CBS' history dates back to the United Independent Broadcasters Inc., which consisted of 16 radio stations that were purchased by William S. Paley in 1928 and renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System. Within just a few years, Columbia would be one of the most popular and powerful radio networks in the country.
One of the Network's early hit broadcasts was FIFTEEN MINUTES WITH BING CROSBY. Crosby was, for a time, billed as "The Cremo Singer for Cremo Cigars" and he was also sponsored by Woodbury Soap. CBS also showcased George Burns and Gracie Allen, who took over a spot on the schedule once occupied by bandleader Guy Lombardo. One of the Network's most unusual programs in 1933 was BYRD CALLS, a series of live broadcasts via shortwave originating aboard Admiral Byrd's ship after he launched his Antarctic expedition. The tremendous success of the program prompted sponsor General Foods to launch a new brand, "Birds Eye Frozen Foods". Other early programs included THE OLDSMOBILE PROGRAM with singer Ruth Etting; JACK ARMSTRONG THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY, sponsored by Wheaties; THE SWIFT REVUE WITH OLSEN & JOHNSON, JUST PLAIN BILL; and THE JACK BENNY CANADA DRY PROGRAM (Benny soon moved to rival Network NBC, but he would return to CBS during a major radio upheaval in the late 1940's).
In 1935, William Paley convinced Lever Brothers to move its LUX RADIO THEATER from NBC to Columbia. While the New York-based program, which featured radio versions of popular plays, was a success, CBS insisted Lever Brothers move the production to Hollywood. Beginning in 1936, the program would be hosted by monumental film pioneer Cecil B. deMille and featured hour-long radio adaptations of current films, more often than not with the original stars repeating their movie roles on the air. LUX remained one of the highest rated programs for nearly twenty years on CBS (In 1950, the Network premiered a television version, LUX VIDEO THEATER).
Other popular CBS programs during the 1930's included THE LIFEBUOY SHOW WITH AL JOLSON, THE KATE SMITH HOUR; THE WONDER SHOW starring Jack Haley with a young Lucille Ball; THE MARCH OF TIME; BIG TOWN starring Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor; and DR. CHRISTIAN, the homespun adventures of a country doctor played by the great actor and humanitarian Jean Hersholt. Also in the 1930's, CBS invited Charles Chaplin to provide a series of commentaries on world events.
The late 1930's saw the explosive arrival on radio of Orson Welles. Welles, whose Mercury Theater was revolutionizing Broadway, brought thrilling new productions of great works of literature to the air. For several years, he produced CBS' annual presentation of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge. Welles' most famous broadcast was, of course, his Halloween 1938 production of H.G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, a program that was so realistic it caused a nation-wide panic. Prior to having his own series, Welles appeared on THE COLUMBIA WORKSHOP, an innovative anthology program that mixed drama, culture and technology in a series of unique broadcasts. A 1937 episode of the Workshop was "The Fall Of The City" by Archibald MacLeish and featuring Orson Welles and Burgess Meredith with music by Bernard Herrmann.
On the journalism side, in 1930 William Paley hired UPI's Paul W. White to head up the News Division at CBS Radio. White's team of reporters and commentators included Edward R. Murrow, Charles Collingwood, William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Bill Downs, John Charles Daly (who would later host WHAT'S MY LINE on CBS Television), Joseph C. Harsch, Cecil Brown, Elmer Davis, Quincy Howe, H. V. Kaltenborn, Robert Trout, and Lewis Shollenberger. CBS led the airwaves with scoops on the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping case, the Presidential Election of 1932. Ed Murrow became CBS's London correspondent and H.V. Kaltenborn startled the broadcasting world by remaining on-air for 18 hours straight during the Munich Crisis and the ongoing talks between England's Prime Minister Chamberlin and Germany's Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
THE STORY OF CBS THROUGH THE YEARS WILL CONTINUE