How hard was it to become the nation’s most popular program over the course of a ten month season during Network Radio’s Golden Age? Only eight programs finished on top of the annual prime time ratings over the 21 year period. (1)
It was almost as difficult to become the Number One program for just one month . Over the 210 months of the 21 seasons from 1932 to 1953, only 16 programs did it! (2)
By the beginning Network Radio’s Golden Age in the fall of 1932, Archibald Crossley’s audience survey results from 33 metropolitan markets - which he called ratings - were published twice a month. Each month’s bundle of figures provided bragging rights for the winning programs and networks, but only within the broadcasting and advertising industries. The listening public wasn’t privy to the competition until the promotion minded C.E. Hooper made his Hooperatings First Fifteen available to the press every month in the 1940’s. However, the publication of Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953 uncovered this information on a daily, monthly and annual basis.
This site’s posts, The Network Race and The Three Eras of The Golden Age, detail the general trends of radio listening during the period. Here is how program popularity flowed from month to month during the 21 years:
The 1932-33 Season opened the Golden Age with laughter. NBC aired the Number One show in all ten months. Sunday was home to radio’s most popular program. Eddie Cantor’s Chase & Sanborn Hour was the top rated show for each of the six months it was broadcast, November through April. Texaco Fire Chief Ed Wynn took the top spot in September, October and June when Cantor was on hiatus. Jack Pearl peaked at Number One in May - his first and only monthly win.
The 1933-34 Season resulted in another sweep for NBC with either Standard Brands or General Foods the proud sponsor of every month’s Number One program Eddie Cantor ran his string to twelve unbeaten months for Standard‘s Chase & Sanborn Coffee, hitting Number One from November through April, all six months his Sunday night show aired. General Foods’ minstrel themed Maxwell House Showboat was Number One in the Cantor-free months of September, May and June while Rudy Vallee crooned his way to first place for Standard’s Fleischmann Yeast Hour in October.
The 1934-35 Season produced five separate monthly winners. Eddie Cantor again turned in America’s top rated program but caused the end of two monthly winning streaks at mid-season - NBC’s and his own.
Cantor’s Sunday night Chase & Sanborn Hour took monthly honors for NBC when he returned to the network in October and November. But his personal streak of 14 months as Number One whenever he appeared ended with his jump to CBS in February and NBC’s Rudy Vallee overtook Cantor to win first place for the month by a scant half of one rating point. Cantor came back to win March which turned out to be the last time he would ever register a month’s Number One show. Ironically, his last monthly win was the first in CBS history and snapped NBC’s string at 26 consecutive months of first place shows that dated back to September, 1932.
Rounding out the monthly winners, Maxwell House Showboat won September, December and January. Jack Benny’s new Sunday show developed an audience and finished first in April and May giving Blue its first monthly wins. The season’s surprise was Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour, which generated an uncommonly high first place rating in June, of 40.1. (See Major Bowes' Original Money Machine.)
The 1935-36 Season confirmed Chase & Sanborn’s decision to fill its 8:00 Sunday hour on NBC with Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour . The program was the first to become Number One in all ten months of the season. Nobody came close. The only question was how long Bowes could continue his unprecedented streak of first place finishes.
The 1936-37 Season answered the Bowes question quickly. The Original Amateur Hour won September for NBC- the twelfth consecutive month it was the country’s most popular program. Then, like Eddie Cantor had done two years earlier, Bowes jumped to CBS. Chrysler took over The Original Amateur Hour’s sponsorship and moved it to Thursday nights - and forever out of first place in the monthly rankings.
Jack Benny returned from his summer hiatus in October and won the remaining nine months and the season’s crown for his new network, NBC.
The 1937-38 Season produced program gold for Standard Brands again. Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy took over the 8:00 o’clock Sunday hour on NBC and turned in the Number One rated program for all ten months of the season pushing NBC’s streak of consecutive monthly winners rose to 31.
The 1938-39 Season saw Edgar Bergen and his Charlie McCarthy alter-ego do it again. Bergen’s Chase & Sanborn Hour became the first and only program to be Number One every month for two straight seasons. As a result, NBC’s streak of consecutive Number One monthly shows rose to 41.
The 1939-40 Season finally opened the door for Jack Benny to end the Bergen & McCarthy monopoly of monthly wins at 22 in November by edging out the ventriloquist by two-tenths of a point. The two (or three) comedians remained in a close race for the rest of the season - the difference between them was often less than a point. Bergen & McCarthy won September, December, January, April, May and June; Benny won November, February and March - and the season by two-tenths of a point. The only clear winner was NBC which extended its consecutive monthly winners to 51.
