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The American School of the Air

In 1940 composer William Grant Still received a commission from CBS to create an original composition for The American School of the Air.

The American School of the Air was a half-hour educational radio program presented by CBS as a public affairs teaching supplement over an 18-year period during the 1930s and 1940s. CBS followed the lead of the first School of the Air which began in 1929 at Ohio State University.

Program policies for The American School of the Air were established by an advisory board. The series began February 4, 1930,[1] broadcast on weekdays at 2:30pm. In 1939, it aired at 9:15 in the morning and was heard nationwide in over 100,000 classrooms by an estimated 3,000,000 children every day. Its success prompted NBC to launch Its University of the Air in 1942. [2] [3] [4]

During World War II, its programming changed markedly. Retitled The American School of the Air of the Americas in 1940, it now took on a Pan-American outlook, reaching out to Canadian and Latin American audiences. Programs typically dwelled on the historical and cultural heritage, common struggles, and shared interests of the peoples in the New World. With support from Nelson A. Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (1940–46), CBS had its educational programs translated into Spanish and Portuguese and broadcast over its Pan-American network of stations, the Cadena de las Americas.[5] By 1941, The American School of the Air of the Americas had expanded into 15 countries. When the United States entered the war, it became ”the official channel through which the Office of War Information will convey news, information and instructions for civilian activities to children and young people, teachers and parents of America.”[6] In 1945, the program moved to a late afternoon timeslot, 5:00pm.

Different topics were featured throughout the week under the umbrella title. As established by 1939, industry and agriculture were the focus of the Monday series, "Frontiers of Democracy," including such subjects as "Frontiers of Work in Industry," "Science & Human Progress," "Health and Food," "Health in Childhood," "Frontiers of Work on the Farm" and "Frontiers in the Professions."

Tuesdays were devoted to "Folk Music of America" and other musical genres. During 1939-40, Alan Lomax wrote, produced and directed a 26-week historical overview, the "American Folk Songs" series, a survey of English language folk songs from the holdings of his underfunded Archive of American Folksongs.

A work by composer William Grant Still was commissioned by CBS in 1940. In 1949, for The American School of the Air, Amadeo De Filippi composed "Raftsman's Dance," based on two Ohio river songs, "Raftsman Jim" and "Going Up the River."

American explorers and exploration were heard in "New Horizons" on Wednesdays, with "Tales from Far and Near" on Thursdays. The week ended with dramatizations of modern life in "This Living World." Helen Garman did the radio adaptation of Citizen Tom Paine, an episode of "Tales from Far and Near" broadcast on February 18, 1946.

The musical theme was Beethoven's Lenore Overture Number 3. Robert Trout and John Reed King were the announcers.[7] Scripts were by Howard Rodman and others. Actors who appeared on this program included Orson Welles, Ray Collins, Walter Tetley and Parker Fennelly.

The series came to an end on April 30, 1948.[1]


  1. ^ a b Cox, Jim (2008). This Day in Network Radio: A Daily Calendar of Births, Debuts, Cancellations and Other Events in Broadcasting History. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-3848-8. Page 29.
  2. ^ "American School of the Air - Music Educators Journal". Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  3. ^ "The Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio". Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  4. ^ "1930-1939 C.E. : Media History Project : U of M". Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  5. ^ Gisela Cramer, “How to Do Things with Waves: United States Radio and Latin America in the Times of the Good Neighbor,” in Alejandra Bronfman and Andrew Grant Wood (eds.), Media, Sound, and Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 37-54
  6. ^ School of the Air of the Americas, Teacher’s Manual 1942-43 (New York: CBS, 1942), blurb
  7. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 28.

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