The other evening, I made one of my accustomed tours through the cell blocks. As I strolled along I could hear laughter issuing from practically every cell and could see, of course, that the radio was creating this atmosphere of joviality.
"Hello, Warden," the men greeted as I passed by. "They got a swell program on tonight."
I knew the program they were referring to. It was one of the prominent half-hour variety shows, and a favorite among the prisoners. But whether it was really as humorous as the mirth of the men seemed to indicate was a question; because prison, after a period of time, exerts an unfortunate, though to be expected, influence over the inmates incarcerated there.
Confined as they are, and with anything of tremendous importance rarely occurring to liven up their existence, they seize upon the slightest and most insignificant happening as material upon which to build something of moment to them. As a result, one can hear them laughing in the prison yard over the most trivial incident, or gravely arguing about the smallest matter imaginable.
Thus it is not difficult to understand why the remarks of a radio comedian, of a man who is expected to be comical, will move the men to hysterics, regardless of actual humorous quality.
As I continued my inspection, the hilarity gradually subsided and was replaced by an air of almost complete silence. I knew what was responsible for the change in attitude. The men were now listening to another type of program, a leading symphony orchestra; for it is our object, as far as possible, to provide a variety of entertainment for the confined men. And we do this for several reasons.
In the first place the types of inmates are as numerous as the types of programs, and therefore the tastes of all must be taken into consideration. There are many educated men to whom good music constitutes the essence of recreational enjoyment. Then there are prisoners for whom the drama holds the most desirable form of relaxation. But with practically few exceptions, every inmate eagerly listens to the news broadcasts so that he may participate as best he can in the constant movement that takes place in the world of which he was once a part.
The prisoners receive only broadcasts selected by our civilian program director, and these presentations are transmitted from our central receiving station to earphones in their cells. This means, of course, that the inmates do not have the privilege of choosing individual programs, but we so vary the types of shows that the desires of all are reasonably well satisfied.
Taking into account the practices of years ago, in which inmates, when not working, were confined completely to themselves, not even being allowed normal communication with one another, it is obvious to anyone what a tremendous blessing the radio is in the lives of men otherwise restrained from any direct contact with the world outside.
And in this connection, the radio medium contains features not possessed by the most complete library. It establishes a relationship with the living, vibrating human being other than with the cold, dead print of a book or of a publication.
But while a library can never be replaced even by the most advanced radio methods or technique, nonetheless what the men need most in prison is that which everyone on the outside appreciates, perhaps the least: contact with his fellow man. And radio provides this vital and valuable link for the man behind bars.
Lewis E. Lawes in Radio Guide, February 11, 1939
It's a bit puzzling, on first meeting Major Edward Bowes, to decide whether you are looking at a churchman or the head of a prosperous money-lending agency. His manner is faintly pious; his eyes are as cold as a polar bear's paws.
Still, it's his nose that really gets you. It is a great, engulfing over-riding thing which makes Jimmy Durante's look like a wemple. The man behind it is about 66. He has hair which is thin and vaguely orange in color, he is faultlessly dressed, gracious, suave. Perhaps the prime quality in the success of Major Bowes is the fact that he approached radio with stability of big business -- he was already a big and successful business man in the theatrical world when radio came along -- at a time when many of the large figures in radio had no such stability.
Amateur hours were not new when the Major blossomed into a front-page radio man with his amateur hour. It was an old theatrical stunt, but the Major had the foresight -- or hindsight -- to realize that here was a program potentiality already tried in the theater. It remained for Bowes to adapt it to the microphone in such a big way that it immediately captivated the imagination of every theatrically ambitious youngster or oldster in the country -- and made it one of the most widely heard programs in radio.
For years back Major Bowes was an American habit, something like the Sunday afternoon nap. Millions of people listened to him. His titles were many and diverse. He was honorary mayor of 67 cities, honorary fire chief of 57 cities, honorary police chief of 51 cities, honorary editor of 30 newspapers. In New Jersey he was honorary president of the Homing Pigeons' Club. Ohio elected him a member of the Monday Afternoon Archery Society. The Ancient Order of Beekeepers, of Maryland, took him in and made him one of their own. In New York State he was honorary second baseman of the Albany Baseball Club. He owned a stable of racing horses: He had three yachts, eight automobiles, four chefs. His salary was around $430,000 a year, or roughly about a quarter of a million dollars greater than that of his radio sponsor, Walter P. Chrysler, the automobile manufacturer.
