In the middle of the 1920s American radio entered a new phase of importance and influence. The emergence of the National Broadcasting Company in 1926, and the Columbia Broadcasting System the following year, launched an era in which programming became unified and national in scope. In previous years, entertainers or speakers might be heard at best on small, regional chains of stations, some of which were contractually bound together, others of which were hastily cobbled together for a specific broadcast.
To air the 1923 World Series, for example, WEAF and WGY were joined by a special wire; only listeners in New York City and Schenectady were able to hear the broadcasts live. The Atwater Kent Program, a showcase of classical music which premiered in late 1925, was heard on Sunday afternoons on a chain of thirteen stations covering many of the major cities from the East coast to the Midwest: WEAF, WCAP, WWJ, WJAR (Providence), WEEI (Boston), WCAE (Pittsburgh), WSAI (Cincinnati), WOC (Ames, Iowa), WCCO (Minneapolis),
WGR (Buffalo), WOO (Philadelphia), KSD (St. Louis), and WTAC (Worcester, Massachusetts).
When Calvin Coolidge delivered his inaugural address in March 1925, the speech was carried on two webs of twenty-one and three stations, respectively. With no effective means of recording programs and replaying them on distant stations, only through such chains could listeners in one locale hear broadcasts from far-away cities. Although radio as a medium was affecting all parts of the nation, its programming remained overwhelmingly local in orientation, its unified national force yet to be registered.
National network radio developed rapidly. While few people envisioned such arrangements at the beginning of the decade, by the late 1920s both NBC and CBS were sizable businesses broadcasting simultaneously throughout the country. The history of the rise of NBC is the story of corporate rivalries, governmental litigation, brilliant business leadership, and an understanding of the potential of radio. Under the command of David Sarnoff, since 1926 the president of NBC's parent company, the Radio Corporation of America, the network became the leading communications-entertainment organization in the world.
NBC was actually two networks, called "Red" and "Blue" because of colored lines with which affiliated stations were linked on company maps. The Red Network (NBC-Red) emanated from WEAF (eventually renamed WRCA and later WNBC) which RCA had purchased from AT&T in 1926. It was the smaller, but more prestigious chain of stations at NBC. The Blue Network (NBC-Blue) was based on the RCA station WJZ which had moved from Newark to New York City.
NBC had commenced broadcasting with twenty-four stations, but within five years it had expanded to sixty-one stations for each of its networks. The success of NBC, however, had one important, but unanticipated effect: it spurred creation of a rival network, CBS, with the capital, management, and scope capable of challenging the broadcasting leadership exercised by the older web.
Above all, the emergence of CBS is the story of the leadership of William S. Paley, who assumed the presidency of the year-old network in 1928. With Paley's business and programming acumen, the struggling, nearly-bankrupt network of forty-seven stations—with the key station being WABC (later WCBS) in New York City—was by 1931 a prospering organization with seventy-nine affiliates.
The appearance and expansion of national radio networks would alter national listening patterns. No longer did local stations—especially those situated in small cities—have monopolistic control over programming. Instead, network affiliates throughout the U.S. were contractually obliged to broadcast the more sophisticated and technically-advanced programs emanating from WEAF, WJZ, or WABC. Rather than local musicians and entertainers, network radio presented nationally-known figures like Walter Damrosch, Paul Whiteman, Jessica Dragonette, Will Rogers, Major Edward Bowes, and Billy Jones and Ernie Hare. In entertaining an audience that spread from coast to coast, network radio was compelled to air programs that had broad appeal and top-flight talent. The formula apparently worked, for a survey conducted in 1935 showed that 88 percent of American listeners preferred network to local programming.
The quality of radio entertainment was epitomized on November 15, 1926 when NBC in its premier broadcast presented not only some of the nation's most celebrated talent, but an adequate representation of types of shows heard at that time. The broadcast was an elaborate affair that cost the fledgling network an exorbitant $50,000 and reached an estimated twelve million people. Big names, yes--but the program lacked originality. It was, predictably, a musical affair with the New York Symphony, New York Oratorio Society, with singers Titta Ruffo and Mary Garden providing classical selections. Popular dance tunes came from the orchestras of Vincent Lopez, George Olsen, Ben Bernie, and B. A. Rolfe.
