Network Radio gave us many scary moments with The Witch’s Tale, Lights Out, Quiet Please, The Whistler and The Mysterious Traveler.
But delightfully spooky as they were, none achieved the popularity or commercial success of Inner Sanctum, Himan Brown’s quirky contribution to the genre that scored five Top 50 seasons in its eleven season run from 1940 until 1951 against some fairly frightening competition.
No other series became so closely identified with a single sound effect - the ominous squeaking door. And no other series was introduced by a (g)host whose graveside manner included assaulting his listeners with dark humor and cheap puns based on episode titles like Don’t Dance On My Grave, Terror By Night, Hangman’s Island, The Corpse Laughs Last, Death Is A Joker and Detour To Terror.
The new text and audio post Inner Sanctum traces the history of the program and its prolific producer who was active in Network Radio drama until 1982 - 30 years after the Golden Age had passed! It also recalls one of the most memorable commercials from Network Radio‘s Golden Age, Bromo Seltzer’s famous "Talking Locomotive".
THIS WAS A SAD WEEK over the years of Network Radio's Golden Age. The industry lost Al Jolson, Ben Bernie and Your Hit Parade's Mark Warnow during this week of October 19-25. On the brighter side, the events listed below also took place. Do you know in what years they took place?
October 26, ----: The FBI arrests a former mental patient who admits to the September 17th bombing of a Voice of America radio tower in Mason, Ohio.
October 27, ----: Groucho Marx, 57, hosts the new comedy quiz You Bet Your Life on ABC, beginning nine year multi- network run. (See The One...The Only...Groucho! on this site.)
October 28, ----: The American Federation of Musicians and record companies reach an accord to end the AFM’s ten month strike.
October 29, ----: Kate Smith appears in 19 hour marathon broadcast on WJSV/Washington and sells a million dollars in U.S War Bonds, (14.1 Mil in today’s money). (See Kate's Great Song on this site.)
October 30, ----: CBS broadcasts Orson Welles’ infamous War of The Worlds drama. (See War of The Worlds on this site.)
October 31, ----: Bob Hawk begins his Thanks To The Yanks quiz show for service personnel on CBS awarding cartons of Camel Cigarettes as prizes. The program runs for two seasons then becomes The Bob Hawk Show. (See Monday's All Time Top Ten on this site.)
These and dozens of other events - complete with their full dates - appear at This Week In The Golden Age - the last post in the left hand column, updated every Sunday morning.
WHAT WAS HADACOL and what did the long gone patent medicine have to do with the Golden Age of Radio?
It will come as a surprise to many that the 1940’s brainchild of Louisiana State Senator Dudley LeBlanc was a product introduced and built through radio advertising, saturating stations in 31 states with cure-all, feel-good promises. LeBlanc, himself, wrote its copy, ““An effective treatment and cure for scores of ailments and diseases...and makes you boogie-woogie all the time!”
Although Hadacol’s curative powers were highly questionable, its 12% content of alcohol - as a “preservative” - was sure to leave its users feeling better.
LeBlanc also crafted the Hadacol Caravans - modern day medicine shows featuring many of the top names in show business. Touring ball parks and arenas throughout the Midwest and South with headliners that included Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Burns & Allen and Lucille Ball, LeBlanc climaxed the first year’s tour with network shows on Mutual and ABC boasting, “If I ain’t the biggest radio customer in the country, I’m sure gonna be!”
Then he sold the company and left most of his creditors hanging. What finally happened to LeBlanc, Hadacol and the hundreds of checks he left bouncing around the country is detailed in the post, HADACOL.
FOR MANY YEARS FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover resisted publicity - particularly the dramatization of the Bureau’s exploits. Even prolific producer Phillips H. Lord gave up after 13 weeks trying to get Hoover’s continued co-operation for his “sanctioned” series, G-Men, in the summer of 1935.
Nine years later CBS approached the Bureau for its endorsement of its new series, The FBI In Peace & War, based on Fredrick L. Collins popular book of the same name. The answer was the same, a polite but firm and official refusal. Nevertheless, CBS proceeded with show in November, 1944,
Then, early in 1945, Hoover’s attitude changed. Former comedy writer turned dramatist Jerry Divine approached him asking to go into the FBI’s files of closed cases for his new ABC series, This is Your FBI. Hoover reportedly welcomed Divine into his office, gave the series his blessing and allowed it to be identified every Friday night as, “…an official broadcast from the files of the FBI…”
The two programs were remarkably alike - both in sound and listener popularity. Both are compared in the text and audio post FBI vs. FBI - as well as a hint of what helped change Hoover’s mind. Because most good stories have a twist, so does this one - again involving Phillips H. Lord.
JACK BENNY'S program of March 28, 1948, was notable for two reasons: It was only eight days after its guest star, Ronald Colman, won the 1948 Academy Award as Best Actor and it introduced what many broadcast historians consider to be the greatest gag of Network Radio’s Golden Age.
For three seasons Benny’s crack quartet of writers had established Ronald & Benita Colman as Benny‘s “next door neighbors” in Beverly Hills. With the Colmans’ four or five guest appearances a year, the culture clash between the genteel Brits and the gauche comedian was hilarious and provided the show with one of its many reliable running gags.
Colman’s Academy Award also inspired a skit that resulted in another running gag for seven weeks during which the original bit was repeated twice and Benny’s variation of it was delivered three times. Each time, the routine drew more laughs than before. It soon became known by its straight line because most all of America knew its punch line.
The story behind this classic routine and the three episodes of the Benny show in which it became famous are found at the new post, Your Money Or Your Life.
A SECTION OF Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953 is titled Columbia, The Gem of Promotion. It’s a tribute to Bill Paley’s early hiring of advertising executives Paul Kresten and Victor Ratner to support his long-held belief that promotion could elevate CBS in listening popularity and advertising revenues. He was right on both counts.
There were other mistakes, of course, most having to do with sudden decisions common to the industry and just as quickly remedied. Ironically, Kresten and Ratner’s most effective efforts were in the areas of print advertising and printed promotional materials directed to the advertising community. Their work consistently reflected the upscale image that Paley demanded to combat NBC’s head start and prestige.
One of those print ads ran near the end of Network Radio‘s Golden Age in August, 1950. It was directed to time buyers and sold CBS Package Programs - shows created in-house by the network. The ad only ran once in Billboard. But it made such a claim for one or more of its programs that it begs for a followup - even now, 64 years later. It‘s fun to learn how even the pros can be so wrong at the text and audio post, Unwrapping CBS Package Shows.
NOT EVERYTHING IS always what it seems to be. Take Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour, for example. His claim to a military title was a stretch, the show wasn’t original, the contestants weren’t all amateurs and the show was only 30 minutes long for its final three seasons.
Most importantly, The Original Amateur Hour was more than a weekly show that burst on the scene in 1934 to become America‘s most popular radio program. It was a small industry that employed hundreds of workers all over the country. While Bowes made as much as two million dollars a year running the enterprise, it was also the cause of heartache and despair for thousands while entertaining millions. All of this is explained in the post, Major Bowes’ Original Money Machine.
THANKS TO YOU this site's popularity continues to grow. The 2014 total passed 36,000 visitors and 42,000 page hits on October 1st - not bad for a historical website focused on an era that ended over 60 years ago. To understand our thinking behind the book and this website, posted below is an audio post of my reading the forward to Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953.