Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 40

Handout 1 - Fact Sheet

Radio, 1946

Before television, there was radio. During the 1940s, radio was the primary entertainment for the average Clevelander. In 1922 a group of Cleveland investors came together to form the first radio station in the city, WHK. In the beginning all radio station were AM only. The 1920s was a booming time for entertainment in Cleveland. Clusters of theaters and restaurants were established at two main sites in the city, downtown, in what is today the Playhouse Square area, and at East 105th and Euclid Avenue. Theaters and restaurants which served the African-American community of Cleveland were located in the area around East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue. The construction of new theaters brought new entertainment to Cleveland. Vaudeville, Broadway shows and Hollywood films were all attractions at these new sites. Restaurants and supper clubs presented "big band" performances and live radio broadcasts beamed the sounds of swing out to the far reaches of the Cleveland area.

By 1930, additional stations had joined WHK. WGAR was established, as well as WTAM, and NBC broadcast the "Blue" network across the Midwest. Owners of stations soon realized the importance of advertising revenue to the continued success of their operation. Well known entertainers were hired as "pitchmen" for products and commercials were born. A planned program brought the need for professional radio personalities. Sales and promotions were no longer handled by the owner himself, but professional advertising people became the norm.

As national networks grew, the city became more aware of the country as a whole. "News flashes" from across the globe poured out of radios in homes from Glenville to Warsawa. And the isolation of Cleveland's neighborhoods began to shrink. Coverage of World War II by correspondents, such as Eric Sevareid and Edward R. Morrow, brought the war in the European and Pacific theaters into the living rooms of Clevelanders. Local programming reflected the involvement of Clevelanders in the war. One of the most popular was "Victory Time," a series of variety programs sponsored by TRW. "Sam at War," on WHK, was a civil defense program which instructed Clevelanders on how to react to enemy attack, and used actors from the Cleveland Playhouse. Jack and Heinz Company used their sponsorship of a variety program on WGAR to make Clevelanders of their products and contributions to the war effort. Another popular variety show was "Serenade for Smoothies," sponsored by the Ohio Bell Telephone Company. This program was used to recruit women for operators jobs and featured a staff orchestra. Beginning in 1942, "Bandwagon" began performing live from the Palace Theater and promoted the purchase of war bonds. By the end of the war in 1945, there were four major radio stations in Cleveland, WHK, WGAR, WTAM (which specialized in sports and broadcasted the Indians, Browns, and Barons games live) and WJW.

Radio began broadcasting around 7:00 a.m. and continued until sign-off around 11:00 p.m. Most shows broadcast in the morning and afternoon hours were aimed at the housewives of America. Soap manufacturers, such as Proctor and Gamble, helped to creating the continuing dramas of daytime radio, which we call "soap operas" today, such as "Young Doctor Malone," "Ma Perkins" and "Our Gal Sunday." Evening programs were family oriented and continued the traditions of the radio dramas of the 1930s, such as the "Shadow," "Flash Gordon," and others. Variety shows, "big band"and other musical performances, and ethnic programming rounded out the evening presentations.

Radio continued to be a dominating force in the Cleveland entertainment scene until the introduction of television. A slump in radio broadcasting during the 1950s has been ovecome and a larger and more varied radio audience produced changes in programming. The introduction of "disk jockeys" in the late 1950s and early 1960s created a new type of radio personality and the disappearance of national radio networks forced local stations to produce almost all their own programming. Syndicated shows now appear on some stations, but the age of "live" drama, variety shows and comedy performances on radio are long gone, with the exception of the National Public Radio Network.

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