In the Magic Key

Milton Cross (1897-1975) The voice of RCA's Magic Key and the Metropolitan Opera(Photo: wikipedia)
Milton Cross (1897-1975) The voice of RCA's Magic Key and the Metropolitan Opera(Photo: wikipedia)

RCA Magic Key broadcasts were heard over the RCA Blue Network from 1935 to 1939. The program originated from what is now the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York (home today to David Letterman) and went out live coast to coast on a Sunday night.

A complete broadcast from May 7, 1937 has just been made available. This broadcast celebrates  National Music Week. There’s music by George W. Chadwick and Jerome Kern, along with rare aria by Romano Romani. National Music Week is proudly endorsed by David Sarnoff. The NBC Symphony was featured on Magic Key when Toscanini was not broadcasting live from Studio 8-H in Rockefeller Center or Carnegie Hall.

Here’s what radio was. RCA had its own orchestra, conducted by Howard Black. David Sarnoff, CEO of RCA poured money into these broadcasts, considering them high brow and good for business.

Weekly guest stars included Cole Porter, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, Efrem Zimbalist and Jose Iturbi.

The  host was none other than golden toned Milton Cross-host of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts from the first program in 1931 until his death in 1975.

Here’s Magic Key, May 7, 1937. The featured artist is soprano Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981). She began her career in vaudeville with her sister Carmela. At age 21 Caruso brought her to the Met, and there she remained, when not in Hollywood or on the road, until she retired in 1938.  Fast forward to 14:00 for a gorgeous My Old Kentucky Home

Ponselle was a regular on Magic Key. She seldom sang the big arias by Verdi that made her famous. Occasionally she’d do bit from Carmen but it was mostly “songs you loved to hear’. This broadcast was no exception. Two or three songs were good for a $2,000 fee.