Except for speeches from NBC officials, the only alternative to music was vaudeville humor from Will Rogers and the comedy team of Weber and Fields. This was, however, an accurate cross-section of radio in the middle of the decade: music, talk, jokes, and an occasional celebrity. Certainly, this was engaging, but it would continue repetitiously for years to be the scope of regularly-scheduled radio fare.
American radio by the late 1920s was filled with pleasant, but unspectacular, shows. Poets such as Tony Wons and spreaders of good cheer like Cheerio (Eugene Field) blended soft music and inspirational words for their many listeners. American women received recipes and household hints from Betty Crocker, Ida Bailey Allen, and Josephine Gibson; and beauty hints from Barbara Gould, Edna Wallace Hopper, and Nell Vinick.
The Voice of Experience offered troubled listeners a sympathetic Marion Sayle Taylor answering their personal problems. And
The American School of the Air was a daily CBS attempt to teach children history, current events, geography, economics, and music through the use of radio dramas. Indicative of the course of programming, one source asserts that the heaviest fan mail for any program in 1931 was received by astrologist Evangeline Adams whose daily horoscope show "took the country by storm." The appearance in August 1929 of
Amos 'n' Andy, however, would set in motion a series of events that would change the format of radio programming.
Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll began developing their minstrel-show characters, Amos Jones and Andy Brown—plus more than one hundred minor personalities—in Chicago in the latter half of the 1920s. First as Sam and Henry, and then Amos 'n' Andy, these two white dialecticians created in their black characterizations sympathetic figures whose tribulations would soon become the concern of the nation. Broadcasting first at WEBH and then at WGN, Gosden and Correll eventually brought their racial comedy to WMAQ and the NBC-Red network.
As a quarter-hour, serialized program it was aired Monday through Saturday at 7:00 P.M. By the end of 1929,
Amos 'n' Andy had become the most popular show in radio. It appealed to most Americans, capturing about sixty percent of all listeners. The
Amos 'n' Andy craze was responsible for the surge in sales that set manufacturers experienced in 1929. That year 4.4 million receivers were sold, and sales totals for sets and parts rose twenty-three percent over the record sales figures of the previous year. Clichés uttered by characters in the program soon became national sayings and the story line—like the trial of Andy Brown for murder (it all turned out to be a dream)—was carefully followed by as many as forty million listeners.
As it affected radio programming in general, Amos 'n' Andy
had two important influences. First, the unprecedented popularity of the show suggested that the radio public was ready for new types of series. After a decade of music and speeches, within months a situation comedy had become an unprecedented national rage. While movie stars like Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, and Charlie Chaplin had connected with the American audience for years,
Amos 'n' Andy was the first radio show to produce such a national clamor. And its characters were soon ranked with Lindbergh, Will Rogers, and Gene Tunney as public celebrities.
It did not require much analysis for sponsors, agencies, and network officials to understand that there might exist outside radio at the time other types of programs capable of matching the success of
Amos 'n' Andy. NBC was active in this regard. Before the end of 1929 the network introduced two new and different programs destined for long careers in broadcasting. In
The Rise of the Goldbergs—later called The Goldbergs—NBC aired the serialized story of the Goldberg family struggling to adapt and flourish in America. The story was set in the Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side in New York City and, coming as it did almost simultaneously with the Depression, the deprived-but-undaunted Goldbergs presented a relevant picture of the search for meaning in the midst of adversity. Although it was not fully a soap opera, it was a prototype of the type of daytime programming which would emerge early in the 1930s and last for almost thirty years.
NBC also introduced The Rudy Vallee Show (also called
The Fleischmann Hour) in The Fall of 1929, an innovative variety program which would last throughout the 1930s. Vallee came to radio already famous as a "crooner" with collegiate looks and a pleasant voice that had made him "the vagabond lover," a heart-throb to young Americans. But for radio, Vallee enhanced his own musical offerings by introducing popular and significant personalities as his guests. A typical Vallee show might feature love and novelty songs by the host, but also an appearance by the likes of comedians Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Olsen and Johnson, or Ed Wynn; dramatic actors such as Maurice Evans; or world celebrities like Helen Keller or Hilaire Belloc. By the early 1930s, according to broadcast historian Erik Barnouw,
The Rudy Vallee Show had become so popular it "had replaced the Palace Theater as the prestige booking of vaudeville.”
The program was the first variety series to revolve about a single celebrity and employ celebrated guests as a supplement. It also avoided the serious music that appeared so heavily in other variety series, aiming its entertainment primarily at middle-class listeners who were numerically greater and who preferred popular music.
