Betty Ann Barr Boilesen

The Hour of Charm courtesy of the Radio


By Doug Boilesen, 2003


The popularity of the radio grew in the 1920's and the wireless wonder emerged as the home's pre-eminent entertainer, a position previously held by the phonograph and the piano.

By the end of the 1920's, with the Great Depression starting to seriously impact the economy, many phonograph manufacturers were disappearing. Edison's cylinder machines had already lost popularity and in 1929 Edison made it final by discontinuing production of all cylinder phonographs and records.

Sales of disc records made by companies like Victor, Columbia and Brunswick significantly declined. The movement of phonographs from the parlor to the attic became part of the aftershock of the radio's seismic impact on the phonograph industry. After all, how could phonographs compete with the new magic box that produced free music and such a variety of entertainment?

The radio produced popular shows and one of best was "The Hour of Charm." Airing on Sunday night at 9:00 pm it was a mainstay on the CBS Radio Network and NBC from 1935 to 1948. (1)

Advertised as radio's most celebrated "All Girl Orchestra and Chorus" it featured Arlene Francis as Mistress of Ceremonies. Vogue Records immortalized this group in 1947 in its own unique way with a picture record of Blue Skies and Rhapsody in Blue (see below, Vogue Picture Record Blue Skies and Rhapsody in Blue R726).



"The Hour of Charm" was Betty Ann's favorite radio show. Even though they never had a phonograph in their home when Betty Ann was growing it probably wouldn't have been able to compete with the radio and "The Hour of Charm." A special relationship seems to have existed between Betty and this show because Betty felt that this orchestra of women was performing every week just for her and it was therefore something that she couldn't miss.

The challenge for Betty Ann, however, was access to the radio. Her older step-brother and his wife, Chris and Hilda Vogt, at one point were living with them and even after they moved out they were often there on the weekends. The problem for Betty was that on Sunday evening Chris often listened non-stop to the radio.

Times were hard for Chris and Hilda as they were for so many families during the Great Depression. Chris sold brooms during the week, driving the backroads of Nebraska in the hope of a few sales. By the weekend when he returned home I think Betty Ann thought Chris always got extra consideration for his difficult schedule. Of course Betty Ann was still a school girl (being twenty years younger than Chris) but in her mind she didn't think her vote counted the same as the adults of the house when it came to the radio.

Their farm had a windcharger for charging the radio's wet cell batteries and it was always questionable if there was going to be enough battery power by the end of the day. For Betty Ann, therefore, the weekly questions were always the same:

Would Chris and Hilda be at home Sunday evening?

How many radio programs would Chris tune into during the day?

Would the batteries be strong enough at 9:00 pm on Sunday?

Unfortunately, the answer sometimes resulted in Betty Ann missing "The Hour of Charm".

But like other persevering farm families who stayed in Nebraska during the 1930's Betty Ann hoped that better times were just around the corner and that next week it would be her time to tune in "The Hour of Charm".

Betty had some help in 1936 when Congress, led by Nebraska's Senator George Norris, passed the Rural Electrication Act for the purpose of bringing electricity to rural areas like Howard County, Nebraska.(2) When electricity reached their farm the radio's dependence on battery power was gone and better times indeed seemed on the rise.

Years later Betty Ann's stories of listening to the All Girl Orchestra and Chorus on the radio were one of the highlights of her childhood that she enjoyed retelling.

Clearly, the "Hour of Charm" had an impact that lasted more than 60 minutes each week.