Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Neighbors Club (1939)

Note: This was a fifteen minute show aired on Tuesdays at 6:15 on WSPR from February 7, 1939 until May 9, 1939 when it moved to 7:45. The last show was July 4, 1939. The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University has the full run of scripts.

On February 7, 1939, Thornton Burgess was back on the air with a show sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Springfield Branch of the SPCA. This time the show aired on a local station, WSPR, and while it returned to a member-oriented format, it did not use the "Radio Nature League" name. Instead Burgess called the club "Good Neighbors." (You may remember that "Good Evening, Neighbors" was part of Burgess's Radio Nature League sign-on and "Neighbor Burgess" was known throughout the Springfield/Hampden area as a man to whom you could bring an injured wild animal.)

Burgess immediately began collecting names of club members, this time by using the old tactic of asking listeners to write in if they were being "good neighbors" of the birds by feeding them. He warned from the beginning that he could not "afford" the time if he wasn't sure that the talks would accomplish "some good." The numbers would be much smaller (in the hundreds instead of the thousands he could expect with the Radio Nature League).

As part of his duty to his sponsor, Burgess would offer regular reports about the Springfield SPCA hospital and occasionally push specific SPCA causes, for example, a March 28 message warning about the dangers of overfeeding dogs. Old Radio Nature League topics made reappearances (tent caterpillars, singing mice, indiscriminate shooting of "varmints") and activity at Aunt Sally's "Woodhouse Night Club" was frequently reported. (During the Radio Nature League era this activity had been mentioned but not by name; films from the Woodhouse Night Club were a staple of Burgess's lecture appearances). While Burgess retained a focus on wildlife, correspondent discussion about pet dogs and cats was now also included in program content.

The only real major national environment initiative pushed during the brief lifespan of the Good Neighbors Club was protection of the Bald Eagle. To Burgess it was a patriotic issue and on the very last Good Neighbors broadcast he castigated members of Congress (calling out A. Willis Robertson of Virginia in particular) who were blocking the protection bill. (The Eagle Protection Act would eventually pass and go into effect the following year).

This effectively marked the end of Thornton Burgess's career in radio. It is interesting to consider what might have been if he had been able to convince a network to produce a fully national program.

Next: Tommy and His Chums

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