[78-L] Amalgamated Broadcasting System
dlennick at sympatico.ca
Fri Feb 4 12:10:16 PST 2011
I know it's from WackyPackia but it cites impeccable sources, so let's quote
the ABS story here.
The Amalgamated Broadcasting System (ABS) was a radio network established on
September 25, 1933 by two men: American comedian and radio star Ed Wynn, the
"Fire Chief" of the original Fire Chief Program program on NBC and CBS; and
Hungarian-born violinist Ota Gygi.
Wynn had been concerned with two things: his own perilous-seeming future as an
entertainer and the power the already-established networks had over the
programming policies of their local affiliate stations. He hoped that ABS would
serve as an alternative as well as helping him establish a more secure future
for himself and his family, according to radio historian Elizabeth McLeod.
In fact, Wynn poured his entire personal savings as well as his reputation into
the project, then put together an investment group and bought New York station
WBNX as its planned flagship, hoping to establish a 100-station network in due
course. The investment team also looked to WOL Washington, WPEN Philadelphia,
WHDH Boston and WCFL Chicago among planned key affiliates. The new network went
on the air with a four-hour gala from WBNX's newly-built New York studios on
September 25, 1933---even as Wynn was preparing a new season of The Fire Chief
Wynn, however, was also due to Hollywood to make a new film and put Gygi in
charge of the network in his absence. That, McLeod wrote, proved the biggest
mistake of his career, if not his life. At a press conference launching the new
ABS, Gygi "managed to alienate almost the entire New York City press corps,"
McLeod wrote, "by announcing . . . that he was only interested in what the New
York Times thought of the project and had no use for any of the other papers."
That irked then-powerful New York Daily News radio critic Ben Gross, whose lead
in attacking the apparent ABS attitude was picked up by his peers---and by
advertisers whom Gygi reportedly alienated by positioning ABS toward treating
advertising as "a necessary but distasteful evil," McLeod continued. ABS would
allow no advertiser mention other than at the beginning and end of programs and
no advertising spots during any programs. That was commercial radio's original
policy until NBC and CBS abandoned it as the 1930s progressed, McLeod noted,
leaving ABS stranded for attracting top quality programming without big money
advertisers to sponsor it.
That attitude plus its weak organisation in Wynn's absence killed the project.
Amalgamated went out of business on October 28, 1933, only five weeks after its
first broadcast. Wynn had ended his association with ABS by that time but he
had also vowed to repay his investors---their loss was over $300,000, according
to McLeod---and that pressure, plus the end of The Fire Chief Program and his
marital trouble two years later, helped drive the comedian toward a nervous
breakdown by the end of the 1930s.
A much more successful alternative network, the Mutual Broadcasting System, was
established on September 29, 1934. Mutual was inspired in large part from the
ideas behind Amalgamated, and in fact had one of Amalgamated's planned key
affiliates, WXYZ Detroit, as one of its charter stations. A recording of ABS's
launch gala is believed to survive and circulate among history-minded old-time
The film The Great Man (1956), which has a broadcasting background and features
Wynn in a supporting role, is centered on a fictional network known as the
"Amalgamated Broadcasting System".
* Elizabeth McLeod, Tonight The Program's Gonna Be Different: The Life and
Times of Ed Wynn, the Fire Chief
* The Museum of Broadcast Communications, The Encyclopedia of Radio
On 2/4/2011 12:38 PM, Elizabeth McLeod wrote:
> on 2/4/11 12:05 PM David Lennick wrote:
>> I think they all went out to get drunk around 10 o'clock and left somebody
>> patching in remotes and whoever was still hanging around the studio.
>> Around the
>> last 45 minutes things start to pick up again, with a couple of live
>> and two cut-ins from Rex Stewart which are actually worth keeping.
> What I've never understood is why we were denied the opportunity of
> hearing an Ota Gygi violin solo. It would have been sublime to see what
> Ben Gross would have written about that.
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