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Use the player above to play the Jam Handy Short, 'On The Air,' featuring the CBS Radio Network circa 1937

William S. Paley, ca. 1940
William S. Paley, ca. 1940

A convergence of Product Promotion and Advertising Sales was the nexus of the formation of the next network giant in the Radio Broadcasting Industry. The Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System had been formed by the Columbia Phonograph Company with the express purpose of providing a medium with which to promote it's sales of phonographs and recordings, but the funding and basic concept proved untenable after only a few months of operation. At about the same time, music agent Arthur Judson's United Independent Broadcasters corporation (UIB) had been formed as yet another content provider, with the intent of selling time to advertisers by furnishing them with program content that would bolster their sales over the radio. Both companies failed in their attempts to get the initial system of 22 stations off the ground.

Columbia Phonograph Company Ad, ca. 1928

Into this void stepped the most innovative, entrepreneurial force in 20th Century Radio, William Samuel Paley--and at the ripe old age of 26! Paley's father was a Cigar Wholesaler (La Palina Cigar Company), and it was William Paley's vision to purchase the foundering network begun by Columbia Phonograph and United Independent Broadcasters as a sales and promotion vehicle for the family's cigar business. But Paley soon found that he could sell far more than just cigars over the airwaves.

William S. Paley, Pioneer
William S. Paley, Pioneer
and Inductee Into
The Radio Hall of Fame for 1998

The Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System had simplified its name to the Columbia Broadcasting System in an attempt to reconsolidate it's business plan once all of its investors began bailing out of the faltering new network. All of its stock was acquired by United Independent Broadcasters. Paley, who'd been a major advertiser with Columbia Broadcasting from early on, then purchased a controlling interest in the network in September of 1928 and shortly after dissolved the sales company. Thus, in January of 1929, The United Network became simply CBS.

The original network varied sharply between 22 and 47 stations during the United Network years. But by 1938, Paley's consolidation efforts and incredibly successful promotional efforts had grown the network to 113 strong outlets in highly successful markets. Ironically, CBS's flagship station was WABC in New York--yes, that's WABC like in the later competing network. The call-sign and name were changed in 1945, after the creation of the American Broadcasting Company. WABC was not a reference to the ABC network, which didn't enter the picture until 7 years later. That was simply a serendipitous convergence of American Radio historical chronology. 'WABC' later became 'WCBS' and American Broadcasting Company's flagship station 'WJZ' in New York, assumed the 'WABC' call-letters and name thereafter.

This was CBS's initial station line-up the day of it's first official broadcast of September 18, 1927, 3pm EST:

WOR Newark, NJ (Its first flagship station whose first control room was in the men's room) WAIU Columbia, OH
WEAN Providence, RI WKRC Cincinat, OH
WNAC Boston, MA WGHP Detroit, MI
WFBL Syracuse, NY WMAQ Chicago, IL
WMAK Buffalo-Lockport, NY KMOX St. Louis, MO
WCAU Philadelphia, PA WCAO Baltimore, MD
WJAS Pittsburgh, PA KOIL Council Bluffs, IA
WADC Akron, OH WOWO Fort Wayne, ID
12/15/28: WABC New York, NY replaces WOR as flagship station

You'll note that several of these stations are still major forces in their respective markets even today.

CBS/WADC in Akron, Ohio, ca. 1945

CBS/KNX Radio, Hollywood ca. 1943

Paley built his CBS broadcasting empire station by station, program by program, performer by performer, and sponsor by sponsor. And he did so relentlessly, and with both innovation and an entrepreurial genius never before seen in network broadcasting. Coaxing and charming the very best performers and technical talent of the era into the fold, Paley unashamedly stole show after show and performer after performer from the competing networks (NBC was a favorite target).

'BlackRock' - Sixth Avenue HQ of CBS, ca. 1961. The only Skyscraper ever designed by legendary Finnish Architect Eero Saarinen. Yet another coup for William S. Paley

CBS later became known as the 'Tiffany Network' of the broadcasting industry (for both its radio and television divisions), and for good reason. Paley's relentless pursuit of the best talent in the industry was directly responsible for CBS's eventual aquisition of both a dominating nationwide program lineup and a rock-solid base of high-profile sponsors throughout most of the 40's and early 50's. During 1938 CBS also purchased American Recording, which it promptly renamed Columbia Records.

