27 FEBRUARY 1891---Helping to re-arrange America's living room furniture irrevocably will be the destiny of a child born today in Uzlian, Russia: David Sarnoff, who would parlay fame as a fast-fisted wireless operator who picked up a message from the Atlantic that the Titanic was sinking from his post at a Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company station in the Wanamaker department store . . . and stayed with it for 72 hours, giving (so the legend would go) perhaps the only continuing news of the world's worst passenger shipping disaster.
Sarnoff will make a career
and reshape his adopted country out of being likewise in the right place at the right time. In due course he will turn his eventual employer, Radio Corporation of America (formed, according to Time
, by General Electric to absorb Marconi's American assets), into a radio broadcasting pioneer when, as the company's general manager, he forms the National Broadcasting Company as an RCA subsidiary by linking several hundred radio stations.
He will prove at once a visionary and a man of short enough sight. He will anticipate television acutely enough, setting up an experimental television station in the late 1920s, after becoming convinced of the potential of Vladimir Zworykin's iconoscope; having NBC begin commercial telecasts in 1941. But he will also appreciate his radio talent absently enough; he will seem to believe mostly that radio is a marketing tool. And it will help cost him his major radio star, Jack Benny
, who jumps to CBS in 1948-49 and takes a truckload of NBC talent (some of whom are also Benny friends) with him.
Sarnoff will also inadvertently midwife another major broadcasting network (the others at the time: CBS, NBC Red, and Mutual), when he's forced to sell his Blue Network in the 1940s after a federal anti-trust investigation. The Blue network becomes the American Broadcasting Company.
Sarnoff, a runty, remote, frosty-eyed boy tycoon---the Bill Gates of the 1920s---was [NBC]'s technician and field manager, and a self-proclaimed "General"; he was only a reserve officer but with all the chutzpah of General Patton. Pat Weaver, the revered NBC programming innovator who worked with him for years, later wrote that Sarnoff was a publicity-seeking "monster" who cared only about radio as hardware. Weaver called him "General Fangs." The joke on Wall Street, recalled Weaver, was that if RCA stock opened at ten and Sarnoff dropped dead, it would close at a hundred.
---Gerald Nachman, Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)
I realised I couldn't compete with gentiles in a gentile industry if I were merely as good as they were. But if I were, say, twice as good, they couldn't hold me down.
---David Sarnoff, cited by Nachman.
Mr. Sarnoff was a genius in his own way at NBC, [but] it was just one entity of the RCA corporation. It was a pure business thing, so there was a whole different attitude. [CBS chairman William S.] Paley would come down once in awhile; you had these very intimate studios . . . You'd see him in the doorway, interested in what you were doing. He was right there.
---Phil Cohan, radio writer/producer (for legendary jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman and Jimmy Durante).
THREE DAYS' WORTH OF AIRWAVES
27 FEBRUARY 1922: LET'S CONFER---U.S. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover rounds up the first National Radio Conference, leading in due course to the formation of the National Radio Commission. Five years and one day later, of course, President Calvin Coolidge will create the NRC when he signs the Radio Act.
27 FEBRUARY 1942: THE WAVES OF THE SUN---British Army research officer J.S. Hey discovers the sun emits radio waves, a discovery crucial in the development of radio astronomy.
THREE DAYS' CHANNEL SURFING
1944: DEAD WITNESSES
---They amplify Nick's (Lon Clark) anxiety trying to put a major gangster away, especially when he and Mathison (Ed Latimer) see him kill a rival, on tonight's edition of Nick Carter, Master Detective
. (Mutual.) Additional cast: Helen Choate, John Kane, John Raby. Writers: David Kogan, Milton J. Kramer.
1950: STRETCH IS IN LOVE
---More's the pity for Madison High's ace athlete (Leonard Smith): his paramour is the daughter of rival Clay City High's principal, who'd like nothing better than to wear Stretch out the better to keep him out of Saturday's key game, on tonight's edition of Our Miss Brooks
. (CBS.) Cast: Eve Arden, Jeff Chandler, Richard Crenna, Gale Gordon, Gloria McMillan, Jane Morgan.
