and Nick had the mystique.
89. Who's Yehudi?? Spring 1940
Bob Hope was just another fresh-guy comedian thru the late thirties, and while he was a rising star on the Pepsodent Show at the dawn of the new decade, it took a chance exchange with stooge Jerry Colonna over possible names for announcer Bill Goodwin's infant son to capture the national imagination. Was "Yehudi" a figment of Colonna's imagination? A reference to violinist Yehudi Menuhin? Or a mysterious personification of prewar jitters? No one knows -- but that didn't stop all America from asking. And as Americans became Yehudi-conscious, they soon made Bob Hope the top-ranked radio comedian in the land.
88. National Defense Test Day 9/12/24
Broadcasters and the military join forces for an impressive demonstration of how radio can link the country together in the event of an emergency. The substance of the evening -- a series of rather tedious speeches, livened only by one general's seemingly-tipsy rendition of an old barracks song -- is less important than the technical skills necessary to make it all happen, as engineers flawlessly shift from point to point along a coast-to-coast network: demonstrating techniques that would become essential in the years to come.
87. A Christmas Carol: 12/25/34.
A holiday tradition begins as Lionel Barrymore appears for the first time as Dickens' covetous, grasping old sinner, in a segment of a three-hour Christmas Day broadcast over CBS, under the sponsorship of the Nash-Kelvinator Company. The tradition would endure in various formats for the next twenty years -- and, in recorded form, to this day.
86. The Death of Will Rogers 1935
The "Cowboy Philosopher" was a fixture on radio thruout the Depression years, and while he had a successful career in movies and as a syndicated newspaper columnist -- to say nothing of his many years on the stage --by the early thirties, most Americans knew him as the man with the alarm clock, giving out wry and sometimes even caustic commentary on the passing scene. His sudden death in the summer of 1935 sent a nation into mourning.
85. Don Becker's Weak-End Satires 1928
Before he became a soap-opera writer/producer("Life Can Be Beautiful"), Don Becker was a ukulele playing utility man at WLW Cincinnati. And he was also the medium's first notable satirist, parodying the conventions of radio at a time when they had barely been established. While recording artists like Jones and Hare had kidded the emerging medium on phonograph records, Becker took the idea even further: creating an entire fictitious network and making the day-in day-out effluvia of broadcasting into one big running gag. His weekly presentation of the programs of the "Lavender Network" and his depiction of the behind-the-scenes chaos have been echoed by innumerable comedians. Stoopnagle and Budd, Brad Browne, Raymond Knight, Fred Allen, Stan Freberg, Bob and Ray, even Saturday Night Live and Second City have all done it since -- but the forgotten Don Becker blazed the trail.
84. Shakespeare Summer 1937
Imagine a season in which the two major networks battled for listeners not with comedians or swing bands - but with the Bard himself. NBC's "Streamlined Shakespeare" offered condensed plays starring John Barrymore, while the CBS presentation of "Hollywood Salutes Shakespeare" gave movieland favorites a crack at the Classics.
83. The Fall Of William L. Shirer 1947
Was he fired for being too liberal? Or was he fired for being lazy? Was Shirer, later to be blacklisted, the victim and Ed Murrow the villain? Or was it all just a massive misunderstanding? To this day, arguments rage over the departure from CBS of the legendary newsman. The real, full story will probably never be known, but that didn't make the issues raised any less significant, as radio moved into a dark new era.
82. The Rise of Joe Penner Fall/Winter 1933
Tens of millions of otherwise reasonable radio listeners are captivated by a bizarre, manic child-man, whose piercing catchphrases echo across playgrounds and schoolyards, offices and street corners for nearly two years before the craze fades away. Academics have tried to dissect the Penner phenomenon -- but in fact there is no rational explanation for it. It just is.
81. Fall Of The City 4/11/37
Earle McGill's spectacular production of Archibald McLeish's chilling vision of a not-so-future war brings the Columbia Workshop to maturity. Hardly anyone was listening -- but many of those who did were themselves creative radio people, who were profoundly influenced by the program's power.
80. Bob and Ray Present The CBS Radio Network 1959-60
The best-loved satirists of their era, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding rose out of local Boston radio in the late forties to epitomize the postwar approach to radio comedy. Inspired by the works of Stoopnagle and Budd and Raymond Knight twenty years before, Bob and Ray kidded radio with a unique, stream-of-consciousness sensibility, and their 1959-60 series for CBS presented them at the peak of their creative powers.
79. The Rise of Jessica Dragonette 1930-31
No one who listened to the "Cities Service Concerts" series in the early 1930s will ever forget her fragile soprano voice -- but the woman behind that voice was a tough, no-nonsense professional who firmly stood her ground in battles with sponsors and the network over program formats and choice of material. Her appeal crossed the boundaries of popular and classical music, and though her career was compromised by conflicts, her legend remained.
78. "The Great Gildersleeve" Spins Off 1941
The term "spin-off" really didn't come into wide use until the early 1970s -- but the seeds for the concept go back to Fibber McGee's puffed-up neighbor. While "Gildersleeve" wasn't strictly the first program to "spin off" from another if you think in terms of variety-hour derivatives like "The Aldrich Family" and "We The People," it was the first important series to be based on a supporting character from another program -- and it was also the most enduring. Harold Peary's textured performance in the title role (until 1950), a solid supporting cast, and brilliant writing -- especially by the team of John Whedon and Sam Moore -- helped give "Gildersleeve" the longest first-run life of any "spin off" series, radio or TV.
77. The Rise and Fall of the Liberty Broadcasting System 1948-1952
It all started with the mercurial Gordon McLendon, and his need to fill time on his Dallas radio station, KLIF. Looking for cheap, appealing programming, he decided to feature recreated Major League baseball games. But he didn't figure on the results -- in an era in which the westernmost Major League clubs were located in St. Louis, the entire western half of the United States was hungry for big league action. McLendon began to line up regional affiliates, and by 1951, his operation had gone national. McLendon was an innovator, no question about it -- but he was also, to put it bluntly, a pirate. He had no legal right to air the games he was airing -- and Major League Baseball went after him in court. Liberty was driven into bankruptcy, but McLendon was a survivor -- who would go on to be one of the innovators of the "Top Forty" Format.
76. Hollywood Speaks on the Dodge Victory Hour 3/29/28
As the "talkie revolution" terrorizes the film capital, a phalanx of Hollywood's biggest names faces the microphone: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, John Barrymore, Dolores Del Rio, Norma Talmadge, and Gloria Swanson. Fairbanks was MC, Chaplin told Jewish and Cockney dialect jokes, Barrymore offered a scene from Hamlet, Del Rio performed a song, and the others delivered short talks --as millions of Americans heard the voices of these film favorites for the first time. And judging from the reviews, many of those listeners weren't at all impressed. Nonetheless, the show marks the start of a long liaison between Big Time Radio and Hollywood.
75. Gunsmoke and the rise of the Adult Western 1952
The heroes don't wear white hats or shoot silver bullets. The villains don't snarl and twirl their mustaches. And the endings are rarely happy. Norman MacDonnell and John Meston gave radio a searingly-realistic drama: a western for people who hate westerns, and perhaps the most relentlessly adult program of the entire OTR era -- and its success contributes to a final "golden age" flurry of quality radio drama.
