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Candid Microphone

Premiere Episode: 1947-07-06
Final Episode: 1950-08-29

Genre(s):
Nonfiction
Audience Participation

RadioGoldindex Listing

Broadcast History:

Dates: 7/6/1947 - 9/21/1947
Network: ABC
Days: Sunday
Starting time: 7:00PM
Sponsor: Sustaining

Dates: 9/29/1947 - 10/20/1947
Network: ABC
Days: Monday
Starting time: 9:00PM

Dates: 10/30/1947 - 4/29/1948
Network: ABC
Days: Thursday
Starting time: 8:00PM

Dates: 5/6/1948 - 9/23/1948
Network: ABC
Days: Thursday
Starting time: 9:30PM

Dates: 6/6/1950 - 8/29/1950
Network: CBS
Days: Tuesday
Starting time: 9:30PM
Sponsor: Philip Morris

Series Synopsis: The Candid Microphone was the result of Allen Funt’s experience as a radio writer and “gimmick man.” He had written for Eleanor Roosevelt on her Sweetheart Soap chat show of 1940–41. He had worked for agencies and developed stunt ideas for Truth or Consequences. He left the agencies with 14 ideas and $300, he said; soon he had $14 and 300 ideas. But he had developed one idea into a gimmick show called Funny Money Man. It was “the stupidest show in radio,” said Funt, but at its peak it was bringing him $1,200 a week. The idea was loosely rooted in the scavenger hunt: Funt wrote scripts, which were sold to individual stations, where local personalities would handle the emcee work. While stationed in Oklahoma with the Army, he came up with the idea that would make his fortune. He was reading the gripe column in the GI newspaper Yank. It might be interesting, he thought, to record something along this line for broadcast. The problem was that “ordinary people” often became rigid and tense before a microphone. But what if he could record them on the sly: hide the microphone and let them know they had been duped only after the interview was preserved on the wire machine? After his discharge, he rented an office and opened for business. There were no portable recorders then: the smallest was a bulky wire recorder whose two parts weighed more than 100 pounds. He would have to lure people to his office and record them there. He had located on the 15th floor of a building across from Grand Central Station, well outside the radio district so his victims would have no reason to suspect him of stunt-show shenanigans. He had the office wired for sound and filled an adjacent room with sensitive recording equipment. One of his first subjects was the man who came to paint the sign on his door. His name was Lester Cannon. Funt told Cannon that was the name he wanted on his door, Lester Cannon. The sign man balked, and Funt learned something that he would refine and use for years. If he simply eavesdropped, he’d fill up his spools with a lot of dull talk, but if he asked a conventional man to do something unconventional, anything could happen. Cannon, for example, would only paint his name on Funt’s door after Funt agreed to change it to Kannon. Lester Kannon became Funt’s working alias in the early days of The Candid Microphone. Funt called a locksmith, who arrived to find the secretary chained to her desk. Funt explained that he had lost the key and it was time to unlock the woman so she could go to lunch. The locksmith was indignant; Funt was bellicose. He explained that the secretary was a clock-watcher who never got anything done unless she was shackled. “You better not get caught doing this,” the locksmith said. Funt snapped, “That’s my business.” He would soon be known as the nerviest man in radio: he’d ask anybody to do anything, in a deadpan way that made the victims believe he was absolutely serious. “His victims have never met such a stupid, exasperating young man,” wrote reporter Jerome Beatty in an early profile. But “no one has ever taken a punch at him—thus far, at least.” In other stories he was described as “a great actor” whose “Joe Blow personality” could sell almost any ridiculous premise. “He can make believe that he’s a bootblack one day or a dentist the next,” wrote Radio Life. “He’s posed as a genius, a dolt, even a madman, and gotten away with it.” Soon a truly portable recorder came on the market. It weighed 27 pounds and could be disguised as a travel bag. Its microphone could be passed off as a hearing aid or hidden in a phony arm cast. Funt took it into a candy store and asked the saleswoman to “squish” the chocolates so he could tell the soft ones from the nuts. He posed as a shoe salesman and “lost” one of the shoes a customer had worn in. He stationed an engineer behind a tree to record his attempts to pick up girls on a park bench. The show was hard work. Sometimes Funt and his assistants worked all night setting up their equipment, then waited all day for just the right victim. He went into many candy stores before finding the clerk who would backtalk him. In the park, he was brushed off by a succession of potential pickups before a witty young woman arrived who was perfect (she turned out to be married and was stringing him along). Imagination and cheek were the key ingredients, with a vast reservoir of patience. For every show using half a dozen bits, at least 60 were recorded and thrown away. The editing process was painfully tedious, as many as 100 splices made in a piece of wire that yielded a three-minute stunt. Occasionally he snipped for “decency,” inserting a soft female voice cooing “censored-censored-censored” in that spot. The victims usually turned out to be good sports. Seldom was Funt denied permission to air his pranks. “You’re on Candid Microphone,” he would say, and most people succumbed to Funt’s offer of $15, anonymity, and the thrill of being on the air. But the show had problems: it was simply too real, and people refused to believe it. Wrote Jerome Beatty: “Candid Microphone is in the same fix that caused Information, Please and The Quiz Kids to fail, at the beginning, to attract all the listeners they deserve.” People just wouldn’t believe the wits were that witty, the kids that smart, or the stunts on The Candid Microphone unstaged. The Quiz Kids and Information, Please survived to become important pieces of radio heritage, but it would take a camera to bring out the best in Funt’s act. It was first seen on ABC-TV Aug. 10, 1948, still titled Candid Microphone. As Candid Camera, it achieved TV fame, seen on various networks for more than 20 years. On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning
Creator: ***  
Cast: Allen Funt(Host)
Don Hollenbeck(Narrator)
Lamont Johnson(Narrator)
Director: Joseph Graham
Announcer: Ken Roberts
 Dorian St George