Old Time Radio Book Review: Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953 by Jim Ramsburg

OTR enthusiast Jim Ramsburg’s new old time radio book, Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953, is an interesting story, with a somewhat boring and technical sounding title.

network-radio-ratingsRamsburg promises a history of Network Radio “as it’s never been told before”. A recurring theme of the book is that as enjoyable and entertaining as Old Time Radio was (and is), it was first, last, and always a business. The bulk of the book is a season by season review of the network prime-time offerings, an analysis of what was successful, and why.

Ramsburg spent 50 years in the radio and advertising industry. His own lifetime fascination with radio began during WWII, when he was a “latch-key kid” while his widowed mother worked in the Defense industry. Home alone, the radio became his baby-sitter, mentor, and companion.

The seasonal reviews of the radio industry are based on Ramsburg’s “discovery” of the “lost” Radio Rating books in the NBC and Nielsen Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The bulk of these numbers was developed for the advertising industry. The real treasure of the book is Ramsburg’s analysis of what the numbers mean, not just to the sponsors who paid for them, but to those who made their living in the Radio Industry and to the listeners at home who got to enjoy the programming.

Beyond the value of the season by season reviews, the second chapter of the volume is of great value to OTR enthusiasts. Ramsburg takes several pages to review how technical, corporate, government, and Entertainment forces came together to give rise to Network Radio. These elements have been discussed in these blogs and elsewhere, but rarely has the entire story with its interconnections presented as well as Ramsburg’s second chapter.

This in no way diminishes the book’s treatment of what was good, (and not so good), in the Golden Age of Radio. The author presents facts that shows like The Jack Benny Program, Dragnet, or Fibber McGee and Molly were successful. He also presents the factors that made the shows successful, and the methods used to determine that success.

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