In the late 1930s, when radio was becoming the preeminent entertainment source for most of America, the technology was now making it possible for programs to be sent and received from all over the world via much improved Shortwave. This was an exciting development, and one which would be indispensable only a year later when the Munich Crisis turned radio into an information gathering medium. The possibilities were endless and the opportunities ran the gamut.
One of those programs which took maximum advantage of this new technology was a program called The Magic Key. It was, in essence, an hour long commercial for RCA Victor Records and Phonographs, but it did something almost no variety program was doing at the time; offering a wide range of artistry before the microphones as well as not being hampered by barriers of distance. The programs featured a vast array of notables from the music world (who all just so happened were RCA Victor artists) but it also featured many non-musical notables, such as this episode which offers an interview with the legendary theatre impresario Max Reinhardt – it is probably one of the few recordings in existence featuring the voice of this legendary figure.
In addition, this program also includes the American debut of the Russian pianist Ania Dorfmann, as well we several arias sung by then-Metropolitan Opera Bass Ezio Pinza. And for variety’s sake, a guest spot with Fats Waller and his orchestra as well as solo work. The announcer is Milton Cross, who would go on to become the regular announcer throughout the 1950’s and 60s (and up to the 70s) for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. It also features RCA Victor’s Head of the Classical Division, Dr. Frank Black conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra (some argue as to whether this is Toscanini’s NBC Symphony or the NBC Studio Orchestra calling itself NBC Symphony, I think the latter).
At any rate, this is an hour’s worth of Music for all tastes in 1937, presented by a label whose artists were considered some of the greatest of the day in a concert setting – with numerous plugs to buy phonographs and the latest discs.
These days they call them Infomercials – but back then it was just a happy coincidence.