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The Rise and Fall of Soap Operas on Radio  | March 1st, 2016 By Todd Nebel Once upon a time, within the golden age of radio era, there was a silver lining called the soap opera. Its existence spanned over twenty-five years. And while today's televised soap operas continue many of its predecessor's traditions, never were the soaps as loved or as vast in number as during the golden age of radio. Remarkably, the soap opera form of entertainment is only eighty years old. At the beginning, daytime radio programming was a vast wasteland as it had been since regular radio programming began in 1920. However, the scheduling of the first soap opera or episodic serial, "Amos 'n' Andy," to the evening radio schedule, would soon change all that. The "Amos 'n' Andy" storyline followed the life of two Harlem blacks who owned the Fresh Air Taxi Cab Company. Freeman Gosden, who portrayed Amos Jones, and Charles Correll, as Andrew H. Brown, were both white actors. Their program began broadcasting from Chicago in 1929. In a daring move, NBC and the program's sponsor, Pepsodent, decided to air the program fifteen minutes each day, six days a week. And this was contrary to the common belief that all units of air time must be in hour and-half-hour increments. However, the amazing success of the "Amos 'n' Andy" format only left the chance for imitation programs to follow. And although "Amos 'n' Andy" was not a true soap opera, it did contain many of the ingredients for a soap opera program: curiosity, interest and suspense in the eventual fate of its characters. All these ingredients are still a part of today's televised soap operas. With the success of the night time broadcast of "Amos 'n' Andy," several other serial programs joined the evening line-up. Soon afterward, several of these programs would move over to daytime programming slots. One of the most famous of these was "Just Plain Bill," which began on the evening schedule in 1932 and moved to a daytime slot in 1933. "Just Plain Bill" remained on the air until 1955. The year 1933 proved to be the real growth year for daytime serials as their numbers grew from two to nine. By 1940 their total weekly hours had climbed to 59 hours a week for the combined networks. This serial exposure translated to nine out of every ten sponsored daytime hours. Happily, from the network's point of view, the sponsorship of these daytime serials accounted for nearly $26.7 million in revenue by 1940. And hoping to appeal to the serials' proven success with house-wives, soap manufacturers had now become the prime sponsors enabling the term "soap opera" to be coined. Throughout the golden age of radio, soap operas were typically fifteen minute programs which were scheduled for the same time slot each weekday. Their listening audience consisted of one half of all of the women who were home during daytime hours. To many of these women, the soaps provided companionship which Nostalgia Digest would continue on for years. Furthermore, soap operas provided to many housewives in the listening audience, a means of escape from their everyday chores. Audience loyalties were mostly to the veteran soap opera programs like "Backstage Wife," which began in 1935, and dramatized what it meant to be the wife of a famous Broadway star; "The Guiding Light" which was the story of a kindly cleric; and "Lorenzo Jones" which told us about an inventor of useless gadgets. "The Romance of Helen Trent" and "Ma Perkins" had leading women who. managed the challenges of their time, and each aired for twenty-seven years. All in all, the soap opera listeners devotion to these programs and others were well proven since most of the soap operas aired for fifteen or more seasons. At the peak of popularity in 1940, sixty-four serials were broadcast each day. Soon, it was not surprising that some people began to complain that there was nothing else to listen to during the day. And in fact, choices were severely limited in many areas of the country where CBS. and NBC affiliates were all carrying them. As a result the number of soap opera broadcasts began to decrease as some listeners began tuning out. By 1943, the number of soap opera broadcasts had declined to a total of forty sponsored programs a day. Because the listening audience had been overwhelmed by the typical soap opera format, quiz programs and other variety programs like Breakfast in Hollywood, The Arthur Godfrey Show and Queen For a Day, began to replace many of the soap opera broadcast slots. By 1950, the number of soaps on radio had dropped to twenty-seven. Over the next five years, the number remained constant, even with the drastic changes taking place in radio's evening programming. The soap opera, therefore, had become one of the last outlets for network radio advertising at a time when most evening network shows had gone sustaining (carried without advertising support by the network). This reprieve occurred because many soaps were owned and produced by their sponsors and also because it took until the mid-50's for daytime television to get off the ground. During this somewhat stable period for the soaps, none of the favorite veteran soaps were cancelled but only one new program, "Woman in My House," lasted more than one season. The radio era of the soap opera began to crumble by 1955. By 1956, the number of soaps had diminished to sixteen (ten of which were on CBS and the remainder were equally divided between NBC and ABC). Four years later, ABC discontinued all of its soaps. NBC had only "True Story" and CBS had seven remaining programs on its schedule. By the end of the 1959-1960 season, CBS was the only network broadcasting soaps, six in total since they dropped "The Romance of Helen Trent" on June 24, 1960. The 1960-61 radio season was the soap operas' last season. In mid-August of 1960, CBS, which began the season with six programs, decided to cease its soap opera broadcasts on the last Friday of November. CBS gave each of the remaining programs three months and the opportunity to conclude their plots as best as they could. Realistically, though, none of the programs could successfully bring an end to all of the overlapping and intermingling problems since the soaps were all plotted to the end of infinity. Heroic efforts were made, however, by the shows' producers to bring some sort of conclusion to their major conflicts. And, possibly hoping for clemency, none of the programs were brought to such finality that the plot could not be resumed at a moment's notice. November 25, 1960, marked the end of "Ma Perkins," "Young Dr. Malone," "The Right to Happiness" and "The Second Mrs. Burton"' as well as the soap opera era on radio. "