Radio AM to FM: April 23, 1999
Consolidation in the radio industry has already killed off most of the true innovators -- locally owned stations that super-serve their communities. Now it has killed off an entire network.
The Mutual Radio Network has been shut down by owner Westwood One after a run of 65 years in a "streamlining effort." Of course, Mutual has really only existed in name since being acquired by WW1 in the late 1980s. But it brings an end to the network that brought us The Lone Ranger, Lum and Abner and The Shadow as well as other entertaining, if low budget, programs.
Mutual was formed as a different type of network, one without its own studios or staff. Instead, it relied on sharing programs produced at the stations between the affiliates. It began as The Quality Network in 1929, and originally included WOR/New York, WLS/Chicago, WLW/Cincinnati and WXYZ/Detroit. The Mutual name was adapted at about the same time as The Lone Ranger debuted in 1934. At that time, WGN replaced WLS as Mutual's Chicago affiliate.
It later added many other stations including the Don Lee regional network stations in California (which later became part of the RKO empire and included KHJ/Los Angeles and KFRC/San Francisco). While some of the affiliates were quite powerful, most were fairly small. So, while Mutual eventually became the largest network by affiliate count -- 400 in 1947 -- its reach in terms of listeners (and more importantly ad revenue) paled in comparison to the big three: NBC Blue (later to become ABC), NBC Red, and CBS.
That forced Mutual to maintain low budgets for most of its programming, giving it a reputation as the low-budget but scrappy network. In spite of its restrictions, however, Mutual actually beat CBS and NBC to the air by six minutes in reporting on the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mutual also carried the World Series during the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Apparently the World Series helped keep the network together at its launch: WLW's continued affiliation with the group was assured in return for having Red Barber announce the Series in 1934.
Early Mutual used a relay system for sending its programming to affiliates -- a link from one station to the next in series, rather than a full network of links. This caused a problem for the engineers of the time, who tell of how hard it was to resolve a problem when a link went down: calls would have to be made in order from station to station to find out where the link was broken.
Mutual's last broadcast was April 18th, when Westwood One retired the name and placed all of its programming -- mainly news -- under the umbrella of CNN Radio, another division of WW1. At the same time, WW1 also eliminated most of its NBC Radio Network, and now uses the NBC name only for newscasts between the hours of 5 and 11 am weekdays.
Rege Cordic, who came to Los Angeles to replace Bob Crane on KNX when Crane left the station to star in Hogan's Heroes, died due to complications from brain cancer. He was 72.
Cordic once commanded an amazing 85% audience share while at KDKA/Pittsburgh, but lasted at KNX for only one year: 1966. He left for (you guessed it) acting, playing the judge in television courtroom dramas and landing the featured role in one of Darren McGavin's "Outsider" episodes on NBC. He returned to radio in 1981 to work morning drive on KRLA (is that station still around?).
Buy The Book
Don Barrett has a compilation of The Best of LARADIO.COM - 1998 available for sale. A 112-page review of 1998 as originally told on his popular web site, laradio.com, it is available for about $14 (tax and shipping included) from his site or at a handful of book and music stores. For more information, check the site or call 1-888-Radio57.
Copyright © 1999 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.
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