The Monitor Beacon

Recognize that sound? Chances are, if you or your family took a long weekend road trip anytime between June 12, 1955 and January 26, 1975, you know that it’s the Monitor Beacon — a sort of theme song to the weekend-long NBC Radio show known as the Monitor. Since Stuckey’s was once a proud sponsor of the program, we thought we’d take a look back at the program and how it helped to save radio stars from video … at least for a while.

Television Nearly Kills the Radio Star

Stuckey’s Billboard
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In 1955, television was becoming so popular that you could find them in half of the homes in America. At the same time, many radio stars like Jack Benny and Bob Hope were making the jump from radio to television. This put Sylvester “Pat” Weaver — then NBC radio and television network president — into a rather precarious position. How could he keep NBC radio afloat while also learning to paddle in the sea of popularity that was television?

Weaver was a big believer that radio and television should both entertain and educate, so he came up with the idea of Monitor that would do both of these things. On April 1, Weaver went on the air at NBC Radio and, for over 40 minutes, let his affiliates and associates know that something new and different was coming to NBC Radio. He would bring together the best in entertainment, news, sports, travel, music, and more from all around the world for a weekend of what he described as a “kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria” — all led by “Communicators” that would preside over the fast-paced 40-hour long program.

The Birth of the Pilot and a Beacon of Success

Of course, all of that national radio advertising also brought more customers into Stuckey’s.
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On May 2, 1955, a “practice” hour of Monitor was performed on a closed-circuit radio feed in what some would later say was the birth of the “pilot” episode we have all become familiar with today. At 4:00 on June 12 of that year, Monitor was live on air, opening with its now famous audio signature the Monitor Beacon — a mix of audio-manipulated telephone tones and an oscillator sounding out the letter “M” in Morse code, followed by the tag line: “You’re on the Monitor beacon.”

On its first night, Monitor would run for only eight hours; however, by the next weekend it would be up to its full 40-hour potential and filled with music, news, sports, comedy, interviews, and many, many other popular programs and genres. By the end of the year it had become so popular with both homebodies and road trippers alike that everybody who was anybody at both NBC Radio and NBC Television wanted to be a Communicator.  And everyone from politicians to comedians wanted to be (and often were) on the program.

The Sinking of the Monitor

By the 1960s, however, interest started to wane, and Monitor would be cut down to only 16 hours every weekend. By the 1970s, many local radio stations that once aired Monitor were now replacing the show with local disc-jockeys. As a result, national advertisers jumped ship. (However, according to the June 1968 issue of Broadcast magazine, “Stuckey’s … has purchased a 12 -week sponsorship in NBC Radio’s Monitor to advertise its highway stores.”)

The Monitor may be off the air, but you can still catch one of the Stuckey’s – our CEO Stephanie Stuckey -on the radio as she talks about rebuilding the brand her grandfather started back in 1936. Keep an eye on our social media to find out the next time you can find her on-air.
Image: Stuckey’s Corp.

After hiring popular radio DJs like Don Imus and Wolfman Jack to host its Saturday night programming, the writing was on the wall at NBC. A later attempt at an overhaul of the program, while still maintaining that it had “something for everyone,” also didn’t work. Down to six hours and four communicators, Monitor ended on January 1975, nearly 20 years after it first began. However, it still had one last trick up its sleeve — the “Grand Finale” — a retrospective of moments from the show’s long run that would become a trademark of many television shows on NBC.

For those interested, you can still listen to Monitor on your next cross-country road trip or on your way to a weekend getaway, as many clips can be found all over the Internet. So, tune in on your next adventure and maybe you’ll hear Gene Rayburn (yes, that Gene Rayburn of 1970s Match Game fame) tell you how you can relax, refresh, and refuel at your next Stuckey’s stop.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!

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