The Golden Years of Radio 1949-1950
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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.

1947-1948 Season
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THE 1949-50 SEASON
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An almanac of the 1949-50 broadcast season when television continued to cut into Network Radio's audience and revenues.

Network Radio revenues dropped for the first time since 1933.  Competition for the broadcast advertising dollar had become keener with over 2,600 AM and FM stations vying for audience and revenues.  The United States spent the first ten months of 1949 in a recession which contributed to the radio industry’s lowest revenue growth rate in eleven years.  But at least it grew, which was more than the networks could say.    

Television was becoming a serious threat to prime time Network Radio. Over a hundred TV stations were on the air, all siphoning off radio’s nighttime audience.  Television’s growing impact helped drive radio’s Top 50 program average rating down 30% in two seasons to its lowest level since 1936-37. When the season ended and audience statistics were tallied, only two Network Radio shows remained with ratings in the 20's - CBS’s Jack Benny on Sunday and Lux Radio Theater on Monday.  Just two years earlier, 15 programs had averaged a season’s rating of 20.0 or better.  

Bill Paley was hailed as “Radio’s Robin Hood” - stealing headline talent from the powerful NBC for his “underdog” network. CBS dominated Sunday’s Top Ten for the first time in a dozen years and did it with programs developed on NBC.  Amos & Andy were the first to succumb to Paley’s capital gains lure in 1947.  Then  Jack Benny jumped midway in the 1948-49 season. By the 1949-50 season, Edgar Bergen, Red Skelton and Horace Heidt’s Youth Opportunity Program talent show were all Sunday newcomers on CBS from NBC.  Only Eve Arden’s sitcom, Our Miss Brooks, was a CBS original in the network‘s Sunday lineup. All six were among Sunday’s Top Ten and the season’s Top 40 programs.

NBC reacted defiantly to the loss of its major comedy stars - Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Red Skelton, Burns & Allen and Amos & Andy - to CBS.  NBC Executive Vice President Charles Denny flatly told his network’s affiliates in 1949 that NBC would remain the Number One network.  “It has the money and the resources to back up its plans,” he said, “And above all it has the resolve to use its money, its experience and its every effort for that purpose.

Vice President of Programs Sid Eiges added,  “We have new programs in the works - new shows of all kinds, including comedy.”  

That said, it was announced that NBC had signed new multi-year contracts with Bob Hope, Fibber McGee  & Molly, Duffy’s Tavern and Phil Harris & Alice Faye - none of whom were hardly new to radio.  All four programs suffered significant audience losses in the 1949-50 season and CBS dominated the season’s Top 50 for the first time in nine years producing every month‘s Number One program. Despite the bravado of its executives, NBC never regained its position as America’s  most popular radio network.

The FCC pushed ahead with its proposed limits on giveaway and quiz shows with a year of hearings that most broadcasters and observers considered a kangaroo court.  The commission subsequently ruled that effective on October 1, 1949, any broadcast game that offered: 1/ A Prize, and, 2/ Any degree of Chance involved in winning the prize, and, 3/ Any Consideration required from a contestant to become eligible to win the prize, constituted a Lottery and was therefore illegal.  Few argued with that classic definition of a lottery - as far as it went.

It was the commission’s new definition of Consideration that was questionable. The term originally meant money changing hands.  The FCC ruled that any Effort on the part of a contestant - even the requirement of listening to a specific program - would henceforth be ruled Consideration.  
ABC took the lead for the networks and filed suit against the ruling, specifically citing the commission’s far-fetched definition of consideration.  A temporary injunction was obtained to stall the edict while the broadcasters prepared to battle with the FCC in court.  With the FCC enjoined from stopping them, 16 prime time giveaway and quiz shows were rated and ranked during the 1949-50 season.  Six reached the season’s Top 50.
The networks’ fight with the commission dragged on for four years, finally working its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where the FCC lost an embarrassing unanimous verdict.  It was a hollow victory for Network Radio.  By that time most of the giveaways had lost their popularity and had left the air.   

Newly installed NBC-TV chief Pat Weaver was charged by RCA to make television set ownership as desirable as possible and as fast as possible.  He moved quickly and NBC became the first network to fully exploit radio’s potential as an attractive programming source for television and a lure for new viewers. NBC-TV adapted or simulcast over a dozen familiar Network Radio titles for television in the 1949-50 season.  

Weaver’s 1949-50 NBC-TV schedule opened with video versions of The Aldrich Family, The Big Story, Chesterfield Supper Club, Leave It To The Girls, Lights Out, Meet The Press, The Life of Riley, The Original Amateur Hour, The Quiz Kids and We The People.  In addition, NBC simulcast three of its Network Radio series - The Voice of Firestone, Cities Service Band of America and Break The Bank, plus a video version of ABC’s Friday night boxing bouts, The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.  The 17 programs amounted to 38% of NBC-TV’s 25 ½ hours of prime time service in 1949-50.  

