This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE “SECOND” BROADCAST
OF WAR OF THE WORLDS.
by Martin Grams, Jr. © 2009
(From Radio Recall, December 2009)
Many OTR fans assume that radio programs were performed twice on the same evening when broadcast live, once for the East Coast and once for the West Coast. This is only a general rule of thumb since radio programs were dramatized in varied styles from one program to another.
Pre-1945 episodes of Information, Please were recorded so the transcription would be played back for the West Coast. Asking the same guests the same questions was not practical and the series was truly honest. The guests did not know the answers to the questions in advance. After February of 1945, the series was broadcast live with a coast-to-coast hookup. So when it was broadcast, say 10 pm Eastern time, it was heard at the same time as 7 pm West Coast time. Thus there was no need to transcribe the recordings.
Ellery Queen was a bit different. Because their mysteries were also honest and the guests had to solve the mystery, beginning January 8, 1942, the program was heard twice a week instead of once a week, but on different days: Thursday on the West Coast and Saturday on the East Coast.
Hence, the mystery episode "The Eye Print" featured Celeste Holm and Lee Dixon on May 6, 1943, Thursday night on the West Coast, and Joan Caulfield and Richard Widmark on May 8, 1943, Saturday night on the East Coast. Both had the same mystery drama script.
When Bromo Selzter stopped sponsoring the program, Anacin took over, the program moved to Wednesday night, and two guests were featured every evening -- one for the East Coast broadcast, and one for the West Coast.
For the broadcast of October 17, 1945, Jan Clayton appeared for the East Coast, Danton Walker for the West Coast. (This is why, incidentally, when someone claims to have found a new Ellery Queen episode, I don't always ask for the broadcast date, but the guest as well...)
Beginning August 3, 1947, the series began rotating the guests. On that evening, Fay McKenzie was the East Coast guest and Eddie Dowling was the West Coast guest. The week after, August 10, 1947, Dowling was the East Coast guest since he was only heard on the West Coast the week previous.
First Person Singular (the first nine broadcasts) and Mercury Theater was performed three times. This is not uncommon, I've come across numerous radio programs that were broadcast twice, on Sunday and once on Monday evening for the NY radio station that did not feature the program over their station on Sunday like most of the East Coast.
I do not contend that The War of the Worlds was dramatized on radio twice, I believe there were two recordings and they are different when compared one by one. I question whether CBS might have had the cast and crew redo the same drama soon after so they could have a second recording available for legal reasons and wondered if this is why there are two. Could it be a rehearsal? Sure. There are plenty of rehearsal recordings from the Mercury Theater broadcasts but this also seems unlikely as many recall Welles not being at the rehearsals all week.
Yes, there can be more than one version of a radio broadcast in existence. Collectors discover this all the time. There are two versions (East and West Coast) of a number of Suspense broadcasts. The episode "Community Property" is one example that's been floating about for a long while.
There are two versions of a number of Whistler programs. Alfred Hitchcock's pilot, known as "Malice Aforethought" exists in two formats with two different casts. Once Upon a Midnight and The Alfred Hitchcock Program. When collectors look at a recording and say "Malice Aforethought? Yeah, I have that one already..." They might be surprised to know that they might have overlooked the second version.
The Mercury Theatre of the Air’s “War of the Worlds” was performed again for the West Coast. Not a transcription. Studio archive records were consulted to ensure whether or not a recording was played back for rebroadcast on the West Coast versus the cast reprising the roles twice. Also taken into consideration are time zones.
There were many years during the thirties and forties when Daylight Savings Time was not recognized in certain areas. Circa 1941, Washington D.C. did not practice DST and their newspaper listings would cite a program broadcast live at 8 pm when New York was 9 pm. (Sadly, people don't take this into consideration, and is probably the main cause why some encyclopedias list the wrong time slot when referring to all of the East Coast.)
After checking with old newspaper listings, it appears the initial performance of “War of the Worlds” by the Mercury Theatre was broadcast via coast-to-coast hookup. When the program went on the air Sunday at 8 pm in New York, it was broadcast 7 pm in Chicago and 5 pm in Los Angeles. Mercury was broadcast in Buffalo, NY at 10 pm that same evening, hence the second performance. A New York radio station also offered Mercury at 10 pm on Monday evening, but other researchers and I suspect the third broadcast may not have been live, but a transcription played back over the air.
This would explain why a non-sponsored program was being transcribed. The cost factor to have a broadcast transcribed was not cheap. In 1939, one producer was contractually paying $90 per half-hour show. But assuming the network made the discs themselves, the cost was probably lower than that -- but it still cost money. We’ve checked the weekend of WOTW and no, there is no Mercury broadcast scheduled for the Monday evening, October 31. Some local event was broadcast in its place for that evening.
Editor’s Note: A version of this was originally posted on the Old Time Radio Digest. It is being published here with the specific permission of the author.