William N. Robson

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William N. Robson
William N Robson Billboard.jpg
William N. Robson II

October 8, 1906
DiedApril 10, 1995(1995-04-10) (aged 88)
OccupationRadio director and producer

William N. Robson (October 8, 1906 – April 10, 1995) was a director and producer of radio programs.

Early life[edit]

Robson was born William N. Robson II[1] in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[2] the son of William N. Robson and Gertrude Brehm Robson.[3] His father handled public relations for the Loyal Order of Moose and was described in a newspaper article as being "known from coast to coast."[4] He was involved in entertainment as early as age 9, when a newspaper article about a 1916 amateur production in Pittsburgh reported, "Little Bill Robson has six parts in the show ... "[5]

Robson graduated from Allegheny High School[3] and attended the University of Pittsburgh for two years, leaving the school to become a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post.[6] He attended Yale University, graduating in 1928.[2]

In the 1920s, Robson had his own musical group, Bill Robson and His Yale Music. In the summers of 1926, 1927, and 1928, the group toured Europe, performing in Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, among other cities.[3]

Robson was the screenwriter for the 1933 Paramount Pictures film Private Jones.[6] He worked as an associate producer at Paramount for three years.[7]

Radio career[edit]

Robson spent most of his career involved with radio.[8] His radio debut came in 1936 as director of Big Town.[9] He succeeded Irving Reis as head of the Columbia Workshop.

Perhaps the most notable of Robson's productions was Suspense, followed closely by the similarly formatted Escape. Suspense lasted more than two decades on the air with more than 900 episodes broadcast. Ronald L. Smith wrote about Suspense and Escape in his book, Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices: "Both used the same format: a challenging (if anonymous) host introducing a story of murder or perhaps classic horror. Robson favored adaptations of anything from Poe tales to a good yarn in the latest issue of Esquire magazine."[9]

Robson's roles in other radio programs included those shown in the table below.

Program Role(s)
Calling All Cars Producer and writer [10]
Christopher London Producer[11]
Columbia Workshop Director[12]
Doorway to Life Producer, director, and writer[2]
Hawk Larabee Producer and director[10]:128
Luke Slaughter of Tombstone Producer, director, and writer[2]
The Man Behind the Gun Producer[11]:214
The Man Called X Director[10]:167
Pursuit Producer and director[10]:206
Request Performance Producer and director[11]:283
The Saint Producer and director[13]
Shorty Bell Producer [11]:302-303
Stars in the Afternoon Director[14]
T-Man Producer and director[10]:245

Robson left CBS in 1939 to become director of an advertising firm's radio department, and after the United States entered World War II he helped to prepare broadcasts for the Office of Emergency Management and the War Production Board. He returned to CBS in May 1942 to help the network prepare programs related to the war.[15]

Accusations of communist sympathies[edit]

On June 22, 1950, a pamphlet called Red Channels appeared, focusing on the field of broadcasting. Robson was among 151 entertainment industry professionals (erroneously) named in the context of "Red Fascists and their sympathizers".[16]

Eric Barnouw's A History of Broadcasting in the United States: Volume 2: The Golden Web: 1933 to 1953 summarized the accusations against Robson as follows:

The Red Channels listing for Robson contained four items. It said that (1) in 1942, he had been sponsor of an Artists Front to Win the War organized at a meeting in Carnegie Hall (2) in December 1946, he had made a speech in Los Angeles, protesting encroachments on freedom of expression; (3) in 1948, he had signed with other artists a "We Are For [Progressive Party candidate Henry] Wallace" advertisement in the New York Times.(4) he was listed as an "associate" on the masthead of the Hollywood Quarterly, a scholarly journal of film, radio, and television published by the University of California Press.[17]

This guilt-by-association would affect Robson's career over the next decade.


Robson was the producer of Sure as Fate, a mystery series that debuted on CBS in the summer of 1950. The listing in Red Channels took its toll, however, resulting in his replacement as producer (although he was paid for the full length of his contract). During the hiatus, he used a pseudonym as a writer for the television version of Suspense (U.S. TV series). Even that activity ceased, however, after "he was told that orders from CBS headquarters in New York had forbidden further assignments to him."[17]

During the 1950s, he wrote television dramas. In 1961, he joined the Voice of America where he produced documentaries, among them New York, New York on which Garry Moore interviewed celebrities visiting the city, and 200 Years Ago Tonight, a series about the American Revolutionary War produced during the bicentennial year of 1976.[2] His time at the VOA won him four additional Peabody Awards.