Columbia Records Ad, ca. 1953

CBS was also the first network to contract for Major Sports broadcasts. But the 'jewel' in the network's crown, was unquestionably their remarkably gifted News Bureau--hand-picked by Paley himself, which forever set the standard by which news divisions of competing networks throughout the world--to this day--would be measured.

Marie Wilson from CBS's My Friend Irma, ca. 1950
Marie Wilson from CBS's My Friend Irma, ca. 1950

Steve Wilson and Lorelei Kilbourne (Patrick McVey and Jane Nigh), from CBS TV's Big Town, ca. 1951
Steve Wilson and Lorelei Kilbourne (Patrick McVey and Jane Nigh), from CBS TV's Big Town, ca. 1951

Arthur Godfrey promoting Pesodent, ca. 1952

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CBS War Correspondent Edward R. Murrow
CBS War Correspondent Edward R. Murrow

The names alone read like a Radio News Hall of Fame. These were Edward R. Murrow's 'Boys'. Hired as CBS's Director of Talks and Education in 1935, by 1937 Murrow had been transferred to London as CBS's European Bureau Chief. Murrow set about assembling the most intellectual, articulate, and knowledgeable news staff in the history of radio broadcasting:

  • Eric Sevareid
  • William L. Shirer
  • Charles Collingwood
  • Ed Bliss
  • Bill Downs
  • Richard C. Hottelet
  • Larry LeSueur
  • Robert Trout
  • Howard K. Smith
  • Winston Burdett
  • Producer Fred W. Friendly

This was an era when on-air reporters were actual journalists -- and fine journalists in their own right. Contrast these remarkably talented, brave, outspoken journalists with the shameless, 'talking-head journalism' imposed upon today's CBS News Department. How far the great have fallen. It's no small irony that CBS itself created it's little monster Viacom in 1971 in an attempt to skirt evolving FCC restrictions on Networks entering the burgeoning -- and wildly profitable -- cable business. It seems almost prosaic irony that CBS's own questionable business ethics would, within only 25 years, reduce CBS News from one of the world's most highly respected -- and trusted -- news bureaus, to a complete journalistic embarassment, both nationally and internationally. Murrow and those of 'his boys' fortunate enough to have passed on before being forced to witness the CBS News debacle must be spinning in their graves.

CBS World Today Promo from 1941
CBS World Today Promo from 1941
(Click Image for larger version)

But throughout the years immediately prior to World War II and then through the Korean War Years, Murrow's Boys transmitted broadcast after courageous broadcast of the most intimate details of the War and it's aftermath. After World War II, Daniel Schorr and others would add further lustre to Murrow's Team. It reads like a Who's Who of News Broadcasting History. And so it remains to this day; a combined body of reporting never since equalled in Network News History -- least of all by the Viacom'd CBS News of today -- on Radio OR Television.

Murrow and Fred Friendly collaborating
Murrow and Fred Friendly collaborating
on a script c.1953

Under Murrow's firm guidance, unstinting integrity, and fearless courage, Murrow and his news team heralded The Golden Age of Radio News and gave voice to a nation in fear of itself during the Cold War Witch Hunts of the 'Red Scare' era that scarred and tarnished the nation's history during the post-war years.

Murrow was the right man at the right time, and was arguably the only man in Public Broadcasting who could bring down the self-styled fascist demagogues that were tearing the nation apart and causing millions of American's to live in fear and suspiscion of their own neighbors. His courage, with Producer Fred Friendly, in debunking and dethroning the infamous Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph P. McCarthy, brought the beginning of the end to one of the most shameful chapters in American History.

