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Original NBC's First Fabulous 50 header art

The First Fabulous 50 Radio Program

Dee-Scription: Home >> D D Too Home >> Radio Logs >> NBC's First Fabulous 50

The Radio Corporation of America was founded in 1926

First network presentation of a presidential inaugural. The ceremonies of President Hoover and Vice-President Curtis
First Amos 'n' Andy broadcast over NBC on August 19


The Radio Corporation of America was formed in the wake of World War I. An ostensibly unlikely alliance of four powerful companies--The United Fruit Company, General Electric, Westinghouse and telephone giant American Telephone and Telegraph, the four companies banded together in attempt to influence the adoption of General Electric and Westinghouse's extensive technology patents during an era of ruthless competition in marketing radio receivers.

Why the United Fruit Company? Prior to World War I, United Fruit had created the Tropical Radio and Telegraph Company (1913) and by the end of World War I had acquired over $200,000,000 in capital assets. But within a few years of founding RCA, the inherently unwieldy alliance began to fall apart. The alliance also caught the attention of the United States government over anti-trust implications. RCA, having benefited greatly during the brief alliance, went its own way, forming the National Broadcasting Company in 1926.

RCA was all about technology. Its driving impetus in even forming its chain-broadcasting network was a further attempt to shape the evolving standards so as to corner as much of the radio receiver and radio transmission technology markets as possible. Formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of RCA, NBC was soon split up into two major chains--NBC-Red and NBC-Blue--the better to capture and dominate as much of the emerging demand for Radio programming as possible. RCA purchased radio station WEAF from AT&T for $1,000,000 to serve as its NBC-Red flagship station. NBC's WJZ became the flagship station for it's NBC-Blue network.

The distinguishing characteristics of WEAF and WJZ were that WEAF, formerly owned by AT&T was based on phone line technology for propagating its transmissions. Indeed, the deal by which NBC acquired WEAF and all its technology from AT&T also contained a proscription against AT&T competing in the 'network broad-casting' field for a period of seven years. WJZ (with WGY and WRC, WCAD, WBZ, KDKA, and KYW), by contrast was based on Western Union technology, employing telegraph lines to propagate its transmissions. In this manner, NBC could enjoy the best of what both technologies of the era could offer, until the battles over patents and emerging standards resolved themselves.

You may ask how NBC came up with the ideas for the 'colors.' That's because somewhere in the bowels of NBC's 711 Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York, a huge map of the U.S. showed the connections between NBC's various 'chain-stations' and affiliates with the use of red and blue grease pencils. Red grease pencils traced the connections over the AT&T infrastructures and blue grease pencils traced the connections over the Western Union infrastructures. Indeed as the network giant continued to expand its acquistion plan, NBC eventually comprised an orange network, a white network and a gold network. Don't ask how they marked the 'white network' connections. That nugget of trivia appears to be lost to the ages.

The orange network (KGO, KFI, KGW, KOMO, and KHQ) represented the rapidly expanding southern west coast stations that NBC was assembling for cross-country transmissions. NBC's white network was comprised of a collection of early religious broadcasting stations. NBC's gold network (KPO, KECA, KEX, KJR, and KGA) was comprised of northern west coast stations. The gold network was ultimately folded into NBC's orange network.

The upshot of all of this acquistion was to eventually knit together a cross-country network of 'chain-stations', affiliates and regional 'key stations' with which to eventually transmit NBC programming everywhere in the nation.

Map of NBC's combined red, blue, orange and gold networks
Map of NBC's combined red, blue, orange and gold networks

NBC's much anticipated coast-to-coast broadcast of January 4, 1928 united the red and blue networks with the orange and gold networks to bring the Dodge Victory Hour to some 26,000,000 listeners from coast to cast. Paul Whiteman, Al Jolson, Will Rogers and Fred Stone and Dorothy Stone gave listeners an hour of variety at the very same time. . . for the first time in Radio history. Sponsored by Dodge Brothers automobiles and its new 'Victory Six', NBC's Dodge Victory Hour headlined Paul Whiteman from WEAF New York, Fred Stone and Dorothy Stone from Chicago, Al Jolson from New Orleans, and Will Rogers from San Francisco. The practical demonstration of the viability of commercial Radio broadcasts spanning an entire continent set the new standard for network broadcasting. Spanning 12,000 miles of telephone wire, the broadcast was both a commercial and technological triumph.

