Music Variety Show (1935-1939)
The beginning of commercial radio was a fragile time. The technology that the industry would need was for the most part developed by the end of the First World War. The budding networks could not sell programing unless there were radio sets for people to hear them on, and consumers would not buy radios unless there was worthwhile programing to hear.
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was in the business of selling radio sets. In 1919 General Electric bought together the assets of several smaller radio related concerns, along with some belonging to the Navy, to form RCA. GE and RCA, along with AT&T and Westinghouse Electric would develop many innovations in radio communications, and form the National Broadcasting Company. The Magic Key of RCA was a fun and star-packed hour on Saturday nights, dedicated to selling RCA radios.
You didn't need an RCA radio to listen to The Magic Key, but the program did a good job of convincing the audience that RCA products were filled with innovation and quality. If all you had to go by was the quality of the Magic Key program, then you couldn't go wrong with RCA!
Magic Key ran from 1935 through 1939 as a Saturday night variety program. Milton Cross and Ben Grauer, both of whom would continue to be important parts of network history, hosted the show, and conducted some of the celebrity interviews. The NBC house orchestra was led by Frank Black for most of the run, with Nathaniel Shilkret taking over the baton in 1939. Stoopnagle and Budd provided a regular comic interlude, and the show feature a veritable "Who's Who" of the late 30's entertainment world: Ruth Etting, Fibber McGee and Molly, John B. Kennedy, Rudolf Ganz, Casper Beardon, Paul Robeson, Jane Froman, Doris Weston, Frank Forrest, Paul Taylor Chorus, Margaret Brill, Rudy Vallée, Irving Berlin, Darryl Zanuck, Jan Peerce,Tommy Dorsey, Jack Harris, Ann Jameson, Sonja Henie, Tyrone Power, Walter Abel, Whitney Bern and George Shelley. There were also appearances by Amos 'n' Andy, Lum and Abner, Paul Whiteman, Efrem Zimbalist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Vienna Boys' Choir, Benny Goodman, Gladys Swarthout, Ray Noble, Guy Lombardo, Richard Himber, Eugene Ormandy, Lauritz Melchior, Fred MacMurray, Walt Disney and the Pickens Sisters.
The Magic Key, broadcast live, not only featured talent in front of a studio audience, but featured many remote broadcasts, including Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald Duck and Pluto from Hollywood, broadcasts of Marine Corps "Helldiver" aircraft, transmission from submerged submarine crews, and reports from Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio. A weekly feature was roving reporter John B. Kennedy who took his microphone to the Bronx Zoo to visit a groundhog, interviewed the head of Hudson Motors in Detroit while looking at the 1936 car models, and to the RCA overseas broadcast center in Long Island.
For additional classical and opera radio shows, see also: