1932: Space adventurer Buck Rogers debuts on CBS radio. The science fiction show, eventually called Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, will delight loyal fans over a span of 15 years and inspire aficionados for decades more.
Writer Phil Nowlan unveiled space swashbuckler Buck Rogers in a story called "Armageddon ? 2419," which was published in Amazing Stories magazine in August 1928. Nowlan collaborated with John F. Dille and Dick Calkins on a newspaper comic strip that started Jan. 7, 1929.
The radio show, originally named The World in 2432, featured Buck, co-pilot Wilma Deering ? a woman aviator or rocketeer was an advanced concept for the 1930s ? and genius scientist Dr. Huer, fighting evildoers 500 years in the future. The trio relied on futuristic weapons like death rays, incendiary missiles, gamma bombs and a mechanical mole, among others.
Sound effects made these all come across with dramatic impact. Buck's psychic destruction ray was really a Schick electric razor held at just the right distance from the microphone. The sound effects crew could also simulate anything from a regiment of marching robots to a scary rocket-ship crash.
The show debuted the night before Franklin D. Roosevelt trounced incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the presidential election. It was an instant hit, in no small measure due to the premiums listeners could get by sending in cereal boxtops or other proofs of purchase. Gifts included a map of the planets, a cardboard space helmet and Big Little Books (3-5/8 inches by 4-1/2 inches) of Buck Rogers comics.
The 15-minute serial ran Monday through Thursday evenings, from Nov. 7, 1932, to May 22, 1936, on CBS. It was revived as a thrice-weekly, 15-minute series on the Mutual Broadcasting System from April 5 to July 31, 1939, and then as a half-hour Saturday show on Mutual from May 18 to July 27, 1940. The show had its final radio incarnation Sept. 30, 1946, to March 28, 1947, as 15-minute episodes weekdays on Mutual.
Sponsors over the years included Kellogg's, Cocomalt, Cream of Wheat and Popsicles, Fudgsicles and Creamsicles. Calkins was a writer on the show, along with Joe Cross, Albert G. Miller and producer-director Jack Johnstone. Over the years, four different actors played Buck and two did Wilma.
Voice actors Matt Crowley, Curtis Arnall, Carl Frank and John Larkin brought Buck to life during the show's 15-year run. Adele Ronson played Buck's co-pilot, Wilma Dearing, and Edgar Stehli portrayed scientist-inventor Dr. Huer.
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