This most shameful chapter threatens to repeat itself in our own time. One of the tenets to arise out of World War II were President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 'Four Freedoms' -- Freedom of Speech and Expression Everywhere in the World, Freedom to Worship God in each person's own way Everywhere in the World, Freedom from Want Everywhere in the World, and the one we're all contending with now; Freedom from Fear Everywhere in the World. Fearmongers such as McCarthy were chillingly effective in wielding that weapon against our entire country in the 50's, and we're facing the same shameful since the dawn of the 21st Century. What's missing today are jounalists of the calibre of Edward R. Murrow and His Boys, with the courage, conviction and integrity to both debunk and bring down the fearmongers which have taken hold of our nation--yet again--since the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph P.
McCarthy, c.1954

Murrow and Friendly's legacy continued through the 50's and mid-60's, having passed the torch to yet another CBS News Legend, Walter Cronkite, who through all of his broadcasting years, and for years after he retired, continues to be cited as "the most trusted man in America". Such was the social and political impact and reach of Radio and Early Television News. Indeed, Don Hewitt, long-time producer and director of 60 Minutes was the director of Murrow and Freindly's "See It Now" shows, and continues to air out our collective social conscience to this day, despite the mounting pressures placed upon him by the current CBS corporate administration -- not to mention the current National Administration. Will we produce yet another courageous group of jounalists to tackle the fearmongers of today? Only history will tell. Stay tuned . . .

Over the years, CBS Radio has amassed an amazing record of success in programming; creating--or acquiring--many of the most popular and enduring programs in Golden Age Radio History.

Given the very genuine drama unfolding in Europe at the time, it seems incomprehensible that Orson Welles, John Houseman and their Mercury Theatre On The Air could have thrown the entire nation into such a panic over a Science Fiction Drama, but so it did. And so it was, that on the evening of October 30th, 1938 at approximately 8:07pm EST, The Mercury Theatre's adaptation of H.G.Wells' cautionary tale, 'The War of the Worlds' (which was originally set in England) began to unfold.

Wells and Welles (H.G. and Orson), c.1939
Wells and Welles (H.G. and Orson), c.1939

In defense of Welles and his ensemble, the show was clearly advertised in all of the New York area newspapers since much earlier in the day. There were also several unambiguous announcements both before, during, and after the broadcast which clearly stated that the show was a dramatization of H.G.Wells short story. But what with many people having tuned into the broadcast a bit late, the utter realism of the broadcast, punctuated as it intentionally was, with 'newsbreaks' and 'on-the-spot reports' of the drama unfolding near Grover's Mill, New Jersey, apparenly thousands of listeners had absolutely no idea that what they were experiencing was a dramatic presentation.

Indeed, the show itself wasn't nearly as dramatic as all of the hoopla that ensued after the broadcast aired. CBS's response was to issue a statement saying that Mr Well's novel broadcast by the Mercury Theatre ensemble:

". . .followed the original closely, but to make the imaginary details more interesting to American listeners the adapter, Orson Welles, substituted an American locale for the English scenes of the story."

"Nevertheless, the program apparently was produced with such vividness that some listeners who may have heard only fragments thought the broadcast was fact, not fiction. Hundreds of telephone calls reaching CBS stations, city authorities, newspaper offices and police headquarters in various cities testified to the mistaken belief.

"Naturally, it was neither Columbia's nor the Mercury Theatre's intention to mislead any one, and when it became evident that a part of the audience had been disturbed by th performance five announcements were read over the network later in the evening to reassure those listeners."

Welles' Grilling by the Media the day after the broadcast
Welles' Grilling by the Media the day after the broadcast

Of course, as it all turned out, Welles was immediately propelled into super-stardom--for the era--and Americans throughout the country soon had something very real to fear.

Marie Wilson

Jack Benny

Bob Bailey

Gunsmoke Cast

My Friend Irma, 'Christmas Party' from 47-12-12

Gunsmoke, 'Christmas Story', from 52-12-20

Let George Do It, 'Christmas In January', from 51-01-29

The Jack Benny Program,'Mary Buys Jack A Pencil Sharpener for Christmas', 49-12-18

My Favorite Husband, 'The Christmas Stag', from 50-12-23