If Amos 'n' Andy illustrated that listeners were ready for innovative programming, it also distorted perceptions of the popularity of the medium. For too long network officials believed that because one program attracted millions of listeners and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of radio equipment, broadcasting was healthy and responsive to listener wants. But in 1931
Amos 'n' Andy peaked and began losing listeners. And as they ceased tuning in the program, millions of people stopped listening to all radio programs. This was especially the case among middle and upper-middle class set owners who tired of the serial after two years.
With the decline of Amos 'n' Andy, radio figures collapsed. Whereas in 1930 about 74 percent of all set owners used their radios on an average evening, by August 1933, the total had dropped to 55.5 percent. Within two years the decline of
Amos 'n' Andy had taken with it almost one-quarter of all radio users.
To offset the loss in audience size, network broadcasting in the early 1930s introduced dramatic stories as a new genre of programming. In
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Rin-Tin-Tin Thrillers, NBC in 1930 drew upon established characters from literature and from motion pictures to offer thrilling tales to attract listeners. At the same time, NBC experimented with light comedy-romances in the dramatic series,
The First Nighter Program. The next year, NBC added mystery series such as
With Canada's Mounted, and Danger Fighter-- and CBS entered the field with the short-lived
Count von Luckner's Adventures, as well as The Eno Crime Club and the eminently popular,
The Shadow. Similar series appearing at this time included Fu Manchu Mystery, Charlie Chan, and
Mysteries in Paris.
Such programming did little to revive the sagging interest in radio. Although
The Eno Crime Club and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were among the top-rated shows in 1931, most dramatic shows made little lasting impact on listeners and soon faded in popularity. Many reasons could be suggested for such a development: the paucity of good writers, the still-maturing art of sound effects, a preference among Americans for drama in motion pictures rather than radio. But the most pressing reason was the lack of big-name talent. Movie personalities avoided on the radio, even as two decades earlier stage actors scorned the fledgling "flickers." As a new form of programming, broadcast drama had little experienced talent upon which to draw. Conversely, the success of
The Rudy Vallee Show was based greatly on the fame Vallee had generated before coming to NBC, and on the celebrity status of the guest stars appearing on his revue.
It became clear to network officials that to offset waning public interest, they would have to find well-known personalities to head varied programs—music, variety, drama, comedy—in the future. To obtain such headline talent, the medium would turn in the early 1930s to stage entertainment. And with the development of series centered on the greatest names in vaudeville and musical comedy, the revitalization of commercial broadcasting would be accomplished.
Theoretically, the airwaves belonged to the American people. Congress so assured the citizenry in 1924 when it stated that "the ether and use thereof within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and their Government” was held in the name of the people. By the Radio Law of 1927 those stations obtaining broadcast licenses were obliged to renew them every three years. Now, the government by statute could protect the air in the interest of the people. In practice, however, license renewals were almost never denied, and the government seldom used its leverage to improve program content. Ironically, moreover, because of the intense commercialism that accompanied the establishment of network radio, by the early 1930s the airwaves in practice belonged neither to the people nor to the networks. They were, instead, the realm of the advertising agencies.
The debate over whether or not to sell audio commercials for sponsors' money had been a lengthy one. By the time NBC and CBS began full broadcasting in 1927, it was still a contested issue. To some, commercialism was prostitution of the purpose of radio, for instead of uplifting, educational programming, advertising turned radio into a cheap spectacle hawking stores, medicines, clothes, food, and other materials best left to magazines and newspapers.
Few people defended the esthetics of radio advertising, but many argued that without the capital generated from commercial sponsors, radio would never progress—hire significant entertainers, improve facilities, expand the range of offerings—and would eventually fall into disuse. The appearance of the networks assured the future for toll radio, as network officials encouraged commercial sponsorship at the local and network levels. It was no coincidence that the home station of NBC-Red was WEAF, the first toll station in American radio.
Radio commercialism in the beginning was primitive. Ponderous statements about the product or service often sounded more like a speech than a sales pitch. Conversely, sponsors concerned about offending listeners often settled for naming their programs after their products, or pinning the sponsor's trade name on the band or singing ensemble. In this manner programs like
The Palmolive Hour, The Wrigley Revue, and The Stetson Parade appeared in the late 1920s, and programs featured performers such as the Sylvania Foresters Quartette, the Champion Sparkers, the Cliquot Club Eskimos, and the Vicks Vaporub Quartette.
