In the 1920s, the programs that listeners could hear on NBC and CBS throughout the United States were mostly musical—often “live" rather than recorded. As Chapter 10 notes, this created problems for the phonograph industry during the mid-1920s. as people listened to radio instead of buying disks. The Victor Talking Machine Company merged with RCA over worries about the future of its business. The Columbia Phonograph Company, also fearful that its business was trickling away, financed a radio network to be called the Columbia Broadcasting System. The project lost money, Columbia pulled out, and what became known as CBS proceeded on its own. In 1938, however, CBS purchased Columbia Records.
But radio was much more than music. In the 1930s and 1940s, the medium's content was more like the television of today than the radio of today. National networks dominated radio—the NBC Red and Blue; CBS; and, beginning in 1934, the Mutual Broadcasting Company. There were also a few smaller networks of stations in some parts of the country, such as the West Coast-based Don Lee Network and the New England-based Colonial Network. The FCC became concerned that NBC's ownership of two networks gave it excessive power over radio, and it ordered NBC to sell one of them; the Supreme Court agreed. In 1943, the network sold off the weaker Blue, which became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
The Shadow was an enormously popular radio mystery program of the 1930s and 1940s, The narrator’s introduction remains a familiar part of American popular culture: ‘‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!»
Radio listeners heard talk-and-variety programs (The Breakfast Club, Arthur Godfrey) in the morning, continuing dramas (The Romance of Helen Trent, One Man's Family) in the late morning and early afternoon, children's adventure programs (The Shadow, Dick Tracy) after school, and sports broadcasts during weekends. In the evening, in addition to musical variety programs, listeners could hear the same genres of shows that TV viewers see today: situation comedies (The Charlie McCarthy Show, Burns and Allen, The Jack Benny Program, Allen's Alley, Blondie), general drama (The Lux Radio Theater, The Mercury Theater of the Air), quiz and game shows (Take It or Leave It, The $64,000 Question, Truth or Consequences), police shows (The FBI in Peace and War), detective programs (Philo Vance), doctor shows (Doctor Christian), mysteries (TheBlack Castle, The Shadow), and more.
News slowly developed into an important part of radio. In the 1920s, newspaper executives saw radio as a major competitor for advertising dollars. They consequently pressed the wire services (AP and UPI) to severely restrict their services to broadcasters. Soon, however, the wire services saw that there was money to be made from radio, and the newspapers realized that they could increase their sales by printing what was on the air. The major networks created their own news divisions and beefed them up during the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of World War II in Europe. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the importance of radio for informing the nation and embarked on a series of radio talks to promote his administration's policies—popular broadcasts became known as “fireside chats."