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THE EARLY YEARS

Around 1930 Norman Corwin began his lengthy radio career when Springfield, Massachusetts, radio station WBZA requested a newsreader from the Springfield Republican, the newspaper for which Corwin worked. He read a nightly 15-minute newscast at 10:30 pm.

 

In early 1934 created his first radio show called Rhymes and Cadences. He read poetry and a piano interlude by his friend Benjamin Kalman was used in between each poem. It aired for 15 minutes each Tuesday at 2:30 pm over WBZA. No known recordings have survived of this series.

 

The General Electric Company in 1934 arranged for a series of short-wave broadcasts to Admiral Byrd and his second expedition to the Antarctic. The programs were heard simultaneously in the U.S. over the NBC-Red network. Corwin wrote to Erik Barnouw that on April 8, 1934 he was master of ceremonies of a program originating in Springfield. Massachusetts Governor Joseph B. Ely spoke, as did the mother of one of Byrd’s men, the supply officer. It was Corwin’s “first network performance.”

 

In 1935 Corwin was hired as a newsreader for Cincinnati’s powerhouse 50,000 radio station WLW. Corwin immediately challenged a management memo not to read any news stories about labor strikes on the air, arguing that if newspapers covered the events and WLW did not, it would seem embarrassing. His job was eliminated and Corwin was forced to return east.

 

In June 1936 Corwin took a job in New York City at 20th Century Fox adapting print-copy for movie publicity into radio copy. While there, he auditioned his concept for a poetry series at W2XR (later WQXR), a 250-watt station in Long Island. Essentially a rebirth of Rhymes and Cadences, this new series was called Poetic License. The 15-minute show aired Tuesday nights beginning at 9:15 pm. The series ran for twenty weeks (1937-38) until Corwin was hired at CBS in April of 1938.

 

Interestingly, one of the poem adaptations from Poetic License (a spoof of Mary Had A Little Lamb) earned a repeat performance over NBC’s variety series, The Magic Key on March 13, 1938. NBC was apparently unimpressed by Corwin’s appearance.

 

Also in March 1938, Corwin did an excerpt from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology on Poetic License. Listening in that evening was CBS Vice President William B. Lewis. Impressed, he hired Corwin as a program director at CBS. Lewis didn’t know at the time that Corwin was a writer as well.

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