BW - EP132—001: Mutual Mystery Shows Of The 1940s—The Seedy Underworld Of Coney Island

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By October of 1947, nearly eleven million babies had been born in the U.S. since the end of World War II. Young parents were staying home with their children. Movie attendance bombed. The 1947-48 season had the largest radio audience in history. Homes with radios jumped 6%, car radios 29%. NBC, CBS, ABC, and Mutual added nearly one-hundred fifty affiliates. Ninety-seven percent of the nation’s AM stations were now linked to one of the big four. Network revenue topped $200 Million. World War two had created fundamental changes in society. While men of all races and creeds were overseas spilling the same colored blood, women mobilized and took charge of the workforce. When veterans were discharged, they returned home with different ideals, and what we’d now call PTSD. As new cars, roads, and homes brought young families to the suburbs, racial descrimination came to the forefront in the face of the G.I. Bill, where a much higher percentage of white Americans were having their applications accepted. On October 29th, the national civil rights committee delivered a report to the White House. The document made thirty-five specific recommendations, including asking the President to create a permanent Federal commission on civil rights. President Truman said that he’d study the report with great care and recommend that all citizens do the same thing. Americans were organizing. In the year after VJ Day, more than five million struck for better wages and benefits. This hurt key sectors of the economy and stifled production. Consumer goods in high-demand were slow to appear on shelves and in showrooms, frustrating Americans who desperately wanted to purchase items forsaken during the war. It caused the largest inflation rise in the country’s modern history, and the Taft-Hartley Act, limiting the power of Labor Unions. President Truman was seemingly at odds with Congress over every domestic policy and his approval rating sank to 32%. Reelection the following year seemed unlikely. The U.S. War Debt topped two-hundred-forty billion dollars. Emerging as one of the world’s leaders, America was expected to have the largest hand in rebuilding Europe. News outlets reported that, to create European stability, Americans should resume sacrifices they made during the war. Not agreeing to do so could result in political enemies taking over the continent. That October, as the major networks were enjoying the largest ratings in radio history, one network, The Mutual Broadcasting System, was still struggling to grab audiences. Airing out of WOR in New York, The Shadow was the network’s most-listened to program. While it pulled a rating of thirteen — strong for a show airing on Sundays at 5PM easten — it was nowhere near radio’s top fifty. Mutual’s top stations — WOR in New York, WGN in Chicago, and Don Lee’s KHJ in Los Angeles — all boasted powerful signals and had equal shares in the network. And, while Mutual reached four-hundred affiliates in 1947 and would add another hundred over the next year, many of these were small stations in rural areas. This limited their advertiser appeal. Mutual was run as a cooperative, rather than a corporation. As families left cities and farms for the suburbs, the network’s shared programming structure left it at a distinct disadvantage against NBC, CBS, and ABC. Those three networks would use their soaring revenue to move into TV. Although some Mutual affiliates developed television programming, the full network was never able to launch into TV. That’s not to say MBS didn’t have quality programming. Just the opposite, and with Halloween around the corner, tonight we’ll delve into Mutual’s horror, mystery, and suspense shows of the late 1940s.

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