NBC wasn't the only rapidly expanding broadcasting network of the era. William Paley had, by 1927, formed the Columbia Broadcasting System from the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System and United Independent Broadcasters. By September of 1928 Paley had consolidated the two companies to the point that he could control them. In January 1929, the combine was simply renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System. Though NBC had a well-established headstart on CBS, William Paley was relentless in expanding CBS, station by station, across the U.S.

The early 'chain' networks were aptly named. Quite literally chained together by the transmission technologies available to them at the time, almost all networks of the era had to create a great number of linking and retransmission connections within the 'chain'. But for the exponentially growing body of listeners across America all of that infrastructure was incidental. The listeners of America were growing an insatiable appetite for content. Typical fare of the 1920s through the early 1930s were serial melodramas such as the early Cecil and Sally installments. Other typical fare of the era were early juvenile adventure serials, farm news, live or prerecorded music, short variety programs of every description, dance bands, religious programs, and vaudevile-like comedy programs. NBC also made an early attempt to create a great deal of education programming via their first NBC University productions and Chicago's long running University of Chicago Round Table program.

By 1929, the long-running Amos 'n' Andy broadcasts had begun, along with Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast variety programs. In 1931, NBC was the first network to bring Lum and Abner to the air. 1933 ushered in the first of the long-running Metropolitan Opera programs hosted by Milton Cross. The Kraft Music Hall began airing in 1934 and a year later the long-running Fibber McGee and Molly program. Here's some typical NBC weekday fare by 1935:

06:45-WEAF--Setting-Up Exercises
07:45-WEAF--Pollock and Lawnhurst, Piano
08:00-WEAF--Phil Cook's Notebook
08:15-WEAF--Don Hall Trio
08:30-WEAF--Cheerio Musicale
09:00-WEAF--Dick Leibert, Organ
09:30-WEAF--Norman Neilson, Baritone
09:45-WEAF--Lang Sisters, Songs
10:00-WEAF--Press-Radio News
10:05-WEAF--Johnny Marvin, Songs
10:15-WEAF--Clara, Lu 'n' Em--Sketch
10:30-WEAF--Breen and de Rose, Songs
10:45-WEAF--Joe White, Tenor
11:00-WEAF--U. S. Navy Band
12:00-WEAF--Story of Mary Marlin--Sketch
12 :15-WEAF--Honeyboy and Sassafras
12:30-WEAF--Cloutler Orchestra
1:00-WEAF--Weather Reports
1:15-WEAF--Peggy's Doctor--Sketch
1:30-WEAF--Debate: Child Labor Amendment--Rabbi Stephen S. Wise; William D. Guthrie, of Committee Opposed to Ratification
2:00-WEAF--Variety Musicale
2:45-WEAF--Mario Cozzi, Baritone
3:00-WEAF--Vic and Sade--Sketch
3:15-WEAF--Ma Perkins--Sketch
3:30-WEAF--Dreams Come True--Sketch
3:45-WEAF--Sizzlers Male Trio
4:00-WEAF--Woman's Review: Books and Authors; Harry Hansen, Critic.
4:30-WEAF--John Martin Story Program
4:45-WEAF--Songfellows Quartet
5:00-WEAF--Kay Foster, Songs
5:15-WEAF--Tom Mix Adventures--Sketch
5:30-WEAF--Alice in Orchestralia--Sketch
5:45-WEAF--Stamp Club--Capt Tim Healy

Note that the daytime fare over WEAF was targeted almost exclusively to homemakers, with a relatively equal mix of dramatic sketches and musical variety in one form or another. As the kiddies rolled in after school, the offerings showed a decidedly juvenile bent until supper time. You may have noticed that New York City was still debating Child Labor laws in 1935, an interesting artifact of the era in itself. Weeknight fare was punctuated by sketch comedy and drama of the era, news and commentary and musical variety in widely varying formats.

We highlighted the 1935 offerings simply to underscore how far Radio progressed in the following years fifteen years and how the sophistication of Radio changed exponentially over the same period.