74. A Fireside Mystery Chat 10/17/36
A paid political broadcast over CBS by the Republican National Committee takes the art of "negative campaigning" to new heights, as Senator Arthur Vandenburg conducts a mock debate -- pitting himself against out-of-context recordings of President Roosevelt. The program itself is controversial and is made even more so by the fact that CBS cuts it off the air -- not on political grounds as charged by the GOP, but on the grounds that the use of recordings violates the network prohibition on transcriptions! Nevertheless, the program pioneers the use -- and abuse -- of political "sound bites."
73. The Rise and Fall of "Pot O' Gold" Fall-Winter 1939/40
A venal twist on the old carnival wheel-of-fortune gimmick, this big-money quiz is the first network program to offer large sums of money to listeners waiting by their phones at home. The series becomes a national craze before NBC decides it's too close to a lottery for comfort. The basic concept would resurface on ABC after the war as the infamous "Stop The Music."
72. Unemployment Relief Program 10/18/31
Stars join forces for a spectacular dual network program urging the "haves" to help the "have-nots" as the Depression nears rock bottom. President Hoover delivers a speech stressing his belief that relief is the responsibility of the states and local charities and not the federal government -- and Will Rogers doesn't sound like he's smiling as he delivers an uncharacteristically bitter critique of the American Way Of Doing Business.
71. Hugo Black Defends Himself 10/1/37
For the first time, an embattled national political figure uses radio to directly answer charges against him. A decade before, this Supreme Court nominee had belonged to the Ku Klux Klan -- and over an all-network hookup, he came before the American people to explain himself and to repudiate the organization. Black went on to a career as one of the court's most distinguished liberals -- and his speech set a take-it-to-the-people precedent that would be followed in years to come by such figures as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton
70. The London Naval Conference 1/21/30
World leaders gather in the British capital to discuss Naval arms limitations -- and radio allows the world to listen in. NBC listeners follow the conference by BBC shortwave relay in a day-long special broadcast -- the first international news story to be covered in such a manner. It's also the first time American audiences hear a broadcast by a British monarch, as King George V opens the ceremonies.
69. Dragnet - A New Era In Police Drama 1949
Just a cop doing his job, for thirty minutes a week. No wisecracks, no gum-chewing gun molls, no threadbare private eye cliches. Jack Webb created a whole new genre of radio crime drama -- a world of hard-working, down-to-earth law enforcement professionals who always finished their paperwork. His influence is with us yet.
68. Superman Battles Intolerance 1946-47
Juvenile adventure characters had always fought well-defined, simplistic villains: robbers, smugglers, pirates, Nazis. But in the first postwar spring, the mightiest hero of them all tackles a terrifying new enemy-- terrifying because he lives in every child's hometown. Terrifying because he might live right next door. Terrifying because he or she might be your own father or mother. Or, maybe, might even be you yourself. "Superman's" crusade against hate and bigotry is by far the most complex subject matter ever taken on by a children's program -- and over the next year, is a recurring theme in the series: breaking new ground for a genre which is usually concerned with issues no more complicated than selling cereal -- and, hopefully, helping to open the eyes of a generation of kids.
67. Mae West Meets Charlie McCarthy 12/12/37
"Why Don't You Come Play In My --- Woodpile," purrs the sultry movie star to a flustered wooden puppet, to the nervous laughter of the studio audience. Earlier in the evening, Mae West had traded mild ribaldries with Don Ameche in the famous "Garden of Eden" sketch as a guest on the Chase and Sanborn Hour -- and it's that sketch that generates all the uproar, thanks to complaints from Catholic religious authorities in New York. But the truly explicit material comes later in the evening in Miss West's innuendo-filled exchange with Charlie McCarthy: possibly the bluest ten minutes the Red Network ever aired.
66. Kate Smith's War Bond Marathons 1944
Radio stars are wholehearted in their support for the war effort, but none more so than Kate Smith. Twice, she mounts round-the-clock marathon appeals for War Loan Drives -- appearing every hour on the hour on CBS to urge listeners to support the campaigns. By wars' end, Kate Smith is by far the show-business bond-selling champion: personally responsible for raising more than $600,000,000 for the war effort.
65. Lux Presents Hollywood 6/1/36
He doesn't produce the show. He doesn't direct it. He has nothing to do with casting it or choosing the scripts. He sometimes doesn't even show up for rehearsals. All he does is read lines someone else has written for him. But to listeners, none of that matters. Cecil B. DeMille is Hollywood. And when a two-year-old dramatic anthology moves to the film capital in mid-1936, the J. Walter Thompson Agency makes a brilliant move in tapping him to host. In interviews, he often takes public credit for work he didn't do -- a nod here to the unsung agency men who were the real masterminds of the program: Danny Danker, Tony Stanford, and Frank Woodruff -- but nevertheless DeMille wraps the program in his own mystique: and makes the Lux Radio Theatre a national institution.
64. Flood Tide for Demagogues 1935
Senator Huey P. Long, Father Charles E. Coughlin, The Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, Dr. Francis Townsend. Names that may not mean much today, but to radio listeners in the spring of 1935, they represent the thundering voice of political extremism. Promoting a weird blend of free-silver populism, anti-Semitism, and what can only be described as an Americanized "national socialism," Long, Coughlin, Smith and Townsend are all over the airwaves -- both the mainstream networks, and in Coughlin's case over a coast-to-coast private hookup -- and millions of Depression-weary listeners are paying close attention to what they have to say. The assassination of Long removes the movement's most popular speaker from the scene -- but his colleagues carry on, sponsoring a third-party presidential candidate in 1936. Pressure from this radio-driven movement has a lasting effect, as the Roosevelt administration defuses one of its most potent weapons -- the Townsend Revolving Old Age Pension Plan -- by promoting an alternative: the Social Security Act. One is left to ponder -- with a shudder -- what might have happened had Long been alive to head the "Union Party" ticket in 1936.
63. Amos' Wedding 12/25/35
Seven years to the night after they became engaged, Amos Jones and Ruby Taylor are wed in a simple, dignified Christmas Night ceremony that caps the golden era of "Amos 'n' Andy," and marks the culmination of one of radio's most memorable love stories -- the tale of an unschooled but earnest young man from the country in love with a well-bred, college-educated young city woman. It was a tender, gentle romance which endured economic hardship, family tragedies, misunderstandings, and a near-fatal illness, all the while helping to establish precedents which would be followed in soap opera and "family drama" for decades to come.
62. Arthur Godfrey Goes National 1945
It isn't the first time he's heard on a network, but when Arthur Godfrey greets his coast-to-coast listeners on the morning of April 30, 1945, he stakes out a claim that would keep him there for twenty-seven years. Along the way, he becomes CBS's greatest moneymaker, and an influence on an entire generation of broadcasting personalities. One can make a convincing case that Godfrey was the greatest simple communicator ever to face the mike.
