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Radio And The War | January 17th, 2013 By Todd Nebel If you didn’t read magazines and books—and even if you did—you had to listen to the radio during the war. Everyone did, if not for fun and enjoy­ment, then to get the news “every hour on the hour”. On any summer’s day, and when windows were open, you could walk around a block and not miss a line when an important program was being broadcast. Perhaps prema­turely, radio entered this “golden age” by the middle-thirties when, institu­tionally speaking, it was still in knee pants. By 1943, however, it had become a billion dollar industry that was vital to the war front and home front alike; an instant resource and main supplier of news and entertain­ment to the millions. (Television, you will recall, was still in its earliest stages of infancy at the hands of RCA and other developers.) During the war, the commercial broadcasting scheme was controlled by the major networks — CBS, NBC Red and Blue, and MUTUAL, as well as some 900 standard broadcasting sta­tions. Their combined output could be heard coast-to-coast over some 60 million home and automobile radio receivers. In addition, the Armed Forces Radio Service transmitted many of the regular network programs to just about every part of the world thanks to the use of transcription recordings sent to the troops overseas. In fact, many of the popular network radio programs of the day were heard by troops at hospitals, rear echelon areas and even on the fighting fronts. Except for the news programs, what you heard on the radio in a typical war year like 1943 was pretty much what you were accustomed to in the years before the war. The show scripts were war-angled and the comic gags had a GI twist, but beyond that nothing much had changed. Night after night in their regular time slots, there turned up such old favorites and rating leaders as “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Jack Benny Program”, “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, “The Bob Hope Show”, “The Aldrich Family” with Ezra Stone, “Lux Radio Theatre” produced by Cecil B. DeMille, and Walter Winchell (Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. North America and all-the-ships-at-sea- lets-go-to-press”). For some of radios make-believe characters, however, wartime induc­tion was the real thing. When Uncle Sam called, Ezra Stone, (who played Henry Aldrich on “The Aldrich Fam­ily”), went from radio teenager to real life Army Sergeant. The characters of The Old Timer, Wallace Wimple, and Horatio K. Boomer on the “Fibber McGee and Molly Show” all left for the Navy in the person of Bill Thomp­son. Daytime radio stars also were in­cluded. Arthur Peterson, who played Ruthledge “The Good Samaritan of Five Points” on “Guiding Light” left for war in 1944, as did Billy Idelson who played Rush on “Vic and Sade” and John Raby who played Harry Davis, the young husband to Joan Field, on “When A Girl Marries.” Some real-life stars who more or less played themselves on radio and left to join the service were Rudy Vallee, Den­nis Day, Glenn Miller and Red Skelton. But, just as important, many of the top stars of the day made their own contributions to the war effort by combining their talents in a production that was described by Time as “the best wartime program in radio”. The production was called “Command Performance” and it was distributed by the Armed Forces Radio Service for the troops overseas. With the emceeing of Bob Hope and others, over 1000 of these variety programs were produced. A galaxy of stars then donated their time and talent in hopes that they could bring a little laughter, a tear and maybe a recollection of home to the young soldiers away at war. Radio on the home front, however, never let you forget that there was a war going on. In one way or another, in jest or somberness, this fact was driven into practically every program. The big variety shows, for example, were from time to time, broadcast directly from any army camp with wolf whistles and cheers of the GI audience heard loudly in the background. War themes and slogans, diligently pro­moted by the OWI (Office of War In­formation) found a way into nearly every major program, if not internally or as part of a script, then as the “cur­tain speech” with the leading comic or singer stepping out of character to solemnly urge you to visit your local Red Cross Blood Bank, army recruiting station or to just refrain from travel. To get you to do your share to win the war, the comedy shows, dramas, soaps and even the quiz shows never forgot to remind you how precious your freedom really was. The stars of the programs also were willing to give up a little time from their shows each week to talk about the urgent need for you to “Buy More Bonds!” and “Save Used Fats!” Incidentally, there was no arm twisting and nobody needed to be paid extra to give a special message on the government’s behalf. America was one unified whole in World War II, thanks to the part radio played in keep­ing the home front alive and well.