When Radio Became Television
Contrary to popular belief, network radio did not die in the 1950s - it simply moved to television. The top three radio webs also had TV networks, so it was fairly easy to transport the programs from the mike to the tube.
Most of the radio stars happily made the switch, but some -like Fred Allen- refused to go. Fred said of it,
“No wonder they call TV a medium…..nothing is ever well done!”
Here’s a listing of the top rated radio shows from 1950 to 1956 with information on when they went to TV and the success of the transition.
1955 - 1956 Season - Nielson Radio Ratings
1. Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden. ( CBS ) Sunday night 8:05
( Sponsored for the entire 9 years by Colgate-Palmolive)
This sitcom took place in a fictional high school with Miss Brooks teaching English and chasing the reluctant biology teacher, Mr. Boynton. She was berated by the principal (Gale Gordon) and idolized by a student Walter Denton (Richard Crenna). The show began on radio in 1948 and stayed on the air until 1957. It was a ratings winner from its first season. In 1952 the show ventured into TV, and ran on both radio and Television until 1956 when video production was halted. The radio version outlasted the TV show by one season as it continued through 1957.
2. The New Edgar Bergen Hour (CBS) Sunday night 7:05
(Sponsored by Boston’s Chase & Sanborn Coffee for most of its run)
This radio show ran for over 20 years (Often rated number one) with Edgar Bergen doing a ventriloquist act with his wooden counterpart Charlie McCarthy. The series was a huge hit and nobody cared if Bergen moved his lips - it was radio!
Ironically when video came along Bergen never moved his show to it - although he made many TV guest appearances.
Bergen’s daughter, Candy, cut her show biz chops at a very young age, on his radio show - arguing with Charlie.
Candy made her first TV appearance at age 11, with her pal Melinda Marx on a program hosted by Mel’s dad, “You Bet Your Life - with Groucho Marx.” Groucho's show was number 7 in the 55-56 season. You probably remember Miss Bergen best for her hit series, "Murphy Brown". She's still 'Candy to me'.
The sponsoring company, Chase & Sanborn. was headquarted at the time in the Hub (Boston) and partner Caleb Chase was a lifelong resident of Dennis on Cape Cod. In his will in 1899, he left $10,000 to be put into a trust for Dennis needy senior citizens. Each year recipients get money from the fund's interest. It is still going strong today - over a hundred years later. The trust is now supplemented by Cape Cod residents who make voluntary donations to it. Mr. Chase's descendants continue to live in the village of Dennis and more information about the Fund can be obtained at Town Hall.
Candy, Groucho, and Melinda
1954 - 1955 Radio Season Nielson Ratings
1. The Jack Benny Show (CBS) Sunday night 7:00
(Sponsored by Lucky Strike)
Jack started his radio show in 1932 and it ran all the way up until 1958. The 1954-55 season was the last one to have new programs. It was in re-runs for its final three radio years. Benny went out on top, - with the number one Nielson rating - an honor he gained many times during his long career. In 1949 Jack put the show on TV and it ran side by side with the radio program for years.
2. Dragnet (NBC) Tuesday night 8:30
(Sponsored by Chesterfield)
Jack Webb had a few mildly successful radio series before striking gold in 1949 with the deadpan cop show, Dragnet. The series produced 314 episodes in a great run that lasted until 1957. In 1951, after about two seasons on radio, the program began its long television run. The terse, true-crime drama endured until almost 1970.
Jack Benny Radio Show Live for Servicemen
1953 - 1954 Radio Season - Nielson Ratings
1. People are Funny (CBS) Art Linkletter Tuesday night 8:00 p.m.
(Sponsored by Mars Candy - Milky Way Mars Bars etc.)
Like the Bergen-McCarthy show, people (at least those born after Radio’s Golden Age) wonder how a visual show like this could make it on radio. The program was wildly successful and had a radio run that lasted from 1942 to 1960. One of its popular stunts in season one featured a man who was assigned to register a trained seal at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City while explaining that the seal was his girlfriend.
The program branched out to TV in 1954 and had a pretty good six year run.
2. Amos ‘n’ Andy (CBS) Sunday night 7:30 p.m.
(Sponsored by Rexall)
Here’s a show that could only happen on radio. Two white guys doing a comedy show playing a group of very funny African Americans. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll pulled it off so well that the show ran from 1925 until they retired the radio characters in 1960. For many years the series was number one. It was so popular for a time that theaters would turn off their movie, pipe in the radio program for its audience, then go back to the feature film at the end of the radio offering.