61. WLS National Barn Dance moves to the "Hayloft" 1928
Chicago was the capital of country music during the twenties and early thirties -- and WLS was its headquarters, reaching a vast audience all over the midwest. The primary showcase for the station's impressive roster of musical talent is the Saturday night "National Barn Dance" program --on the air since 1924 -- and when this series moves to Chicago's Eighth Street Theatre, soon to be known as "The Hayloft," it enters its golden era. In 1933, the show goes national: and Lulu Belle and Scotty, the Hoosier Hot Shots, the Vass Family, the Maple City Four, Uncle Ezra, and all the rest find a whole new audience.
60. We Hold These Truths 12/15/41
An eloquent paean to the Bill Of Rights by Norman Corwin, featuring a cast of big-name stars and heard over all networks becomes one of the most-heard single broadcasts of the entire radio era, with an estimated audience in excess of sixty million. Coming just a week after the US entered the Second World War, the program sets the tone for Corwin's wartime output -- programs stressing a uniquely populist brand of patriotism.
59. Sorry Wrong Number 5/25/43
It's lost a lot of its impact from constant repetition -- is there anyone out there who doesn't know how it ends? But Agnes Moorehead's handwringing tour-de-force performance in Lucille Fletcher's tight little murder story is, in many ways, the essence of the radio suspense drama. Its notoriety helps land CBS's sustaining "Suspense" series a big-budget sponsor, and helps lay the foundation for a twenty-year run.
58. Light's Golden Jubilee 10/21/29
Radio joins the nation together in tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the electric light bulb. Thomas Edison himself is the guest of honor in an elaborate ceremony broadcast from Dearborn, Michigan under the auspices of Henry Ford, and President Hoover heads a long list of dignitaries on hand for the festivities. Even Albert Einstein joins in by shortwave from Germany. Graham McNamee, at mikeside for NBC, and Ted Husing for CBS, give a stirring descriptions of the highlight of the evening -- the reenactment of the lighting of the first electric bulb. The entire event is one huge publicity gimmick, orchestrated for General Electric by PR mastermind Edward Bernays -- and points the way for a long succession of self-congratulatory Corporate Media Events to follow.
57. The Rise of Information Please Summer/Fall 1938
Bright people sitting at a table talking. No scripts at all -- just questions sent in by listeners, the sort of things we'd call "trivia" today. It doesn't sound like a particularly promising idea -- but "Information Please" proves to be the surprise radio hit of 1938. It's a highbrow show that even a lowbrow can love, with questions ranging from Shakespeare to baseball, and panelists able to cover all that ground with energy left over for sparkling repartee. The series spawns a number of forgotten imitators -- "So You Think You Know Music?" "Fun in Print" -- as well as a sort of precocious little niece known as "The Quiz Kids", but none of the imitations ever rise to the level of the original. And one could argue that in the unscripted, spontaneous "Information Please" format one finds the true ancestor of the modern talk show.
56. Mrs. Wicker and Miss Mack. 1930-31
Radio for children splits into two directions at the dawn of the 1930s -- the heavily commercialized and hyperactive adventure serials, and the quieter, more contemplative sort of entertainment best represented in the works of Ireene Wicker and Nila Mack. Both come to prominence as the 1930s are getting underway: Wicker as NBC's "Singing Story Lady" and Mack as the director of CBS's "Adventures of Helen and Mary," a precursor to the better known "Let's Pretend." There are formatic differences between the two -- Wicker is essentially a solo performer, while Mack works behind the scenes of a fully-dramatized production -- but they share a similar outlook on the sort of entertainment they offer to youngsters. And together, they blaze a trail to be followed in later years by such thoughtful creators as Paul Tripp, Bob Keeshan, Shari Lewis, and Fred Rogers: a trail that leads to a world of gentle imagination.
55. And Now Get Ready To Smile Again... 1932
Husband-and-wife situation comedies first show up in the late twenties, with shows like "The Jenkins Family" and "Graybar's Mr. and Mrs." They're all pretty much the same sort of thing: harassed white-collar husband dealing with a more-or-less ditzy wife. Even bright spots like the urbane "Easy Aces" are simply variations on this standard format. But in 1932, an NBC-Chicago staff writer named Paul Rhymer takes this cliche and turns it sideways. "Vic and Sade" isn't a sitcom, isn't a drama, isn't really a serial. It's easier to say what it isn't than to figure out what it is -- a fun-house-mirror held up to a quiet midwestern family that manages to be both profoundly ordinary and awesomely bizarre. And it echoes down thru the years in the works of such performers as Jean Shepherd and Bob Newhart.
54. Little Orphan Annie And The Rise Of Juvenile Adventure. 1931.
With a new decade comes a new approach to childrens' programming -- rollicking, rousing, blood-and-thunder serialized adventure: epitomized by a blank-eyed frizzy-haired funny-paper heroine. On radio, Annie loses the harsh ultra-right-wing political overtones of Harold Gray's comic strip -- and becomes the personification of an aggressive childhood: solving mysteries, exploring the world, and horrifying Concerned Parents for more than a decade. From the drooling hard-sell of the Ovaltine commercials to the endless send-away-premium offers, "Annie" sets the tone for an entire genre: Jack Armstrong, Tom Mix, Captain Midnight, Hop Harrigan -- they're all her children.
53. The Lone Ranger Hits The Big Time: January 1934
The Mutual Network wasn't founded by the Lone Ranger, no matter what they claim at WXYZ. But when the Masked Rider Of The Plains rides onto stations in Cincinnati, Chicago and New York -- by arrangement of the Gordon Baking Company -- he strengthens the links that already exist between WOR and WGN, stations that are already on the way to becoming the nucleus of that new chain. And more important, The Ranger goes on to become radio's most enduring contribution to American popular culture -- and one of the best-known fictional characters of all time.
52. Dr. Brinkley Almost Wins The Kansas Governorship Fall 1932
Today, we see him as a quaint sort of quack -- a bearded face right off a patent medicine bottle, a twanging Kansas voice offering up spicy barnyard metaphors. To the AMA, he was a dangerous fraud -- parlaying a phony medical degree and an eccentric idea for revitalizing impotent men into a national reputation over his radio station KFKB. But to his heartland followers in the 1920s and early 1930s, John Romulus Brinkley is a champion -- fighting for their interests against them slickers from the Big City, and their support makes KFKB, for a time, the most popular station in the United States. Following investigations by the AMA and the Kansas City Star, Brinkley's fraudulent background is made public -- but that doesn't stop the Doctor. Eventually, from an ultra-high-power radio station just over the Mexican border, Brinkley blankets the entire nation with his graphic condemnations of Internationalism, the Medical Establishment, and prostate massage. On the strength of his down-home line of patter -- and his unstoppable signal -- he comes within 30,000 votes of winning Kansas' highest office. Brinkley's station is finally muzzled by Mexican authorities in 1941, and he dies bankrupt in 1943 -- but his tradition of medical/political charlatanism is alive and well today on dozens of shortwave and small-time AM stations.
