History of Radio 1932

About the history of radio from 1932 including the debut of One Man's Family, short bios of comics Fred Allen, George Burns, and Jack Benny.



Apr. 29 One Man's Family began its 28-year run, the cast surviving virtually intact until 1960. Page Gilman, who played Jack Barbour, was a boy of 14 when the show began, a man of 42 when it ended. Some long-running actors actually confused their real-life behavior with their on-the-air personalities; and sometimes, when their radio misadventures seemed uncomfortably close to what was actually going on in their lives, they would accuse writer Carlton Morse of being psychic.

* Scores of comics abandoned the sinking ship of vaudeville for the promise of radio, among them:

1. Ed Wynn, who, banned from Broadway for leading an actors' strike there in 1919, hit the airwaves as the Texaco Fire Chief, but only after studio executives agreed to his demand that the show be performed before a live audience. After less than a year on the air, he put up $250,000 of his own money to set up the Amalgamated Broadcast System to rival the two giants, NBC and CBS. Although he put six stations in business and lured 27 sponsors, the enterprise folded by the end of the decade.

2. Jack Benny, who in three years had radio's top-rated show. Later asked what gag got him the biggest laugh of all time, comedy's Mr. Cheapskate chose the following sketch: A mugger jumps Benny and orders, "Your money or your life." Dead silence on the air for 15 or 20 seconds. "Well," insists the thief, "what about it?" Benny replies, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

3. Fred Allen, onetime juggler, whose caustic wit spared no one, not even broadcast executives. Although he carried on a make-believe "feud" with Jack Benny for years, his on-the-air zingers aimed at his superiors were heartfelt. Allen had no use for the split-second time restraints of radio and, as a result, his show frequently ran beyond its time slot. Thus, Allen fans often heard their favorite show cut off in mid-joke. Disgusted, Allen one night informed his listeners that the only solution to the problem was to put on a nice, dull show so that the laughs wouldn't take up so much air time. Then, he said, "all the emaciated radio executives can dance around their desks in interoffice abandon." "Our program," he complained in his distinctive nasal twang, "has been cut off so many times that the last page of the script is a Band-Aid."

4. George Burns and Gracie Allen, husband-and-wife team who started out in vaudeville with Gracie playing straight to George until they found out they got more laughs the other way around. A running gag which became the trademark of their popular show was Gracie's perennial search for her lost brother. One day her real-life brother sent her a wire: "Have gone into hiding. Can't you make a living any other way?"

* Also on this year was Vic and Sade, the classic of the soap operas, whose loyal fans still gather to listen to the old transcriptions. The Maxwell House Show Boat previewed in 1932 and rapidly became the most popular variety show on radio. The show boat was so realistically presented that 500 people went to meet it at the pier in Cleveland.

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