1942: SPAWN OF THE SUBHUMAN
---A soprano's (Eleanor Nalin) premonition of danger disturbs her patron beau (Ben Morris) on a private flight, after she remembers a similar feeling leading to her road crash . . . the day her former fiance disappeared, on tonight's edition of Dark Fantasy
. (NBC.) Additional cast: Garland Moss, Muir Hite. Writer: Scott Bishop.
1944: THE GIRL IN THE PARK
---Taking a shortcut through Lincoln Park to get to his car, Randy Stone (Frank Lovejoy) is halted when he lights up a cigarette and the flame illuminates a fear he's heard in the voice of a nightclub singer (Joan Banks) he runs into, a girl who thinks she has only this last night to live, on tonight's edition of Night Beat
. (NBC.) Writer: Larry Marcus. Additional cast: Paul Duboff, Ken Christie, Georgia Ellis, Carol Richards.
1948: HIRING A MAID; OR, HOW TO GROW OLD GRACEFULLY---IN ONE HOUR
---There comes a time in every man's life when he has to bring a prospective customer home for dinner. In a situation like that, a man likes to think of his wife as the little woman who helps him close the deal. I like to think of Jane that way. Excuse me a minute while I do . . . Well, enough daydreaming.
All (Goodman) Ace wants to do for one night is hire a maid for dinner, to impress his new client, a rich soapmaker whose wife inadvertently hires Jane (Ace) as his
maid---after she mistakes Jane for a job seeker at an employment agency, on tonight's edition of mr. ace and JANE
. (CBS.) Additional cast: Evelyn Barton, Eric Dressler, John Griggs, Cliff Hall, Pert Kelton, Ken Roberts. Writer: Goodman Ace.
THREE DAYS' WORTH OF PREMIERES . . .
1887---William Frawley (actor: Hallmark Playhouse, Hollywood Hotel), Burlington, Iowa.
1891---Joseph Bonime (conductor: Death Valley Days), Vilna, Poland.
1906---Madeleine Carroll (actress: The Circle, NBC Radio Theatre), West Bromwich, U.K.
1914---Robert Alda (actor: Rudy Vallee Presents The Drene Show), New York City.
1916---Jackie Gleason (comedian/actor: The Les Tremayne Show), Brooklyn.
1918---Theodore Sturgeon (writer: Beyond Tomorrow, X Minus One), Staten Island.
1919---Mason Adams (actor: Pepper Young's Family), New York City.
1920---Tony Randall (actor: I Love a Mystery), Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1921---Betty Hutton (singer: U.S. Steel Hour, Radio Hall of Fame), Battle Creek, Michigan.
1926---David Frankham (actor: One Man's Family), London.
1932---Johnny Cash (singer/composer: Louisiana Hayride), Kingsland, Arkansas.
1933---Godfrey Cambridge (actor: Voices of Vista), New York City.
1880---Georgia Burke (actress: When a Girl Marries), Atlanta.
1888---Lotte Lehman (soprano: Command Performance), Perleburg, Prussia (Germany).
1892---William Demarest (actor: The Eddie Bracken Show), St. Paul, Minnesota.
1894---Upton Close (news commentator: Close-Ups of the News), Kelso, Washington.
1902---John Steinbeck (writer: Radio Hall of Fame, Lux Radio Theater), Salinas, California.
1905---Franchot Tone (actor: Arch Oboler's Plays), Niagara Falls.
1907---Mildred Bailey (singer: The Mildred Bailey Show), Tekoa, Washington; Kenneth Horne (comedian: Round the Horne, Beyond Our Ken), Wimbledon.
1909---Carl Frank (actor: Young Doctor Malone, Betty and Bob), unknown.
1910---Joan Bennett (actress: MGM Theatre of the Air), Palisades, New Jersey.
1913---Irwin Shaw (actor: Columbia Workshop), New York City.
1932---Elizabeth Taylor (actress, believe it . . . or not: Theatre Guild on the Air, Lux Radio Theater), London.
1893---Ben Hecht (writer/panelist: Information, Please), New York City.
19141914---Jim Boles (actor: I Love a Mystery, King's Row), Lubbock, Texas.
1915---Zero Mostel (actor/comedian: The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street), Brooklyn.
1922---Joyce Howard (actress: Mary Noble, Backstage Wife), London.
1928---Louise Erickson (actress: A Date With Judy, The Great Gildersleeve), Oakland.
. . . AND, THAT ABOUT CATCHES IT UP. (I THINK.)