51. Orson Welles Becomes The Shadow 9/26/37
It isn't great art. It's never a ratings blockbuster. But this Sunday-afternoon superhero saga has captivated generations of listeners. And many of those listeners will tell you that the 22-year-old Welles was the greatest Lamont Cranston of them all. Others (including me) may find him a just bit too callow compared to the more mature Bill Johnstone. But no one will dispute that Welles makes an impression in the role -- and even more important, the part helps pave the way for even more impressive roles to come.
50. The 1936 Olympics 8/36
Thru the crackle of shortwave static, American listeners sit spellbound by the descriptions of Jesse Owens' track and field triumphs in Berlin-- victories that carry significance far beyond the stadium. The announcers are rather circumspect in their descriptions of the events -- reluctant, perhaps, to offend broadcasting authorities in the host country -- but Owens' triumphs speak for themselves.
49. Let's Dance, and the Rise Of Swing Winter 1934-35
Suggesting that swing music began with Benny Goodman will earn you a derisive, deserved sneer from fans of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and other great Harlem bands of the twenties. But that distinctive span of time we think of as the "Swing Era" did begin with Goodman, and his tenure on the Nabisco "Let's Dance" program. For many listeners, it's their first real exposure to "hot" music -- and the program starts Goodman on the way to being crowned King of Swing. Maybe some people tuned in "Let's Dance" for the mellow melodies of former Clicquot Club Eskimo Kel Murray, or to rhumba with Xavier Cugat -- but it's Goodman's contribution to this three-hours-a-week series that's earned it a place in history.
48. The Metropolitan Opera Begins Its Run 12/24/31
The Met made its radio debut back in the prehistoric DeForest days of 1910 -- but it takes another two decades before a regular series of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts begins, even though individual Met stars were network radio celebrities as early as 1925. But the Met organization makes up for lost time, rapidly building its Saturday afternoon broadcasts into a radio tradition. Part of the tradition is in the packaging -- with the gently-unctuous Milton J. Cross occupying a permanent seat in Box 44, inspiring three generations of listeners with his endearing, wide-eyed love for the music and its performers.
47. The Rise of Experimental Drama 1934-38
Radio goes thru a quantum change between 1931-1933 -- the days of freewheeling experimentation with program formats are replaced, so far as sponsored programs are concerned, by tight advertising agency control. But there is still unsold time to fill -- and the experimenters find a haven in sustaining dramatic programs like the NBC Radio Guild and the Columbia Workshop, as well as the more outre offerings like "Lights Out." During the mid-thirties, people like Vernon Radcliffe, Irving Reis, William N. Robson, Earle McGill, Wyllis Cooper, Arch Oboler and Orson Welles push the envelope of what can be done in radio drama. Though their audiences are small-to-negligible, much of their work retains its power even today.
46. Coronation of King George VI 5/12/37
All the world is listening as a slender, stammering man known to his friends and family as "Bertie" mounts the throne of the British Empire in the wake of his brother's abdication. Millions of Americans get up early in the morning to follow all the pageantry via shortwave relay, described in meticulous detail by BBC commentators. The response to the broadcast suggests that even a hundred and sixty years after the Revolution, Americans are really still just Colonists at heart.
45. The Lindbergh Baby Tragedy 1932-1936
Radio listeners are glued to their sets in horror on the night of March 1, 1932 as NBC and CBS broadcast a steady stream of bulletins detailing the story: the toddler son of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh has been kidnapped from his New Jersey home. Perhaps the most poignant radio moment in the entire case comes the day after the kidnaping, as NBC staff announcer Ben Grauer reads an urgent message to the kidnappers from Anne Morrow Lindbergh -- giving the recipe for the baby's special formula. The first chapter of the story comes to a tragic conclusion on May 12th, when the child is found dead -- leading to a two-year search for the killer. On September 19, 1934, a German-immigrant carpenter from the Bronx is arrested and charged -- and radio is once again in the thick of coverage, as Bruno Richard Hauptmann is placed on trial for his life -- a trial which, with radio's help, quickly degenerates into a media circus the likes of which wouldn't be seen for another sixty years. Two important radio careers get a boost from this case: disc jockey Martin Block rises to fame over WNEW in Newark as he spins records during breaks in that station's trial coverage; and WOR commentator Gabriel Heatter grabs attention for his nightly summations of action in what truly is the Trial of The Century. The final chapter is written on April 3, 1936, when Heatter reports from outside the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton as, to the chants of an angry mob, Hauptmann goes to the electric chair -- proclaiming his innocence to the very last.
44. Irna Phillips joins NBC 1933
If Correll and Gosden are the Fathers Of the Broadcast Serial, then Irna Phillips is its mother. Joining NBC with "Today's Children," a thinly disguised version of her WGN serial "Painted Dreams," Phillips begins an enduring career as one of the leading creators of network soap opera -- her shows always a cut above the treacly productions of her major competitors, Frank and Anne Hummert. And the Phillips influence is still pervasive in modern-day soaps, with her longest-lived creation, "(The) Guiding Light," still very much alive after sixty-two years.
43. Hollywood Hotel brings movieland to the mike fall 10/4/34
Hollywood and radio were a natural match, and as far back as the late twenties, there had been efforts to bring the two together. Programs like the "Sunkist Musical Cocktail" and "Hollywood On The Air" had featured movieland gossip and celebrity interviews - but these shows were expensive to produce, thanks to the exorbitant AT&T line charges for programs originating on the West Coast. In 1934, columnist Louella Parsons (who had been featured a few years earlier on the Sunkist program) hits upon a solution: she would use her considerable influence to coerce stars into appearing for free on a big-time weekly variety hour. Campbell Soup underwrites the project, and "Hollywood Hotel" is on the air. Unionization eventually brings an end to Parsons' use of free talent, by which time AT&T has changed its rate policy, allowing radio to thunder westward with a vengeance.
42. WSM Barn Dance Begins 11/28/25
It all goes back to George D. Hay, one of the great announcers of the mid-twenties. Styling himself "The Solemn Ole Judge," Hay had been one of the movers behind the "WLS Barn Dance" in Chicago, and when he moves on to Nashville in 1925, he brings the idea along with him. By the end of the year, WSM is featuring a block of home-grown melodies every Saturday night, with Hay as announcer and rustic fiddler "Uncle Jimmy" Thompson the best-known attraction. Within two years, the "WSM Barn Dance" takes on a new name -- and the "Grand Ole Opry" is well on its way to becoming one of the true landmarks of twentieth century popular culture.
41. H. V. Kaltenborn Covers the Spanish Civil War 9/3-4/36
He doesn't fit the dashing, romantic image of a war correspondent -- a lanky, balding middle-aged man with thick glasses and a scribbly moustache. But Hans von Kaltenborn makes journalism history when he becomes the first American reporter ever to broadcast live from an actual war zone. Crouching between a haystack and a cornfield on a farm in the Spanish town of Irun, his microphone lines clipped onto a farmhouse telephone, Kaltenborn brings CBS listeners the actual sounds of battle -- the whizzing bullets, the chatter of machine guns, the thunder of artillery, all broadcast live -- just three hundred yards from the front lines. Thru it all, this Harvard-trained newspaperman keeps up an extemporaneous commentary which offers a vivid description of the scene and a detailed explanation of what is happening and why. The next day, Kaltenborn's listeners hear the outcome of the battle: the entire town lies in flaming ruins, sacked by Franco's forces. Kaltenborn's gone down in history as a rather self-absorbed, pontifical man -- but there is no questioning his front-line courage.