As radio entered its second decade, this crude style of commercialism gave way to a more sophisticated art of selling—as these
radio commercials from 1930-1933 attest—and the function and significance of advertising agencies burgeoned. At first, ad agencies served sponsors as middle men. They prepared the advertising copy to be broadcast, and they represented sponsors' interests before the networks. But as radio became an increasingly lucrative and complicated business, agencies became more important, and program production also became the province of these middle men.
Soon complete programs and series were developed, written, and packaged by advertising agencies. The potential sponsor then was presented with the final product to decide if he wished to finance it. If agreeable, the network was sold the program "package" and the sponsor as a unit. As for the celebrity guests and recurring personnel, they were all hired by the ad agency. In many cases, by the early 1930s even radio announcers were under contract to advertising agencies.
Radio production, in this manner, was taken out of the hands of the networks. Statistics show that the development came fast and decisively. A breakdown of the accounts of one network in 1929 reveals the following:
- 33 percent of the programs were produced by advertising agencies
- 28 percent were produced by the networks (for its sponsors)
- 20 percent were produced by the sponsors themselves
- 19 percent were produced by special program builders
By 1937, in the words of a critic for the show business journal Variety
: “the 28 percent produced by the networks plus the 20 percent produced by the sponsors were gradually swallowed by the advertising agencies. Currently, network commercial program production stands virtually at zero—attesting to the profit derived from radio by the advertising agencies, and indirectly indicating no compliment to the networks for their style of programming.”
While the great movie studios at this time were using contracts and business agreements to create the so-called "star system" of motion pictures, in radio it was the advertising agencies that were developing the broadcast star system. Crooner Rudy Vallee, for example, may have broadcast over NBC-Red, but he was ultimately an employee of the J. Walter Thompson agency—the ad agency which represented Vallee's sponsor, Standard Brands. The long-running children's series,
Jack Armstrong, was originally a product of Blackett-Sample-Hummert, the agency that created, owned, wrote, and cast the show. That agency also produced many of the most successful soap operas, as well as musical programs, comedy serials, and variety programs.
Broadcast personalities adapted to the situation. If an unemployed radio actor were seeking a job in radio, he or she would not have approached station or network offices, but instead would have applied to the major advertising agencies. That the agencies did a considerable business with the networks is illustrated in the following table of the largest time sales on NBC in 1932:
|Name of Agency ||Amount of Time Sales|
|Lord and Thomas ||$5,461,866|
|J. Walter Thompson ||$3,080,941|
|Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn ||$2,005,102|
|Erwin Wasey ||$1,345,245|
|N.W. Ayer ||$1,021,529|
This usurpation of production power by ad agencies meant a partial loss of control by the networks. By most contracts, sponsors contracted for a period of thirteen weeks—which was one-third of a full season—and retained an option for the remaining twenty-six weeks. Also, sponsors usually had the right to approve or disapprove scripts, to withdraw sponsorship on several weeks notice, or to cancel outright a series they felt was not selling their product. In some cases, a sponsor might cancel an unproductive series and replace it with another show in the middle of a broadcast season.
The influence of sponsors and agencies was augmented by the development of audience rating services which emerged in the late 1920s. Before the appearance of companies which scientifically gathered statistical information on American listening patterns, interested parties had to rely upon less accurate methods of measuring popularity. The most common way was to invite listeners to send for a free premium and count the number of responses. In 1930 Gosden and Correll employed this strategy themselves when negotiating for a higher-paying contract. When they obtained more than a million responses to their offer of a free map, they received a new contract, as the station, agency, and sponsor had tangible evidence of how popular their show
Amos 'n' Andy was with listeners.
This same ploy saved The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters Show after its first season. Not knowing if its commercials for hot Ralston cereal were being heard by many children, the sponsor offered premiums to those who wrote to the show. The deluge of more than a million letters in a twenty-six-week period convinced Ralston to stay with the program, a decision it maintained throughout the seventeen-year history of the series.
The first significant attempt at audience measurement was the creation of the Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (C.A.B.), or as it was often called, the Crossley ratings. The service emerged in 1929, but was not fully operational until the early 1930s. By telephoning listeners in thirty cities and asking them to name the programs they had heard that day, the C.A.B. report gave a statistical picture of the number of people listening to a particular show, and, therefore, hearing a sponsor's message. Until the 1935-1936 radio season the C.A.B. report was the fullest and most accurate measurement service available.