In Yoga philosophy the life-giving element is called prana. It is no exaggeration to say that amateurs have been Major Bowes' prana. Tens of thousands of amateurs have appeared on his program, most of them for just about four minutes. And without any noticeable theatrical talent of his own he has made them pay off. His voice just escapes being commonplace. He has a pleasant, smooth personality. Hundreds of small clergymen have the same. All things considered, Bowes' success is a curious and remarkable phenomenon which can be explained in part at least by something in the American people: the desire, perhaps equally curious, to see and hear aspiring youngsters make their first taut effort for recognition.
Major Edward Bowes is a San Francisco boy. He was born around the year 1876 into a relatively poor family. His father. a weigher on the docks, died when Bowes was a youngster, and the boy had to leave school and find a job. As a schoolboy it happened that he was an uncommonly good penman and he turned this skill into money, writing fancily trimmed greeting cards in the window of a San Francisco store. Later on he became a real-estate agent and made good at it. Still later he became one of a group which put up the Capitol Theatre, in New York. From its stage, in 1922, was broadcast the first radio program offered in a theater.
The late Samuel F. Rothafel (Roxy) presided over these broadcasts from the Capitol Theatre until 1925, and when he left Bowes took over. He began his amateur hour in 1934 as a sideline. It became so popular that at one time about 300 amateurs a week were broke and stranded in New York City. In the early days, according to the Bowes office, 2,000 applications to appear were received every day.
According to several radio polls, the Maior these days shows signs of being winded. Hooper ratings, compiled by C. E. Hooper, Inc., show that in the past two years Bowes' percentage of total listeners has dropped from 40.1 to 31.0. In the same period his average national rating dropped from 17.5 to 13.9.
Once there were 14 of the highly publicized Major Bowes units which traveled through the country winning scrolls and keys to cities, playing vaudeville and moving picture theaters. Now there are three. The amateurs themselves are the Major's sharpest critics. It is clear that not all of them could become stars, and nothing so embitters the ambitious as failure. Professionals have also been used in these units and the amateurs do not always stand up well by comparison. This is another source of resentment.
It is undoubtedly true that of the thousands of youngsters who have appeared on Bowes' programs, less than half a dozen have won any real success in show business.
Watching Bowes as he works with the amateurs Thursday nights, you are aware of no excessive warmth between him and the talent, no camaraderie, certainly no careless rapture. You are aware of an impersonal business man being impersonal at his business. He just misses being aloof. On the other hand there is probably no place for anything more than that. He is at least impartially impersonal. There is his medium smile for the amateur as he approaches the microphone, his well-done smile when the youngster has done his bit. The rare smile, according to radio legend, is for the photograph of Bowes and the amateur that goes out to the hometown newspaper.
In New York, in radio's inner circles, it is pretty generally thought that amateur hours -- not necessarily Bowes' but all amateur hours -- are on the way out. The war naturally makes all such speculation just that: speculation. The fickleness of public taste, in Bowes' case anyway, is discounted because of his reputation and following, and the fact that he has been a radio personality for close to 20 years, a record performance.
From Tune In, March 1943
Announcing radio programs might be called the world's most recent profession, because announcers for broadcasting stations were introduced first about four years ago when KDKA, the world's pioneer station of the Westinghouse Company at East Pittsburgh, Pa., was started.
H. W. Arlin, the world's pioneer radio announcer, made his debut early in 1921 and has been continuously "on the air" since. Thus his long service entitles him to the honors of being the veteran of radio announcers.
Arlin's studio experiences have been many and varied. Life as a radio announcer is not a drab affair, as there is a necessity of being continually on the "qui vive."
In the following interview Arlin tells of some of his studio experiences and some interesting contacts with his radio public.
"I am often asked the question, 'Do you become tired of announcing?' or 'Does radio work become monotonous?' My answers to such questions are always in the negative, thanks to an ever-curious and an assisting public. By such an answer, I mean that any monotony which might otherwise tend to creep into the almost continual execution of programs is quickly dispelled by a multitude of extraneous duties with which an announcer is confronted.