40. Mary Margaret McBride Hits Her Prime 1941
Women's programming in the OTR era is, for the most part, a hopeless wasteland -- banal, condescending, and trivial. But there are bright spots -- none brighter than Mary Margaret McBride. A veteran journalist, critic, and author with a deceptively folksy style, McBride moves beyond the ossified formats of "womens' radio" to present thought-provoking, substantial programs. Her best series by far is her 1940s local show over WEAF -- a forty-five minute midday feature in which she brings to the microphone important authors, journalists, politicians, celebrities -- the only requirement being that they have something worthwhile to say.
39. Murrow Reports on Buchenwald 4/15/45
There are really no words adequate to describe what Edward R. Murrow saw as he toured one of the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps - but he finds words nonetheless. Other Murrow broadcasts are more famous -- but none are more eloquent.
38. First Transatlantic Relay Broadcast 3/14/25
You can barely make it out thru the overwhelming roar of static -- there! there it is! Dimly, you sense the rhythm of a familiar tune -- a dance band squawking out "Alabamy Bound." And there -- that voice, that halting British voice, saying something about 5XX, Daventry -- the High Power Station Of The British Broadcasting Company. History is made as RCA's relay station in Belfast, Maine receives an experimental longwave pickup of 2LO in London, and relays that fragile signal by shortwave to the network of WJZ in New York and WRC Washington -- giving thousands of American listeners their first taste of Overseas Broadcasting. The technology is something of a dead end -- longwave would prove too unreliable for long-term, long-distance use -- but the broadcast is a vivid demonstration of how radio can truly bring the world into your home.
37. Fibber's Closet Opens For The First Time 3/5/40
A gimmicky sound effect that becomes a national institution -- and which for many symbolizes everything fun and innocent about "Old Time Radio." Fibber McGee and Molly had plenty of running gags over the years, due largely to the always inventive scripting of Don Quinn: a writer who can impart fresh flavor to even the moldiest corn -- but none have lingered longer in the public consciousness than that overstuffed hall closet.
36. "The Step On The Stair" 1926
Based on a story in "Radio Digest" magazine, this Old Dark House thriller is radio's first true mystery serial -- heard over WLW, Cincinnati in a series of weekly installments adapted for radio by program director Fred Smith (who is better known as the creator of "The March Of Time.") Smith is one of the most important unsung pioneers of radio -- his 1923 play "When Love Wakens" may be the first American drama to be written especially for radio. Although "Step" is actually a rather crude bit of melodrama, it proves the thriller to be an ideal format for radio: so much so that the script is sold to other stations for local productions, and is still being heard as late as 1930.
35. Gracie Allen's Brother January/February 1933
It isn't radio's first running gag -- but it's the most memorable of its time, as Gracie Allen begins popping up on programs all over the schedule, asking for help in locating her enigmatic "missing brother." The bit grabs the national imagination during the most wretched of Depression winters -- and vaults Burns and Allen to the front ranks of radio's comedy stars.
34. REport On Chain Broadcasting Reshapes The Industry 1941
It's not a radio program -- it's a small, paper-bound book. And between the government-issue-orange covers, there's a bombshell: the Federal Communications Commission rulings condemning monopolistic practices in broadcasting. Beginning in 1938, the FCC had been holding detailed hearings investigating the degree of control exercised over the broadcasting industry by NBC and CBS -- and the Commission didn't like the picture that emerged: stiff, one-sided contracts that strangled local control of programming and which tended to concentrate the power of radio into the hands of two dominating corporations. The report sends a shock wave thru the industry, forcing the networks to revise their contractual ties to their affiliates -- and forcing the National Broadcasting Company to divest itself of one of the two networks that it operated.
33. Rudy Vallee Refines the Variety Show Fall 1932
He's more important as an impresario than as a performer -- and the "Fleischmann's Yeast Hour" is the reason why. Rudy Vallee had been on the air for Fleischmann since 1929, broadcasting an hour-long program of dance music, broken up only by the appearance of a single guest star each week. But beginning in October 1932, Vallee and the staff at the J. Walter Thompson agency dramatically revise the program format: de-emphasizing Vallee's performances and turning the spotlight on a continuing parade of guest artists. Big names, famous names, old names and new names -- for the next seven years, the Vallee program features the best that Broadway and Hollywood have to offer -- and Vallee gains a reputation as radio's foremost talent scout. Whether he himself is actually entitled to that reputation is a question that can be debated: some claim he did run the show -- and none claimed this more energetically than Vallee himself -- while others say he was just a front man and embittered JWT staffers did all the work. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- but the importance of the show itself is beyond question: it's the pace-setter for every variety series that would follow.
32. The Rise Of Major Bowes Spring/Summer 1935
As spinning goes that weekly wheel of fortune -- round and round she goes and where she stops nobody knows -- as the saponaceous Major Edward Bowes takes the nation by storm with his Sunday night new-talent showcase, moving a longstanding local New York feature to a high-profile Sunday night slot on NBC. Never mind that, as a Radio Guide expose reveals, elements of the show are rigged -- the idea of young entertainers from Mudville USA getting their big break on the air ignites a craze for amateur entertainment that inspires a range of imitators. Few of the Bowes discoveries amount to anything -- but there are a few who stand out, including a skinny singer from Hoboken who appears in September 1935 as a member of a pop quartet. His Bowes experience proves something of a dead end - but fate has other plans in store for Frank Sinatra.
31. The Music Licensing War 1940-41
The American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers doesn't much like the attitude of Network Radio --- and radio likes ASCAP even less, as negotiations for a new contract allowing the use of ASCAP music break down during the last months of 1940. As the name-calling continues, it becomes evident that there will be no peaceful resolution, and the broadcasters form their own music licensing agency -- Broadcast Music Incorporated, which quickly signs a roster of second-tier songwriters in anticipation of a long standoff. As of January 1st, 1941 all ASCAP-controlled music disappears from the network air, leaving only public domain and BMI compositions in their place. Longstanding theme songs abruptly vanish, bandleaders scramble to come up with workable arrangements, the broadcasters put up a brave front -- but listeners quickly grow tired of "Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair" and "The Wise Old Owl." By mid-year, the networks and ASCAP have a new agreement -- and the status quo resumes. However, BMI sticks around -- cultivating new songwriting talent and evolving into a major force in the music business: remaining so to this day.
30. Paley's Financial Maneuverings Save CBS. 1928-1929.
William Paley perpetuated a lot of legends about his early years at CBS. Although he styled himself "Founding Chairman," Paley didn't found the network -- George Coats and Arthur Judson did, with help from the Levy brothers of Philadelphia and Major J. Andrew White. Nor did the infusion of Paley's personal fortune completely turn the tide for the struggling company. But the real story of how Columbia survived the Depression is even more interesting - and says a great deal about Paley's remarkable ability as a businessman. The young son-of-a-cigarmaker manages to talk the cagey film mogul Adolph Zukor of Paramount Publix Corporation into a complicated stock swap in 1929, which gives the foundering network the boost it needs to stay afloat during the bad years ahead: even though Zukor's own company, ironically, ends up in receivership!
