The beginning of commercial radio was a fragile time. The technology that the industry would need was for the most part developed by the end of the First World War. The budding networks could not sell programing unless there were radio sets for people to hear them on, and consumers would not buy radios unless there was worthwhile programing to hear.
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was in the business of selling radio sets. In 1919 General Electric bought together the assets of several smaller radio related concerns, along with some belonging to the Navy, to form RCA. GE and RCA, along with AT&T and Westinghouse Electric would develop many innovations in radio communications, and form the National Broadcasting Company. The Magic Key of RCA was a fun and star-packed hour on Saturday nights, dedicated to selling RCA radios.
You didn't need an RCA radio to listen to The Magic Key, but the program did a good job of convincing the audience that RCA products were filled with innovation and quality. If all you had to go by was the quality of the Magic Key program, then you couldn't go wrong with RCA!
The Magic Key of RCA premiered on September 29th, 1935, as a Saturday night variety program, and the jewel in the crown for the upcoming Fall season on NBC, with the first show being titled Welcome To The Magic Key of RCA. In this first blockbuster show, David Sarnoff spoke from the steam ship Majestic, 975 miles out in the mid-Atlantic; Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and the Mickey Mouse grand Opera Company are heard from Hollywood; Amos 'n Andy tell how they started in radio, and from San Francisco, you're taken on a round-the-world trip by radio, in less than two minutes!
The NBC house orchestra was led by Frank Black for most of the run, with Nathaniel Shilkret taking over the baton in 1939. Stoopnagle and Budd provided a regular comic interlude, and the show feature a veritable "Who's Who" of the late 30's entertainment world, with radio favorites such as Fibber McGee and Molly, Rudy Valle, Irving Berlin, Tommy Dorsey, Amos 'n' Andy, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Fred MacMurray, and Walt Disney.
The series was broadcast live, and not only featured talent in front of a studio audience, but also short dramas, and many remote broadcasts, with a weekly feature from roving reporter John B Kennedy, who took his microphone to all manner of locations to bring you a scoop, including a special international feature depicting the Chinese New Year Celebrations, broadcasts of Marine Corps "Helldiver" aircraft, transmission from submerged submarine crews, and reports from Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio.