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Recorded Sound Section--Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division



Women on the Radio
Beyond the Microphone
arrow graphicDaytime Programming
World War II
NBC Radio Collection
Programs for and by Women
Meet the Press Collection
NPR Collection
WOR Collection
Pacifica Radio Archive
CBS Collection
AFRTS Collection
Women on AFRS
OWI Collection
VOA Collection
BBC Sound Archive Collection
Music Recordings
Drama and Literature Recordings
The Spoken Word




Daytime Programming
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Allen Prescott of the radio program Wife Saver. Publicity photograph from Prescott's personal scrapbook. Recorded Sound Reference Center, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

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Beginning in the 1930s, women dominated daytime programming both as creators and as listeners. Radio programs aimed at women's perceived needs and interests filled the airwaves between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Programs dealing with topics such as cooking, childcare, health, fashion, civic news, and women's business news competed with soap operas and light musical programs for women's attention. As a means of sharing information about common problems and issues and offering encouraging messages, these programs enabled homemakers to communicate indirectly with one another.

The Rise of the Soap Opera

The rise of the radio soap opera in the mid-1930s demonstrated the power of the female audience. Before that time, little research went into program development for the daytime lineup, which was made up of “throw-away hours” and therefore considered unworthy of much attention. The popularity of the soap opera and the serial drama proved that daytime radio had a devoted audience and could be extremely profitable for sponsors whose products appealed to these listeners. The number of serials burgeoned to such a degree that in the spring of 1941 a women's serial could be heard during all but a single quarter-hour between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.4

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Barbara Jean Wong and Walter Pidgeon on Three Thirds of a Nation. David Bransby, photographer. June 1942. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-77813.

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The importance of the radio soap opera to American women cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, according to Muriel G. Cantor and Suzanne Pingree, “soap operas, more than any other genre, have reflected the economic and social conditions under which they were produced. Individualistic values are interspersed with problems and suffering most likely to be encountered by women . . . regardless of their similarity and diversity as to subjects, soap operas are about women and their place in the social world.”5 During the golden age of the radio soap operas, that social world for the most part revolved around the home.

The “soaps” offered the homebound listener a dramatization of the conflict that she might be expected to have in her own mind about the nature of men, marriage, and the woman's role. They also suggested that they might have useful answers to such questions [as were heard in a soap opera introduction], “To hold a man's love, what should a young wife be? . . . Should she place her home and her children above all else? . . . These are some of the questions the modern woman faces . . . when a girl marries.”6

Hummert, Phillips, and Carrington
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Young woman tuning a radio. [between 1920 and 1932]. National Photo Company Collection, Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-108097 (b&w film copy neg.).

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Anne Hummert (1905-1996), Irna Phillips (1901-1973), and Elaine Sterne Carrington (1892-1958) were three of the most creative and prolific women writing soap operas during the genre's heyday on the radio.

  • Anne Hummert and her husband Frank, often credited with perfecting the soap opera formula, supervised a stable of writers who wrote dialogue from sketches provided by Anne Hummert.7 Some of their more famous programs were Stella Dallas (1937-55), John's Other Wife (1936-42), and Young Widder Brown (1938-56).
  • Irna Phillips, who actually wrote most of her own scripts, created Guiding Light, one of the longest-running soap operas in 1937. The Library holds recordings for 1942 and 1944 to 1946. The fact that Guiding Light made a successful transfer to television is a testament to the writer's skills, foresight, and imagination. Phillips was a pioneer who created many techniques—cliffhangers, organ-music bridges between scenes, and characters appearing concurrently in different serials—that are taken for granted in soaps today.8
  • Elaine Sterne Carrington was a successful short story writer in the 1920s before her switch to radio. She is known for realistic dialogue, which she wrote herself, and for strong characterizations. 9 Of her soap operas, the Library holds Pepper Young's Family (1932-59) and When a Girl Marries (1939-55).

Alternatives to Soaps
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Jane Pickens singing at the Watergate heroes rally. John Ferrell, photographer. 1942. LC-USF34-011549-D DLC (b&w film neg.).

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Homemaker or talk shows, educational programs, and variety shows were some of the most popular daytime genres produced for and by women. Alma Kitchell (1893-1997) and Nellie Revell (1872-1958) both had talk shows that provided women with pertinent news, information, advice, gossip, and topical discussions, and the Library holds a selection of their shows from the 1930s and 1940s. Isabel Manning Hewson hosted Morning Market Basket (1940, 1942), a consumer-information show for women. Nutritionist and chef Mary Lee Taylor tried out recipes and shared tips on shopping and cooking. Her program, The Mary Lee Taylor Show, (1948-49) was the longest-running cooking program on radio. Pickens Party (1951-52), starring Jane Pickens (1908-1992) and her sisters, featured musical variety and light entertainment.

Children's Programs

Women took the lead in creating and producing educational and entertainment programs for children. Madge Tucker (b. 1900), who headed up NBC's children's programming department, produced the children's show Coast-to-Coast on a Bus (1937-41). Helen Walpole (b. 1911) and Margaret Leaf (1909?-1988) wrote Adventures in Reading (1939-40), an educational series for children. Dr. Katharine Lenroot (1891-1982) [picture], head of the United States Children's Bureau, hosted two programs on child rearing, The Child Grows Up (1938-40) and Children in Wartime (1942), the latter of which examined the effects of war on children. Madge Tucker directed and Jean Peterson wrote for Our Barn (1936-41), a children's storytelling program.

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