"Probably one of the most interesting phases of studio work comes through contact with the public, not entirely by personal association, but also through the telephone and telegraph. No work can become monotonous or tiresome where the public is involved . On the contrary, I have found that a study of the whims and fancies of the public has been an exceedingly interesting one. Paraphrasing the famous expression of Abraham Lincoln, 'You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't please all of the people all of the time.' Not in radio, at any extent. This statement could be applied to the view of the public on any one phase of radio entertainment such as music or sports. When applied to all of the phases of radio, it becomes many more times effective. What one person likes, another dislikes, and what one person condemns, another approves; so an announcer is almost justified in concluding that a 50-50 break with the listening public is fair enough, However, 100 percent satisfaction is always the goal.
"In telling of the announcer's contact with the public we may take into consideration only one phase of this contact; that of telephone conversations. The nature of the telephone messages received, together with the conversations that follow, tend to create in one a desire for the study of people. The thoughts and ideas which prompt these many calls are perhaps innumerable; perhaps some one conceives an idea by which radio can be of aid to him in his own personal advancement or the advancement of some pet theory, or possibly someone desires some information which may vary from that of a query regarding what is the proper food to give a sick baby to that of certain details regarding a program to be broadcast several weeks hence.
"A few of the seemingly endless number of such questions and requests may be of interest. A confiding interest in our listeners, (this same public) will necessitate the omission of the names of any personalities involved in the following:
"One of our good Canadian friends recently called to tell us about a circular parking station he had invented for automobiles which would handle 200 cars and which could be operated by one man . Appreciating the need for better parking service and predicting great success for his venture, he requested that we advise the radio public of his invention with full details as to where to purchase these stations.
"A lady calls us and requests that we announce that she has just left a package of pajamas on the street car and would like to have the service of the radio in recovering them. After being informed that we never make local announcements except in cases of robberies, kidnapping, lost persons and such emergencies, she replies, 'Well, this is an emergency case, because it is the only package I had.'
"An elderly lady, apparently a student of nature, calls and gives us the following important news item: 'Will you please announce that t here is about four inches of snow in my backyard and that I have just seen two cardinal red birds?' Of course, a very usual sight for this time of the year.
"No sooner is the telephone receiver on the hook than the bell again rings and an innocent feminine voice pops the following impression: 'I just heard you announce that you had received a telegram from New York commenting on the program. I would like to know if you are also broadcasting to Ohio tonight, as I would like to request a number for some friends out there who do not have the advantages of a radio.'.
"It has also been brought very forcibly to my attention that radio has made a greater impression upon the public than has music. Of the many proofs of this statement, I might cite an occasion on which a program was being presented by the great Fritz Kreisler.
The telephone rings and the following question comes from one of our listeners: 'Do I have to listen to that novice all evening?' A very provoking question to ask an announcer on such an occasion. He was then asked if he knew who he was listening to and after replying in the negative, he was very politely told that if his set was not working properly or that if he didn't appreciate the music, he was in no way obligated to keep on listening the rest of the evening. This, apparently, answered his first question satisfactorily, and was an answer which fortunately savored very little of the thoughts that were running through the announcer's brain.
"A lack of appreciation for the success of artists or for the repertoire used by them sometimes results in requests which provoke a smile from the person to whom they are addressed. When presenting a program at KDKA recently Christine Miller Clemson, who before her marriage was one of the country's contraltos and a concert singer with an enviable record, was requested to sing the jazz number 'Red Hot Mamma.'.
"Perhaps one of the most common requests received is that requesting an artist to sing a particular number. In spite of the fact that there are thousands of songs, a good many listeners cannot quite understand why the singer does not have the particular number they request. Song pluggers are requested to sing 'Arias' and grand opera stars are requested to sing jazz numbers by the well-meaning audience. It also happens quite often that in spite of the fact that we receive hundreds of requests for numbers during a particular evening, some well-meaning individual is at a loss to know why his or her particular request was not granted.
"Oftentimes a party will call and ask the following question or a similar one: 'I have a five-tube neutrodyne set and cannot hear anything. Will you please tell me what is the matter with my set?' The opinion seems to be quite prevalent among a good many listeners that the wavelength determines the distance which a station can be heard, and usually the belief prevails that the distance a station can be heard varies directly with its wavelength. This opinion is the cause of some very humorous questions being asked.
"Among the innumerable questions are such questions as these: What time is it? Where is station WXV located? What is the name of the waltz the band played last Saturday night? What is the wavelength of station WXV? How far are you broadcasting tonight? Who is going to give your program on the 2nd of next month?'
"And so the announcer soon finds himself converted into an information bureau from which the dissemination of news adds a very colorful diversion to his vocation."
From Radio Age, June 1925
Harry Ackerman, long-time executive at CBS radio died Feb. 3, 1991. He worked on many of network radio's successful shows, including Our Miss Brooks and Gunsmoke.
After graduating from college in 1935, Ackerman became an assistant to Raymond Knight and appeared as part-time announcer and comic poet on Knight's Cuck Coo Hour at NBC. Later he became the assistant director of the Phil Baker Show.
From New York he moved to Detroit, where he was hired as agency producer for The Lone Ranger. Then he was hired to produce two Hollywood programs, The Phantom Pilot with Howard Duff and Elliott Lewis and Landendoft News Dramas, which he later described as a "kind of West Coast March of Time."
When Ackerman was Sperdvac's guest in 1988, he recalled with pleasure his work on the Gulf Screen Guild Theatre, which featured performers who donated their earnings to the Motion Picture Home. "That was a dream experience," he observed. "In the three years I was producer/director. I had absolute carte blanche. 1 could do any script I wanted and cast it with whatever stars I could find available.
Ackerman was supervisor of programs, and later vice president in charge of programs, at Young and Rubicam in 1948, when CBS hired him to work as an executive producer in New York. There he was in charge of all CBS programs originating from New York. Six months later he was transferred to Hollywood to be head of West Coast programming for the network.
For a while, he continued to work as director of The Aldrich Family on NBC, even though he was a CBS executive.
He was still in New York when CBS was about to bring Our Miss Brooks to the radio airwaves. He tried to get Shirley Booth to play the lead. "All she could see was the down side of the underpaid teacher. She couldn't make any fun of it," he observed. Following his transfer to California, Ackerman hired Eve Arden to play the lead.
After bringing the Adventures of Phillip Marlowe to CBS, William S. Paley asked Ackerman to "develop a Phillip Marlowe of the early west." The result was Gunsmoke. At the first he and others at CBS were not sure what position the lead Gunsmoke character should have. "We experimented in writing scripts with him as sheriff for a while and I think in one version we had him as a private eye," Ackerman told SPERDVAC. "Then we finally settled on him being a marshal.
His job at CBS included responsibility for the continued success of the programs that moved from NBC to CBS during the famed 1948 talent raid. "When you're responsible to a boss like Bill Paley, you've got to turn out an excellent product or you'll lose your job," he commented.
Dan Haefele in Sperdvac Radiogram, March 1991
With the musical refrain of "I'll Take Manhattan," and the sound of impatient car horns in the background, another episode of Broadway is My Beat begins. New York police detective Danny Clover informs us that "Broadway is my beat. From Times Square to Columbus Circle -- the gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world."
Homicide detective Clover, played by Larry Thor, narrates the introduction to each program's plot. In "The Thomas Hart Case," broadcast April 14, 1951, his calm, yet intense voice begins another episode, his narration blending smoothly into the action of the story.
"The day without color is only six hours old and the restlessness begins to eat at Broadway. The waiting, the longing for the night time begins to grow like hunger, like thirst, because Broadway's night is a banquet, loaded with delicacies. The scarlet wine of neon. The forbidden fruit of a trumpet's scream. The lukewarm stew offered on a tin plate through an alley doorway. But, Broadway's day -- that's the drab time, kid, the empty time. The time of leaning against sun-warmed stalls and waiting. And you wait for the rest of Broadway, because it'll come -- something will come. And it does. You know that, because Broadway nudges you with an elbow, winks and says 'follow me, kid.' The day has turned bright and it's not far away where the day is bright -- on 39th Street just off 7th Avenue in the garment center. The crowd is already there ahead of you, toothpicking its last bite of lunch, digesting the spectacle of a man sprawled on the pavement. There was a scissors in his back."
