Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Slumber Hour

I had read of the NBC Slumber Hour broadcasts. It sometimes comes up in allegorical histories of easy listening and beautiful music. The program mixed chamber music with soft smooth vocals. It's announcer was the legendary Milton Cross. But most histories indicate that the program aired nightly from 1927 to 1932. I had always believed that to be the case until I read an irate complaint letter from J. William Traum of Brooklyn , NY.  This was published in An April 1931 issue of the New York Sun.
"What has radio broadcasting come to when a station's officials obstinately refuse to rectify an unjustified and outrageous move In spite of enormous protests? The National Broadcasting Company will not restore the full Slumber Hour on the grounds that it has not received enough letters. How false that is may be determined by the fact that the newspapers themselves are full of invective letters. Haven't the listeners, who are the life's blood of broadcasting. Nothing to say even though they have the right behind them? Will the readers of your paper continue to write in and convince the N.B.C. that they will not stand for this disregard of their rights. The situation is becoming far more serious than just the Slumber Hour situation alone. It is becoming a question of good music against bad and the obligations of a station to its listeners."

But Mr. Traum was not alone. The easy listening of the 1970s had it's fans but so did it's 1920s equivalent. Other issues of that paper and others were briefly littered with complaint letters— some fiery, some groveling. But it was the Sun who focused on the story more than others. It might have been an editorial decision or something spurred on by their readers... but it happened. They wanted their smooth sleepy program back.Philip G. Shermerhorn also wrote into the New York Sun newspaper.
"You have published numerous righteous protests against at least the third effort upon the part of the National Broadcasting Company to wrest from the public their beloved Slumber Hour. I think the first encroachment was when they sought to change its character and make it less attractive by interpolating a female who attempted to say something poetic and merely aroused wrath. The second attack was when the Slumber Hour was scheduled to begin at midnight instead of 11 PM, and the third and most recent move to curtail that program from one hour to thirty minutes is being tried out now. We, of our household, desire to take this opportunity of thanking The Sun for giving space and publicity to such protests, and trust you will continue to exert your influence in the public's behalf." 

It's also worth noting that the program is believed to be one of two that announcer Milton Cross may have read poetry on. The other was The Silver Flute, a fifteen-minute program billed as "tales of a wandering gypsy."  No recordings exist of either show. Early on the Slumber Hour was sponsored by Kellogs. It's house band was the Ludwig Laurier Orchestra. A January 1931 comment in the Country Air column in Wallace's Farmer hinted at the problem. The writer indicated that the NBC affiliates that carried the program did so irregularly joining the program late and/or leaving early. WREN came in from 10:15 to 10:30, then back from 10:45 to 11:00 PM. KDKA, KWK, KSTP, KFAB, and KOA were all named for only running parts of the program, treating it in other words.. like filler. It did not bode well.

In early 1931 NBC cut the program back from 1 hour from 30 minutes. By 1932 they canceled the program entirely.  In the years later other programs pilfered the brand name. WIBA ran a program in 1937 named the Slumber Hour with no connection to the original. Other late night soft music programs slowly gave rise to the abomination we now call Beautiful Music.