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  Spring 2012 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Spring 2012 issue.
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John Falter

The Illustrator's Pencil: John Falter from Nebraska to the Saturday Evening Post - Deb Arenz

John Falter was a Nebraska boy who made good. His artistic ability, drive, and genial nature helped him become one of the most successful American illustrators from the 1930s through the 1960s. His clients included such advertising giants as General Motors, Packard, Pall Mall, and Campbell's Soup. His art graced the pages of pulp classics, mainstream magazines like Good Housekeeping and McCall's, and the Saturday Evening Post, for which he completed 129 published covers. While he lived most of his adult life in New York City and Pennsylvania, the influence of his Nebraskan and Midwestern roots can be seen in his artwork. People and places he knew and remembered were common models or subject matter, and many pieces have Midwestern themes.

This article is adapted from an exhibit of the same title that opens at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln on April 6, 2011, and runs through August 9, 2013. The exhibit features items from Falter's own studio, the contents of which were donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society by his widow, Mary Elizabeth Falter Jones, and select pieces from other collections. The following pages contain selected images from the exhibit, revealing the creative spirit behind the illustrator's pencil.

Falls City to Kansas City
John Philip Falter was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1910 to a close-knit, artistic family. In 1916 parents George and Margaret moved John and his younger sister Suzanne to Falls City, where his father opened Falter's Clothing Store. Falter's family recognized and encouraged his artistic talent early on. During World War I, his grandmother sold stamps for the war effort by offering people who bought them Falter's drawing of the Kaiser riding a motorcycle. At seven Falter was enrolled in an art class taught by noted regional painter Alice Cleaver. He disliked the discipline of the class and soon was forging Cleaver's signature onto his own drawings so he could skip class without his mother knowing.

As a teenager Falter was interested in cartoons, movies, and jazz. His passion for jazz was lifelong--he became an accomplished self-taught musician--and surfaced occasionally as a theme in his paintings. As a young artist he was influenced by many of the popular cartoonists of the day: John Held, Jr., James Montgomery Flagg, Russell Patterson, Dorman Smith, and J. M. "Ding" Darling.

Falter's father took him to visit Darling, a syndicated cartoonist with the Des Moines Register, to investigate a career in cartooning after John graduated from high school in 1928. In later years Falter recalled: "Ding took one look at what I had done and said, 'This boy should be an illustrator not a cartoonist, because he doesn't caricature his work enough. He draws too well.'" At Darling's suggestion, John enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). His family followed him and eventually relocated in Atchison, Kansas.

At KCAI Falter studied under illustrator Monte Crews and learned the two fundamentals of illustration: depicting dramatic moments from text and conveying the meaning instantly to the viewer. Crews discouraged the use of photographs in setting the stage for a painting, thinking the resulting work would lack motion and life. He instead taught his students to use live models and props. Falter later said: "Monte led me into Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, all the great illustrators. He gave me a sense of what could be done with illustration and I got really interested."

The entire essay appears in the Spring 2012 issue

Todd Storz Top 40

Vox Populi of Omaha: Todd Storz and the Top 40 Radio Format in American Culture - Chris Rasmussen

On the morning of June 25, 1956, disc jockeys at the most-listened-to Omaha radio station, KOWH, broadcast that station employees had hidden six, ten-dollar checks inside books in the Omaha Public Library. When the librarians opened the doors at nine o'clock, they found a long line of adolescents-it was summer vacation-to greet them. This "mob," as the Omaha World-Herald put it, rushed in and set to grabbing and swinging books, hoping to jar loose a prize. They destroyed ninety volumes while inciting "chaos" in the stacks. Station owner Robert Todd Storz later offered the tongue-in-cheek defense that the giveaway had actually been intended to encourage library patronage. Unconvinced, the library demanded and received compensation. During the confusion, a few treasure hunters had wandered over to a different bastion of respectable Omaha culture, the Joslyn Art Museum. There the director disarmed his enthusiastic guests by explaining that there were no checks behind the pictures or furniture before adding, "But I'm glad to see you . . . We have some wonderful exhibits. Wouldn't you like to see them?" Deflated but still on the hunt, the seekers left and took to beating around the bushes outside Central High School.

Storz's KOWH rose to prominence in Omaha using an innovative radio format that he, along with others, helped create: Top 40. Giveaways and treasure hunts represented just one aspect of Top 40 programming strategy. Vibrantly populist, crassly commercial, and undeniably young, the Top 40 radio format transformed the radio industry in the 1950s by broadcasting the best-selling records over and over again and delighting a new generation of listeners with memorably motor-mouthed disc jocks. Along with a group of like-minded independent radio station owners, Storz recast radio for the television age and established a format that continues to influence American media. This article will look at how Storz developed the format and explain what Top 40 meant and means to American culture. The first section will examine Storz's innovations in station strategy and management, including the repetition of top-selling records, audience research, and his approach to young listeners that led to a recorded music-driven format that was particularly suited for the postwar radio audience. The second section will chart the rapid spread of Top 40, and show how the format combined efficiency with excitement while commercializing all aspects of the broadcast. The third section will interpret the role Top 40 format played in American youth culture by focusing on Storz station giveaways and promotions. Finally, this article will speculate on Top 40's legacy in the radio industry, American popular music, and society.

Omaha, Nebraska--Top 40 Test Site
The radio formula that Storz developed in Omaha during the 1950s appears simple. Broadcast records rather than live performances. Pare down the weekly allotment of hit songs to no more than the forty best-selling songs nationwide. Never let disc jockeys choose the records--their taste is too refined. Finally, maintain listener interest and bring the audience together through station promotions and giveaways that satirize contemporary society. This apparent simplicity masks the extent to which Top 40 has influenced conventional wisdom concerning commercial media. The format encouraged listeners to accept the record, rather than the performance, as the standard musical experience. In claiming to have transformed the disc jockey from a musical guide into a mirror of listener desire, Top 40 exalted the audience over the authorities and placed sales over established taste. It accelerated the ongoing commoditization of popular song and contributed to a dramatic increase in sales of 45 rpm singles. The format's market populism, most evident in the weekly countdowns of the top songs, resonated in an era of expanding prosperity and consumer choice. Storz's programming decisions also showed that he understood that the musical experience in postwar America was moving from bandstand and ballroom to the bedroom and the automobile. Postwar listeners exercised significant and increasing control over how, when, and where they could experience music, and Top 40 succeeded by making radio more responsive to these listeners.

According to Billboard's 1964 obituary, Storz thought up the Top 40 radio format while observing people in a bar picking songs at the jukebox. As the story goes, the light went on when Storz realized that despite a hundred options to choose from, bar patrons consistently chose the same song over and over again. As closing time approached, the long-suffering waitress searched out from among her tips a nickel, dutifully fed it into the machine, and punched in the record her customers had forced upon her all evening. Storz's associates have said the significance of this experience has been overstated, with some even claiming it never actually happened. Nonetheless it remains a compelling parable illustrating the essence of the Top 40 format and Storz's relationship to his audience. As a station owner Storz would not allow his musical preferences, or those of his subordinates, to interfere with what he believed was the audience's desire for repetition of popular records. In doing so, Storz created the essential Top 40 document--the limited playlist--that was essential to transforming radio to a music-driven medium for the television age.

The entire essay appears in the Spring 2012 issue.


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