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What happened to network radio immediately following WWII? |July 3, 2014 By Todd Nebel Network radio had its birth in 1926. In 1939 it was a multimillion dollar business when early television went on display at the New York World’s Fair. By 1941, television was poised for rapid growth when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and consequently joined World War II.  Suddenly the imminent mass production of television sets and programming would have to wait while the U.S. mobilized its manufacturing industry for the war effort instead. Then finally, after three and three quarter arduous years of war, a victorious United States looked forward to its first taste of peacetime in the fall of 1945. Some servicemen anxiously waited to come home while others began coming home, many with the hope of starting a new and better life.  And as Americans settled in, they found their radio programs and entertainers much the same as they were before the war began. For this reason, how did Americans newly confident in their future, respond to network radio that had changed little in a drastically changed world? Americans wanted to buy new television sets, cars and homes but that would all have to wait until the manufacturing sector caught up to demand.  So, in the momentous days and weeks following V-J Day (August 15th, 1945), radio listening dropped off drastically. In fact, it was at its lowest level in several years of evening listening, an audience level of 68.9 of homes that owned a radio.  But gradually as the summer ended, listeners began returning to their radios to familiar shows and entertainers.  A new fall season was offered by the networks, but a continuing tire shortage and a flood of auto accident publicity also kept people around their radios. In fact, so much so that by early December, nighttime radio listening had risen to 79.2, a figure slightly higher than the same period one year earlier. By December 1945, listening habits had returned to normal. The sets in use and average program ratings closely followed those of the previous year. The fifteen highest rated programs were all old favorites, with twelve appearing on the list a year earlier.   The Top 15 Evening Programs and Ratings November 30th 1945.  (In parenthesis are the rating the same program received  November 30th, 1944)  1. Bob Hope 27.9 (32.5)  2. Fibber McGee and Molly 25.3  (32.3)  3. Lux Radio Theatre 23.6  (25.8)  4. Walter Winchell 23.4  (19.5)  5. Charlie McCarthy 22.6  (22.2)  6. Jack Benny 22.4  (23.6)  7. Mr. District Attorney 19.8  (24.6)  8. Fred Allen 19.2  (Not Broadcast)  9.  Abbott and Costello 18.8  (24.4)  10. Screen Guild Players 18.5  (23.4)  11.  Take It Or Leave It   18.4  (Not Broadcast)  12.  Kraft Music Hall  17.5  (22.6)  13.  Eddie Cantor  17.5  (19.3)  14.  Jack Haley  16.2  (22.2)    15.  Aldrich Family 15.6  (18.3) One thing that stands out when comparing 1945’s ratings to the same period of time in 1944 is variety shows were obviously in a slump. Also, ratings of the top programs were lower overall. Why? Well, as we mentioned earlier, many of these programs were on at the start of the war. There wasn’t much new and exciting for those who had just seen the world and gone from hell and back fighting for their country. Fibber McGee and Molly had dropped 7.0 in its Hooper rating while Bob Hope dropped 4.6 and Jack Haley’s Village Store dropped 4.0. Another reason was the initial success of variety shows years earlier had led to a veritable glut of this type of programming by 1945.  In some cases radio actors in supporting roles who had turned in creditable performances and attracted followings, were given top billing in new shows by advertisers anxious to get in the variety field.   One form of programming that saw growth in 1945 was quiz shows. In May 1945, quiz programs had an average rating of 11.6 average against varieties 11.2  average. This marked the first time the quiz show genre had proved more popular than variety. One month later, quiz programs further increased their lead. And by September the quiz show genre lead the variety format by a 1.9 average.   As history would bear out, Americans accepted the fact that the mass production of television, more television signals and entertainment would take at least a couple more years.  And in the short term, American regained  their love of the top variety radio programs which rebounded with rating increases in 1946 and 1947.  But the quiz show trend that took hold in 1945 grew at an even greater rate during the late 1940’s. It would eventually peak with shows like Stop The Music, You Bet Your Life, and Break The Bank by the end of the decade.   Big network radio may not have changed much during the war, but the war itself gave network radio a reprieve that lasted until the late 1940’s when television brought on its decline.