Thursday, April 22, 2010

Radio Nature League on the Sun Glow Program (1935-1936)

Note: Starting February 6, 1935 the Radio Nature League met on Wednesday and Saturday nights. This arrangement would change several times (despite TWB's hope that sponsorship would ensure greater scheduling stability). The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University does not have a complete set of scripts from this era, so it is difficult to say exactly how many times the schedule changed. From what is available it is apparent that by May 1935, the show was meeting on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, and then on Thursdays starting September 19. The show ceased broadcasting on Saturdays starting in June, 1935. Copies of Radio Nature League News from this period list the following times (be aware, though, that these were prepared weeks ahead of time and did not necessarily reflect the actual airing dates):
  • July and August 1935: Tuesdays at 7:30 on WBZ and WBZA
  • September 1935: Tuesdays at 7:30 on WBZ and WBZA; Wednesdays at 6:30 on Yankee Network Stations WNAC (Boston), WEAN (Providence), WDRC (Hartford), WICC (Bridgeport and New Haven), WORC (Worcester).
  • October 1935: Tuesdays at 6:30 on the Yankee Network; Thursdays at 6:15 on WBZ and WBZA.
Judging from available scripts, it appears that starting in September, the same show was broadcast on two different nights. It is unclear whether the rebroadcast show was a recording or reproduced live in full. The last script in the HGARC collection is dated January 7, 1936. It is unclear whether the episode, which represented yet another time shift (back to Tuesdays on WBZ), actually aired.

On February 6, 1935 Thornton Burgess reconvened the Radio Nature League, sending out a renewed call for members. (This time members would receive certificates). The League would meet twice a week on WBZ and other affiliated New England radio stations, a situation made possible by the program's new sponsor, Brewer & Company. Based in Worcester, MA, Brewer marketed a wide variety of pharmaceuticals, but would use the Radio Nature League to promote its popular brand of cod liver oil--"Sun Glow."

Unlike the previous incarnation of the Radio Nature League, the Brewer-sponsored program had a set format and featured dramatizations of stories or exchanges between characters. Here is a typical show:
  • The show would begin with the song of the American Robin as performed by Edward Avis.
  • WBZ announcer, Mr. White, would handle the introduction (these are not in the scripts but it appears these introductions included a pitch for Sun Glow).
  • A dramatization would follow.
  • As time allowed, League member experiences and questions.
  • The show would finish with a segment titled "Truth Stranger than Fiction" in which Burgess would pose a question about a curious animal behavior, to be answered the following program.
  • Mr. White would do the credits (not in the scripts).
  • Burgess would end the show with "And happiness from health to you all." (Occasionally, this message was explicitly linked to the use of Sun Glow).
  • Outro: the song of a hermit thrush as performed by Edward Avis.
While some programs in the previous incarnation of the Radio Nature League had featured dramatizations (bird walks, humorous exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. B) the Brewer-sponsored version drew more fully from the dramatic conventions of contemporary radio. In addition to acting out stories (e.g., the very first show acted out Burgess's experiences on the fishing schooner), the program introduced several recurring characters to act as comic foils to Mr. Burgess (even Mr. White would be occasionally drawn into the act). As was typical of radio at the time, these characters sometimes embodied ethnic and regional stereotypes: "Tim O'Hara," (who mistakes a hermit crab for a spider with a shell, among other things); "The (intrusive) German,"; "The (Southern) Colonel." Farmer Brown's Boy made particularly frequent appearances.

Phil Hansling Jr. would appear (though his tree Q&As with Burgess would be spiced up with Avis bird calls). When zoo curator Clyde Gordon came on the show to give listeners a live sample of actual rattlesnake rattle, Burgess scripted in dramatic (but pretend) lunges by the snake. Edward Avis, in addition to his regular work supplying the intro and sound effects, was occasionally given space to spread out, as in an August 6, 1935 full-fledged "Birds Evening Concert." What is lacking, however, at least in the available scripts, is Burgess's often impassioned advocacy of environmental issues. While there is at least one script (May 7) where he rails against boys with slingshots and air rifles, it is unclear exactly what collective conservation efforts the League membership were supposed to take.

Burgess later expressed regret about the Brewer sponsorship (it seemed they interfered too much in the content of the program.) [It is worth noting, given Burgess's role in the Pure Food and Drug movement, that Brewer & Company was later cited by the FDA for false advertising around the benefits of Sun Glow] While Burgess himself was sometimes put in the role of a Sun Glow pitchman, that job was usually left to Mr. White. Where the Brewer connection was made the strongest, however, was in a series of newsletters distributed in drugstores.

Next: Radio Nature League News

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