Christmas Radio Serials for Children: Cinnamon Bear, Jump Jump and the Ice Queen, & Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon
Serial stories were always a great way to attract the kids to sit still in front of the radio on a regular basis. A 'cliff-hanger' ending to each episode, compelling characters, and a fun story were enough to bring the kids back every afternoon for shows like Jerry of the Circus, and Magic Island. The syndicated serials followed a pretty standard formula; there would be plenty of long musical interludes over which a local broadcaster could place advertising into the fifteen minute episodes. Of course, in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas there is a the added anticipation of waiting for Santa Claus and the magic of the holiday!
The earliest and most loved of the Christmas serials is The Cinnamon Bear, first broadcast in 1937. The program was produced in Hollywood for TransCo, with a high-powered radio cast featuring Barbara Jean Wong, Gale Gordon, and Joseph Kearns. Local sponsors in several markets made The Cinnamon Bear a Christmas tradition, especially department stores who billed Paddy O'Cinnamon as Santa Claus's 'right-hand man' and made him part of their Christmas themed store decorations.
In 1938 C.P. MacGregor Syndications brought us Jonathon Thomas and His Christmas On The Moon. Although Jonathan Thomas is arguably better written than The Cinnamon Bear, the story never really caught on with sponsors, and seems to have become a lost classic. The story is a little more involved than Cinnamon Bear, and a lot of the twelve minutes (after giving a portion of the 15 broadcast to the sponsors) of the later episodes is necessarily devoted to recapping the story. This helps to make the series fun for modern audiences who will likely be enjoying the the show on some type of mp3 player- the show can be portioned out in daily doses like the original, which helps to build anticipation for the Christmas Holiday.
The newest of our Christmas serials was produced in 1947, and is based on a character who had already been syndicated for kids. Jump Jump was a three-inch tall elf (whose voice was created by playing a 33 1/3 rpm recording at 77 rpm) who helped Mary of Holiday House to tell nursery rhymes in a daily syndicated program. The nursery rhymes were popular enough that entrepreneurs hit upon the idea of marketing dolls based on the characters. To help market the toys, Jump Jump and the Ice Queen was produced, introducing the character of Tim, who travels to the North Pole with Jump Jump, Mary Holiday, and other friends on a mission to save Santa's Reindeer. It is a very simple production featuring an organ, simple sound effects, and three actors performing all of the voices, but it is a very sweet and compelling Christmas story.
The best way to enjoy these Christmas Radio Shows is to share them with some of your favorite kids, and if at all possible to share them at the rate of one or two episodes a day during the period between Thanksgiving radio and Christmas. The idyllic image of a family gathered around the Christmas tree lights listening to the radio is compelling, but a little far-fetched in today's busy holiday season. But even family's that are separated can share the episodes through a daily video-chat or email. They can also be enjoyed as part of the commute during the holiday season. The stories, while not taxing by any means, are probably best enjoyed on at a time; there are enough details in each that mixing them could get confusing.
But mostly they are terrific fun to listen to, and hopefully they will make waiting for the magic of Christmas to arrive that much more fun! All these recordings and more are available from Old Radio Cat.