Today we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to listen to what radio sounded like 75 years ago.
The story behind these extraordinary recordings is well-known: Washington, DC radio station WJSV, owned by CBS then, was asked to record their entire broadcast day to place in the National Archives for posterity. It was a rather significant time in history – war was breaking out in Europe, and on that day, President Roosevelt addressed the nation from a special joint session of Congress. The newscasts that day were dominated by the impending war. Other than that, it was just a typical Thursday in the nation’s capital.
These recordings were made at a time when magnetic tape did not yet exist, so the engineers had to record the entire 19 hours on transcription discs. The recordings have been distributed over the years in various forms and varying quality, and have been on the Internet for a long time, also with varying quality. The versions featured here are said to be from the closest generation tape to the original discs in existence. You may have heard these before, but some sites feature poor quality dubs that are running too fast. These are the best ones I’ve heard.
Aside from the newscasts and Roosevelt’s address, the most interesting things about these recordings are at the beginning and end of the day. WJSV featured future legend Arthur Godfrey doing essentially the prototype for morning drive radio. His relaxed, informal style was a marked contrast to the “how now, brown cow” announcers typical of the time, and even now, 75 years later, his influence is felt in morning radio.
Late at night, before WJSV’s 1:00 am sign-off, came the big band dance shows (“live from the grand ballroom of the beautiful Waldorf-Astoria…”). If you have any love for this music, spend some time with these shows – the one featuring Louis Prima is especially good. The rest of the day is filled with mundane things like soap operas, quiz shows, and musical interludes to fill time gaps. There is a baseball game between the Washington Senators and the Cleveland Indians joined in progress, and it’s fascinating to hear little things like station breaks, network cues, and, of course, all the commercials from 1939.
WJSV moved from 1460 to 1500 in 1941 and became WTOP two years later. WTOP’s news format is now on the FM band, and 1500 is WFED, an affiliate of Federal News Radio. Kinda sad to see a station with this kind of history reduced to this, but AM stations have had a tough go of it for a long time, which is why WTOP moved to FM. So let’s go back three-quarters of a century, certainly before anyone reading this was born, and listen to what radio really sounded like. The audio quality is better than you might expect, and I really don’t expect you to play all nineteen hours straight through. All files may be downloaded from the Internet Archive.
6:00 am-6:30 am – Morning Music
A few songs to sign the station on. There was a technical glitch that took the station off the air for a few minutes; that silent period is here in its entirety. Unless you’re a hardcore purist, you may want to skip it.
6:30 am-8:00 am – Sundial with Arthur Godfrey (part 1)
As mentioned above, this was morning drive radio long before they called it that, and Arthur Godfrey was a DJ; he just didn’t know it. You might be surprised at how much of this music you know.
8:00 am-8:05 am – Arrow News Reporter
A five-minute newscast. Obviously.
8:05 am-8:30 am – Sundial with Arthur Godfrey (part 2)
More of WJSV’s morning zoo.
8:30 am-8:45 am – Certified Magic Carpet
A local quiz show.
8:45 am-9:00 am – Bachelor’s Children
The first of many soaps to be presented on our broadcast day.
9:00 am-9:15 am – Pretty Kitty Kelly
Yes, soaps lasted only 15 minutes then.
9:15 am-9:30 am – Myrt And Marge
And the soaps just keep on comin’!
9:30 am-9:45 am – Hilltop House
The theme song was Brahms’ Lullaby, played on that dramatic soap opera organ.
9:45 am-10:00 am – Kay Fairchild, Stepmother
She’s one stepmother who TRIES! These shows are so wonderfully hokey, you should listen to at least one of them.
10:00 am-10:02 am – News Summary with Robert Trout
A CBS News special report about the war in Europe.
10:02 am-10:15 am – Mary Lee Taylor
An infomercial for Pet evaporated milk disguised as a cooking show. I can just imagine housewives of 1939 furiously writing down the recipe as Mary Lee dictated it. Write it down and make it yourself!
10:15 am-10:30 am – Brenda Curtis
Back to the soaps.
10:30-10:45 am – Big Sister
Did the ladies really follow all these shows?
10:45 am-11:00 am – Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories
Sort of a soap, narrated by Aunt Jenny.
11:00 am-11:15 am – Jean Abbey
A local program and a proto-infomercial for Washington’s S.K. & Son department store.
11:15 am-11:30 am – When A Girl Marries
The story of two young people who are destined to know the joy and heartache that love can bring. Or some shit.
11:30 am-11:45 am – The Romance Of Helen Trent
One of the best-known daytime serials of the era.
11:45 am-12:00 noon – Our Gal Sunday
12:00 noon-12:15 pm – The Goldbergs
Sort of a cross between a comedy and a soap.
12:15 pm-12:30 pm – Life Can Be Beautiful
An inspiring message of faith drawn from life, brought to you by Ivory Flakes!
