© 2018 National Radio Hall Of Fame 


April and May 1939  | February 17, 2015 By Todd Nebel Spring of 1939, April and May specifically, was filled with wonder and excitement. A World's Fair, a visit from the King and Queen of England, and growing anticipation in Europe, were just some of the memorable occurrences of the time. The Boston Bruins took the Stanley Cup, the New York World's Fair triumphantly opened on April 30th and the Chicago Cubs and White Sox each began their new seasons during the Golden Days of Baseball. To everyone's dismay, Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees decided to bench himself on May 2nd following his poor start, and in Europe, Adolph Hitler was threatening to increase Germany's "living space" by controlling the vast lands of Europe. In America, we were still in an isolate mood following the end of World War I, so the threat of a war in Europe was just that — in Europe. We had to deal with our own problems at home: the Great Depression was now entering its tenth year. But, Spring brings new life, and so the country was a-buzz with anticipation of the arrival in the United States of the King and Queen of England in June. President Roosevelt mulled over his own chances of running for an unprecedented third term in office. FDR's greatest democratic ally in Chicago was Mayor Kelly, who had just won re-election on April 4th following six successful years in office. Mayor Kelly's accomplishments to date were Chicago's new subway system, the outer drive link bridge, lakefront  developments like the Shedd Aquarium and Buckingham Fountain, and new housing for thousands of Chicagoans.  In Chicago and suburbs, new housing was booming and it was said that the cost of a new home was on its way down. Leading all suburban communities in new housing permits was Evergreen Park, with Evanston, second, and Gary, third. The average price of a new home was between, $5,250 and $6,500. In our city as well as the rest of the nation, the Spring of 1939 was really the last Spring enjoyed as a family before conscription and war would upset a lot of things. Prices were beginning to fall in line with the pocketbook. During Easter week, Andes Candies was offering a special sale on a two-pound box of chocolates for only 97 cents. At O'Connor and Goldberg, 205 State Street, women's patent leather shoes were $3.95 a pair. The Fair Store was offering Easter hats for $10 while a pair of dainty Easter gloves sold for a dollar. At Hudson Ross, 159 W. Madison, the sensational new novelty hit "Three Little Fishes" by Kay Kyser could be purchased along with a free photo of Kay. And at the neighborhood National Food Store, the missus could find Chase and Sanborn Coffee in a one-pound can for a quarter. Two eight-ounce packages of Wheaties were 19 cents, bananas were a nickel a pound while two pounds of tomatoes sold for 25 cents.  If you had been thinking of purchasing a new automobile, new Dodge Sedans were priced at $815 and up; a new Nash was $770; Oldsmobiles were $777 and up; and the "safest, sturdiest car in the low price field," the new Studebaker was priced at $660. Traveling far? Well, to fly from Chicago to New York you could have flown with United Airlines in three hours and fifty-nine minutes and paid $44.95. From Chicago to Cleveland, the trip took only one hour and forty-nine minutes and cost $18.25. By train, the new 20th Century Streamlined Super Luxury with private rooms offered a ride from Chicago to New York in sixteen hours time. In Chicago, the big band era was underway, offering a cornucopia of bands at night clubs and restaurants throughout the area. Beginning on April 14, 1939, Ted Weems and his orchestra, along with Perry Como and Marilyn Maxwell were featured at the Gold Coast Room of the Drake Hotel for an extended stay. During the same period of time, Russ Morgan and his orchestra began their visit to the cozy quarters of the Chez Paree at 610 Fairbanks Court. By the end of April, Benny Goodman's former drummer, Gene Krupa and his orchestra could be found playing at the New Panther Room of the College Inn Hotel Sherman. The following month, on May 18, Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra brought "Smoke Rings" to the Empire Room of the Palmer House in Chicago. And finally, on May 25th, Wayne King and his orchestra took over the bandstand at the Drake Hotel while Vincent Lopez did the same at the Chez Paree. Finally, at the Bon-Air Country Club on Milwaukee Avenue, singer Tony Martin, dancers Georges and Jalna, and Freddy Martin and his orchestra all entertained on stage for the remainder of the month. 1939 was most likely the best year in the history of American movie-making. Among the pictures released were "Gone With The Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "Goodbye Mr. Chips," "Stage-Coach," "Gunga Din," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Young Mr. Lincoln." For moviegoers in Chicago, April and May was wonderful time. On April 1st, "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle," starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers premiered at the Chicago Theatre. On April 14th, the Chicago Theatre presented Samuel Goldwyn's "Wuthering Heights," starring Merle Oberon and Lawrence Olivier with an advertisement that read, "Their love was greater than time itself!" One week later, the Chicago Theatre premiered another soon to be classic, "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell," starring Loretta Young and Don Ameche, along with an up-and-coming Henry Fonda. On that Friday at the Chicago Theater, you could have also seen a live stage show with the comedy and musical acts of Arthur Treacher and Cass Daley. And moving over from State Street to Randolph and Clark, the Apollo Theater premiered the new Sherlock Holmes classic, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. On April 28th, the Chicago Theater featured Bette Davis starring in "Dark Victory" while Clyde McCoy and his orchestra entertained live on the stage. On May 12, the RKO Palace, at Randolph and LaSalle, premiered "East Side of Heaven" starring Bing Crosby and Joan Blondell. Doors at the RKO opened at 10:30 a.m. with tickets only 35 cents until 1 p.m. The Roxyettes were offered as the RKO's live stage act before the film and they presented their startling "Bicycle Dance" for the captivated audience.  In April and May of 1939, radio was big business. Popular favorites like Bergen and McCarthy, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Major Bowes, Fred Allen, Rudy Vallee, Eddie Cantor and the Lux Radio Theatre were among the top fifteen programs on the air. In April, Amos 'n' Andy had just moved from NBC (WMAQ) to CBS (WBBM) but maintained their usual fifteen minute broadcast heard at 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. In early April, Marion Jordan, following an extended illness, returned to her role as Molly on the Fibber McGee and Molly Show. The Chicago Tribune of April 9, 1939, carried an article regarding the new European invention of "tape recording" and what it might mean to the future of the major radio networks if used here in the U.S. The article mentioned that two of the three major networks still prohibited the broadcasting of recorded entertainment for their audiences (NBC, CBS) and that the enthusiasm the American public holds for "live” shows over recorded shows must wane first before the major networks would approve of the tape system. It was predicted however that radio producers might eventually favor the tape system which would produce the ultimate in perfection, something currently unattainable through "live” shows. On May 15, WGN listeners were treated to improved radio reception and audibility with the building of a new $250,000 transmitter plant situated twenty live miles northwest of the loop. The site of the new plant replaced the one which had been continuously in service near Elgin since 1926, and now was built on a 101 acre tract off Rohlwing Road (Route 53) near Roselle. The site was chosen because of the favorable characteristics of the subsoil for radio transmission as well as the sparse population in that area. The new tower was said to have increased WGN's signal strength in the Chicago area by 40 percent. It was a good time, the Spring of 1939. But despite the advances in technology, the economy and the booming world of entertainment, Americans would soon find themselves in a war most people felt was inevitable.
1939 Dodge
     Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
WGN Radio Tower in Elk Grove Village, IL
Fibber McGee and Molly
Perry Como