Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Radio Nature League (1925 March-May)

Note: By March 4, 1925, Thornton Burgess had been officially allotted at least twenty minutes of time for Radio Nature League "meetings." This is not reflected in the Boston Daily Globe radio listings, which still have him at ten minutes (7:05-7:15) until April 8, when "Nature Study by Thornton W. Burgess" is listed for 25 minutes (7:05-7:30). The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at BU is missing scripts for March 18 and April 22 (the meetings were definitely held--Burgess referred to them in later episodes). Mrs. Burgess filled in for her husband on March 25. On May 20, the Radio Nature League moved to its definitive time-slot, Wednesday nights at 7:30 (The Boston Daily Globe mistakenly lists him from 6:30 to 8.)

March through May, 1925

The Radio Nature finally reached its target membership figure of 10,000 on March 11, though Burgess (and his wife when she filled in) would still aggressively solicit new members. (There were no broadcasting ratings services at this point--the only way to count audiences was by correspondence). By the end of May, the count would be 16,000 (Burgess thinks it should be "16 million.")

Some perennial Radio Nature League concerns also began during this period:
  • On March 11, one could hear Burgess deliver his first plea against the picking and marketing of the trailing arbutus.
  • On March 25, Mrs. Burgess made clear one of the main purposes of the league--to prevent the extinction of American wildlife. The fate of the passenger pigeon would be used repeatedly as an example of what can happen, and also as an argument against people who deny the culpability of hunting in such extinctions. On May 27, Burgess would connect the sorry state of the heath hen to the story of the passenger pigeon.
  • On April 15, he announces a new membership category: gold stars for people who create bird sanctuaries.
  • On April 29, Burgess asks Boy and Girl Scouts to help remove the nests of tent caterpillars that are harming roadside beauty (this would become a full-fledged crusade the following year).
  • On May 13, he makes his first remarks against the indiscriminate killing of snakes. The categorization of entire species, even families, of wildlife as "vermin" would be a constant complaint of his.
Concerns about RNL finances begin to crop up. On March 25, Mrs. Burgess mentions an idea to make the club "self-sufficient" by offering membership certificates and other club paraphernalia--enough to hire a staff stenographer to handle the voluminous correspondence. On April 29, Burgess begins to actively solicit donations, not for the Radio Nature League but for a local Springfield "Bird Hospital" run by two school teachers. (He had introduced the League to the work of the hospital (via the mascot of a blind American goldfinch) at the Sixteen Acres School on April 22 (the script is missing).) [Note: Burgess knew Sixteen Acres School well--it was one of the Hornaday medal winners in the People's Home Journal Bird Sanctuary Campaign] He would accept but not actively solicit donations for the RNL itself. There were no membership certificates until the Brewer-sponsored show in 1935.

Burgess would call on League members for other actions as well, including donations to support a warden in Nova Scotia to protect nesting birds, and the clearing of gooseberry bushes by Boy Scout members to protect white pine.

Next: Radio Nature League (1925 June-August)


  1. Are these Radio Nature League talks available in digital media or any media?

  2. I'd love to hear these stories, too. Where do the originals reside? Can they be put into mp3s? Thank you!