Children’s Radio Programming Rules (1930s)

RADIO PROGRAM-WPRO-1951

RADIO PROGRAM-WPRO-1951 (Photo credit: Providence Public Library)

Came across this while researching a story (courtesy of “don’t touch that dial! radio programming in american life, 1920-1960,” by j. fred macdonald): some mid-1930s regulations for children’s programs.

I’ll give you a hint at the back story: airing certain violent adventure stories had been getting the networks in trouble with certain-ahem-concerned citizens.

So, a 1934 NBC guideline includes these gems:

  • All stories must reflect respect for law and order, adult authority, good morals and clean living.
  • The hero and heroine, and other sympathetic characters must be portrayed as intelligent and morally courageous.
  • The theme must stress the importance of mutual respect of one man for another, and should emphasize the desirability of fair play and honorable behavior.
  • Cowardice, malice, deceit, selfishness and disrespect for law must be avoided in the delineation of any character presented in the light of a hero to the child listener.

MacDonald, the article’s author, treats us to a 1935 CBS statement too:

  • The exalting, as modern heroes, of gangsters, criminals, and racketeers will not be allowed.
  • Disrespect for either parental or other proper authority must not be glorified or encouraged.
  • Cruelty, greed, and selfishness must not be presented as worthy motivations.
  • Programs that arouse harmful nervous reactions in the child must not be presented.
  • Conceit, smugness or unwarranted sense of superiority over others less fortunate may not be presented as laudable.
  • Recklessness and abandon must not be closely identified with a healthy spirit of adventure.
  • Unfair exploitation of others for personal gain must not be made praiseworthy.
  • Dishonesty and deceit are not to be made appealing or attractive to the child.

He writes, “In these network statements is the essence of all effective juvenile programs. With their emphasis upon recognizable champions and moral purposes, children’s programs were socializing agents bringing to youngsters—in an entertaining context—the values and ideals of American society. One step above fairy tales in their subtlety, these series offered Truth, Justice, Honor, and Decency as personal lessons.”

I’m not sure why he’s picking on fairy tales here. I’d say he has the order backward: “One step below fairy tales in their subtlety” would be more accurate. (Ever read “The Gallant Tailor”? Or “The Four Brothers”?)

But more to the point: such adventure radio programs, like kids’ books today, do indeed “socialize” children. To what extent has the publishing industry laid down its own “code”? And, if anyone knows, where would I find it? Might be entertaining. Or is our version all secret?

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