And so, with poetic metaphor, Clover is challenged with another crime, another mystery, another case to solve.
The show originally was broadcast from New York, February 27 to May 29, 1949. Actor Anthony Ross was the original Clover. In July 1949, the series moved to Hollywood. The title of each show was the name of that week's victim. The first Los Angeles launched episode, "Jimmy Dorn," began a seven-week summer season that ran from July 7 through August 25 of that year. The first full season program, "Mei Ling," was heard November 5, 1949. The final broadcast, "Floyd Decker," was aired August 1, 1954. In all, there were 194 episodes.
Anthony Ross continued to play Clover through June 23, 1950. Then, on July 3, 1950, when the show moved from Fridays to Mondays, Larry Thor became Clover. Before starring in Broadway is My Beat, Thor was the announcer for two other crime/adventure series: Rocky Jordan (1945-47) and The Green Lama (June to August 1949). Other case regulars on Broadway is My Beat were Charles Calvert as Sgt. Gino Tataglia (no other known credits) and Jack Kruschen as Sgt. Muggavan. Kruschen also had worked on many other shows, including Pete Kelly's Blues, Escape and Gunsmoke.
A "Who's Who" list of Hollywood radio actors had periodic supporting roles on Broadway is My Beat. Some of the better-known cast members included Hy Averback, Harry Bartell, Herb Butterfield, Mary Jane Croft, Lawrence Dobkin, Herb Ellis, Sam Edwards, Sheldon Leonard, Barney Phillips, Irene Tedrow, Anne Whitfield and Ben Wright. Most of these character actors also had performed on one or more of the following shows: Gunsmoke, Escape, Crime Classics, On Stage, Nightbeat, Pete Kelly's Blues and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, to mention just a few.
Bill Anders did the announcing. He also had been the announcer on the short-lived (July to September 1951) Mr. Aladdin detective show starring Paul Frees, written by Dick Powell and directed by Elliot Lewis. The musical score for Broadway is My Beat was composed and conducted by Alexander Courage. He would later write the theme music for the original Star Trek television series.
Lewis, the show's producer and director, was a man of many talents. He had already established himself as a versatile radio actor, writer and producer. But Broadway is My Beat was his first directing effort. Lewis had an advantage as a director. He was born in Manhattan and had first-hand knowledge of the flavor, pulse and pace of the city. Some of his major acting credits include playing Frankie Remley on The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show (1946-48), Archie on The Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1943-44), Captain Bart Friday on Adventures by Morse (1944-45 -- shared with David Ellis and Russell Thorson), and Gregory Hood on The Cast Book of Gregory Hood (1948).
In addition, he directed the CBS Radio Workshop and was creator-producer-director of Crime Classics. In his later years, Lewis wrote a series of detective novels and served as a script consultant on the Remington Steele television show. For Broadway is My Beat, Lewis used three sound men to recreate the sometimes noise sounds of the city. Simply stated, in his words, "Even the people in New York are noisy."
Morton Fine and David Friedkin wrote the finely honed and creative scripts for Broadway is My Beat. They also collaborated on scripts for Bold Venture, Crime Classics, The Front Page, The Lineup, Phillip Morris Playhouse, On Stage and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, among others. In addition, they were two of the producer-directors of Escape.
To say that Broadway is My Beat had the services of some very talented and creative people would lean towards understatement.
The CBS network press kit provides some insight into the main character of the series. "As a kid, Danny Clover sold papers and shined shoes along the Great White Way, and later pounded the beat as a policeman. He knows everything along Broadway, from panhandler to operatic prima donna, but he's still sentimental about the street -- forever a wonderland of glamour to him."
Now, back to the Thomas Hart Case. Having successfully brought the criminal to justice, Clover ends the show with the following reflections:
"In the April night, Broadway echoes with sounds heard only in darkness. The whispers that speckle places where there's no sun. There's a touch on your coat. You turn. There's no one. Nothing. Only the trail of dust on your shoulder. It's Broadway. The gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world. Broadway. My beat!"
