From 1933 - 1960 listeners tuned in daily to listen to the drama that Ma Perkins, America's mother of the air, offered.
Ma Perkins was a widow and the owner of a lumber yard. She was the center of the town she lived in, always ready to hand out her wise advice, take care of those in need, and defend those who were in trouble.
The character of Ma Perkins was probably in her 60s, but in 1933 when the show debuted, the actress Virginia Payne who played her was only 23. This fact was kept hidden for much of the show’s run. In fact, she even appeared in wigs and glasses when she was photographed for publicity.
Over the years the show had many melodramatic story lines. From family troubles to episodes where Ma protected a political refugee from Russia, there was no shortage of ups and downs in the plot lines. There were marriages, divorces, and murders. and even a black market operation to sell babies! Yet with all of this drama, the show centered on our salt-of-the earth heroine, and her life in a small town.
Somehow the pace of the show made it believable that Ma Perkins’ small town could have so many strange situations, and one of the reasons the show worked so well was the pacing. There were usually two or three major plot twists or events every year, but the rest of the time the episodes focused more on daily life. For example, holiday celebrations and front porch conversations which could fill entire episodes!
The cast of the show was fairly stable with the main characters remaining the same for most of the show’s run, but other supporting cast members revolved as necessary with the story lines. Listeners grew to love the stable and familiar characters, while the supporting cast helped to keep things interesting.
The show was one of the most popular to ever air, and had a very long run of 27 years! It was heard in virtually every state in the United States and was even broadcast in Canada and Europe before it was replaced by the many soap operas that began appearing on the small screen during the emerging television era.
Incredibly, Virginia Payne never missed an episode of the show in her 27 year run. She passed away in 1977, 17 years after the show she spent most of her adulthood on ended, and in 1988 both she and Ma Perkins were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.