"Tickets, please...thank you, sir..."
It may come as a bit of a surprise to those who think of New York and Los Angeles as being the hubs of the American entertainment industry but, for most of radio's Golden Age, Chicago, Illinois was a beehive of broadcasting activity. In fact, until NBC and CBS built their elaborate Hollywood studios in the late 1930s, network programs emanating from Chicago usually outnumbered those broadcast from the movie capitol -- and for a number of very good reasons, too.
First and foremost were radio's biggest sponsors, many of whom had their main offices in or near the Windy City. For instance, The Campana Company - makers of Campana Italian Balm and a wide variety of other beauty products - were located in Batavia, Illinois, while both the Johnson Wax Company and the makers of Horlick's Malted Milk made their headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. The Mars Candy Company was based in Chicago itself, most automobile manufacturers were located in or near Detroit, Michigan, and Proctor and Gamble (which were heavy sponsors of daytime shows) were based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Most of the major advertising agencies maintained offices in Chicago - many occupying space in the massive Merchandise Mart building, the same building where NBC's WMAQ maintained their studios and offices - and, being a transit hub, Chicago was easily accessible by rail from all of the major cities of the Midwest. Many a radio client, wanting to check on how his or her advertising dollars were being spent, would take a junket to Chicago and spend some time in the booth while "their" show was being broadcast.
Aside from the proximity of major manufacturing, however, the other - and perhaps more important reason - for Chicago becoming a broadcasting center was that it was conveniently located in the midst of the U. S. time zones. In a time before the prerecording of network programs became common, a show broadcast from, say, New York to be heard in Los Angeles would usually have to be performed twice; once in prime-time for the east and, three hours later, again for in prime-time for the west. This was rather less of a problem for shows that originated in Chicago - particularly the daytime soap operas, which could be performed and aired at noon in Chicago for the Midwest and be heard at 10 AM on the west coast and 1 PM on the eastern seaboard. As a result, Chicago soon became the center of daytime broadcasting, beginning with morning shows like Don McNeill's "Breakfast Club" and Tommy Bartlett's "Welcome Travelers", followed by soaps until the early evening hours, and then dramatic shows (using many of the same performers heard regularly on the soaps) taking listeners into the night.
One of the earliest and most popular shows to be broadcast from Chicago was "The First Nighter Program", a dramatic anthology that reconstructed for listening audiences the experience of attending a live theatrical performance. For nearly twenty-five years, beginning in 1930, the series' genial host -- "Mr. First Nighter" -- would arrive at "the little theater off Times Square" to witness an "opening night performance" of a first-run play, generally a romantic comedy. Despite the fact that the show never got within a thousand miles of the Great White Way, the opening of "Nighter" became one of radio's most memorable, particularly for the many listeners for whom attending live theater was as exotic, glamorous, and unlikely a happening as a visit to a Hollywood movie studio. The dapper emcee would get out of a cab and, getting his tickets at the window, make his way to his fourth-row center box, listen to the orchestra play a sprightly overture, and then chat with listeners about the evening's entertainment as he browsed the playbill and mentioned the stars of the show.
The success of "The First Nighter Program" inevitably inspired others to take advantage of the same colorful theatrical framework - and "Curtain Time" quickly became the most successful and enduring of them all. The series premiered over Mutual on July 22, 1938 as a Friday night half-hour sponsored by Kix Cereal. Though the romantic drama anthology nature of "Curtain" usually eschewed any kind of 'star', actor Olan Soulé essayed most of the male leads on the program, often opposite actresses like Betty Lou Gerson and Louise Fitch. (Soulé later graduated to "Nighter" in 1943, frequently acting opposite Barbara Luddy.) Directed by Blair Walliser, with music by Henry Weber and the announcing chores handled by Don Gordon, the production offered plenty of the same fare as that featured on "First Nighter": light and innocuous boy-girl romances that were always lighthearted and entertaining.
