From the 1920s through the 1950s, radio stations across the country aired "singing canaries" programs. These shows featured canaries—the actual birds—singing over organ music or orchestral music.
The show that started the craze was American Radio Warblers, a program that was created by Arthur C. Barnett of the Chicago ad agency Weston-Barnett Inc. for American Bird Products, which sold birdseed. The program featured organist Preston Sellers performing with 10 canaries who were billed as the "original feathered stars of the air." The "air," of course, referred to the radio airwaves, not the troposphere in which wild birds fly.
In 1952, Sales Management magazine summarized the history of the show:
Twenty-odd years ago a Chicago advertising man landed a birdseed account, and got an idea—a radio program of singing canaries with organ music. It's still going over Mutual, coast-to-coast. Like other radio stars, these canaries take time out in summer—that's their molting season.The Wikipedia article on American Radio Warblers says that the program ran from 1937 to 1952, but Broadcasting magazine reported in 1948:
Singing canaries of the American Radio Warblers 15-minute Sunday afternoon show on MBS, under sponsorship of American Bird Products Co. (Bird Seed), Chicago, returned to air Oct. 31 for its 22nd consecutive year.If Broadcasting is correct, then the show began in 1926.
The American Radio Warblers crossed over from radio to recording with a series of phonograph records that were produced and distributed by Barnett. One of these records, "Skaters Waltz," can be heard in the video link above. Barnett didn't restrict his efforts to the canary; he also released a bird-related instructional record, How to Teach Your Parrakeet to Talk, in 1951.
Singing canaries programs quickly became ubiquitous on the radio. In 1946, the book The First Quarter-Century of American Broadcasting remarked that singing canaries programs appeared "over too many stations to be listed here, affording hours of delightful entertainment to millions, particularly shut-ins."
One of the copycat programs that appeared in the wake of American Radio Warblers was called The American Warblers, a Sunday-morning show on Chicago radio that featured organist Edna J. Sellers.
At WWDC in Washington DC, morning man Art Brown played traditional and popular tunes on the organ to the accompaniment of singing canaries. Sam Smith claims that Brown could control when the canaries sang "because they would only warble in the key of A flat."
John B. Gambling's morning show on WOR in New York, which ran from 1925-1959, featured singing canaries and the orchestra of Vincent Sorey. Gambling's popular radio show was turned into a television program on WOR-TV, Get-Together with Gambling, in the late 1940s. A Billboard review of the TV show complimented Gambling's "blandly paternal" manner but said, "Talentwise...the show was literally for the birds. Gambling's telegenic aviary showed far more sales-savvy than the humans on the bill."
Hartz Mountain Products, an animal products company that later became known for its flea collars, sponsored a 15-minute singing canaries program called Master Radio Canaries on WGN in Chicago. Like the American Radio Warblers, the Master Radio Canaries (sometimes billed as the Hartz Mountain Master Canaries) also appeared on phonograph records. You can hear one of their recordings in the video link below.
The singing canaries programs appear to have died out in the 1950s, but if anyone knows of any examples that ran for longer, let me know in the comments.