The Golden Years of Radio 1947-1948
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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.
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1947-1948 Season
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THE 1947-48 SEASON
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Movie stars Van Johnson and Esther Williams appeared on Lux Radio Theater , which led the Annual Top 50 after 13 years on the air.

The 1947-48 season provided Network Radio’s Golden Age with its last hurrah.  Revenues broke the $200 million dollar mark and in terms of total audience, 1947-48 can be recognized as the most popular season of the era. Network Radio’s Top 50 average program rating jumped a whopping 23%, representing well over a million homes.  The nightly Top Ten programs’ season ratings grew an even more impressive 25%.   

The one-season spike can be attributed to two factors.  First, the industry ratings standard became A.C. Nielsen’s mechanical, Audimeter  which proved to be more generous in its count than C.E. Hooper’s telephone coincidental polls.  The other cause for the higher ratings began in the bedrooms of America in late 1945 and resulted in a population surge that columnist Sylvia Porter dubbed, The Baby Boom.  By January, 1948, nearly eleven million babies had been born in the U.S. since the end of World War II.  The young parents of these infants were staying at home in droves to tend to their young.    

The networks’ year-long hunt for new affiliates was led by Mutual, adding 104 stations for a total of 488.  ABC signed 27 new affiliates, bringing it up to 222  and NBC added six for a total of 161.  CBS continued to trail the group by taking on ten new stations to reach 157. As a result, 97% of the country’s commercial AM stations had affiliated with a network - an all time high.  

ABC needed a mid-season replacement on Sunday at 8:00 p.m.  for its low rated and costly Detroit Symphony broadcasts when Ford Motors dropped its sponsorship and switched to Fred Allen‘s Top Ten Show on NBC.  Stop The Music! - offering a mountain of merchandise prizes similar to Truth Or Consequences’  secret identity contests, - was the brainchild of bandleader Harry Salter and Quiz Kids producer Louis Cowan.   The show’s weekly production budget was low but its Mystery Melody jackpot sometimes bulged with  $30,000 in prizes - mostly merchandise obtained in exchange for glowing promotional plugs rattled off by host Bert Parks and announcer Don Hancock.

The game was simple.  Popular and traditional songs were played by Salter’s orchestra or sung without title identification by singers Kay Armen and Dick Brown who  would hum over titles in lyrics.  Parks would break into songs shouting, “Stop The Music!,” which meant he had a contestant on the line whose telephone number had been picked at random.  If the contestant correctly identified the song, a single prize was awarded - plus the opportunity to identify the jackpot’s Mystery Melody, usually a vaguely familiar folk or classical selection with an obscure title.  Every incorrect answer added another prize to the jackpot.  The show made headlines in May, 1948, by showering a North Carolina couple with a jackpot touted to be worth $17,000. 

Stop The Music! was trend setter.  It introduced forced listening contests to Network Radio.  Contestants had be listening to the program to win - a device employed by broadcasters ever since.  ABC also sold the program in a unique manner, offering 15 minute segments for sponsorship to separate, non-competing advertisers.   The sale of participating sponsorships in network programs had long been practiced in daytime programming.  Stop The Music! was the first major prime time show to be sold in pieces. 

Stop The Music! was first broadcast at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 21, 1948, but didn’t appear in the Nielsen reports until June when the giveaway show scored an initial 12.6 rating.  By June,  Edgar Bergen had taken Charlie McCarthy and left on summer vacation from his NBC timeslot at 8:00. The  departure stranded Fred Allen at 8:30 with the feeble lead-in of Bergen’s summer replacement, the Robert Shaw Chorale’s concerts of traditional music.  Without Bergen’s powerful escort, Allen’s season long average rating of 22.7 sank to a 9.4 in June against the second half hour of Stop The Music! It was a sign of things to come.

Lever Brothers and CBS co-owned Network Radio’s highest rated two hour block.  Lux Radio Theater was the Monday night centerpiece - scoring its all-time highest ratings and the first of five consecutive seasons as Network Radio’s most popular program. Easily the most popular program for ten consecutive months, Lux Radio Theater of the 1947-48 season was the last series of Network Radio’s Golden Age to finish its season with an average rating of 30 or higher … Lever’s Lipton Tea and Pepsodent brands book-ended Lux with two newcomers - Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts at 8:30 p.m.  and My Friend Irma at 10:00.  Both new shows shot into the year’s Top Ten along with Lux, making 1947-48 the first season in a decade that CBS had as many as three programs in the Annual Top Ten. 

Milton Berle finally scrambled into the season’s Top 50 with a Tuesday night variety show that featured some of radio’s top comedic studio talent - Arnold Stang, Pert Kelton, Arthur Q. Bryan, Jack Albertson, Ed Begley and announcer/foil Frank Gallop. In its second season in NBC’s 8:00 p.m.  timeslot the show’s audience jumped 40% and scored double digit ratings against Big Town on CBS. Nevertheless,  Berle and sponsor Philip Morris parted company in April and he was gone from NBC Radio … Ironically, Tuesday at 8:00 brought Berle his greatest triumph - on television.  He first appeared as guest host of NBC-TV’s new Texaco Star Theater on June 8, 1948.  It was the preview of a program would make entertainment history over the following season. 

Bing Crosby made big news earlier in the year by signing Al Jolson to a $50,000 contract for ten Wednesday night Philco Radio Time guest appearances on ABC during the season.  The ink was barely dry when Jolson signed another contract - to host Crosby’s former NBC show,  Kraft Music Hall.  Jolson showed up for just one Philco Radio Time appearance … In a season of inflated ratings Crosby’s suffered a 20% loss of audience, falling out of the season’s Top 50 for the first and only time in his 21 years on the air ... Jolson demanded and got $7,500 per week to sign on as the new  host of Kraft Music Hall. It proved to be a good investment for Kraft.  The 60 year old singer, paired with pianist-comedian Oscar Levant, pumped the show back into first place on Thursday and a return into the season’s Top 20. 

In March, 1948,  Gordon McLendon launched The Liberty Broadcasting System from KLIF./Dallas.   It became the most viable new national radio network since Mutual was formed in 1934. Liberty was based in baseball - play by play broadcasts of major league games recreated from Western Union reports and fed to Liberty affiliates in minor league cities throughout America.  In 1948, only the ten cities that were home to the 16 major league teams were out of bounds to McLendon … The recreation technique had been used in radio since its earliest days - but McLendon’s production touches made it a broadcast art.   Mixed with the appropriate sound effects, Liberty’s recreations were difficult to tell from the real thing. The young network executive, who took to the air himself as “The Old Scotchman,” headed a team of sportscasters in their twenties that included future greats Lindsey Nelson, Don Wells, Buddy Blattner and Jerry Doggett - each skilled at the extemporaneous speaking demands necessary to create colorful word pictures from the barest of information ... McLendon had his sights set on its becoming a full time, full service network.  This was a special concern to Mutual as it pondered what to do about the upstart network that threatened its territory in small and medium sized markets.  The situation would come to a head four years later when Liberty programs were heard from nearly 500 stations.  

Network Television was officially born on Friday, June 27, 1947, when NBC fed a special three hour block of programs - a speech, a short film, a variety show and a boxing match - to stations in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Schenectady.   Baltimore and Boston were added to the chain later in the year. The event passed with little notice - but it was the genesis of Network Radio’s decline. 

NBC again ruled Network Radio's Annual Top 50 with over half of the total at 27.  CBS still trailed at 17 and the upstart ABC had six of the country's most popular prime time programs.