Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Burgess returns to radio (1933-1934)

Note: Thornton Burgess returned to the WBZ airwaves on November 20, 1933. The show was now on Monday nights for 15 minutes. On July 30, 1934 the show was temporarily reduced to 10 minutes. On August 7, the show was moved to Tuesday at 7:15. The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University lacks the November 20 script, as well as scripts for January 22, March 12, July 9, October 13, and November 10, 1934. There were no programs on the following dates: December 11, 1933; May 7 and 14, 1934; August 14, 21, 28, 1934; September 8, 1934; November 24, 1934. Mrs. Burgess substituted on February 5, April 9, and October 27, 1934.

The year or so of programs I have labeled "Burgess Radio Talks" were a return to Burgess's roots in children's programing. Instead of actively avoiding reference to his work for children, as he had during the years of the Radio Nature League, Burgess now thoroughly incorporated his bedtime stories. Many shows now began, like his newspaper feature, with a short poem attributed to a bedtime story character. While he continued to draw upon correspondence with listeners for program content there was no explicit use of the "Radio Nature League" concept. When Mrs. Burgess substituted, she would read an old story rather than serving as a program host. Finally, Burgess would use the program to promote his new field guide, Birds You Should Know--offering autographed copies directly for sale. In short, the Burgess Radio Talks of this period served to promote Thornton Burgess. (LaFollette (2008) has him admit as much in correspondence with Austin Clark).

That said, the program maintained a strong environmental focus and Burgess continued his advocacy of particular concerns (don't buy fringed gentians, help reform deer hunting laws, rid the trees of tent caterpillar nests etc.) Most remarkable is an episode that ran on November 3, 1934 devoted entirely to an anti-steel trap referendum on the Massachusetts ballot. (A "yes" vote would overturn the current "humane" law that Burgess himself had helped establish) Burgess presents several stories painting scenes of actual animals (e.g., a three-legged skunk) that had been caught in such traps, told from their point of view.

Burgess had greater ambitions for the program, however, actively seeking a sponsor that could take the show to the next level and ensure its continuation. On December 22, the show suddenly had a formal introduction and a "theme song" (actually a robin's song performed by Edward Avis) and on December 29, Burgess posed a question to his audience: would two fifteen-minute episodes a week be too much?

Next: The Radio Nature League on the Sunglow Program (1935-1936).

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