Series Derivatives:

NBC 10th Anniversary Special; 25th Anniversary Program; Behind The Mike; Recollections At 30; NBC's 40th Anniversary Program;
Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Retrospectives
Network(s): NBC
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): None
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 76-10-10 01 NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade One
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 76-10-10 to 76-11-07; NBC; Five, 54-minute programs; Sundays, 6:00 p.m.
Syndication: NBC
Sponsors: McDonald's; Allis-Chalmers; Gallo Wineries; Amana
Director(s): Elliot Drake, Charles Garment [Producers]
Warren Hogan [Creative assistant]
Principal Actors:
Recurring Character(s): None
Protagonist(s): None
Author(s): None
Music Direction:
Musical Theme(s): Unknown
Announcer(s): Ben Grauer, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Arlene Francis, John Chancellor [Hosts]
Bill Hanrahan
David Brinkley, Gene Shallit, Joe Garagiola, Edwin Newman [Narrators]
Estimated Scripts or
Episodes in Circulation: 5
Total Episodes in Collection: 5

RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.

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[Date, title, and episode column annotations in
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The First Fabulous 50 Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade One
[Host: Ben Grauer]
NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade Two
[Host: Bob Hope]
NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade Three
[Host: Bing Crosby]
NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade Four
[Host: Arlene Francis]
NBC's First Fabulous 50 - Decade Five
[Host: John Chancellor]

The First Fabulous 50 Radio Program Biographies

Benjamin Franklin 'Ben' Grauer
Radio, Television, Film and Stage Actor; NBC Announcer/Narrator

Birthplace: Staten Island, New York City, U.S.A.

Education: B.A., City College of New York

1930 The Coca-Cola Top-Notchers
1932 Olympic Games
1933 Thrills Of Tomorrow For Boys
1934 The Baker's Broadcast
1934 Fleischmann's Yeast Hour
1935 Radio City Matinee
1935 The Nellie Revell Show
1935 Ripley's Believe It Or Not
1935 Circus Night In Silvertown
1935 Lux Radio Theatre
1935 The Magic Key
1936 Paul Whiteman's Musical Varieties
1937 The Shell Show
1937 Shell Chateau
1937 The Fact Finder
1938 The Royal Desserts Program
1938 Walter Winchell
1938 Pulitzer Prize Plays
1939 Richard Himber and His Orchestra
1939 The Vitalis P rogram
1940 H.V. Kaltenborn
1940 News Roundup
1952 America Looks Abroad
1940 Behind the Mike
1941 The News From Europe
1941 Sunday Evening News Roundup
1941 NBC Sunday News Roundup
1941 Jergens Journal
1941 The Hemisphere Review
1941 Two Years Of War
1941 Radio City Music Hall Symphony Orchestra
1941 Kay Kyser's Kollege Of Musical Knowledge
1941 The March Of Time
1942 Radio City Music Hall On the Air
1943 Music Of the New World
1943 Mr and Mrs North
1943 Information Please
1943 The NBC Symphony Orchestra
1943 The Fitch Bandwagon
1943 Your Home Front Reporter
1943 General Motors Symphony Of the Air
1944 Treasury Salute
1944 Opening Of the Fourth War Loan
1944 NBC D-Day Coverage
1944 Republican National Convention
1944 Democratic National Convention
1944 We Came This Way
1944 Liberaton
1945 The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre
1945 V-E Day Coverage
1945 Atlantic Spotlight
1945 The Charlie McCarthy Show
1946 Alec Templeton Time
1946 A Story For V-J Day
1947 Echoes Of A Century
1947 Home Is What You Make It
1947 Here's To Veterans
1947 You Have To Go Out
1947 Housing 1947
1948 The Chesterfield Supper Club
1948 Guest Star
1948 Living 1948
1948 Author Meets the Critics
1949 March Of Dimes
1949 The Henry Morgan Show
1949 Could Be
1950 The People Act
1950 We Can Do It
1950 The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
1951 Memo For Americans
1951 The Big Show
1951 Theatre Guild On the Air
1951 Living 1951
1951 American Portraits
1952 The Endless Frontier
1952 The Forty Million
1953 Medicine U.S.A.
1955 Biography In Sound
1955 Best Of All
1955 Guest Star
1956 X Minus One
1956 Recollections At Thirty
1956 Sleep No More
1957 The Boston Pops
1959 Johnny Presents
1959 Meet the Press
1961 Monitor
1962 Democracy In America
1968 New Year's Eve All-Star Parade Of Bands
1973 New Year's Eve With Guy Lombardo
1976 The First Fabulous 50

Ben Grauer circa 1947Ben Grauer circa 1947

Caption: Ben Grauer not only takes 'em but develops 'em (1938)

Ben Grauer applauds the Boss, Raymond Firestone on accepting an award for The Firestone Hour
Ben Grauer applauds the Boss, Raymond Firestone on accepting an award for The Firestone Hour.

