Soap Operas: A Very Long History

Like this but with soap, right? I'm a guy, so...
Like this but with soap, right? I’m a guy, so…

A mainstay of modern America, the soap opera has been with us for a very long time. How long, you ask? How about since 1930, when Painted Dreams debuted on Chicago radio station WGN. The show about a widowed mother and her unmarried daughter was only fifteen minutes long per episode. It was picked up by CBS radio in 1938 and ran until 1942.

That’s no time at all, next to the longest airing soap opera of them all: Guiding Light. This long-lived soap opera started it’s run on NBC radio in 1937. GL switched over to CBS radio ten years later. It finally made it’s television debut nearly two decades after premiering on the radio. The year was 1956.

Sadly Guiding Light proved to be a passing fad, only managing to stay on the air for 72 years. Fans of the soap opera need never fear, though. The soap opera has long since become an international staple of daytime television. Shows are produced in Europe, Asia and Australia, to name just a few places.

That leaves just one mystery: Why is it called a soap opera? Back in the old radio days, the stations sought to have their shows sponsored by companies looking to advertise their wares. Being that these shows were listened to primarily by homemakers, soap products became the predominantly advertised goods. The name has stuck ever since.

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