The Golden Years of Radio 1939-1940
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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.

1939-1940 Season
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THE 1939-40 SEASON
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Jack Benny and his cast including tenor Dennis Day, announcer Don Wilson, comic Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, wife Mary Livingston and bandleader Phil Harris, led the Annual Top 50 in this account of the Network Radio programs and personalities of the 193

  • Germany’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939,  put network news departments on a wartime status.  All maintained bureaus in London, Paris and Berlin.  CBS and NBC also established Rome offices and NBC had additional reporters stationed in Geneva, Shanghai, Tokyo and Danzig, (Gdansk), Poland.   NBC maintained larger staffs working in each city but CBS was promoting its Edward R. Murrow and H.V. Kaltenborn in London, Eric Sevareid in Paris, William L. Shirer in Berlin and Cecil Brown in Rome as star personalities with their frequent appearances on Today In Europe, the network’s twice daily predecessor to The World Today.

    As Americans became more news hungry as world tensions continued to build.  Walter Winchell fed raw meat to the hungry public every Sunday night with his own brand of rapid fire “insider” news and gossip.  Blue moved the syndicated columnist’s frantic 15 minute Jergens Journal back from 9:30 to 9:00 p.m.  Winchell’s. rating jumped 38% for his first of eight consecutive Top Ten seasons  The program remained at 9:00 for 15 years, registering an overall total of twelve Top Ten finishes. 

    NBC's James Bowen scored radio's scoop of the year from Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 12th when he described via short wave the scuttling of the German battleship Graf Spree, which was barricaded in the harbor by British warships.  Bowen’s reports were the first eyewitness descriptions of encounters between World War II combatants. 

    CBS introduced a five minute news summary and commentary carved from the end of the hour at 8:55, seven nights a week.  Neither mellow-voiced Bob Trout nor John Daly were chosen to deliver the newscast.  Instead, CBS chose 50 year old former New York Times editor, Elmer Davis who went on the air on September 18, 1939.  His  nasal,  matter-of-fact delivery of the news interspersed with incisive comments quickly established him as a major voice ...  Within several years Davis would have an even greater influence on the news that America heard when President Roosevelt appointed him Director of The U.S. Office of War Information.

    The networks and the entire radio industry enjoyed the first of three consecutive years of double digit revenue growth.  To stifle grumbles in the press about over-commercialization, The National Association of Broadcasters stayed a step ahead of public resentment and government scrutiny in July by adopting a well publicized Commercial Code for its member stations and networks.  Among other regulations which banned the advertising of hard liquor and fortune tellers, it ruled that sponsored nighttime hours would be limited to six minutes of commercial copy.

    General Foods reported selling the most goods in its history in 1939, netting over $15 Million while advertising more than 80 products on 14 network radio programs.  None of those programs was more important than Jack Benny’s Sunday night show on NBC for Jello which became the nation’s most popular program with an season average rating of 30.9 ... No program was more important to General Foods’ competitor Standard Brands than its Sunday night Chase & Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy on NBC which racked up 22 consecutive months as the nation’s Number One program until Benny edged it out in November.

    ASCAP wanted a 50% increase in its blanket music license fees for stations and networks, raising the ante to seven and a half percent of gross revenues. Based on 1939’s billings, the increase threatened to raise the industry’s toll to nearly $14 Million a year.  Instead of folding to ASCAP’s demands, the National Association of Broadcasters  established Broadcast Music Incorporated , (BMI), on September 15, 1939, as an alternate music licensing source with a fee structure less than half of ASCAP’s rate ... The new BMI invited compositions from fledgling songwriters who didn’t meet ASCAP’s standards for membership which favored established composers and virtually shut out newcomers. The last maneuver resulted in over a thousand new songs a week flooding into BMI … BMI began its licensing operations on April 1, 1940, with a roster of 250 member stations plus all four networks.  All agreed to trim their use of ASCAP music in favor of BMI compositions, ready for the inevitable showdown that was nine months away. 

    CBS led the 1939-40 Hooperatings race with 28 of the Top 50 programs.  NBC fell back to 18 and Blue again trailed with four.