Charles Beckett in Return With Us Now, March 2004
The National Broadcasting Company's Silver Jubilee celebration on November 15, 1951, brings to mind another, even earlier, November day when the world's first scheduled broadcast was heard over KDKA, Pittsburgh, pioneer radio station. Presentation of this inaugural broadcast on November 2, 1920, came about as the result of several strange and seemingly unrelated circumstances.
It all began in 1915 with a Westinghouse engineer, Frank Conrad. Westinghouse had been experimenting with the vacuum tube while working on government contracts. To settle a five-dollar bet on the accuracy of his twelve-dollar watch, Conrad built a small receiver to hear time signals from the Naval Observatory at Arlington, Virginia. Fascinated by his new hobby, Conrad turned next to construction of a transmitter, licensed as 8XK, which he installed above his garage in the rear of his home. It is from this station that KDKA stems and with it, radio broadcasting as it is today.
By 1919, messages from 8XK were heard in widely separated locations -- messages discussing the kind of equipment being used and results obtained. Bored by this routine, Conrad, on October 17, 1919, placed his microphone before a phonograph and substituted music for the voice. The music saved Conrad's voice, but more -- it delighted and amazed "hams" all over the country.
Conrad continued to broadcast music on a two-a-week schedule and by late summer 1920, interest had become so general that the Joseph Home Co., a Pittsburgh department store, ran an ad in the Pittsburgh Sun offering "Amateur Wireless Sets for sale -- $10.00 and up."
To H. P. Davis, Westinghouse vice president, who had been an ardent follower of the Conrad ventures, the ad was an inspiration. If this was a fair example of popular reaction to Conrad's broadcasts, the real radio industry lay in the manufacture of home receivers, he reasoned, and in supplying radio programs which would make people want to own such receivers. Davis set about winning other Westinghouse officials to the same view, and so persuasive were his arguments that a station was authorized and election night selected for the grand opening.
The broadcast originated in a tiny, makeshift shack atop one of the Westinghouse buildings in East Pittsburgh. There was no studio. A single room accommodated transmitting equipment, turntable for records; and the first broadcast staff handled telephone lines to the Pittsburgh Post where arrangements had been made to secure election returns by telephone.
Broadcasting began at 8 o'clock election night and continued until noon of the following day, even though James Cox, hours earlier, had conceded the election to Warren Harding. Throughout the night, while the usual crowds stood in a driving rain before outdoor bulletin boards to see returns, a fortunate few, early-morning fans, equipped with crystal sets and earphones, were hearing the same returns in the comfort of their homes. In addition, between returns and occasional music, they heard this request over and over again: "Will anyone hearing this broadcast communicate with us, as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received." So KDKA was born.
Much of the early history of KDKA is actually the early history of radio. Many of its notable "firsts" are "firsts" of the industry as well. And these KDKA "firsts" have put the station in history books.
From Radio-TV Mirror, November 1951
My former agent just forwarded to me the letter you wrote inquiring as to my present whereabouts. As this letter will attest, I'm alive and well, continuing to ply my craft in southern California.
You must have a great ear for voices to have remembered mine over a span of some 25 years.
Since the demise of Straight Arrow I continued to work in television, theatrical movies and radio, until drama disappeared from the audio waves. Recently, during a brief resurgence of the radio art, I worked many of the Sears and Mutual Radio Theater shows.
Frank Bingman, the announcer on Straight Arrow, is retired, living on his hilly 60-acre ranch above the Mojave Desert in L.A. County. I see him occasionally.
Fred Howard, "Packy," I have lost track of and fear he may have shuffled off this mortal coil. He had retired several years ago in an area near Oceanside. That's between L.A. and San Diego.
Gwen Delano, "Mesquite Molly," died just a few years after the series ended.
The original director of the show retired several years ago as vice president of the ad agency that produced the show for Nabisco. You may have read something of him in recent months -- Neil Reagan, older brother of the current president of the United States.
I have had the pleasure of working several radio shows with Ronald, and found him to be an intelligent, hard-working, pleasant individual.
That should bring you up to date on the status of the regular crew from the old Straight Arrow show, plus a bonus sidebar on our First Family.
Howard Culver, Collector's Corner, Summer 1982