12:30 pm-12:45 pm – Road of Life
Dr. Brent, call surgery!
12:45 pm-1:00 pm – This Day Is Ours
And now it’s ours, too!
1:00 pm-1:15 pm – Sunshine Reporter
Local newscast sponsored by Sunshine, makers of Krispy crackers and Hydrox cookies, which predated Oreos. President Roosevelt was preparing to address the nation and Romania’s prime minister was assassinated. At 6:13, the announcer mentions that these recordings are being made.
1:15 pm-1:30 pm – The Life And Love Of Dr. Susan
At least they acknowledged that a young, attractive woman could be a doctor.
1:30 pm-1:45 pm – Your Family And Mine
Last soap for a while.
1:45 pm-3:10 pm – Presidential Address
The main reason this day was recorded. Roosevelt speaks in front of a special joint session of Congress on how and if the U.S. can remain neutral. Followed by a speech from French Premier Daladier.
3:10 pm-3:25 pm – The Career Of Alice Blair
For those housewives who just couldn’t bear to miss their favorite soap just because the president wants to talk about war and stuff.
3:25 pm-3:30 pm – Arrow News Reporter
Local newscast. Arrow was a brand of beer brewed in Baltimore.
3:30 pm-3:45 pm – Rhythm & Romance
Fifteen minutes of music.
3:45 pm-4:00 pm – Scattergood Baines
Last serial of the day. Seriously.
4:00 pm-5:17 pm – Baseball
Washington Senators vs. Cleveland Indians, joined in the fourth inning.
5:17 pm-5:30 pm – The World Dances
Musical interlude to fill that 13-minute gap. The first song is called “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” – remarkably, it sounds nothing like the Green Day song.
5:30 pm-5:35 pm – Arrow News Reporter
More news sponsored by Baltimore and Washington’s favorite beer.
5:35 pm-5:45 pm – Time Out
Ten minutes of organ music performed by Johnny Salb.
5:45 pm-6:00 pm – The Goodrich Sports Reporter
Reported by Harry McTigue.
6:00 pm-6:15 pm – Amos ‘n’ Andy
America’s favorite show in those days, and by far the most famous show heard here. There was a problem with the network feed, so organist Johnny Salb was again pressed into service for the first two minutes.
6:15 pm-6:30 pm – The Parker Family
I don’t think they called these sitcoms then. But they should have, because that’s what they were.
6:30 pm-7:00 pm – Joe E. Brown
One of the biggest comedians of his day, Brown traveled during World War II to entertain the troops before Bob Hope ever thought of it.
7:00 pm-7:30 pm – Ask-It Basket
Rather entertaining quiz show with questions submitted by listeners.
7:30 pm-7:55 pm – Strange As It Seems
Sort of a knockoff of Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” with the stories acted out, radio play style.
7:55 pm-8:00 pm – News with Elmer Davis
Somebody’s wrong here – the announcer says it’s 8:55 pm, but that’s not possible. Maybe it’s something to do with DST.
8:00 pm-9:00 pm – Major Bowes And His Original Amateur Hour
Another very famous show of the time. Note that they now announce the correct time. And check out the new 1940 Chryslers!
9:00 pm-9:30 pm – Columbia Workshop
Anthology series featuring radio plays of all kinds. This week: “Now it’s Summer,” a comedy. Good example of theater of the mind.
9:30 pm-10:00 pm – Americans At Work
A panel show that examines a different occupation each week. Tonight we learn everything there is to know about auctioneers!
10:00-10:05 pm – Arrow News Reporter
Last of four local newscasts.
10:05 pm-10:15 pm – Human Side Of The News
Commentary from Edwin C. Hill.
10:15 pm-10:30 pm – Streamline Interlude
When in doubt, play music!
10:30 pm-10;45 pm – The Midweek Review
CBS program, hosted by Albert Warner, focusing on the goings-on in Washington.
10:45 pm-11:21 pm – Rebroadcast Of Presidential Address
Just in case you missed it this afternoon.
11:21 pm-11:30 pm – Jerry Livingstone & His Orchestra
Big band show, presumably joined in progress.
11:30 pm-12:00 midnight – Teddy Powell & His Orchestra
Live swing music from America’s newest band sensation. Pretty good stuff.
12:00 midnight-12:30 am – Louis Prima & His Orchestra
All right, now this really swings. If you don’t listen to anything else here, give this one a half hour of your time.
12:30 am-12:55 am – Bob Chester & His Orchestra
More swing music to end our broadcast day.
12:55 am-1:00 am – News
One last newscast.
1:00 am-1:01 am – Weather
Local weather forecast.
1:01 am-1:02 am – Sign-Off
“…and the home of the brave…” Good night!
And that’s the way it was, September 21, 1939, 75 years ago. This is T10FB Guy wishing you and yours pleasant dreams! This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.