In 1935, however, the coincidental telephone method developed by C. E. Hooper, Inc., replaced the C.A.B. report as the most detailed study of radio listening. The Hooperatings, as they were termed, were based on an energetic system whereby listeners were called during a broadcast and asked questions about the program being heard at that moment. Unlike the C.A.B. method which asked for a recollection of the entire listening day, every day of the week Hooper operators in thirty-two cities were telephoning continuously from 8 A.M. to 10:30 P.M., asking about the programs with which their calls were coinciding.
Until the waning years of network dominance, the Hooperatings were the unchallenged cutting edge of radio success or failure. By 1949, however, the A. C. Nielsen Company had replaced Hooper—eventually buying out the company—as the standard rating service because it could offer a more accurate picture of the listening audience. The installation of an electronic audimeter in representative radio sets allowed Nielsen to register on a tape inside the apparatus every time the set was turned on, dialed, and turned off. By this method advertisers could learn which commercials were turned off, which guest stars were most popular, and which programs were heard, even in the early morning, since the audimeter was operative twenty-four hours a day.
Audience measurement made commercial control over broadcasting all the more stringent. No longer did a sponsor have to rely upon mail solicitation campaigns to know the extent to which his commercials were being heard. This meant, of course, that if a show did not produce favorable statistics, regardless of the star or the esthetic quality of the program, it probably would be dropped by the advertiser and, therefore, the network.
Occasionally, networks actually sustained series with no underwriters. In most cases these were programs created by network producers and broadcast with the hope of attracting a sponsor. In some cases, however, sustaining programs were intellectual series that brought prestige, if not revenue, to the networks. In these categories were news commentators like H. V. Kaltenborn and Edward R. Murrow who often broadcast without sponsorship; eminent dramatic series such as
The Columbia Workshop; educational discussion programs like The University of Chicago Roundtable and
America's Town Meeting of the Air, and the prestigious children’s series,
Equipped with accurate audience measurements, and aware that the networks and local stations were dependent upon them for revenue, radio advertisers became a powerful force in the history of broadcasting. By 1948 sponsors were spending in excess of $400 million in promoting their products.
And they exerted a powerful influence on what Americans heard. In fact, program content was often a secondary consideration for advertisers, their commercial messages being more important. An excellent presentation of a sponsor’s perspective on broadcasting and spending was offered in the corporate film,
Turnover, that was produced in 1940 by General Mills for its distributors and retailers.
According to one critic, the arrangement between radio networks and advertisers was "as if the editor of a newspaper had to farm out the writing of the news, page by page, to the corporations whose advertisements appeared on those pages." Reflective of this commercial control, George Washington Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Company, once commented: "Taking 100 percent as the total radio value, we give 90 percent to commercials to what's said about the product, and we give 10 percent to the show.... I don't have the right to spend the stockholders' money just to entertain the public."
The commercial influence in radio was asserted even more blatantly by J. Harold Ryan, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, when he marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of broadcasting by declaring:
American radio is the product of American business! It is just as much that kind of product as the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, the automobile, and the airplane.... If the legend still persists that a radio station is some kind of art center, a technical museum, or a little piece of Hollywood transplanted strangely to your home town, then the first official act of the second quarter century should be to list it along with the local dairies, laundries, banks, restaurants, and filling stations.
It was attitudes such as these that led the noted radio critic and author, Philip Wylie, to write in 1947: "Radio is as brash as a peanut vendor in a lecture hall; it's as cheap as a popcorn hawker at the opera; it's a beep at vespers and a burp in an anthem." And Norman Corwin, writing two years later, added his own fillip.
Radio is the only major field of expression today where a high IQ, where boldness, adventure, imagination and audacity in programming are systematically, faithfully and deliberately penalized. Radio has not progressed, but retrogressed. It is not growing up, but down. It once had a toehold on the threshold of the arts, but its great, bulky body slipped on a stuffed banana, the skin of which concealed a hard, compact roll of fast bucks.
Despite the strong control exercised by sponsors over programming, radio would have a major impact upon society. Most listeners did not feel advertiser influence was detrimental to broadcasting. A poll by
Fortune magazine in 1938 asked Americans which industry best met public demands. The results indicated that even by this early date, a decade after full-time network broadcasting began, the relevance of radio to society was appreciated:
|1. Automobile ||43.1|
|2. Radio ||29.2|
|3. Air Transportation ||09.8|
|4. Motion Picture ||09.5|
Given both the increasing reliance of citizens upon radio and the curtailment of automobile production during World War II, it is safe to assume that by the mid-1940s radio was considered the most responsive industry in the nation.
