Command Performance

Bob Hope on Command Performance

Command Performance was a radio program produced exclusively for the U.S. troops and aired between 1942 and 1949. The program was broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRS) and transmitted by shortwave to the troops overseas, it was not broadcast over domestic U.S. radio stations.  Most of the episodes were recorded before a live studio audience in the Vine Street Playhouse in Hollywood, California.

The basic theme of the program was that soldiers would send in requests for a particular performer or program to appear. They also suggested unusual ideas for music, sketches, or sounds from home on the program, for example: "Ann Miller tap dancing in military boots"; "a sigh from Carole Landis"; "foghorns on San Francisco Bay"; "Errol Flynn taking a shower"; "a slot machine delivering the jackpot" and "Bing Crosby mixing a bourbon and soda for Bob Hope". Top performers of the day appeared, including Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and The Andrews Sisters.

The first Command Performance was broadcast on March 1, 1942, almost exactly three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Its success paved the way for the creation of the Armed Forces Radio Service in May 1942. Time magazine described Command Performance as being, "the best wartime program in America".  I'd have to agree with them.  It's ironic and a shame that very few listeners in the United States ever heard it because of it's exclusive distribution to the U.s. Troops around the world.  Variety Magazine also observed that “sometimes the language on these shows is just a little more robust than is passed by standard broadcasting stations. Jack Benny, as we recall, last Sunday night encouraged our fighting men to ‘give ’em hell.'”  Oh, that salty language of Jack Benny.  :)

The main reason that the show wasn't broadcast on domestic U.S. radio stations was that performers volunteered their talents for the program. In 1943, Tune In magazine estimated if "Presented by a commercial sponsor, Command Performance would have a weekly talent cost of $50,000."  Another reason was that performing and production unions waived their rules for the war effort on the condition that the shows were only broadcast to service personnel.

An episode of Command Performance generally ran for 30 minutes with the exception of holiday specials.  The program featured some great musical performances and entertainment that can only be found on these shows.

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