Ben Grauer interviews Tobey Balding a five year old British evacuee during a World War II Broadcast
Ben Grauer interviews Tobey Balding a five year old British evacuee during a World War II Broadcast
Ben Grauer chats with Kukla of Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the TV Show of the same name
Ben Grauer chats with Kukla of Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the TV Show of the same name

Ben Grauer circa 1964
Ben Grauer circa 1964

Helen Hayes sits next to Mrs. Ben Grauer -- Melanie Kahane -- at an unidentified event during the 1960s
Helen Hayes sits next to Mrs. Ben Grauer -- Melanie Kahane -- at an unidentified event during the 1960s

Ben Grauer sits at the Monitor Desk with Miss Monitor on the phone
Ben Grauer sits at the Monitor Desk with Miss Monitor on the phone.

Benjamin Franklin Grauer was born in Staten Island, New York. Already a child actor in films and on Broadway during the 1920s, he began his career as a child actor in David Warfield's production of The Return of Peter Grimm. Among his early credits were roles in films directed by D.W. Griffith.

After graduating from Townsend Harris High School, he received his B.A. from City College of New York in 1930. Grauer started in radio as an actor but soon joined the broadcasting staff of the National Broadcasting Company. Grauer was one of the four narrators, along with Burgess Meredith, of NBC's public affairs series The Big Story, which focused on courageous journalists.

Starting in 1932, Grauer covered the Olympic Games, presidential inaugurations and international events. During the course of his extraordinary radio career, Ben Grauer covered nearly every major historic event, including the Morro Castle fire, the Paris Peace Conference and the US Occupation of Japan.

Upon graduating in 1930, a 22-year-old Ben Grauer joined the staff at NBC. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a senior commentator and reporter. He was the designated announcer for the popular 1940s Walter Winchell's Jergens Journal and was selected by Arturo Toscanini to become the voice of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Grauer took over in 1940 and remained until it was disbanded in June 1954. Toscanini said he was his favorite announcer.

Grauer provided the commentary for NBC's first television special--the opening in of the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1948 Grauer, together with John Cameron Swayze provided the first live TV coverage of the national political conventions. In 1956 NBC began broadcasting some of their shows in living color and in 1957 the animated Peacock logo made its debut. It was Grauer who first spoke the now famous words, "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC," behind the Peacock graphic. During his forty year broadcast career, Ben Grauer hosted numerous TV programs on NBC, including game shows, quiz shows, concerts and news programs.

In 1954, he married interior designer Melanie Kahane.

Millions still remember his NBC coverage of the annual New Year's celebrations on both radio and TV. Between 1951 and 1969, Grauer covered New Years Eve at Times' Square eleven times. Grauer continued covering New Year's Eve for Guy Lombardo's New Year's Eve specials on CBS throughout the 1970s, with his last appearance on December 31, 1976, the year before both he and Guy Lombardo died.

Several years after the death of Toscanini, Grauer and composer Don Gillis (who produced the NBC programs from 1947 to 1954), created the Peabody Award-winning radio series Toscanini, the Man Behind the Legend. Beginning in 1963, it continued through the centennial of Toscanini's birth in 1967. The Toscanini series ran for nearly two decades on NBC Radio and then other radio stations until the early 1980s.

In the last decade before his death, Grauer collected material for a projected history of Prices and Pricing, with special attention to Book Prices. He was active in several professional journalistic organizations as well as the Grolier Club. Grauer had a strong interest in the graphic arts, annually printing his own Christmas cards.

All of the networks produced at least one or two truly memorable network voices, whether as recurring announcers, heavily tapped narrators, or on occasion simply the voice of a familiar newsreader. NBC Radio was particularly blessed in this regard, as were its listeners. CBS had Dan Seymour, and NBC had Ben Grauer. The two were justifiable legends in their own lights at their respective networks.

But Ben Grauer quite literally did it all at NBC. No matter the task--from newswriting or reading to comedy to Toscanini to quiz shows to all day stints at Monitor--and on both Radio and Television. Ben Grauer literally has no equal in the history of Radio and Television as an announcer, and few equals in overall versatility.

The literally thousands of circulating Radio recordings and Television kinescopes or films that bear Ben Grauer's unmistakable signature--crystal clear ennunciation, steady rock-solid delivery, and natural enthusiasm. We miss him now 32 years after his passing and indeed he will always be missed as long as any of his recordings remain available.

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