Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Debuted on Radio 85 years Ago Today

It was on November 7 1932 that the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuted on CBS Radio. It was historic as the first ever science fiction radio show. The series was based on the comic strip of the same name, which debuted on  January 7 1929. A Sunday comic strip was added alongside the daily strip on March 30 1930. The comic strip itself was based on  Philip F. Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D., which had been published in the August 1928 issue of the science fiction pulp magazine Amazing Stories.

The original incarnation of the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was a 15 minute show airing on CBS Radio from Monday to Thursday.  The show was cut back to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in 1936. It then went off the air on May 22 1936.  It would be three years before Buck Rogers would return to radio. This time it aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Mutual aired it from April 5 to July 31, 1939. After a break of over a year, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century returned for a brief run from May 18 to July 27 1940.  This run included a 30 minute version of the show that aired on Saturday.

Buck Rogers would be absent from the airwaves before returning on September 30 1946, once more on Mutual. This version was 15 minutes long on weekdays. It lasted until March 28 1947.

The success of the original version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would play a role in making the already popular comic strip even more popular. A year after the radio show debuted, in 1933, the first Buck Rogers toys appeared on store shelves. That same year Whitman published 12 Buck Rogers Big Little Books. Also in 1933 cereal maker Kellogg's of Battle Creek put out a  giveaway comic. They published another one in 1935. In 1939 Universal Pictures released the movie serial Buck Rogers.

Given the success of the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, it is surprising that it did not immediately lead to other science fiction radio shows. Buck Rogers's rival comic strip Flash Gordon was adapted as a radio show in 1935 and was notable for featuring Gale Gordon in the lead role. That having been said, it lasted a little under a year and Flash Gordon, although highly successful in other media, never returned to radio. For much of the Thirties and Forties, science fiction would only occasionally appear in episodes of such anthology shows as Suspense  and Escape. There would not be a rush toward sci-fi radio shows until the early Fifties, when radio shows such as Planet Man, Dimension X, Space Patrol (based on the TV show of the same name), Tom Corbett (also based on TV show), and yet other shows aired.

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