The March of Time (radio program)

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The March of Time
CBS sound effects chief Ora Daigle Nichols and George O'Donnell on The March of Time
GenreNews documentary and dramatization
Running time
  • 30 minutes (1931–35)
  • 15 minutes (1935–36)
  • 30 minutes (1936–45)
Country of originUnited States
Created byRoy E. Larsen
Fred Smith
Directed byArthur Pryor Jr.
Donald Stouffer
Thomas Harrington
William Spier
Homer Fickett
Produced byArthur Pryor Jr.
Donald Stouffer
Thomas Harrington
Executive producer(s)Davidson Taylor (for CBS)[1]:42
Narrated byTed Husing
Westbrook Van Voorhis
Harry von Zell
Original releaseMarch 6, 1931 (1931-03-06) – July 26, 1945 (1945-07-26)
Sponsored byTime Inc.

The March of Time is an American radio news documentary and dramatization series sponsored by Time Inc. and broadcast from 1931 to 1945. Created by broadcasting pioneer Fred Smith and Time magazine executive Roy E. Larsen, the program combined actual news events with reenactments. The "voice" of The March of Time was Westbrook Van Voorhis. The radio series was the basis of the famed March of Time newsreel series shown in movie theaters from 1935 to 1951.


The March of Time had its origins in a 1928 radio series developed at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, by radio pioneer Fred Smith, who obtained permission to use material from Time magazine in his broadcasts. Later, Smith and Roy E. Larsen, the first circulation manager for Time, developed Time magazine's own radio program, which they called Newscasting. That program evolved into The March of Time, the first network presentation of a dramatized "news" format. At Smith's suggestion, the program included the "10 best radio actors", an "announcer extraordinary", a "splendid orchestra" and a "clever director."[2]

"The March of Time was the first radio newsreel", wrote radio historian John Dunning, "dramatized news events, elaborately staged with sound effects and music, put together like a newspaper—often on deadline, with impact and accuracy its twin goals."[3]:435

The March of Time began airing as a weekly series March 6, 1931, on CBS Radio on over 32 stations on Friday evenings.[4] The half-hour program aired Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET. In 1935 the program was trimmed to 15 minutes and aired five times a week,[5] but after a year returned to its 30-minute weekly format. Suspended in 1939, the series was revived in 1941 with a new format, and lasted until 1945.[6]:19

Time Inc. was the only sponsor of all of the shows; other sponsors included Remington Rand, the Wrigley Company, and Electrolux. The March of Time aired on CBS through October 7, 1937, and was subsequently broadcast on the Blue Network (October 14, 1937 – June 5, 1942), NBC (July 9, 1942 – October 26, 1944), and ABC (November 2, 1944 – July 26, 1945).[7]

One of radio's most popular programs, The March of Time was described by Variety as "the apex of radio showmanship." It reached millions of Americans during its 14-year history. The series's promotional value to Time Inc. proved to be incalculable, although Time had announced that it would discontinue the program after the first year.[6]:18–19 It was an expensive production requiring as many as 75 staff and 1,000 hours of labor to get each issue on the air.[6]:12–13

The full studio orchestra was conducted by Howard Barlow (CBS) and Donald Voorhees (NBC). The sound effects team was led by Ora Daigle Nichols, the only woman who made a living as a sound engineer at that time. She and her husband Arthur introduced sound effects to radio, drawing on many successful years of stage and silent film experience. They began to freelance their talents to radio in 1928, and were put under contract by CBS as the demand for sound effects increased. After her husband's death in 1931, Nichols continued to lead the profession and was called the "first lady of sound effects." The media voted Nichols one of the most influential women in radio; other women honored included Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt and Kate Smith.[8]:16–17, 244

The March of Time broadcasts began with the tramp-tramp-tramp of shuffling feet, to indicate "the relentless impersonal progress of events." The principal narrator was the Voice of Time; another was the Voice of Fate, narrating stories of catastrophe or the death of a notable person. The first Voice of Time was Ted Husing; Westbrook Van Voorhis was the Voice of Fate. In fall 1931 Harry von Zell began a brief tenure as Time, but in October 1933 he moved to the role of announcer and Van Voorhis assumed the leading role. His voice—concluding most broadcasts with a booming, "Time … marches on!"—became synonymous with the program, both on radio and in the newsreel series.[3]:436–437