The 1940-41 Season was a remarkable year for CBS. The network claimed 24 of the season’s Top 50 programs and had most of the nightly Top Ten programs. It would be CBS’s best ratings season for the next nine years - but the network failed to win first place in any the year’s monthly ratings.
NBC’s Edgar Bergen opened strong in September and October, Jack Benny took over from November through March, Fibber McGee & Molly won their first month in April, Bergen repeated in May and the McGees returned to win June. Despite the CBS successes, Benny won the season and the three comedies ran NBC’s string of consecutive monthly wins to 61.
The 1941-42 Season started like 1938-39 for Edgar Bergen who regained ratings momentum in September while rivals Jack Benny and Fibber McGee & Molly remained on summer hiatus. Bergen gave Chase & Sanborn and NBC the month’s Number One program for five months through January. Blue had a rare first place tie in December - following America’s entry into World War II - when Walter Winchell’s Sunday night news commentaries tied Bergen.
Fibber McGee & Molly reclaimed first place in February, March and April with such ratings that they won the season. The Jim & Marian Jordan sitcom provided a golden lead-in for Bob Hope’s first monthly wins in May and June. Although tied in December, NBC’s string of consecutive months of Number One shows was extended to 71.
The 1942-43 Season was exceptional and exceptionally good for NBC. The network won the season with 32 of the annual Top 50 programs. It began a four year stretch in which the chain had at least 30 programs on the Top 50 list. And its string of monthly winners rolled on to 81.
With only one exception, Tuesday night on NBC became the new home of the monthly winners and all fell within the network’s 90-minute period between 9:30 and 11:00. Newcomer Red Skelton took November, January, March and May. Bob Hope won September, February and April. Fibber McGee & Molly was first in October and June. The only break in Tuesday’s monopoly was NBC’s Sunday giant, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, which led in December. (See Tuesday's All Time Top Ten.)
Icing on NBC’s cake was provided by Hope and Skelton who finished tied for the season’s most popular show.
The 1943-44 Season was a near repeat of the previous year. NBC continued to dominate the ratings with the season’s Top Five programs and eight of the first eleven. NBC’s Tuesday night comedy block again provided each month’s Number One program - running the network’s string up to 91 consecutive monthly winners.
Fibber McGee & Molly won five months while Bob Hope won the season and four months, and. Red Skelton completed the Tuesday sweep by tying with Sunday’s Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy in September. The three Tuesday night comedies ran in a tightly knit pack - the difference between first and second place was half a rating point or less in October, November, February and April.
The 1944-45 Season was nearing the peak of NBC’s popularity. The network dominated the ratings with 33 of the season’s Top 50 programs. Equally impressive were its 18 programs placed in the season’s Top 25. Its top Tuesday entries extended NBC’s string of consecutive monthly winners to 101 with nothing in sight to challenge its comedy and variety heavyweights. Bob Hope’s weekly shows, mostly performed before military audiences, were the highest rated programs in nine of the season’s ten months. Fibber McGee & Molly edged out Hope in October by less than half a point.
The 1945-46 Season was the same old story. NBC again claimed two-thirds - 33 - of the seasons Top 50 programs. It was the greatest dominance a network would ever enjoy over its competitors. NBC’s string of consecutive monthly winners reached 111 and the only excitement was the ping-pong game between Bob Hope and his Tuesday night lead-in, Fibber McGee & Molly, for the monthly crowns. Hope won the season along with September, December, February, April, May and June. Jim & Marian Jordan’s homespun heroes of Wistful Vista finished first in October, November January and March.
The 1946-47 Season was the beginning of the end for NBC’s string of consecutive monthly winners that had begun with Major Bowes’ amateur show in June, 1935. It encompassed Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy’s two season sweeps of the late thirties, the frequent firsts by Jack Benny and it extended through the glory days of Tuesday’s Terrific Trio - Bob Hope, Fibber McGee & Molly and Red Skelton.
Skelton set a record of a different kind in September. His 15.3 was the lowest rating yet recorded for a month’s Number One show. It was a glimpse of things to come.
