Friday, February 17, 2012

The Voice Of Temperance

I first found an odd pamphlet named "Liquor Advertising On The radio. It was authored by the host of the obscure radio program "The Voice Of Temperance." I did a bit more research, and I found the testimony of its author, Rev. Sam Morris in his two appearances before congress. Morris testified in 1948 and again in 1950 and said almost the exact same thing each time. At first I thought it was a reprint, but Sam Morris was just repeating himself almost verbatim. He was consistent, you can give him that. Prohibition had been repealed over a decade earlier, only running from 1920 to 1933. In that time it had led to rashes of alcohol poisoning from methanol, and the brutal rise of organized crime. Morris wanted to go back to those halcyon days and so once a week on XERA-AM he made his case. Let me post both quotes side-by-side...

In 1948:
"I am Sam Morris, of San Antonio, Tex.,  radio speaker for I be National Temperance and Prohibition Council, field speaker for the Temperance League of America and associate editor of the National Voice, America's oldest prohibition newspaper. For the past 12 years I have conducted the Voice of Temperance broadcast, a nation-wide radio program urging total abstinence for the individual, and prohibition for the nation..."

...and in 1950:
"I am Sam Morris of San Antonio, Tex. I am field speaker for the Temperance League of America; I am associate editor of the National Voice, America's oldest prohibition newspaper. For the past 15 years I have conducted the Voice of Temperance broadcast with radio listeners in all parts of the nation... "
This was a part of his testimony on the subject of alcohol advertisements on the radio.Interestingly, there are some contemporary federal laws that do limit the presence of certain types of ads in certain circumstances. For example, the tobacco industry is forbidden to advertise on TV at all. But alcohol is allowed... technically. But there are limits: they can only be placed in media where 70% of the audience is over 21. The content also cant be targeted at the young, no cartoons characters etc. It also cannot advertise it's effects and cannot encourage irresponsible drinking. The limitations are such that you'd think there was very little alcohol advertising at all. Well the CDC would be happy to show you where they still do. In Q3 of 2006 VMS found 67,404 alcohol advertisements  in a sample of the top 104 markets, though they were very regional. More here. The Broadcast Law Blog covered the topic in great detail in 2007 here.

Sam Morris managed to get his puritanical message out on a number of border blasters back in the 1940s: XEPN-AM, XENT-AM, XEAW-AM, XERA-AM, XELO-AM, and XEG-AM. he also bought time on WHO-AM in Des Moines, KWBU-AM in Corpus Christi, KWKH-AM in Shreveport and WHAS-AM in Louisville. He also manged to get some syndicated time in 1944 on CBS and on NBC in 1947. A 1946 radio listener survey by Benson & Benson in Princeton, NJ, as the 15th most popular radio program in Louisville. It sounds good, but his damning proof is that the "beer broadcasts" have lower ratings than his own.  This is sort of like bragging that your program is more popular than the other program's advertisements.

In 1946, CBS actually produced and aired a 13-episide series called "Alcohol and You"  that was about alcoholism, and social problems.  In a didactic fit Morris wrote a letter to CBS complaining that the free evening airtime that networks gave to that series was too late in the day and had low listener ship. Ed Murrow even responded to his crazy letters politely. Morris sort of reminds me of Rick Santorum: just a looney puritanical zealot.

But even a puritanical zealot has his day. Following his appearance on NBC in January on '47 the trade magazine Beverage retailer Weekly called Morris "the most dangerous enemy the liquor industry has ever known."  It's a bit dramatic, but Morris was certainly troublesome. By the mid 1940s Morris was finding that certain broadcasters wouldn't even sell him air time because he was intent on chasing off their liquor advertisers. So in 1948 Morris published a pamphlet that listed off his works, and also named names as to who did and did not run what he calls  wine beer and liquor broadcasts. He names specifically: WEEI, WCBS, KMOX, WTOP, WCCO, KNX, WJR, WBT, WHAS, WLAC, KLRA, KTRH, WWL, WDOD, WKRC, WBBM, KRLD, KOMA, WNOX, KIRO, KWFT, KSL, KFAB, and KMBC... notably singling out all the big market powerhouses of the CBS network. He then drops some of these calls over maps of "dry" and "wet" counties. His logic is that a town voting out the sale of booze has also somehow by connection voted out advertisements for it ... as if somehow the radio waves could steer around temperance households...

I scanned his whole pamphlet, it's well worth the read and the fine details about radio airtime make it a fine piece of research material.

You can download all 56 pages