Written to match the style of Time magazine, radio scripts incorporated transcripts of statements and comments by the figures impersonated on The March of Time whenever possible. When these could not be obtained, writers were allowed to "re-create" appropriate dialogue. Actors researched and rehearsed with great care to mimic the precise voice patterns and characteristics of the people they were impersonating. March of Time creator Roy E. Larsen recalled that only one person, Franklin D. Roosevelt, ever complained about their treatment on the program. The President was annoyed because he was getting calls from political advisors regarding statements spoken on The March of Time that he had not uttered, even though they matched his policies. White House complaints continued until 1937, when The March of Time stopped imitating FDR altogether.[6]:14–15

"From the beginning it was known that The March of Time would face the stiffest production challenges that radio had yet known", wrote John Dunning:

When a big story broke at the last minute, a polished ready-to-air show was reorganized: the entire menu was shifted as events demanded. Newspapers are accustomed to this … but in radio, a new breed of actor had come to the fore, players who could deliver superb performances from scripts they had never seen before going live on the air. Sight reading, they called it: reading always two lines ahead and acting the lines they had already read. Actors, sound artists, and musicians worked feverishly to accommodate the bulletins from Time's reporters in the field.[3]:436

Seven or eight sketches were featured in each show, varying in length from 90 seconds to four minutes. Newspapers were sometimes scooped by the radio docudrama. On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg disaster took place two hours before air time, and The March of Time created a segment that focused on the history of airship travel and ended with the news of the disaster in Lakehurst, New Jersey.[3]:436 Herbert Morrison's recorded radio eyewitness report from the landing field was not broadcast until the next day.[9]


Although its cast was uncredited, The March of Time capitalized on the Broadway celebrity of Orson Welles in a 1938 advertisement. Months later Welles employed the series's techniques in his radio version of The War of the Worlds (1938), and he famously parodied the newsreel series in his first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941).
Name Notable roles Notes
William Adams Franklin D. Roosevelt [3]:434
Georgia Backus [3]:434
John Battle John Nance Garner
Huey Long
Harry Browne [3]:434
Art Carney Franklin D. Roosevelt [3]:434
Ray Collins [3]:434
Staats Cotsworth Franklin D. Roosevelt [3]:434
Pedro de Cordoba [3]:434
Ted de Corsia Herbert Hoover
Hugh S. Johnson
Pierre Laval
Huey Long
Benito Mussolini
Kenny Delmar [3]:434
Peter Donald Neville Chamberlain [3]:434
Arlene Francis [3]:434
Martin Gabel [3]:434
Porter Hall [3]:434
Juano Hernandez [3]:434
Marion Hopkinson Frances Perkins
Eleanor Roosevelt
Ted Husing Narrator [3]:434
Leon Janney [1]:42
Edwin Jerome Alfonso XIII of Spain
Haile Selassie
Joseph Stalin
Ted Jewett [3]:434
Bill Johnstone Edward VIII
Cordell Hull
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Nancy Kelly Eleanor Roosevelt [3]:434
Adelaide Klein [3]:434
Myron McCormick [3]:434
John McIntire [3]:434
Herschel Mayall [3]:434
Gary Merrill [3]:434
Agnes Moorehead Eleanor Roosevelt [3]:434
Arnold Moss [3]:434
Claire Niesen [3]:434
Jeanette Nolan Eleanor Roosevelt [3]:434
William Pringle Charles Evans Hughes [1]:42
Frank Readick Cordell Hull
Charles Lindbergh
Jimmy Walker
Giuseppe Zangara
Elliott Reid [3]:434
Charles Slattery [3]:434
Everett Sloane [3]:434
Jack Smart Huey Long [3]:434
Howard Smith [10]
Lotte Staviski [3]:434
Paul Stewart [3]:434
Karl Swenson [3]:434
Maurice Tarplin Winston Churchill [3]:434
Fred Uttal [1]:42
Westbrook Van Voorhis Narrator [3]:434
Harry von Zell Narrator [3]:434
Dwight Weist Fred Allen
George Arliss
Ethel Barrymore
John Barrymore
Lionel Barrymore
Charles Coughlin
Joseph Goebbels
Bruno Hauptmann
William Randolph Hearst
Adolf Hitler
Fiorello La Guardia
John L. Lewis
George Bernard Shaw
Orson Welles Dionne quintuplets
Sigmund Freud
Horace Greeley
Charles Laughton
J. Hamilton Lewis
Fredric March
Paul Muni
Haile Selassie
Spencer Tracy
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Basil Zaharoff
Nona West [1]:42

Broadcast history[edit]

Unless noted, broadcast information for The March of Time is drawn from John Dunning's On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1998).[3]:434

