The March Toward War: The March of Time as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Time Empire
Time Marches—On Radio!
Time Marches—On Film!
Advertising the March
Life and Advertising Tie-ins
Theater Distribution
Citizen Kane and Other Imitators
 Load torpedo

Time Marches--on Radio!

Von Zell
Above, narrator Harry Von Zell, and below, narrator Westbrook Von Voorhis


New York Times radio schedule featuring early March of Time listing

Washington Post radio schedule featuring March of Time listing

Introduced in 1923 by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, Time magazine aimed to offer a "summary of the week's news which interpreted it in the light of past events, social and political trends, and prognostications of future change." The magazine at first was an amalgam of news items from leading newspapers without acknowledgement or payment to their sources.1

Luce and Hadden invited Roy Larsen, a Harvard graduate who successfully ran the Harvard Advocate, to be advertising manager at Time; he rejected their initial offer but later became circulation manager there. Under his guidance, readership increased from 25,000 in 1923 to 200,000 in 1928. Larsen dabbled in modest news radio formats until proposing to Luce (Hadden had died in 1929) that they make a "well-financed half-hour show."2 The title and theme song of the show came from a Broadway song of the same name, and "Time-Marches On!", the infamous expression which managed to advertise Time and offer an appropriate segue between news segments, was crucial to getting the show on the air.3

The show debuted, appropriately enough, on March 6, 1931 on the CBS radio network.4 It took as many as 75 people to produce the radio show5, and radio historian Paul White broke down the numbers further: each week staff spent 1,000 man-hours—more than 33 hours for each minute of broadcast time. Broken down, there were 500 hours spent on news research, writing and rewriting; 400 hours on cast and sound crew rehearsal; 60 hours for music rehearsal; and 40 hours for clerical work.6 White wrote that the narrator was the most important person working on March of Time: "It is he who sets the scene, supplies the transitions when music and sound will not in themselves suffice, and generally is to radio drama" what the subtitle was to the old silent movies. The fact that radio drama is necessarily one-dimensional, that it must appeal solely to the ear, calls for someone to interpret and to place the action."7 March of Time "Voice of Time" narrators included Westbrook Van Voorhis (who also played the Voice of Fate on the radio show initially), Ted Husing, and Harry Von Zell, the original "Voice of Time."

Larsen and de Rochemont
Larsen, left, and Louis de Rochemont

March of Time employed a number of famous actors to re-enact events, including: Agnes Moorehead, Nancy Kelly, and Jeannette Nolan (all of whom played Eleanor Roosevelt at different times); Art Carney, Bill Adams, and Stats Cotsworth (All FDR); Dwight Weist (Hitler), Edwin Jerome (Stalin and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie); Ted di Corsia (Mussolini); Peter Donald (Neville Chamberlin), Jack Smart (Huey Long), Maurice Tarplin (Winston Churchill), Gary Merrill, Kenny Delmar, Arlene Francies, Ray Collins, Pedro de Cordoba, Porter Hall, Arnold Moss, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez, John McIntire, Everett Sloane, and last but not least, Orson Welles, who later parodied March of Time in Citizen Kane.8

The Time radio show blended camp drama with news of the week, combining frequent stories on international events, fed by such news-gathering organizations as United Press9, with news on American politics, the Depression, sports, science and medicine, Hollywood, and culture. An August 28, 1935 show included: a re-enacted discussion between Guglielmo Marconi and Mussolini about Marconi's new invention, radio waves that can stop engines—including mechanized armaments—in their tracks; a report on the Canadian "Baby Race," which awards $500,000 to the winner; a story on the socialist head of the Alberta, Canada government who planned to pay all citizens $25 per month; and feature on a mother and daughter who are rescued from Death Valley. The show reveled in news of the odd, but didn't fail to bring critical events to the public's attention, particularly as the war in Europe loomed closer.

Although the show reached millions, it was almost shut down in 1932 (and again in 193610) because it was losing money for the company. In the end, the program continued after 22,000 listeners wrote the network to protest, and it seems likely the popularity of the show carried it through the crisis of 1936 as well.11 Although the show often just advertised for Time or Life magazines alone, other advertisers throughout its history included Servelle Electrolux, Remington Rand, Wrigley12 and Baker's Chocolate. Historian Raymond Fielding reported that Wrigley's sponsorship ended in the late 1930s due to protests from German groups who complained about Time's increasingly anti-Nazi positions.13

The show lasted until 1945, flipping back and forth during its 14 years from a 15-minute, five-days-a-week format to 30 minutes, one day a week. The tough production schedule and lofty aim of the show led it to be characterized by one reviewer "as probably the toughtest job on the air."14


  • March of Time's Daily Schedule." Billboard. 27 July 1935.
    This Billboard article covers some of the behind-the-scenes business, revealing that United Press and possibly A & P may have fed news reporting to March of Time.
  • "75 Employees Behind 'March of Time' Programs; Alternate Set of Bosses." Variety. 21 August 1935.
    This Variety article reveals the five-night-per-week schedule took its tool as alternate directors were required. At the end of the article the author notes that Roosevelt's voice is banned (at the President's request).
  • "'March of Time' Changes Mind." Billboard. 12 October 1935.
    The March of Time's future was uncertain as it used the five-days-per-week format for only 13 weeks. The difficulty of having fresh news —rather than weekly dramatizations—each day is cited as a reason.
  • "'March of Time' on 5-Time Basis." Billboard. 27 February 1935.
    The March of Time changed formats at least four times, this 1937 article reveals.
  • "'Time' Tarries; CBS Stations Fret." Variety. 26 February 1936
    The show's future was apparently again in question early in 1936, as radio stations were already preparing for replacements for the show. But CBS was anxious to continue the show.


  • Variety. 20 January 1935
    The program is recognized "as probably the toughest job on the air." The reviewer suggests they moved to a multi-day format to sell more ad time, with the result that "speed and commercialism are substituted for quality."
  • Variety. 28 August 1935
    Regarding a piece on Mussolini, the reviewer notes that "this item was dramatic enough due to the belligerent statements quoted from Il Duce."
  • Billboard. 1 September 1935
    This review was published as the program moved from a 30-minute, once-a-week format to a 15-minute, five-day-a-week affair. The reviewer complains about the short length and the loudness of the program. "...The possibilities of propaganda in this program are even greater."
  • Variety. 18 December 1935
    "Undoubtedly some of the scenes have been duplicated previously, but they are superbly blended with the dialog background."

1 Fielding, Raymond. The March of Time, 1935-1951. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 7.

2 Fielding, 9-10.

3 Fielding, 10-11.

4 Ibid.

5 "75 Employees Behind 'March of Time' Programs; Alternate Set of Bosses." Variety. 21 August 1935: 51.

6 White, Paul. News on the Air. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1947. 249-250.

7 White, 250.

8 Fielding, 12-13.

9 "March of Time's Daily Schedule." Billboard. 27 August 1935.

10 "'Time' Tarries; CBS Stations Fret." Variety. 26 February 1936: 44.

11 Fielding, 18-19.

12 Fielding, 19.

13 Ibid.

14 "March of Time." Variety. 20 January 1935: 41.