Radio: Big As All Outdoors

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Red Light. In 1947, CBS television carried the Harvest Moon affair. NBC's Worthington Miner, then a CBS executive, watched the show and decided that Ed "seemed relaxed and likable with none of the brashness of a hardened performer." This was just the kind of man CBS wanted as M.C. of a projected Sunday-night variety show. When Toast of the Town went on TV, Ed was so petrified with stage fright that he aroused a strongly maternal feeling in his audience. One fan wrote: "It takes a real man to get up there week after week—with that silver plate in his head." So many others warmly congratulated him for his triumph over facial paralysis, a twisted spine and other dire but imaginary ills that Sullivan has about given up protesting that he has always been sound of wind and limb.

But the Manhattan critics were not moved to sympathy. They practically ordered Ed off the air. He responded by firing off a waspish letter after each review, dissecting the critic's writing, speculating about his (or her) neurotic problems, and offering to meet him in Central Park with shotguns at ten paces. Says Ed, with satisfaction: "They really burn after they get one of my letters. Jack Gould called up blazing about a letter I wrote, and I asked him: 'What are you so hot about? I just put my opinion of you in a personal letter. You spread your opinion of me all over the Sunday Times.' "

The Second Major. In his first year on TV, it looked as if the decision would go to the critics. Ed's sponsor, Emerson Radio, dropped him after 26 weeks. Then he heard that CBS was offering Toast of the Town to prospective buyers—with or without Ed Sullivan. Ed's salvation came from Detroit, where the Ford Motor Co. grabbed the show. Mercury General Sales Manager Joe Bayne, an old radio veteran who had worked with Major Bowes in the heyday of his Amateur Hour, says: "It took us less than 20 minutes to decide on Ed Sullivan. It was crystal clear. Ed was a second Major Bowes. Bowes used tc muff the English language. Ed does too. But the thing about the two of them is their genuineness and truthfulness. So we said, 'We'll buy Sullivan for 13 weeks.' " The 13 weeks has lengthened into seven years. Contemplating his handiwork, Bayne remarks: "Every period since then we've put more money into the show, and, to tell the truth, it's millions of dollars a year. I don't know if it's worth it any more, but there you are: Sullivan is Mercury, Mercury is Sullivan."

Magic Hours. Ed's own struggle for survival is inescapably linked with the greater war the networks themselves are fighting for control of a billion-dollar empire. All other forms of mass entertainment have been enfeebled by the burgeoning rise of TV. Except for heavyweight-championship bouts, TV practically owns boxing; it has cut heavily into the attendance at baseball games, and each year the colleges squabble more fiercely about how much or how little TV should be allowed. Radio, though it still has 3,410 stations and 120 million receivers, trails far behind TV as an attention-getter and moneymaker. The Hollywood studios reeled for a time under the impact of TV. Movies will still be made but, thanks to TV, they are already far fewer and far different (e.g., CinemaScope, VistaVision, stereophonic sound).

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