  • 1931–35: CBS, March 6, 1931 – April 26, 1935, 30 minutes. Fridays at 10:30 p.m. ET March 6, 1931 – June 1931; Fridays at 8 p.m. July 1931–33; Fridays at 8:30 p.m. 1933–34; Fridays at 9 p.m. 1934–35.
  • 1935–36: CBS, August 26, 1935 – September 25, 1936, 15 minutes. Weeknights at 10:30 p.m. ET.
  • 1936–37: CBS, October 15, 1936 – October 7, 1937, 30 minutes. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m ET.
  • 1937–39: Blue Network, October 14, 1937 – April 28, 1939, 30 minutes. Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET October 14, 1938 – January 1938; Thursdays at 8 p.m. January–July 1938; Fridays at 9:30 p.m. July 8, 1938[12]– April 28, 1939.
  • 1941–42: Blue Network, October 9, 1941 – June 5, 1942, 30 minutes. Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET October 9, 1941 – February 1942; subsequently Fridays at 9:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.
  • 1942–44: NBC, July 9, 1942 – October 26, 1944, 30 minutes. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.
  • 1944–45: ABC, November 2, 1944 – July 26, 1945, 30 minutes. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Reviews and commentary[edit]

  • Orson Welles, This is Orson Welles — It was a marvelous show to do. Great fun, because, half an hour after something happened, we'd be acting it out with music and sound effects and actors. It was a super show — terribly entertaining. … I began as an occasional performer, because they had a regular stock company, and then I was finally let in—one of the inner circle. And then I had the greatest thrill of my life—I don't know why it thrilled me (it does still, to think of it now), I guess because I thought March of Time was such a great thing to be on. One day, they did as a news item on March of Time the opening of my production of the black Macbeth, and I played myself on it. And that to me was the apotheosis of my career—that I was on March of Time acting and as a news item. I've never felt since that I've had it made as much as I did that one afternoon.[11]:74
  • John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio — And like any good newspaper, it was damned left and right. Real newsmen condemned it for hamming up the news. Communists called it fascistic. William Randolph Hearst labeled it Communistic propaganda and forbade mention of it in the pages of his newspapers. It was banned in Germany, It even ran afoul of Roosevelt, who asked and later demanded that it stop impersonating him, because the actors were so good they were diminishing the impact of his Fireside Chats. It was accused of being pompous, pretentious, melodramatic, and bombastic. But it was never dull. In the mid-1930s, Time had Hooper numbers in the 25 point range.[3]:436

Awards and recognition[edit]

The March of Time was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Carskadon, Tom (January 1935). "Time Marches On". Tower Radio. Internet Archive. Archived from the original on January 2, 2013. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  2. ^ "Fred Smith, Radio Pioneer, Dies; Helped Create 'March of Time'". The New York Times. August 15, 1976.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3.
  4. ^ "The March of Time—Series Premiere". Paley Center for Media. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  5. ^ "Catalog Record, The March of Time (Radio Program)". New York Public Library. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  6. ^ a b c d Fielding, Raymond. The March of Time, 1935–1951. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-502212-2.
  7. ^ Hickerson, Jay (1992). The Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming and Guide to All Circulating Shows. Hamden, Connecticut: Privately printed. pp. 252–253.
  8. ^ a b Mott, Robert L. (1993). Radio Sound Effects: Who Did It, and How, in the Era of Live Broadcasting. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 9780899507477.
  9. ^ "WLS Broadcast of the Hindenberg Disaster 1937". Chicagoland Radio and Media. Retrieved 2016-03-02.
  10. ^ "Howard Smith, 73, An Actor, Is Dead; Performed for 50 Years in Vaudeville and on Air". The New York Times. January 11, 1968. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  11. ^ a b Welles, Orson; Bogdanovich, Peter; Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1992). This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-016616-9.
  12. ^ a b "Life … On the Air!". Life. July 11, 1938. p. 65. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  13. ^ The March of Time at the National Radio Hall of Fame; retrieved April 8, 2012

External links[edit]

Radio broadcasts at the Internet Archive

  • 1930–1937 Radio News — includes The March of Time from January 18, 1937
  • 1938 Radio News — includes The March of Time from February 3 and February 10, 1938
  • 1940 Radio News — includes The March of Time from August 24, 1940
  • 1941 Radio News — includes The March of Time from November 20 and December 11, 1941
  • 1945 Radio News — includes The March of Time from February 22, March 15, March 22, March 29 and April 5, 1945