"Curtain Time" was heard on Mutual for less than a year before going on hiatus -- and when it returned on July 4, 1945, it was heard over ABC, which found a home for it at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights (moving to Thursdays at 10:30 PM in October) and a sponsor in the Mars Candy Company. The show continued to become more and more like its predecessor, adding an usher to the proceedings who would show listeners to their seats in "seventh row center." The featured performers during this run were Harry Elders and Nannette Sergeant, with Chicago pros like Betty Winkler, Hope Summers, Art Van Harvey, and Arthur Peterson providing solid support. "Curtain Time's" ABC status lasted until July 13, 1946, when it moved to NBC and remained until it left the airways on March 29, 1950, with Mars still faithfully paying the bills. The ABC/NBC years of "Curtain Time" were directed by Harry Holcomb, with music provided by Bert Farber and Patrick Allen was featured as the cultured host. Fans of trivial will note that one of the occasional actors on the series (and, later, its full-time announcer) was Myron "Mike" Wallace, who would later achieve television immortality as a hard-hitting investigative journalist on the CBS series "60 Minutes".
A representative example of the type of story featured on "Curtain Time" can be found in the March 15, 1947 broadcast that opens this collection. Entitled "A Bridge for Martha", the play tells the tale of Martha Sheldon (Nannette Sergeant) and Miles Ramsey (Harry Elders), two people who apparently have nothing in common. Martha is a society girl, brought up with wealth and privilege, but whose security has been threatened by the recent death of her father and some of the bad investments he made before he passed on. Her mother is anxious to marry her off to the family attorney so as to continue the family affluence, but Martha has little interest in the snobbish solicitor. One day, Martha notices two men trampling in her mother's petunia patch: Miles Ramsey, a civil engineer, and Chick, his assistant, who are surveying for an extension to nearby Lake Drive. From the outset, Martha and Miles are like oil and water; he thinks only of progress, as well as building the suspension bridge he has designed for the site, while she is concerned about destroying the beauty of the family estate. As time goes by, however, he begins to understand the importance of maintaining beauty as well as functionality and she begins to see that he is more than just an asphalt-obsessed road builder. The performances on this broadcast are first-rate - among the "Milky Way" players are such Chicago radio veterans as Hope Summers, Sidney Ellstrom, George Caesar, and Howard Hoffman - but what's most enjoyable is hearing announcer John Weigle's description of a Milky Way candy bar, proof positive that an expert copy writer can make something so simple sound so breathtakingly delicious that you just have to go out and buy one right away.
Though it isn't as well remembered as the longer-running "First Nighter Program", "Curtain Time" remains a delightful testament to the entertaining diversity of old-time radio. And, in this collection, Radio Archives is proud to offer you twenty newly discovered romantic comedies from the series, most of which have not been heard since their one and only airing over sixty years ago. Taken directly from long-lost transcription recordings made for the advertising agency representing Mars Candy, these still-charming programs have been honed to a sparkling audio luster by the Radio Archives restoration team - a real treat for the whole family to enjoy, right along with their luscious Milky Way bars.
#88 A Bridge for Martha
Saturday, March 15, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#89 Wanted: A Name
Saturday, March 22, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#90 Lightning Strikes Twice
Saturday, March 29, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#91 Mr. Justice Jimmy
Saturday, April 5, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#92 Reluctant Hero
Saturday, April 12, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#93 Hometown Girl
Saturday, April 19, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#94 Positive Reaction
Saturday, April 26, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#95 Birds of a Feather
Saturday, May 3, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#96 Casanova on the Mountain
Saturday, May 10, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#97 The World Between
Saturday, May 17, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#98 Wanted: An Old Fashioned Girl
Saturday, May 24, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#99 Twice Blessed
Saturday, May 31, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#101 Reluctant Bride
Saturday, June 14, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#102 Hook, Line and Sinker
Saturday, June 21, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#103 The Belle of the Barbary Coast
Saturday, June 28, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#114 Lady in the Night
Saturday, September 13, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#115 Double Life
Saturday, September 20, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#116 Grandmother Knew Best
Saturday, September 27, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#117 Part Time Husband
Saturday, October 4, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company
#118 Ticker Tape Romance
Saturday, October 11, 1947 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by the Mars Candy Company