NBC comedy continued to sweep first place for the next eight months. Fibber McGee & Molly won October and NBC’s Sunday programs were represented by Jack Benny’s win in November and Edgar Bergen’s in December. Bob Hope’s Tuesday show took first place from January through May assuring him of the season’s crown. And then…
NBC’s streak reached a whopping 120 months - the equivalent of twelve consecutive ten month seasons - when the inevitable finally happened.. CBS snapped it when Lux Radio Theater - the only hour-long program in the season’s Top 50 - produced the month’s highest ratings in June, 1947. That, in turn, began a string of 15 consecutive monthly wins for Lux - the longest since Edgar Bergen’s 22 month streak on NBC from 1937 to 1939.
The 1947-48 Season was the beginning for drama’s prominence in Network Radio. Lux Radio Theater was radio’s Number One rated program for ten consecutive months and gave CBS its first season sweep. Nothing came close to the star-studded Monday night adaptations of Hollywood films hosted by William Keighley. Easily the most popular program of the year, Lux Radio Theater of the 1947-48 season was the last series of Network Radio’s Golden Age to finish its season with an average rating of 30 or higher. (See Lux...Presents Hollywood!)
The 1948-49 Season saw ABC win its first month since its Blue Network days in 1942 - and the same personality - Walter Winchell - did it. The sharp tongued commentator snapped Lux Radio Theater’s string of consecutive monthly wins at 15 in December. Nevertheless, Lux continued its winning ways as radio’s Number One show and added September through December, plus April and May to its wins. Jack Benny, who began the season on NBC then jumped to CBS at mid-season, tied for first place in January with ABC‘s Winchell.. Then Winchell, with his 15 minute Sunday night commentaries, snapped the CBS string of consecutive monthly wins at 16 by taking sole possession of first in February, March and June.
The 1949-50 Season was only the second time in the Golden Age that CBS won every month. Jack Benny and Lux Radio Theater battled for first place for nine months and a newcomer slipped in on the tenth. Lux won September, October, November, March, April and May Benny turned in the highest ratings for December, January and February. Both shows went on an early summer vacation which allowed Marie Wilson’s sitcom, My Friend Irma, to take first place in June with a mediocre 12.1 rating.
The 1950-51 Season was another sweep for CBS, extending its string of consecutive winning months to 20. Lux Radio Theater continued to dominate with eight first place finishes from September through December and February through May. Jack Benny beat Lux by one-tenth of a point to win January. Both programs were edged out in June by Benny’s fellow defectors from NBC to CBS, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy and Amos & Andy, who tied for first.
The 1951-52 Season stretched the CBS string of wins another ten months. Lux Radio Theater won six of the season’s ten months and Jack Benny captured three. Amos & Andy won March - providing Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll their first outright monthly win in their 23 year Network Radio career.
The 1952-53 Season closed Network Radio’s Golden Age and CBS entered the final season with 30 consecutive months of first place programs. Jack Benny and Lux Radio Theater tied for honors in September, Benny pulled ahead to win October through December and was tied for first by Amos & Andy in January. Benny then won February and March outright on his way to the season’s title. Lux won May and Benny closed out the season by winning June, a feat he first achieved in April eighteen years earlier.
NBC finally broke CBS’s dominance of first place monthly finishes in April, 1953, when Groucho Marx’s comedy quiz, You Bet Your Life, tied Lux Radio Theater. it was the first time in 59 long months that NBC, which had once dominated Network Radio, could even claim a tie for a month’s Number One program.
As the Golden Age came to an end, CBS had run up 40 straight months of winning or tying for Number One monthly finishes. It was far from NBC record of 120 months but only proved again that Network Radio listeners were creatures of habit.
(1) Annual winners were Bob Hope: 4 seasons & 1 tie; Eddie Cantor: 3 seasons; Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy: 2 seasons; Fibber McGee & Molly: 1 season; Jack Benny: 4 seasons. Lux Radio Theater: 5 seasons, Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour: 1 season; Red Skelton: 1 tie.
(2) Monthly winners were Amos & Andy: 1 month & 2 ties; Bob Hope: 29 months, Ed Wynn: 3 months, Eddie Cantor:15 months ; Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy: 36 months & 3 ties; Fibber McGee & Molly: 18 months; Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life: 1 tie; Jack Benny: 33 months and 3 ties; Jack Pearl: 1 month; Lux Radio Theater: 35 months & 2 ties; Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour: 12 months; Maxwell House Showboat: 6 months; My Friend Irma: 1 month; Red Skelton: 5 months & 1 tie; Rudy Vallee: 2 months; Walter Winchell: 3 months & 2 ties.
Copyright © 2015 Jim Ramsburg, Estero FL Email: firstname.lastname@example.org