WSB History - the 1930s

Over the next decade, radio became the dominant home entertainment for Americans suffering financial hardships of the Great Depression. The programming patterns we still see on television today—news and talk shows in the morning; soaps in the afternoon; drama and comedy at night; sports on the weekend—developed during these years.  And WSB was Atlanta’s home for by far the most famous Georgians in the history of radio; program logs indicate the station was airing “Amos and Andy” as early as April, 1929.  The story of two black men–one earnest, one a little shadier–running a taxi service in Chicago featured two white men playing “blackface” characters, complete with exaggerated dialect.  The notion is of course offensive today, but the program was the first real radio “sensation”. It was also highly innovative--its creators invented the concept of what’s now called “syndication”, they were pioneers of the five-days-a-week serialized story format--and the characters had a metro connection:  they hailed from Marietta, a fact mentioned occasionally on the series which ran in some form for 32 years and at its peak drew 40,000,000 listeners each night.

WSB increased its power to 1000 watts in 1933, and by 1940 was a 50,000-watt “blowtorch” whose signal at night could be heard hundreds of miles from its Atlanta origination.  Governor James Cox of Ohio bought WSB and The Atlanta Journal as the 1930s closed; the family holds a stake in the station’s parent company today.  Per surviving program logs, a typical week’s programs in October, 1935 included religious programs on Sunday (among them “Uncle Mark In Radioland With The Shutins”), what proved to be long-running comedies and dramas including the puttering-husband-and-patient-wife sitcom “Fibber McGee and Molly” and the first prime-time soap, “One Man’s Family”; “Little Orphan Annie” for the kiddies; the locally-produced drama “Symphony of Life”; Georgia Tech golf matches on Saturday, and the 1935 World Series, sponsored by Ford Motors, in which the Tigers beat the Cubs in six games.  WSB’s decade was capped by the December 15, 1939 world premiere of “Gone With The Wind” at Loew’s Grand Theater downtown; its author, Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell, attended alongside the film’s stars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, who broadcast to the radio audience.  One account says 300,000 people packed the downtown area for a parade to the theater.  Black actress Hattie McDaniel, who would win an Oscar for her role in the film, was excluded from the festivities and even from the premiere’s souvenir program--one historian saying the filmmakers “followed the advice the Atlantans gave them”.

>>PHOTOS: WSB in the 1930s





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