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The Voice of Firestone is a long-running radio and television program of classical music. The show featured leading singers in selections from opera and operetta. Originally titled The Firestone Hour, it was first broadcast on the NBC Radio network on December 3, 1928 and was later also shown on television starting in 1949. The program was last broadcast in 1963.
Performers on the series included Rise Stevens, Robert Merrill, Thomas Hayward (tenor), Eleanor Steber, Igor Gorin, Nadine Conner, Dorothy Warenskjold, and Thomas L. Thomas. The program was sponsored by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and aired on Monday nights at 8:30pm Eastern Standard Time from its 1928 inception. In 1948, The Voice of Firestone was the first commercial radio program to be carried simultaneously on both AM and FM radio stations. Firestone's 25th anniversary program was broadcast November 30, 1953, and it was heard on radio until 1956.
Firestone sponsored a related television series, The Voice of Firestone Televues, one of the first television series with programming other than news or sports coverage, and according to researchers of television history, may have been the first series in U.S. television history broadcast beyond New York on a network on a regularly scheduled basis. It began on November 29, 1943 on New York's WNBT-TV, when there were very few television sets. First seen on the NBC television network in April 1944, it continued until January 1947 with special interest topics in a documentary film format. The Voice of Firestone radio-TV programs were known not only for classical music, but for their support of organizations such as 4-H and the United Nations.
When The Voice of Firestone arrived on television in the fall of 1949, NBC simulcast the show on radio and TV, one of the first programs to use that technology. The show was considered to be very prestigious (due to the involvement of many classical musicians and Broadway musical stars), but the ratings were always small. In an era when successful programs were capable of garnering as many as half the viewers available in a given time slot, The Voice of Firestone only received three million viewers, a comparatively small number for what was rapidly becoming the nation's most influential mass medium. In 1954, NBC asked Firestone's permission to move the program to a different night or time period. Firestone refused, and the television series was picked up by ABC. The radio series stayed with NBC and ended in 1956.
It continued to air at 8:30 on Mondays until 1959, when ABC insisted on moving the program to a later time period. Firestone refused, and the show was canceled entirely. Although the ratings were low at the time of its cancellation, the fan outcry was very loud, with some writing their congressmen. ABC tried to appease the fans with Music for a Summer Night, a copy of the show minus Firestone, but the results were not favorable. The 30th anniversary show was telecast November 24, 1958.
In 1962, The Voice of Firestone returned, airing at 10pm on Sunday nights. The same relatively small number of viewers tuned in, and the show was canceled permanently in May 1963.
The Firestone family's involvement in the show was very personal. Idabelle Firestone (Mrs. Harvey Firestone) was the composer of the program's opening and closing themes, the songs "If I Could Tell You" and "In My Garden". Tenor Richard Crooks, the longtime host of the radio broadcasts (from 1928 to 1945), recorded "If I Could Tell You" for RCA Victor. Soprano Eleanor Steber, a frequent Firestone host following Crooks, also recorded both of Idabelle Firestone's songs.
The orchestra leaders were Hugo Mariani (1928-31), William Daly (1931-36), Alfred Wallenstein (1936-43) and Howard Barlow (1943 on). Featured singers included Lorraine Donahue, Bill Toole and Bill Metcalf. Hugh James was the announcer.