NBC-TV's use of familiar radio properties twould spread to the other networks the next season.  CBS scheduled only five radio-to-television conversions in 1949-50.  It continued to simulcast Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, and debuted television versions of The Goldbergs and 

Suspense.  It also packaged radio veterans Ed Wynn and Fred Waring in new television formats.  ABC telecast video versions of Stop The Music! and Blind Date while the small DuMont network picked up Famous Jury Trials and The Fishing & Hunting Club of The Air.

Programs made popular on radio were responsible for 15 hours of the television networks’ 65½ hours of weekly prime time programming in the 1949-50 season.   Meanwhile, boxing, wrestling and Roller Derby accounted for 14 hours.     

Bob Hope’s Tuesday night radio ratings for the season had dropped his annual ranking to tenth place - the lowest point in a dozen years.  Yet, television’s biggest event of the season was NBC-TV’s 90 minute Easter Sunday special, Bob Hope’s Star Spangled Revue.  The unparalleled popularity of Hope’s occasional TV specials and his continually strong movie box office appeal indicated that the comedian’s weakened radio ratings could be blamed on the general  decline of Network Radio. 

CBS pulled even with NBC in Wednesday’s Top Ten for the first time in nine years by adding two hits lifted from ABC and a third from NBC.  Bing Crosby’s tape recorded show for Chesterfield cigarettes topped his ABC ratings by 25% and  vaulted him back into the season’s Top Ten.  He also gave CBS its first Number One show on Wednesday since Eddie Cantor in 1937-38.  It was the breakthrough that the networks had insisted for years would never happen - Crosby’s recorded program had achieved the popularity that only live performances were supposed to reach.  (See picture above of Crosby with an early Ampex tape recorder.)
Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life - also recorded and highly edited - gained almost 25% more audience in its switch from ABC to CBS.  Groucho was right on Crosby’s heels in second place with the highest rating the comedian ever scored as a solo act.  Marx pulled what was considered an upset when his comedy quiz attracted nearly 50% more audience in its time period than NBC’s big money quiz, Break The Bank.  

The third show stolen by CBS for its Wednesday lineup was in its final Network Radio season by design.  Burns & Allen, newly arrived from four seasons on NBC, had worked steadily in prime time series since 1932.   They said  goodbye to their listeners in May, 1950, and returned five months later to CBS-TV where George and Gracie’s sitcom would be a popular fixture for another eight years.

World War II veteran Jack Webb was 29 with only four years of San Francisco radio experience when he recreated his popular ABC/West Coast regional network character, Pat Novak For Hire, on the full ABC network in February, 1949. The private detective series ran on a sustaining and co-op basis for six months while Webb moonlighted, preparing a series of his own creation called Dragnet.  His new police drama was picked up by NBC in June, 1949, and roamed the network schedule over the summer, gathering listeners and critical acclaim.  It attracted the sponsorship of Liggett & Myers’ Fatima Cigarettes in October and was slotted on Thursday at 10:30 p.m.
Dragnet was an original.  Produced in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, its terse realism and underplayed dialog stood out in a field of melodramatic crime fighters who populated the dial on Thursday, led by the night’s Number One show, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons.  Webb and his co-star Barton Yarborough were supported by Hollywood’s top radio actors.  All were on their way to establishing Dragnet as one of Network Radio’s last great series of the Golden Age.

Ed Gardner moved Duffy’s Tavern to Puerto Rico - literally.  The sitcom’s creator/producer/star with three Top 15 seasons on NBC’s Wednesday night schedule to his credit, Gardner took advantage of Puerto Rico’s generous tax breaks to establish residency and a production company on the island.  He packed up his cast and crew and moved to San Juan in 1949.  They recorded Duffy’s Tavern every week for shipment back to New York and broadcast in a new NBC Thursday timeslot at 9:30, pitted against Casey, Crime Photographer, in the heart of  CBS’s two hour block of hit mysteries. 

But Gardner faced a bigger problem he hadn’t considered in his move to the Caribbean. Duffy’s Tavern storylines were based on each week’s big name guest star.  Persuading busy film and radio stars to interrupt their schedules for the long trip to Puerto Rico - over a thousand miles from Miami - was almost impossible.  As a result, Wednesday’s Number One show of 1948-49 lost over half its audience and became a Thursday also-ran in 1949-50, dropping in the season’s rankings from eleventh to 69th place.  Duffy’s Tavern left the air a year later. 

To celebrate his program’s tenth anniversary - and spike its sagging ratings - Ralph Edwards  immortalized Truth Or Consequences  with a unique offer. He promised to originate a broadcast of his show from any village, town or city that would permanently rename itself Truth Or Consequences.
To everyone’s surprise - except perhaps the crafty Edwards - the voters of Hot Springs, New Mexico, voted to do exactly that by  a margin of 1300 to 300.  Protests were filed by irate Hot Springs residents and another election was conducted.  The name change was upheld by another four to one vote. True to his word, Edwards brought Truth Or Consequences to the renamed Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico, in April - and kept returning for an annual civic celebration for the next 50 years. 

CBS overtook NBC in the Annual Top 51 Programs of 1949-50 with 26 of the best rated programs to 20 and one extra from a tie in 50th place.  Network leadership was a position that CBS would never relinquish.  Meanwhile, ABC remained in third place with five of the most popular shows.