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Jack Benny by a Mile

Informal poll puts Benny atop old radio show favorites

As a confirmed Jack Benny fan it’s no surprise to me that Benny recently topped an informal poll of old time radio fans as their favorite show.

Benny was the man, even before there was a “the man.” He’ll always be insurmountable.

The poll was conducted by RUSC, a website for old time radio shows. I’m no OTR expert and I’ll admit that I was unaware of it but it looks like another honey-hole for OTR programming. RUSC (for R U Sitting Comfortably) proprietor Ned Norris said of the poll, “It wasn’t a surprise to see Jack Benny being voted the top series … His popularity seems to have lived on through successive generations. It seems good entertainment will survive even with the radical changes in broadcasting and technology that we’ve seen over the last few decades.”

Benny actually had a series of shows for decades but they were really all the same show, just with different sponsors. With Mary, Don, Rochester, Dennis and various sidekicks such as Phil Harris and Mel Blanc and characters such as Frank “Yessssss” Nelson and Dennis’ overprotective mother, the Benny world changed at a glacial pace.

All the incarnations were highly rated and he transitioned to TV seamlessly. Considering that Benny is famous for his “look” (e.g. hand-on-the-chin look of semi-exasperation or a slow turn to the camera with plaintive eyes) it would seem surprising that he had ruled commercial radio where no one could see him.

Finishing second was “Gunsmoke,” the William Conrad version not the much more photogenic James Arness TV version. Third was the detective drama, “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” Following those were “The Shadow” (another William Conrad vehicle), “Fibber McGee & Molly,” “Suspense,” “Dragnet” (another successful TV transfer), “The Great Gildersleeve,” “X Minus One” and “Amos & Andy” (also a TV survivor though, like “Gunsmoke,” with a different cast).

Norris noted some surprises, “Some of the series you expected to see were conspicuous by their absence, such as “Sherlock Holmes,” “Lux Radio Theater,” and some of the big names of the day such as Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Burns & Allen, and even Bob Hope.”

The poll was conducted for several days starting Nov. 9. There were 600 respondents before Norris called a halt to the voting. Here is more on the poll.