The Golden Years of Radio 1938-1939
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(There are many more fascinating facts and stories beyond these headlines)
The Seasons
GOld Time Radio chronicles each of the 21 broadcast seasons, (September through June), from Network Radio’s Golden Age, 1932 to 1953.  The lengthy and informative profiles of each season are concluded with an exclusive review of their Top 50 Prime Time Programs, as determined by Crossly, Hooper or Nielsen rating services.
Each synopsis links to the full and detailed article.

1938-1939 Season
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THE 1938-39 SEASON
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Edgar Bergen & his Charlie McCarthy meet Orson Welles after Welles' infamous "War of The Worlds" broadcast in October, 1938. The incident is reported in detail in this almanac of the 1938-39 Network Radio Season including the Top 50 Programs based on October.

  • A six month slowdown hit the economy in April, 1938, and the major networks were affected.  But Mutual continued to carve out its own low budget niche and profit from it. MBS added the 23 station Texas State Network to its affiliate list bringing its 1938 total up to 107 - second only to CBS’s 110 ...   The four year old Mutual earned only a fraction of the revenues raked in by CBS, NBC  and Blue.  Nevertheless, Mutual was headed for a its first $2.5 Million year, topping its 1937 income by over 20% - while its bigger competitors had to be content with less than a one percent growth. 

    NBC’s pioneer European correspondent, Max Jordan, 43, already had one major scoop to his credit from the previous March in Vienna when Germany annexed Austria.  Six months later he had another exclusive story - this time broadcasting directly from Godesburg, Germany.  Jordan beat his CBS competitor, William L. Shirer, by obtaining the actual text of the infamous September 29th Munich Agreement between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin and German dictator Adolf Hitler that ceded Czechoslovakia to Germany. 

    America’s two most popular programs both originated on Sunday nights from NBC’s new multi-million dollar Hollywood studios that officially opened for business on October 17, 1938.   Jack Benny and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen - with his wooden-headed laugh getter Charlie McCarthy - each broadcast from one of the four 350 seat auditoriums in the three story complex at Sunset and Vine. 

    Bergen & McCarthy’s Chase & Sanborn Hour was the first show to rank Number One every month for two consecutive years … The Chase & Sanborn Hour of October 30, 1938,  was typical of its star studded variety format, when  the program scored its fourth highest Hooperating to date - a whopping 34.8.  Yet, an unheralded, unsponsored and unrated program opposite Bergen & McCarthy on the same night stole all the headlines  - all because some of its listeners weren’t listening closely or couldn’t tell fact from fiction.  It was Orson WellesMercury Theater presentation of H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds that caused an uproar which is still the stuff of broadcasting legend.  

    Fibber McGee & Molly - transplanted the previous March from an underdog Monday night timeslot opposite CBS’s top rated Lux Radio Theater - took root in NBC’s Tuesday night schedule at 9:30 and scored the first of its dozen consecutive Top Ten seasons. Jim Jordan began the season solo as Fibber McGee & Company when Marian Jordan was hospitalized early in 1937-38 season. Finally, after an 18 month absence from the air, Marian returned to her husband’s side on April 18, 1939.  Fibber McGee & Molly were together again and listeners responded in big numbers. The couple’s sitcom settled into its familiar format which became Tuesday’s most popular program for seven of the next 15 seasons. 

    Fibber McGee provided the lead-in boost for Bob Hope’s new Pepsodent Show which finished twelfth among the season’s Top 50 programs. Paramount's film, The Big Broadcast of 1938, released in February, featured Hope and Shirley Ross singing the poignant Academy Award winning duet, Thanks For The Memory. The movie made Hope a star and re-launched his radio career after two mediocre seasons on CBS and Blue.   Between Fibber and Hope, NBC enjoyed Tuesday’s top rated program for twelve consecutive seasons.  

    In mid-October CBS moved the promising Dr. Christian from its Sunday afternoon schedule and put it in direct competition with NBC’s hot newcomer on Tuesday night, Bob Hope.  The situation drama, starring veteran Danish character actor Jean Hersholt,  had many things going for it - not the least were fresh plots submitted in a contest among listeners.  Best of all was the loyalty of  sponsor Chesebrough’s Vaseline in the  program’s 26 weeks opposite Network Radio’s most popular new show.  Dr. Christian closed the season with a weak 6.7 average rating.   A new day and time was prescribed and saved the program for the following 16 seasons. 

    Bandleader Kay Kyser’Kollege of Musical Knowledge was in its sophomore season and rose from 30th to ninth in the annual Top 50. Brought in by Lucky Strike Cigarettes to replace the NBC Wednesday edition of Your Hit Parade in March, 1938, Kyser’s fast paced hour of popular music, comedy and audience participation enjoyed a 55% ratings gain and edged out Fred Allen’s Town Hall Tonight to become Wednesday’s ratings leader. 

    In the most unusual finish of Network Radio's Golden Age, the 1938-39 Top 50 Rankings contained nine ties, two of them three-way ties.  Old friends Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice & Frank Morgan tied for sixth place, and ties in the teens involved Bob Hope & Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson & Fred Allen, Kate SmithOne Man's Family and newsmen Lowell Thomas & Walter Winchell

    CBS regained the network lead with 24 of the Annual Top 50 Programs while NBC followed with 22 and Blue trailed with four.