29. The 1923 World Series 10/23
Broadcasting of major league baseball's main event was early on a major attraction -- but it's the 1923 Fall Classic between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants that makes the big impression, and for reasons unanticipated. Originally, plans call for the action to be described over WEAF by veteran sportswriter Grantland Rice -- and he's to be assisted by a recently-recruited member of the station's announcing staff: a former concert singer by the name of Graham McNamee. For the first three games, McNamee provides what would eventually come to be called "color commentary" - and his descriptions are so vivid, so enthusiastic that listeners deluge the station with phone calls and telegrams demanding to see more. And so it is that beginning with game four, McNamee takes over the full play-by-play job -- and is launched on a career as the most important personality of radio's formative years. One can fault his accuracy, one can criticize his style -- but none can deny his impact.
28. Premiere of the NBC Symphony 12/24/37
Arturo Toscanini had been a familiar personality to American radio listeners since the turn of the thirties thru his work with the New York Philharmonic -- and had already come to personify the traditional image of the "glowering maestro." And so it is that NBC scores a major publicity coup in 1937 when it lures Toscanini back to the United States with the unprecedented offer of an orchestra constructed especially for him, designed to his specifications, and to be directed as he sees fit -- and for nearly eighteen years, the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini's baton is one of radio's outstanding musical attractions.
27. Eddie Cantor Runs For President Winter 1931-Fall 1932
The Depression's darkest months fall in the middle of 1932: more 15 million are unemployed in the US, and more than 270 thousand families face imminent eviction from their homes. By September of that year, more than 34 million Americans are without any income whatsoever, and the nation has witnessed the grim spectacle of tanks rolling thru the streets of Washington DC against an army of unemployed veterans. Against this backdrop, Americans are desperate for escape, desperate for anything that will take their minds off the horror of the times. And they get it -- in a pop-eyed, hyperkinetic Broadway clown. Eddie Cantor takes the nation by storm with his satirical run for the Presidency, setting an audience record never to be equaled by any other continuing radio series. Cantor's comedy is frenetic and flamboyant, with a strong undercurrent of contempt for authority -- and, by extension, for those who have brought the nation to rock bottom. Small wonder the bouncing chant of "We Want Can-tor!" still echoes thru the memories of that era.
26. The Benny-Allen Feud January-March 1937
"The Bee," by Franz Schubert -- a showy specialty composition for violin -- becomes the most famous piece of music in the country as the question rages: can Jack Benny play it? It all begins, innocently enough, with a boy violinist named Stewart Canin, appearing on the "Town Hall Varieties" segment of Fred Allen's program on 12/30/36. During the second show for the west coast, Allen comments on the boy's rendition of "The Bee" with a single, simple observation: "Jack Benny," he drawls in that inimitable snarling whine, "should be ashamed of himself." And out in Hollywood, Benny listens -- and the following Sunday makes his response: "When I was ten years old, I could play "The Bee" too!" And the following Wednesday, Allen challenges this assertion -- and from then on, every week marks an escalation of the "argument," until finally, on the night of 3/14/37, the combatants meet face to face in the Grand Ballroom of New York's Hotel Pierre to have it out once and for all. The results? Inconclusive. But for the next twelve years, Jack and Fred -- in reality old-time friends from vaudeville -- will snipe back and forth in radio's most memorable phony feud. And they don't forget the boy who started it all: in 1940, Benny and Allen jointly award Stewart Canin a scholarship to help cover the cost of his future musical education, helping him along the way to a distinguished adult career in classical music.
25. The Rise Of Syndication 1928-1932
When all is said and done, the invention of the syndication concept is without doubt the most important of Freeman Gosden's and Charles Correll's contributions to the broadcasting industry. The idea of distributing recorded programs to individual stations begins with "Amos 'n' Andy" in 1928, and the two performers attempt to patent the concept, only to be told by their attorney that they can't. And so it is that before the end of 1928, the National Radio Advertising Company is selling recorded programming to national advertisers -- and by the end of 1930, syndication is sweeping the industry, offering real competition to the wire-line networks in attracting major national sponsors like Chevrolet and major nationally-licensed properties like Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan." Syndication remains an essential element of both radio and television to this day: a billion-dollar industry that owes its existence to Gosden and Correll and their simple, ingenious idea for a "chainless chain."
24. WGY and the Birth of Radio Drama 9/22
You might not have heard of Kolin Hager, unless you're from Schenectady. He was the program director and chief announcer at General Electric's station WGY in the early twenties -- and he could well be considered the Father of Radio Drama. In September 1922, Hager gives a forty-minute weekly time slot on WGY to "The Masque," a troupe of community-theatre actors from nearby Troy, NY, headed by one Edward H. Smith. As the "WGY Players," Smith's company offers condensations of recent stage plays -- forty-three of them in the first season -- and gain national attention for their efforts: the first regular dramatic series ever broadcast on American radio. Among the members of the group - a former stage technician named Frank Oliver: radio's first true sound effects man. The WGY Players are a fixture at the station for more than a decade, and in 1928 perform another historic first: the first play ever to be televised.
23. The Second Louis-Schmeling Fight 6/22/38
He was called "The Brown Bomber," "The Tanned Titan," "The Sepia Superman," and, most embarrassingly, "Shufflin' Joe." But on a steaming June night at Yankee Stadium, all the condescending "credit to his race" talk is forgotten, as Joe Louis stands as the symbol of America -- facing the equally-formidable symbol of "Aryan Superiority," German heavyweight Max Schmeling. Schmeling had defeated Louis in a prior bout -- but not this time. Before NBC announcer Clem McCarthy has a chance to get warmed up, Louis gives Schmeling the beating of his life -- and gives radio listeners a few quick minutes they will never forget.
22. NBC Takes Over 11/15/26
Not the first network broadcast, but the most heavily publicized. When the newly formed National Broadcasting Company takes over operation of the AT&T Red Network in November 1926, it's taking over a network that's already providing sixteen-hour-a-day service to seven stations, and varying hours of service to twelve others. NBC puts the whole operation on a full-time basis and with a four-hour gala from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, announces to the whole nation (or at least the whole nation as far west as Kansas City) that the age of Big Time Radio has arrived.
21. London After Dark August/September 1940
Americans receive a jolting dose of reality when CBS begins a dramatic series of broadcasts from the heart of a city under siege. Airing as a joint venture of the BBC and the CBS London staff headed by Edward R. Murrow, "London After Dark" is a heart-stopping document of the Blitz. CBS correspondents Larry LeSeur, Eric Sevareid, Vincent Sheehan and author J. B. Priestly all contribute to the program, but it's Murrow who makes the dominant impression in the initial broadcast of 8/24/40: his chilling account of defiant Londoners strolling casually to the air raid shelters -- illustrated by the hollow sound of their footsteps --provides an audio picture that will echo forever in the annals of radio journalism. Less than a month later, on September 21st, Murrow tops this broadcast with an even more dramatic scene, as "London After Dark" presents a bomb-by-bomb description of another air raid, live from the rooftop of Broadcasting House. Similar broadcasts will be made by NBC's Fred Bate -- who is nearly killed in a subsequent air raid -- and by Mutual's Arthur Mann: but Murrow gets the credit for the idea, and for forcefully bringing the horrors of modern war into American homes.
