March of Time

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MARCH OF TIME. The March of Time presented dramatizations and reports of contemporary news events on network radio from 1931 through 1945. The show imitated the style of the movie newsreel, complete with inflated narration and urgent musical accompaniment. Before the advent of communication satellites, live broadcasts from remote locations were difficult, unpredictable, and often impossible. The March of Time, in response, employed an ensemble of actors to dramatize the news. Sponsored and produced by Time magazine, the show re-lied on Time's global staff of reporters, many of whom were on call for last-minute script changes. The March of Time was, in essence, a breaking news docudrama. Time aggressively retained editorial control over the show's content, even when other sponsors joined the program.

For most of its run, the March of Time was narrated by Westbrook Van Voorhis. His authoritative, stentorian voice became a trademark of the show, as did his closing declaration: "Time—marches on!" Among the wide variety of news stories covered, the Great Depression and the events leading to and during World War II dominated the reports. Among the figures dramatized regularly were Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. Actors who provided voices included Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Jeanette Nolan, and in the role of FDR, Art Carney.

The March of Time aired on CBS from 1931 through 1937, on NBC from 1937 through 1944, and on ABC from 1944 to 1945. It was a half-hour live weekly broadcast except during the 1935–1936 season, when it was heard for fifteen minutes nightly. As the show matured and technology advanced, the March of Time became a more conventional news broadcast, offering in some important ways a model for the contemporary news show. Dramatizations became less and less frequent, and when they were used they were approached with an almost scholarly attention to detail. More documentary sound was employed through reports from correspondents in the field.

Even from its beginning in 1931, however, the March of Time was considered a news program, and millions of Americans learned of the events of the turbulent times through this series. By later standards, of course, dramatizations and synthesized sound effects would be considered unacceptable by legitimate news operations. It should be remembered, however, that the standards of broadcast journalism had not yet been established in 1931. Even into the late 1940s, for example, NBC's early TV news broadcasts bore the name of the sponsors: the Esso Newsreel, the Camel Newsreel Theatre, and the Camel News Caravan. Just as a news broadcast today bearing the name of an oil or tobacco product would be unthinkable, so too would be some of the techniques used by the March of Time. The docudrama style is now primarily employed in made-for-TV movies and tabloid newsmagazines.

ABC revived the March of Time, renamed the March of Time through the Years, for prime-time television in 1951 with some significant changes. The program now relied upon historical documentary film footage and live guests. Westbrook Van Voorhis returned as host of the show in 1952, replacing John Daly, but the series ended in December of that year.


Dunning, John. Tune in Yesterday: The Ultimate Encyclopedia ofOld-Time Radio. 1925–1976. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

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


See alsoRadio .