Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon
It's bedtime, and six-year-old Jonathan Thomas and his teddy bear Guz are ready for a story before going to sleep. But before the story can begin, a moonbeam shines through Jonathan's window and, much to his surprise, two little elves slide down it into his bedroom. Before Jonathan can stop him, Guz takes off after the elves and scampers up the moonbeam chasing them. Jonathan follows and soon finds himself involved in an exciting adventure to save Santa Claus, who has been kidnapped and held prisoner in the Land of Squeebobble. Accompanied by the Man in the Moon and a horse named Gorgonzola, and traveling to strange and exotic places like the Merry-Go-Round River, the Rainbow Bridge, the Wall of Doors, and Looking Glass Land, Jonathan meets and befriends a wildly imaginative group of characters in an adventure straight out of Lewis Carroll by way of many of the best-loved fairy and folk tales of all time. Can Jonathan rescue Santa Claus in time to save Christmas...or will he be defeated by the evil witch of Rumplestitch?
In the late summer of 1937, radio stations were surprised to receive a 12" audition recording in a sleeve bearing the words "Merry Christmas!" in red festive lettering across the top. It was common enough for a station manager to receive promotional records in the mail, but seldom did a Christmas recording arrive when the thermometer was still hovering in the upper seventies. For most, this unexpected recording was their introduction to a broadcasting phenomenon that would become a part of their holiday programming for years to come -- and give a profitable boost to the holiday sales of their retail advertisers, too.
"The Cinnamon Bear," a 26-part children's serial produced by the Transcription Company of America, provided the perfect link between radio station and retailer: a daily, self-contained special feature that could be broadcast at the same time every weekday - usually just after children had arrived home from school - and be sponsored by a single merchant who would use the series and its colorful characters in their advertising layouts and displays. The shows were designed to be played on the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, gradually building in dramatic intensity until they culminated on Christmas Eve in, of course, a happy ending.
Creatively produced and featuring a small army of experienced radio performers, "The Cinnamon Bear" proved to be an instant favorite of both children tuning in for their daily musical adventure and the department stores that linked the Cinnamon Bear to their Christmas promotions. Timing played a big part in the success of the series - 1937 was the first year when it seemed as though America would finally overcome its decade-long economic depression - but clever promotional materials including coloring books, sheet music, and pre-designed graphics made it easy for department stores to leap on the economic bandwagon created by Paddy O'Cinnamon and his friends. It wasn't long before the yearly rebroadcasts of "The Cinnamon Bear" became, in many cities, as much a local holiday tradition as the Santa Claus parade and the church nativity pageant; in fact, over time, some stores would even choose to send their stand-in Santa packing -- replacing him with a person in an overstuffed Cinnamon Bear costume.
Inevitably, the ultra-successful "Cinnamon Bear" would spawn imitations -- and it was less than a year later that a rival syndication company would come out with another series designed for the financial benefit both radio stations and retailers alike. Autumn 1938 found station managers receiving word of another 26-part children's serial titled "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon." Though not quite as elaborately produced as the Bear, this new holiday series had much to recommend it: a unique premise mixing elements of fairy tales, folk tales, and well-known literary classics, a collection of characters and situations that rivaled those that accompanied Paddy O'Cinnamon's adventures, merchandising and promotional opportunities that were the equal of the Bear...and, most important of all, a competitive program that could air on a rival station at or near the same time as the Bear was being heard. Since "The Cinnamon Bear" had been so successful the previous year, most of the larger retailers had snapped up exclusive rights to sponsor it year after year in their respective broadcast markets, leaving smaller stores or those which had simply not foreseen the selling power of the Bear in need of something with which to complete.
Economically, 1938 was an even bigger year for Christmas retail sales than 1937 had been -- and "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon" played a significant part in boosting those sales. Because it was new and unknown (and also because quite a few kid listeners already knew from the previous year how "The Cinnamon Bear" series turned out), "Jonathan Thomas" often beat "The Cinnamon Bear" in numbers of listeners and, as expected, these young listeners influenced their gift-buying parents to shop at the stores that sponsored it. Whereas Paddy and his friends set out to find a silver star and encounter strange and unique lands and people along the way, six-year-old Jonathan Thomas goes him one better: his quest is to rescue a kidnapped Santa Claus and save Christmas itself. Now that's competition!
"CB" and his rival "JT" went head to head in radio markets both large and small for the next few years. "The Cinnamon Bear," being first and usually being sponsored by larger stores, tended to dominate the radio market and has become a much-beloved part of the Christmas memories of many a radio enthusiast -- but "Jonathan Thomas" does have his fans, what with its scripts written in rhyme (mostly) and its characters and situations echoing elements of "Snow White and Rose Red," "The Wizard of Oz," and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." Heard today, both of the series have much to recommend them: fascinating characters, excellent voice work from a large cast of performers, dramatic cliff-hanging adventures, and the imaginative use of radio's ability to create detailed pictures in your mind. In terms of sheer production values, "The Cinnamon Bear" still comes out on top -- but I bet that, after playing the creative and cartoon-like "Jonathan Thomas" for your children or grandchildren this year, it too may well become an anticipated part of your yearly holiday traditions.
Holiday serials like "The Cinnamon Bear," "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon," and "Jump Jump and the Ice Queen" were all designed to be played once each weekday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, culminating with that happy ending on Christmas Eve. Thus, the opening section of each episode offers a synopsis of what has come before, designed to keep young listeners up to date on where the characters are in their adventure. Radio Archives recommends sticking to this schedule for home listening as well. Pick a time each day to play the first episode in the series, then play the next episode at the same time the next day, and so on; this will give children the best listening experience possible and keep them excited about what's going to happen next. (By the way, none of these holiday serials contain advertising, so parents and grandparents need not worry about younger family members begging for toys that are no longer available for sale!)
All twenty-six episodes of "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon" have been completely restored for outstanding audio fidelity and represent the best sounding versions of these timeless programs that have ever been released.
The Man in the Moon (#1)
Friday, November 25, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Court of Old King Cole (#2)
Saturday, November 26, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Gorgonzola the Horse (#3)
Monday, November 28, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Valley of the Three Dwarfs (#4)
Tuesday, November 29, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Magic Word (#5)
Wednesday, November 30, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Fairy Queen (#6)
Thursday, December 1, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Dragon with the Thirteen Tails (#7)
Friday, December 2, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Whiskery Bill (#8)
Saturday, December 3, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Asleep for a Million Trillion Years (#9)
Monday, December 5, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Slumber Cave (#10)
Tuesday, December 6, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Whiskery Bill Meets Sir Algy (#11)
Wednesday, December 7, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Rainbow Bridge (#12)
Thursday, December 8, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Growing a Red, Red Rose (#13)
Friday, December 9, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Crossing the Ice-Covered River (#14)
Saturday, December 10, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Lion King (#15)
Monday, December 12, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
A Box of Roars (#16)
Tuesday, December 13, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Wall of Doors (#17)
Wednesday, December 14, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Looking Glass Land (#18)
Thursday, December 15, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Good Queen Alice (#19)
Friday, December 16, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
King Squeebeeble (#20)
Saturday, December 17, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Growing Large and Small (#21)
Monday, December 19, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Kermit the Hermit (#22)
Tuesday, December 20, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
The Pea Soup Fog (#23)
Wednesday, December 21, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
A Reward for the Capture of Jonathan (#24)
Thursday, December 22, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Prisoners of King Squeebeeble (#25)
Friday, December 23, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated
Santa is Rescued (#26)
Saturday, December 24, 1938 - 15:00 - Syndicated