In the early years Correll and Gosden did ALL THE VOICES themselves. As their fame increased and the budget got bigger they hired African American performers for many of the roles.
In 1951, after a four year search for the right actors, the show went to television. It only lasted two years due to protests by the NAACP.The television cast was excellent and it should be noted that these performers were given lucrative work when it was very difficult for black actors to get any TV gigs.
Tim Moore as Kingfish was fantastic. Spencer Williams made a great Andy. Ernestine Wade played Sapphire Stevens on both radio and television and was a pretty good role model for all women. (She had the impossible job of being married to the “Kingfish” - a loveable rascal who was always scheming and dreaming of ways to get money from poor Andy.) Sisters Amanda and Lillian Randolph also had recurring roles.
My personal favorite was Algonquin J. Calhoun, the inept lawyer played by the hugely talented Johnny Lee. I believe that the character of Kramer’s Lawyer, Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld, was based on Calhoun - but I have been told that Chiles is based on real life attorney Johnny Cochran. That may be. It may also be that Johnny Cochran is based on Algonquin J. Calhoun! Note the common "J C" in all three names.
3. Jack Benny Show (CBS) Sunday at 7:00
4. My Little Margie (CBS) Sunday night 8:30 - Starring Gale Storm
(Sponsored by Philip Morris)
This Number 4 Nielson rating was the best year for the show. It debuted in the 52-53 season and was ranked 9th . In the 54-55 season it was the 7th highest rated program.
The series starred Gale Storm as Margie Albright and former silent film star CharlesFarrell as her widowed father, Vern Albright. They shared an apartment at the Carlton Arms Hotel in New York City. My Little Margie ran from 1952 to 1955 on both radio and TV with the same cast. Each week they performed one radio program and an entirely different show for television. The TV ratings never matched the high radio ratings and the series was cancelled from television in 1955. The producers and Gale Storm decided to also stop the radio show in 1955 because television was siphoning off more and more radio listeners every year. Storm decided to do a new TV program - the Gale Storm show -that ran until 1960
Gale Storm also had a successful career as a singer - with cover versions of Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking”, Dean Martin’s “Memories are Made of This”, and Bonnie Guitar’s “Dark Moon“, among others.
1951 - 1952 Radio Season * Nielson Ratings
1. Amos ‘n’ Andy (CBS)
2. Jack Benny (CBS)
3. Lux Radio Theater (CBS)
4. Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy (CBS)
5. Walter Winchell (ABC) Sunday night 9:00 p.m.
(Sponsored by Richard Hudnut)
Walter Winchell’s gossip and celebrity column appeared in more than 2000 newspapers around the world. On radio, he was a star from 1930 to 1955. Winchell was a highly educated man, having served six years in New York City public schools before doing his masters work at age 13 in small time Vaudeville. During his stint as part of “The Newsboys Sextette” he began posting notes about the group on backstage bulletin boards. His knack for witty pieces led to a writing gig for ‘The Vaudeville News’. He went to the exploitive New York tab the ‘Evening Graphic’, where Ed Sullivan also toiled. Winchell switched to the ‘Daily Mirror’ where he eventually became a syndicated columnist who would be read by 50 million people a day across the globe. On Sunday nights, his radio audience was over 20 Million.
About one person of every six in America listened to Winchell (U.S. population in 1930 when he went on radio, was about 120 million.)
Winchell failed at television. His program lasted three weeks---but he did have a good paying gig as the announcer for the TV show, “The Untouchables”.
1950 - 1951 Radio Season - Nielson Ratings
1950 - 1951
1. Lux Radio Theater (CBS)
2. Jack Benny (CBS)
3. Amos ‘n’ Andy (CBS)
4. Arthur Godfrey and His Talent Scouts (CBS) Monday night 8:30
(Sponsored by Lipton Tea)
Talent Scouts ran on radio from 1946 to 1958. It went to TV two years after it began on radio and was simulcast on both mediums for the rest of its run. On television, it peaked at 1 in 1950. The series stayed in the top ten through the rest of its schedule, lasting until January 1, 1958. Among the stars who gained their first national exposure from Godfrey’s show were Patsy Cline, Roy Clark, Don Adams, Lenny Bruce, and Tony Bennett.
Chief of the notables rejected from the show are: Elvis Presley, The Four Freshmen and Sonny Till & the Orioles - who had a mega hit with “Crying in the Chapel” and who started off the whole bird group craze of the fifties. (See my hub, the 10 Greatest (pre) Rock and Roll Songs, for more info on Sonny Till and to hear their song.
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