One of the most comprehensive studies of the effects of radio on society was made by the President's Research Committee on Social Trends which in the period from 1929 to 1932 observed social evolution in the United States. In its final report the committee enumerated 150 specific effects, and suggested that in each instance it was possible to discern secondary effects. Thus, from the conclusion that radio had increased the interest of Americans in sports, the committee derived secondary conclusions that enrollment had increased at colleges whose games were consistently broadcast, that airing baseball games had increased attendance, and that radio jesting had heightened interest in the climate of Florida and California.
Perhaps the most significant influence of radio, even in the early 1930s, was the effect its programming was having upon the homogeneity of the nation. The United States had always been afflicted by sectional, regional, and cultural differences which kept it from becoming a fully united nation. Historical events, linguistic idiosyncrasies, and cultural differences all testify to the heterogeneity of the country. Radio increased commonality within the United States. Although local stations might have reflected provincialism in their own program originations, network broadcasting transmitted a single standard. The same announcers were heard coast-to-coast; celebrities became nationally known; the values and attitudes projected in radio dramas were heard by millions in every part of the country.
Network radio increased the similarity among Americans because it communicated the same stimuli throughout the nation. It developed a national constituency for its programs and commercials. In doing so it had to avoid offending sectional or regional differences. Forced to find the common denominator among all groups within the United States, radio became the thread that tied together all people. More than print or film, politics or laws, radio united the nation. When, by the late 1940s, more than 90 percent of the homes in America had radio receivers, it seems clear that the homogeneous message of broadcasting was being heard and appreciated. In a single stroke network radio standardized, entertained, informed, and educated its mass audience. In this function, it bound together the American people as had no single communications medium since the printing press.
The impact of radio as recognized by the President's Committee would be even more obvious in the next two decades. Beginning in the early 1930s, radio would evolve into the nation's most popular form of entertainment. So pervasive would be its influence as a leisure activity, by mid-century listening to the radio was second only to sleeping in the amount of time it consumed in the average person's life. Its impact was intelligently summarized by radio scholar Charles A. Siepmann when he wrote:
Here in America radio is our main pastime. More than 90 percent of American homes have at least one receiving set. Millions have several. The average man or woman spends more leisure hours in listening to the radio than in anything else—except sleeping. The poorer and less educated we are, the more we listen—and naturally so. For radio—cheap, accessible, and generous in its provision for popular tastes—has come to be the poor man's library, his "legitimate" theater, his vaudeville, his newspaper, his club. Never before has he met so many famous and interesting people, and never have these people been at once so friendly and so attentive to his wishes.
Radio programming spawned its own popular culture. Periodicals dedicated to broadcasting such as Radio Digest, Radio Stars, Radioland, Radio Guide, and Tower Radio flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. Loyal followers clipped photographs and news articles and pasted them in scrapbooks. Fan clubs appeared for favorite radio artists and network series. Trade annuals and fan albums dissected the achievements of each year in broadcasting. Original radio characters such as the Lone Ranger even migrated to other media, including magazines, comic strips, and movies.
The wide acceptance eventually enjoyed by network radio, however, was in jeopardy in the first years of the 1930s. The declining popularity of
Amos 'n' Andy by 1932 had resulted in a general diminishing of audience size throughout the nation. The loss of twenty-five percent of all listeners in a two-year period compelled radio programmers to develop new and enticing shows that would arrest this downward trend. The answer had already been indicated in the success of
The Rudy Vallee Show. But it would be more strongly presented in the 1931-1932 radio season. The solution, of course, was to develop programs centered on already-established entertainment personalities.
This was to be most strikingly demonstrated in the appearance of
The Eddie Cantor Show in the fall of 1931. Cantor's success was substantial. He brought to network radio a national reputation as a comedian that had been developed in vaudeville, phonograph recordings, and motion pictures. Now as a broadcast comedian his humor and infectious personality captured listeners as fast as
Amos 'n' Andy had a few seasons earlier. Within a year The Eddie Cantor Show was the premier program on the air. More importantly for network radio, the response of listeners to this "personality performer" clearly showed that broadcasting needed headliners—the biggest names in entertainment who would host their own shows. It was with this mentality that radio approached the 1932-1933 season.