The Golden Years of Radio 1940-1941
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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.

1940-1941 Season
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THE 1940-41 SEASON
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Jack Benny - aka "Buck Benny" in the movies - rode to the top of the ratings again in the 1940-41 season. Only Benny was able to reach Number One in all three decades of the Golden Age

The London Blitz began on September 7, 1940, and continued for eight months.  The networks had reporters and facilities in place to give their listeners spot coverage of the daily bombings and dogfights over the city. Both CBS and NBC’s London bureaus were destroyed by German bombs on April 16, 1941 but their coverage continued without interruption. 

Network Radio was a necessity for news in over 80% of the country’s homes. The number of rated and ranked news and commentary programs jumped from three to 13.  Seven of the eleven highest rated Multiple Run programs were newscasts.  Lowell Thomas’ Monday through Friday newscasts appeared in all five weeknights’ Top Ten lists.  Thomas produced Blue’s second highest rated program for the season behind Walter Winchell’s Jergens Journal on Sunday nights.

Despite the impending war things couldn’t have been better for the radio industry.   Total 1940 revenues flew past $200 Million, up 30% from the 1938 slowdown. The networks kept pace, accounting for over $100 Million in billings - a 27% increase in the same two year period ... Hundreds of stations were ordered to shift frequencies to comply with the Interference Provisions of the North American Radio Agreement in March, 1941.  To some stations the shift required major capital investments in equipment but the industry took it in stride.  There was plenty of money coming in to cover the cost of doing business. 

Just a month after the upheaval of frequencies, FCC Chairman James Fly  issued the commission’s 150 page Report on Chain Broadcasting on May 3, 1941.  The networks knew it was coming - but they didn’t realize how far the once passive FCC would go to placate an administration and Congress which were convinced that the networks were just too successful to be legal ... Fly spoke for his four member FCC majority and called the report a  “Magna Carta for American broadcasting stations.” Broadcasters had different descriptions for it.  NAB President Neville Miller called it, “A usurpation of power that has no justification in law.”

One provision was aimed squarely at NBC’s ownership of two networks - the Red Network of 74 stations and the Blue chain of 92 affiliates.  The FCC imposed its “trust-busting” ruling through its power to license individual stations.  It decreed that no license would be given or renewed to any station affiliated with a network that simultaneously operated two networks. The language was awkward but its message was clear: NBC had to dump one of its two networks to stay in business.  

Broadcasters were also involved in another fight - this one over music and money. Broadcast Music Inc., created by the industry a year earlier as an alternative to ASCAP and its proposed hike in music fees, had built a catalog of 20,000 songs by September. BMI music was being recorded, played on radio and accepted by the public.   When the networks’ ASCAP licenses expired on New Years Eve, 1940, BMI’s catalog numbered nearly 50,000 titles ... Radio’s boycott of ASCAP music began on January 1, 1941, and was hardly noticed.  Some local stations signed with ASCAP for the programming advantage its music provided, but the networks hung tough for five months ... ASCAP was losing tens of  thousands of dollars every day while the boycott lasted.  The Society’s loss had reached $2.0 Million in May when Mutual and ASCAP agreed to a new  ten year contract calling for an annual blanket fee of only three percent of network revenues - two percent less than the previous rate. NBC and CBS took their time and completed the season offering nothing but BMI and public domain music, saving millions in ASCAP royalties. 

Jack Benny’s repeat with the season’s Number One program led a pack of five shows in the Annual Top 15 that were sponsored by General Foods - a remarkable record that would never be duplicated in Network Radio ...  NBC threw a black tie gala at Hollywood’s Biltmore Hotel for 800 invited guests celebrating Benny's first ten years in Network Radio.  He also secured an option on his NBC contract which gave him ownership of his program and the right to sell it to the highest bidding sponsor, which he did a few years later - to American Tobacco's Lucky Strike cigarettes. 

Fibber McGee & Molly turned in Tuesday’s most popular program for the third consecutive season and continued the show’s climb up the Annual Top Five to Number Two behind Jack Benny.  The NBC sitcom was destined to finish in second place for a record nine seasons. 

NBC had seven of the season's Top Ten shows, (four of the Top Five), nevertheless CBS controlled 24 of the 1940-41 Top 50 and NBC followed with 22.  Blue was down to four led by Walter Winchell's Top Ten finish.