THE RAILROAD HOUR: A History of the Radio Series
“Entertainment for all. For every member of the family—the humming, strumming, dancing tunes of the recent musical shows. For Mother and Dad—happy reminders of the shows they saw ‘only yesterday.’ And also, occasionally, one of the great and everlasting triumphs that go ‘way back before then…” This was how the Association of American Railroads described their product known as The Railroad Hour, in their annual publicity pamphlets. For 45 minutes every Monday night, over the American Broadcasting Company’s national network, the American Railroads presented, for listener enjoyment, one after another of the world’s great musical comedies and operettas… the top-rated successes whose names had been spelled-out in the blazing lights on both sides of Broadway. Complete with music and words, the program offered famed headliners of the stage, screen and radio taking the leading roles.
Highly favored by Joseph McConnell, President of the National Broadcasting Company, and William T. Faricy, President of the Association of American Railroads, The Railroad Hour competed against such radio programs as CBS’s high-rated Suspense and The Falcon in the same weekly time slot. The program lasted a total of 299 broadcasts over a span of six broadcast seasons—an accomplishment some would consider impossible by today’s broadcasting standards should the program be dramatized on television. This book is designed to help fans of both musical appreciation and old-time radio to become better acquainted with the talented group of singers, musicians, writers and technicians who, working as a team, planned, prepared and produced one of the more popular weekly musical programs ever broadcast on network radio.
Not everyone enjoys musicals, or admires old recordings of radio programs that present musicals. But for those who admire the classics, stage musicals and the like, this book is a perfect companion for those who enjoy listening to The Railroad Hour.
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE RAILROAD HOUR
The Railroad Hour was broadcast from the studios of the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The program was heard regularly over 170 stations of the NBC network. According to an annual report issued by the Association of American Railroads, it was estimated that the program was heard by more than four million family groups. “Musical shows with a dramatic continuity are enjoyed by persons of all ages, especially when the leading roles are portrayed by outstanding artists. All members of the family, as well as school, church, and club groups, find The Railroad Hour wholesome, dignified, and inspiring entertainment,” quoted Francis Van Hartesveldt.
So why is the program called the Railroad “Hour” when it was on the air only thirty minutes? In radio, the term “hour” was indicative of the time of the beginning of the broadcast, rather than the number of minutes the program was on the air. Also odd was the fact that the program ran a mere 45 minutes instead of 30 or 60 during the opening months. During its half-hour on the air, The Railroad Hour gave its listeners 25 minutes of entertainment. About two-and-a-half minutes were given to the railroad message. The remaining time was required for opening and closing announcements and station identifications.
The Railroad Hour did not broadcast any operas, contrary to popular belief and reference guides. The producers of the series presented operettas and musicals, leaving the operas for other programs, namely The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. So what is the difference between opera and operetta? An opera is an art form consisting of a dramatic stage performance set to music in which the dialogue is sung, rather than spoken. An operetta is a musical performance where the conversations are “talked” and the expressive moments are set in song.
One question came up during a standard question-and-answer session with the Association of American Railroads: “Are recordings of The Railroad Hour broadcasts available?” The formal answer from the Association was that copyright restrictions did not permit the producer of The Railroad Hour to make any recordings of the musical program. However, recordings of many of the song hits heard were available at music stores. This, of course, was the formal public statement. In reality, every broadcast of The Railroad Hour was recorded and transcribed. Numerous copies were made for both legal and historical purposes. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, who wrote the majority of the scripts, actually kept a copy of almost every broadcast for their personal collection. These discs were later donated to the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center in New York City. The Library of Congress presently stores a copy of all the discs in their archives. Dealers and collectors specializing in recordings from the “Golden Age of Radio” have come across similar depositories over the years and, thankfully, more than half of the broadcasts are presently available from dealers nationwide. Marvin Miller, the announcer for The Railroad Hour, saved a few of the scripts, which were later donated to the Thousand Oaks Library in California.
A limited number of free admission tickets for the public were available for each Railroad Hourbroadcast. Tickets could be obtained by writing to the Association of American Railroads, Transportation Building, located in Washington, D.C., or by writing to the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The Applicant was required to give the date for which the tickets were desired and the number of persons in the party. Because of the demand for tickets (especially since they were free), it was publicly advised to request them several weeks in advance of the broadcast.
INCLUDED IN THE BOOK
* A history of this fascinating musical program, revealing why the show was referred to as “Hour” when the series was broadcast on a 30-minute time slot, why the series never features operas, and much more!
* A complete episode guide listing in extreme detail, all 299 episodes with titles of all songs, who sung them, the order in which they were sung, the origina of all musicals, plots, cast lists (who played who) and much more!
* Trivia listed under various episode entries.
* The Railroad Hour commercials.
* Biography and partnership of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
* Broadcast times schedule.
* Complete list of ABC Networks that carried the program.
* Complete list of the NBC Networks also.
* Complete list of Railroad sponsors for the program.
* Awards and Honors.
* Fully indexed.