of network television's preeminent cultural offerings, The Voice
of Firestone was broadcast live for approximately twelve seasons
between 1949 and 1963. With its forty-six piece orchestra under
the direction of Howard Barlow, this prestigious award winning series
offered viewers weekly classical and semi-classical concerts featuring
celebrated vocalists and musicians. This series is also highly representative
of the debate that still rages over the importance of ratings and
mass-audience appeals as opposed to cultural-intellectual appeals
targeted to comparatively small audiences in the development of
network television schedules.
Sponsored throughout its history by the Firestone Tire and Rubber
Company, The Voice of Firestone began as a radio offering
in December 1928, and transferred to television as an NBC simulcast
on 5 September 1949. Long on musical value but often short on television
production value, the show was faulted occasionally for its somewhat
stilted visual style, its pretentious nature and its garish costume
choices. In time, however, the series drew critical praise and a
consistent audience of two to three million people per broadcast.
its "small" viewership, the Firestone series vigorously maintained
its classical/semi-classical format adding only an occasional popular
music broadcast with stars from Broadway, night clubs and the recording
industry and an occasional theme show developed around various topics
of interest, e.g., 4-H clubs, highway safety and the United Nations.
The program attracted the great performers of the day for nominal
fees with Rise Stevens setting the record for program appearances
at forty-seven. In his Los Angeles Times feature of 1 November 1992,
Walter Price observed that the Metropolitan Opera star "had the
face, figure and uncanny sense of the camera to tower above the
others in effect."
In 1954, The Voice of Firestone's audience size became a
major issue. Citing low ratings and the negative effect of those
ratings on other programs scheduled around it, NBC demanded a time
change. Historically, the show had been broadcast in a Monday, 8:30-9:00
P.M., prime time period. As an alternative, NBC officials suggested
leaving the Monday evening radio program in its established time
but moving the television version to Sunday at 5:30 P.M. or to an
earlier or later slot on Monday. Firestone officials, considering
the millions their company had spent for air time and talent fees
over the previous twenty-six years, refused to budge.
Determined to lure viewers away from Arthur Godfrey's Talent
Scouts, CBS' highly rated competition for the time period, NBC
exercised control of its schedule and canceled both the radio and
television versions of The Voice of Firestone effective 7
June 1954. The following week, the simulcast reappeared on ABC in
its traditional day and time where it remained until June 1957.
In that month, the radio portion was dropped but, after a summer
hiatus, the television show returned on Monday evenings at 9:00
P.M. In June 1959, despite more popular music in its format, poor
ratings again forced the show's cancellation in favor of the short-lived
detective series Bourbon Street Beat.
numerous critical outbursts, threats of Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) action and a joint resolution by the National Education Association
and National Congress of Parents and Teachers lamenting its cancellation,
all three networks offered Voice of Firestone fringe time
slots which the Firestone Company rejected. ABC officials indicated
that the series was simply the victim of the greater attention paid
to television ratings. In radio, critics pointed out, audience delivery
to program adjacencies was never considered as important as it was
in television and concert music programs in prime time were regarded
as too weak to hold ratings through the evening schedule. Condemning
the loss of the Firestone program, Norman Cousins wrote in his 9
May 1959, Saturday Review editorial, that stations were now
pursuing a policy designed to eliminate high quality programs "even
if sponsors are willing to pay for them." Cousins decried the fact
that station managers measured program weakness through ratings,
and a "'weak spot' in the evening programming . . . must not be
allowed to affect the big winners."
Voice of Firestone was brought back to ABC on Sunday evenings,
10:00-10:30 P.M., in September 1962. However, despite numerous commendations,
positive critical reviews and a star-studded rotation of musical
conductors and performers, the audience remained at two and a half
million people. The Voice of Firestone left the air for its
third and final time in June 1963. With its passing, the American
public lost an alternative form of entertainment whose long heritage
was one of quality, good taste and integrity.
John Daly (1958-1959)
Howard Barlow and the Firestone Con-cert Orchestra
September 1949-June 1954
Monday 8:30-9:00 ABC June 1954-June 1957
Monday 8:30-9:00 September 1957-June 1959 Monday
9:00-9:30 September 1962-June 1963
Adams, Val. "Firestone Show to End on June 1." New York Times,
15 April 1959.
Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network
TV Shows 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine, 1979; 5th edition,
Norman. "The Public Still Owns the Air." Saturday Review
(New York), 9 May 1959.
"Firestone at 8:30." Newsweek (New York), 21 June 1954. "Firestone
Loses Its Voice." Business Week (New York), 22 May 1954.
"Firestone's Voice Silenced by N.B.C." New York Times, 15
Jack. "Radio-TV in Review." New York Times, 26 May 1954.
"Victim of Ratings." New York Times, 19 April 1959.
"Old Opera House now Big TV Show." New York Times, 15 June
"Paramount Seeks to House TV Show." New York Times, 3 June
Price, Walter. "Before MTV, There was Opera." Los Angeles Times,
1 November 1992.
John P. "Television: Death At 31." New York Times, 2 June
Shepard, Richard F. "Firestone Series Returning to TV." New York
Times, 28 March 1962.
John Wendell. An Historical and Descriptive Analysis of the "Voice
of Firestone" Radio and Television Program, 1928-1959 (Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Michigan, 1961.)
Company Voice; Music