Monday, March 29, 2010

Radio Nature League ( 1925 January-February)

Note: Initially, if listings in the Boston Daily Globe are accurate (I have my doubts), the Radio Nature League was held during the old "Bedtime Story" period (Wednesday nights from 7:05-7:15 on WBZ). The Globe only occasionally notes TWB's participation sometimes listing it as "Radio Nature Story". There appears to have been some slack in the schedule (or inaccuracy on the Globe's part), however; Burgess sometimes refers to speaking for fifteen and then twenty minutes. (The programs consistently following on WBZ at 7:15 are listed as: "Information Concerning Civil Service Exams" or "At the Theatres.")

January - February 1925

The Radio Nature League was formally established on January 7, 1925 (see earlier post). On January 14, the very first meeting of the Radio Nature after its foundation, Thornton Burgess was absent. Filling in was his wife, Fannie, using a script written especially for her by her husband. ("Mrs. Burgess" would become a regular fill-in for Mr. Burgess when he was away lecturing and would later be a character in various dramatizations.) In the script (prepared by her husband, please remember) Mrs. Burgess relates, in vivid tones, how excited her husband was about the foundation of the league. Much of the program is devoted to reading names of charter members from each state as well as new school members. She continues the aggressive solicitation of new members.

On January 21, the Radio Nature League "meeting" moved to 7:05 (the Sleep Fairy would no longer be part of the program on Wednesday nights). Burgess continues the list of charter members. It would include listeners in Lancashire and Cheshire, England in addition to 29 states, the District of Columbia, five Canadian provinces and Bermuda. The total membership now stood at over 4000, including schools and clubs (one correspondent is a teacher who has invited students without their own radio to her home to listen to the broadcasts). Burgess introduces a new category: "silver star" members, who pledge to feed wild birds.

On January 28, the membership count was "just under 4500." Burgess reinforces the "meeting" framework, formally calling the meeting to order. There were now 400 silver star members. He reports telegrams of support (and enrollment) from William L. Finley, William T. Hornaday, and Harry C. Oberhalsen of the USDA Biological Survey.
(The Boston Daily Globe lists "Radio Nature Story" for WBZ 7:05-7:15, though Burgess promises not to keep his listeners "over 15 minutes.")

On February 4, Burgess sets the target for membership at 10,000. He spends most of the program responding to members' questions, including advice about keeping "Happy Jack" away from bird feeders. He asks the membership to write legislators to extend the protection of the Bob White in Connecticut.
(The Boston Daily Globe lists "Radio Nature Story" for WBZ 7:05-7:15)

By February 11, the program has begun to settle into its format. Burgess will generally spend most of the program relating and responding to experiences and questions sent in by League members. On some evenings he will prepare a longish lecture on a particular animal (e.g., squirrels on February 18). He responds positively to listeners expressing anti-hunting sentiments. By February 25, the membership count stood at "almost 8000," though erroneous news reports (e.g., one in the Syracuse Herald on February 22) would place the number as high as 20,000.

On February 18, Burgess introduced a new category: "red star" members who pledged to build bird houses. The following week he referred them to USDA Farmer's Bulletin #609 for instructions on how to build one. He also, lest listeners think he only cared about birds, drew their attention to people who damage road-side beauty by breaking branches from pussy willow trees.

Of particular interest during this period are personal questions posed to Burgess by readers. On January 7, for example, he assures a correspondent that it actually is he, Thornton Burgess, that is speaking. On the other hand, on February 25, despite his fame as a children's book author, he feels obliged to spell his name for listeners (cards had been coming into WBZ addressed to "Burroughs" and "the bird man"). On the January 14 program hosted by Mrs. Burgess, he has his wife offer a description of what he looks like--not the white bearded old man (John Burroughs) some apparently imagined. This attention to Burgess himself would wane over the course of the first year.

Next: Radio Nature League (1925 March-May)

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