Three of Robson's radio works received George Foster Peabody Awards:

  • 1942 — "The Man Behind the Gun" for Outstanding Entertainment in Drama[18]
  • 1943 — "An Open Letter to the American People" for Outstanding Entertainment in Drama[19]
  • 1975 — Two Hundred Years Ago Tonight[20]

Later life[edit]

With regard to his radio career, Robson would enthusiastically reflect to Dick Bertell in 1976: "The great period of radio was from 1937, '38 really, through the war. It was only 7 years—the golden age of radio. 'Suspense' and 'Escape'—those are the things one does later because one has all the skills at his fingertips. At this time we were trying to find out how to do it ... We were learning skills, we were sharpening and honing our abilities ... when Irving Reis did The Fall of the City in the spring of '37 [it was written] by Archibald MacLeish—one of America's outstanding poets—a man who was so impressed by the medium of radio that he submitted to Irving Reis and the Columbia Workshop a first play for radio. And who directed that? Irving Reis with all of the director staff of CBS assisting him. Earle McGill, Brewster Morgan, myself, Bill Spier all assisting. Orson Welles as narrator, Burgess Meredith as chief orator. Names that we conjure with now that were just kids then, just kids. That was the time."


Robson died at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.[2] He was survived by his wife, Shirley; three sons; and one grandson.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Two Good Reasons Why Will Robson Boosts Mooseheart". The Pittsburgh Press. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh. December 23, 1917. p. 51. Retrieved February 5, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  2. ^ a b c d e f Burt A. Folkart, "William Robson; Radio Producer-Director," Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1995.
  3. ^ a b c Quigley, Martin J. (1929). The Motion Picture Almanac. p. 70. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  4. ^ "Who Is 'Mickey'?". Pittsburgh Daily Post. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh. May 13, 1919. p. 18. Retrieved February 5, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  5. ^ "'Sur-Passing Show' Will Open Tonight". Pittsburgh Daily Post. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh. May 1, 1916. p. 2. Retrieved February 5, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  6. ^ a b "1920s Students". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  7. ^ "Radio Personalities: William N. Robson" (PDF). Radio Daily. December 1, 1937. p. 7. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  8. ^ Obituary, New York Times, April 13, 1995.
  9. ^ a b Smith, Ronald L. Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices. McFarland. p. 244. ISBN 9780786457298. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e Cox, Jim (2002). Radio Crime Fighters: Over 300 Programs from the Golden Age. Mcfarland. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-7864-4324-6.
  11. ^ a b c d Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4. p. 75
  12. ^ "Program Turnover Near End". The Lincoln Star. Nebraska, Lincoln. January 9, 1938. p. 36. Retrieved February 4, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  13. ^ "'The Saint,' With Brian Aherne, to Start Wed., WHP". Harrisburg Telegraph. Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. June 16, 1945. p. 15. Retrieved February 4, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  14. ^ "Stars in the Afternoon". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  15. ^ "CBS Rehires Robson for War Shows". The Mason City Globe-Gazette. Iowa, Mason City. May 30, 1942. p. 4. Retrieved February 6, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  16. ^ Schrecker, Ellen (2002). The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History With Documents (PDF). Bedford/St. Martins. p. 244. ISBN 0-312-29425-5.
  17. ^ a b Barnouw, Erik (1968). A History of Broadcasting in the United States: Volume 2: The Golden Web: 1933 to 1953. Oxford University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 9780198020042. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  18. ^ ""The Man Behind the Gun" for Outstanding Entertainment in Drama". Peabody: Stories that Matter. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  19. ^ ""Lux Radio Theatre" and "An Open Letter to the American People" for Outstanding Entertainment in Drama". Peabody: Stories that Matter. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  20. ^ "Two Hundred Years Ago Tonight: The Battle of Lexington". Peabody: Stories that Matter. Retrieved 5 February 2017.

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