View Full Version : Critical Review of Radio Programming
06-23-2007, 07:01 PM
I've often wondered whether radio programs were reviewed weekly like movies were. Does anyone have an example of a review? Did the magazines and newspapers have a special critic for the medium? Was there a magazine like Screenland that reviewed radio every month?
06-23-2007, 07:55 PM
Every major newspaper and many major magazines had regular radio columnists who reviewed the programming of the day -- some of the columnists were cheap hacks and shills, but others were real journalists who produced genuine and meaningful criticism. Among the better columnists were Alton Cook of the New York World Telegram, John Crosby of the New York Herald Tribune, Ben Gross of the New York Daily News, Evans Plummer of the Chicago Daily News, Mark Quest of the Washington Post, Don Herold of Judge magazine, and the entire staff of Radio Guide (especially between 1935 and 1939, when this was as fine a radio magazine as was ever published). In the postwar era, you could add Goodman Ace to the list -- a major radio writer in his own right, he turned out some extremely erudite columns on broadcasting for the Saturday Review of Literature that still make for interesting reading today.
A number of these columnists published compilations of their columns in book form -- probably the very best was "Out Of The Blue," by John Crosby, compiling many of his best columns from 1946 to 1952. If you only read one book of radio criticism this should be the one.
06-24-2007, 04:40 PM
Lizzie, do you have any examples of a review? Perhaps one of a well known program (Jack Benny, The Shadow, etc) If it were one that people are not familar with, it would probably be hard to follow without listening to that program.
06-25-2007, 05:18 AM
Here's Variety's review of Jack Benny's opening program of the 1938-39 season, published in the issue of 10/5/38:
"What stood out in Jack Benny's reentry in the 1938-39 C. A. B. steeplechase last weekend was the novel way he introduced himself and the members of the cast. Each was sketched as hurriedly getting ready for the opening broadcast and the whole thing added up to an unbroken fusillade of sock laughs. After that it was nip and tuck.
"Most of the exchanges carried the usual Benny wallop but there was one interval that sounded as though the troupe was taking time out to toss a hot potato. But even this doubtful interlude was compensated for. That came with the reading of a wire from Fred Allen, which said he had heard the Benny program, and that motion picutres would continue to be his best entertainment.
"Benny had apparently elected to limit the participants to his permanent payroll for the opening installment. In addition to Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker, and the salesman-stooge Don Wilson, there was the blackface valet "Rochester" and the perennial door-rapper with the quick rib. Among the nifty touches in the script was the foundation laid for Kenny's British-imported valet. Kenny also contributed added underpinning to his status as one of radio's choice interpreters of romantic ditties. His voice and style are still making strides upward."
06-28-2007, 01:16 AM
I find the review a bit more like an observation, rather than a critique. The writer's opinion is there but they focus on describing the show, rather than comparing and critiqueing it. I also find that the review represents many other shows that are to come. The concept of Jack Benny introducing his cast continued for a long time after this review. I have heard many shows and many of them begin with his "novel introductions".
Did critics only review programs like this, "Radio Drama", Variety shows, , Musical programs, Comedies and so forth or did they also review the network's over all season and their other programs like news and sports? I am guessing that radio programming wasn't far from television programming. I would think that they simply translated radio concepts to television.
06-28-2007, 04:40 AM
Well, if you're talking about academic-type criticism, the answer is no -- that approach to criticism of popular culture didn't exist then. It was largely a product of the sixties and the rise of the whole social-history school of academia. Media criticism in the thirties and forties was generally divided into two sectors -- criticism for the trade, found in publications like Variety or Billboard, and criticism for the general public, found in newspapers and general interest magazines. There was no theoretical/postmodern analysis of the content of radio programs, because the theories used by such critics today had yet to be formulated.
All types of programs were reviewed, though -- although the tone was quite different from reviews today. There was less of the self-indulgent "look at me, I'm so snarky and smug" attitude that dominates today's criticism and more of a sense of simply wanting to inform the reader of what was going on. Some critics were snide, but they were in the minority.
The concept of the broadcast season as a unified structure of network programming didn't exist in the radio era. Networks didn't set their schedules, sponsors did -- and therefore there was no point in reviewing a network's entire scope of offerings, since the network had no control over it. The idea of networks controlling their own schedules and programming with an overall theme in mind didn't come to dominate until well into the television era.
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