Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rearranging Living Rooms: The Way It Was, 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, that listeners listen to networks first and particular performers or programs secondarily.

That attitude 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---including Burns & Allen, in a homecoming to the network they once called home---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).


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.


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.)

Additional cast: Paul Duboff, Ken Christie, Georgia Ellis, Carol Richards. Writer: Larry Marcus.


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.


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