Television Almost Went Without Music in 1949

Contract negotiations can be incredibly complex, drawn out and frustrating for all involved. In the television industry, they occasionally explode into the public eye in the form of strikes. In 1949, when the television industry was still new, negotiations with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) nearly forced the networks to stop using its music in all of their programs. Thanks to numerous extensions, however, it seems only a few programs had to go without ASCAP tunes.

The story begins in October of 1941 when fresh contracts between the CBS and NBC radio networks and ASCAP were signed, allowing the 1,250,000 songs in the ASCAP catalog to return to the airwaves (the contract would run through December 31st, 1949) [1]. According to The New York Times, while the new contract primarily impacted radio, “it also stipulated that ASCAP will provide its music free for television programs at the present time, but the right is reserved to cancel this service” [2]. I don’t know when the networks started paying for the right to use ASCAP music on television.

Negotiations to renew the contract began at least as early as May of 1947 between ASCAP and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) [3]. In early December of 1948, Billboard reported that ASCAP had announced it was canceling its licenses with the television networks within 30 days but was also offering sixty days past January 1st, 1949 for negotiations [4]. CBS initially announced it would stop using ASCAP music on recorded programs but never implemented the plan [5].

Negotiations continued for months until May 6th, 1949 when the NAB determined it could not accept the latest proposal from ASCAP; in return, ASCAP announced that as of June 1st the networks would need individual contracts with composers, authors and publishers for each and every song played on television, every single time [6]. On May 17th,The New York Times reported that the networks would no longer use ASCAP music “on programs which are kinescoped for delayed showings on stations not connected by coaxial cable” [7].

But on May 20th, ASCAP extended the contract through June 15th, allowing stations to use ASCAP music without paying because progress was underway on a new contract. Kinescoped programs thus began using ASCAP music right away. Regarding which programs were filmed without such music, The New York Times stated only that “the television networks earlier this week had started to omit such tunes on a number of their shows” [8].

ASCAP continued to extend the contract on roughly a monthly basis until October 17th when ABC, CBS and NBC signed a new five-year contract, retroactive to January 1st, 1949 [9]. It allowed for the blanket use of ASCAP music with rates roughly 10% above what was being paid for radio. DuMont and WOR-TV, according to The New York Times, would likely sign later on a “per-program” basis.

If anyone has any information about television programs that were filmed without ASCAP music please let me know, either by e-mailing me directly or using the comments section below.

Works Cited:

1 “ASCAP Music Back on 2 Networks.” New York Times. 30 Oct. 1941: 25.
2 Ibid.
3 “ASCAP, NAB Ponder Whether TV Is Grand or Small Right.” Billboard. 24 May 1947: 16. (Read Online at Read Online at Google Books).
4 “ASCAP Cancels TV License, Then Grants 60-Day Dicker; Confusion Rife at Two Webs.” Billboard. 11 Dec. 1948: 11 (Read Online at Google Books).
5 Ibid., 19 (Read Online at Google Books).
6 Gould, Jack. “Video Faces Loss of ASCAP Music.” New York Times. 7 May 1949: 15.
7 “Radio and Television: Video Networks Avoid ASCAP-Controlled Music for Kinescoped Programs.” New York Times. 17 May 1949: 48.
8 “Radio and Television: ASCAP Extends Video Deadline to June 15–Progress made on Contract.
9 “Radio and Television: 3 Major Networks Sign a 5-Year Contract With A.S.C.A.P for Use of Music on Video.” New York Times. 18 Oct. 1949: 54.
10 Ibid.


1 Comment

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I know that “THE LONE RANGER”, the first weekly half-hour filmed Western for network television in 1949, used production music from the original radio series [recorded in Mexico in 1940 and used until the last radio episode in 1954, consisting of “public domain” classical music passages- including the famous “William Tell Overture”- and slightly rewritten cues from Republic’s “Lone Ranger” serials of 1938-’39], courtesy of the radio show’s producer/owner, George W. {“Cheapo”} Trendle.

    “THE LIFE OF RILEY”, the original version produced by creator Irving Brecher [who concurrently produced the radio show starring William Bendix; he was unable to appear on TV at that time because of his RKO-Radio movie contract], starring Jackie Gleason, which also premiered in the fall of 1949 as the first weekly filmed sitcom on network television, used no background music [not because of the ASCAP dispute; Brecher simply couldn’t afford it, as he was paying $2000 a week out of his own pocket to make up deficit financing on filming the series], with the radio theme [by Lou Kosloff] WHISTLED under the opening and closing titles. An acapella chorus delivered sponsor Pabst Blue Ribbon’s jingles in the commercials.

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