20. Death and Funeral of FDR 4/12-15/45
For a generation of Americans, he was simply "the President." Millions loved him -- millions hated him. But all Americans are stunned at his death, when on the afternoon of April 12th, childrens' adventure serials are interrupted by the sudden announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt's passing. Radio helps express a nation's grief with detailed coverage of the funeral procession on all networks, including a memorably emotional description by CBS's Arthur Godfrey.
19. 8MK Becomes KDKA 11/2/20
It wasn't the First Radio Broadcast -- experimental stations had been on the air for over a decade. It wasn't the first Scheduled Broadcast: some of the experimenters had been operating on a scheduled basis before the first World War. It wasn't the First Radio Election Coverage -- Lee deForest had offered detailed coverage of the 1916 returns over 2XG, New York (and got the results wrong). In other words, many of the "firsts" claimed for this famous broadcast have their basis in the Westinghouse publicity department, not in reality. So why is it important? Well, the Westinghouse publicists did a good job. A very good job. They make an essentially regional event into headline news all over the country -- and in doing so help make Americans radio conscious. KDKA would go on to be an important laboratory for future radio developments -- as would Westinghouse's second station, WJZ in Newark (later, in New York)
18. The 1924 Democratic National Convention June-July 1924
"Allllll-a-baaaaaaaama casssts twennnnnnty-four votes for Oscarrrrr W. Un-der-woooood!" That's the call, as delivered a total of one hundred and three times by Alabama Governor William Brandon during the Democratic National Convention, as broadcast June 24th thru July 9th, 1924. The eventual nomination goes to John Davis, who will of course be trounced by Coolidge in the general election that fall. Underwood was actually a pretty significant figure in politics at the time -- he had been Senate Minority Leader, and went on to become Governor of Alabama. But all anyone remembers about him is that he got those 24 votes at the convention. Eighteen stations make up the AT&T network for this broadcast, extending as far west as Kansas City -- and the RCA stations also join in. The broadcasters are Graham McNamee and Phillips Carlin for AT&T, and Major J. Andrew White and Norman Brokenshire for RCA, who together help to introduce millions of fascinated listeners to the intricacies of the political process -- and also spawns a national catch phrase that echoes across playgrounds and city streets for much of the summer.
17. Crosby In The Can 1946.
Actually, it should be Crosby in a paper sleeve -- since Bing's first venture in to pre-recorded programming was done on disc, not tape. Excited by the potential for a flawless performance afforded by disc-editing techniques exploited during the war years by the Armed Forces Radio Service, the crooner finds himself a sponsor and a network willing to allow him to experiment with pre-recording his regular weekly series beginning in the fall of 1946 -- and Philco Radio Time proves a success. Among those who notice is an Army veteran named Jack Mullin - who had become interested in the tape-recording systems used by the German radio during the war years, and who convinces Crosby to invest in his fledgling Ampex Corporation. The Crosby program begins to be mastered on tape in 1947 --and with Crosby's support, Ampex becomes a major force in the development of broadcast recording technology, leading the way the in the early development of video tape in the 1950s. And Crosby's success in recorded form helps to bring down the unreasonable network barriers against the use of prerecorded programming -- already compromised in many areas, the walls come tumbling down for good in 1949.
16. The Dempsey/Carpentier Fight 7/2/21
What the KDKA Harding-Cox Election Broadcast was in legend, the broadcast of the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier Heavyweight Fight is in reality: the event which really makes the general public sit up and take notice of radio. While no more than a thousand hobbyists heard the KDKA Election Broadcast, advance publicity leads over two hundred thousand to hear the fight broadcast eight months later, and the resulting excitement draws many thousands of others into discovering what this new radio thing is all about. As was his custom, David Sarnoff greatly exaggerates his role in promoting this epoch-making broadcast -- the real man behind the scenes -- and behind the mike -- is Major J. Andrew White: who would go on to be one of the major figures in the early years of CBS
15. The inauguration of Coolidge 3/4/25
For the first time, Americans from coast to coast listen in as the President takes the Oath of Office and delivers his inaugural address. AT&Ts Red Network and RCA's smaller Radio Group network broadcast all the pageantry as Calvin Coolidge begins his first full term -- and proves himself to be an adept radio speaker, well-attuned to the demands of the microphone. An estimated fifteen million listeners follow the proceedings, with Graham McNamee at the microphone for the Telephone Group and Major J. Andrew White and Norman Brokenshire on hand for the RCA/Westinghouse stations.
14. The Dempsey/Tunney Long Count Fight 9/22/27
If the twenties were truly the "Golden Age Of Sport," the second heavyweight title fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey at Soldier Field in Chicago may be the high point of that age -- and radio helps make it so. For the first time, all NBC's associated stations, Red, Blue and Pacific, are joined to broadcast a single event, with the exuberant Graham McNamee and Phillips Carlin at the mike. Was the final count improperly delayed? Debate still rages to this day.
13. McNamee, Carlin, Cross and Daniel broadcast the return of Lindbergh 6/11/27
It's the News Story Of The Decade -- the moment which seems to epitomize the mystique of the "Roaring Twenties." And when the twenty-five year old newly-promoted-to-Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh returns to the United States courtesy of the U. S. Navy, a team of NBC's top announcers turn out for day-long coverage of his arrival -- helping impress the moment forever on the national consciousness. And, to this day, recordings of the honest, overwhelming thrill in Graham McNamee's voice as he sees the aviator step down the gangplank capture the essence of that moment in a way the printed page never can.
12. Radio Transforms Itself 1931-33
Two factors change the face of radio programming during the lowest ebb of the Depression -- a disastrous season on Broadway in 1931, and the desire of advertising agencies for better bang for their bucks. The collapse of the Live Theatre drives many of the top names of musical comedy and vaudeville into broadcasting -- Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, and many others all turn to radio during these years, and in doing so, forever shift the emphasis in programming away from radio-grown talent and toward Big Names. Agency control of program development builds on this trend -- taking the responsibility for program building away from the networks, and placing it under the control of sponsors: firms interested more in selling product than in encouraging real creativity. The result, from the mid-thirties forward: a compulsively cautious attitude toward innovation in programming that dominates the medium until the rise of television
11. Andy Sued For Breach-of-Promise By Madame Queen January-March 1931
Movie theatres really do interrupt their screenings to play "Amos 'n' Andy" over the sound systems. Department stores really do broadcast the show over their public address speakers. Water consumption really does take a drop for fifteen minutes, six nights a week. And when Andy Brown is taken to court by his beautician fiancee Madame Queen in early 1931 -- the climactic event in a storyline that's been brewing for over a year -- an estimated 40 million listeners hang on the outcome of each night's episode. For a weekly show, that would have been an unprecedented audience -- but for a nightly show, it's a stunning accomplishment. The secret of the program's success is readily apparent to anyone who digs back into the early scripts: a gallery of finely-drawn, fully-realized, and all-too-human characters, and an instinctive, near-Dickensian grasp of serial storytelling technique. What also becomes apparent is that by and large, listeners don't tune in to laugh at the characters. They tune in because they truly care about what happens to Amos, Andy and their friends -- fictional characters who are as real to Depression America as the people next door.
10. War Of The Worlds 10/30/38
Like a lot of legends, the story of Orson Welles and his Martian Invasion has grown with the telling. It's probable that no more than six million people heard the broadcast, and Professor Hadley Cantril in his landmark study of the "invasion" estimated that at most only about a million people were actually fooled -- out of a total population of around 150 million, and compared to the 35 million Americans who went on blithely listening to Charlie McCarthy, unaware that anything was out of the ordinary. But the numbers, in the end, don't really matter. What matters is that Welles and company provide a graphic demonstration of just how powerful the audio medium can be -- and even more significant, the post-mortem public response to the broadcast reveals just how unprepared Americans really are for the brave new Media Age ahead.
9. FDR's First Inaugural 3/4/33
The winter of 1932-33 may have been the most grim in our nation's history. The economy was in ruins, the banking system was collapsing, tens of millions were hungry, with no money, no jobs, and no hope. But on a chilly March afternoon, a newly inaugurated President reaches out with his voice to calm the panic, to convince a terrified America that, indeed, the only thing it has to fear is fear itself.
8. The Hindenburg Description 5/8/37
Is there a living American who hasn't heard WLS staff announcer Herbert Morrison's sobbing account of the explosion of the legendary German dirigible? Without doubt the most famous actuality recording of all time, Morrison's description of the disaster is so vivid that it becomes the first notable exception to NBC's prohibition on the airing of recordings. It only aired twice over the network -- and never in its entirety -- but Morrison's recording has nonetheless transcended the original event to become one of the most familiar audio documents of the twentieth century.
7. FDR's first Fireside Chat 3/12/33
"My friends. I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it has been done, and what the next steps are going to be." In a calm, reasoned, thirteen-minute talk, the new President outlines the steps taken to prevent a full-scale collapse of the nation's banking system -- explaining the complexities of industrial economics in terms that any citizen can understand. This gentle, informal approach projects the atmosphere of a man talking to his neighbors by the fireside -- and CBS-Washington manager Harry Butcher coins an enduring phrase to describe the style: a "fireside chat."
6. The European Crises: 9/38 and 8/39
Mounting tensions in Europe work to a peak over a years' time -- beginning with the Sudetenland crisis in September 1938 and culminating in the dispute over control of the Polish Corridor and the free city of Danzig the following August. The Sudeten crisis proves to be the first great international challenge for radio news -- still hamstrung by the terms of the 1933 Press-Radio Agreement. But the medium rises to the occasion, making household voices out of CBS's Ed Murrow and William Shirer, NBC's Max Jordan and Fred Bate, and Mutual's John Steele -- and above all, CBS's H. V. Kaltenborn, who provides a continuing stream of concise and well-reasoned commentary as the crisis unfolds. Following the agreement at Munich -- the "peace in our time" accord -- radio documents the continuing deterioration of European peace, until the German invasion of Poland leads to the declaration of war. The tired voice of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing that declaration early on the morning of September 3, 1939 is evidence of a terrible lesson, learned too late: if you sit down at table with Hitler, prepare to be the main course.
5. Farewell Speech of the Former King Edward VIII 12/12/36
The "Love Story Of The Century" transcends national borders, as the American people join with all the rest of the English-speaking world in listening to the thin, weary voice of a man who gave up the throne of the world's most powerful empire for the woman he loves. The poignant broadcast by Edward, Duke of Windsor, is the single most-listened-to moment of the 1930s.
4. Pearl Harbor 12/7-8/41
A typical Sunday afternoon by the radio -- light music, sustaining drama, public affairs programs, pro football. But at 2:22 pm, a one-line bulletin flashes over the Associated Press wire, shattering the tranquility. Within minutes, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is being relayed by all four networks -- and all the debate between Isolationists and Interventionists is suddenly and terribly rendered moot. Radio covers the story in depth -- and perhaps the most chilling moment is the voice of an unnamed staff announcer at NBC's Honolulu affiliate, proclaiming "This is no joke! This is war!" The following day, record audiences tune in as President Roosevelt's message to a joint session of Congress sets the tone for the next four years.
3. The Rise of Toll Broadcasting 1922-23
Radio advertising didn't just suddenly spring into being one afternoon in August 1922 at WEAF. There's evidence to suggest paid commercials had aired on stations in Massachusetts and Washington state several months before the WEAF landmark, and barter advertising goes back at least as far as 1916 and Lee deForest's experimental station 2XG. But WEAF doesn't have to have been the birthplace of the commercial for it to have been the most important station in the evolution of modern broadcasting -- for it was indisputably the first station to be established for the specific purpose of selling time to advertisers. WEAF's success leads in October 1924 to the formation of the first permanent radio network -- and the concept of "toll broadcasting" proves to be the foundation on which the entire structure of American radio -- and later, television -- would be built.
2. End of the War 8/14/45
V-E Day on May 8th was just the beginning of the end -- and the enthusiasm that greets the end of the war in Europe is tempered by the realization there's still a war to be won in the Pacific. But the use of atomic weapons against Japan changes the whole complexion of the conflict -- and beginning with the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9th, radio listeners anxiously wait for word on Japan's imminent surrender. August 10th goes by - the 11th -- the 12th -- the 13th -- all with a steady stream of bulletins, but no official statements. Unofficial reports come in early on the morning of the 14th -- and at 4:18 that afternoon, NBC's Max Jordan reports from Berne, Switzerland with the first word confirming that the intermediaries have received a message from the Japanese Government. "I myself," announces Jordan in his distinctive clipped voice, "am going to a party of the American consulate here to celebrate V-J Day!" Shortly after 7 pm, official word is released by the White House -- and the long-delayed celebration finally erupts. Radio paints an unforgettable sound picture of celebrations in Times Square, outside the White House, and in towns and cities all over the United States as the nightmare of the Second World War finally draws to a close.
1. D-Day 6/6/44
It is arguably the single most important news story of the 20th Century -- the beginning of the Liberation of Europe from a regime which has come to embody modern evil. And radio covers it from beginning to end, in depth and in person. The highlights are many: Wright Bryan of NBC describing the disappointment of a paratrooper who failed to make his scheduled drop, Charles Collingwood of CBS making his way to a Normandy beach, George Hicks of the Blue Network describing the joy of Navy gunners bringing down their first Nazi plane. But perhaps the greatest thrill comes at 3:32 am on June 6th, as Colonel R. Ernest Dupuis reads the concise, understated communique the entire world awaited: "Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the Northern Coast of France." History in the making-- and, for me, radio's finest moment.