Ma Perkins was the story of “America’s mother of the air,” a benevolent, self-sufficient widow who owned and managed a lumber yard in the fictitious town of Rushville Center. The show premiered in August 1933 on Cincinnati station WLW; by December, it had moved to WMAQ/Chicago and joined the NBC network.
As played by Virginia Payne, Ma Perkins was kind and sometimes trusting to a fault. She offered homespun philosophy to any and all who needed it, including her children Evey and Fay, Evey’s husband Willy and Ma’s business partner, the down-to-earth Shuffle Shober.
The brainchild of soap opera creators Frank and Anne Hummert, Ma Perkins had its share of melodrama, cliffhangers and personality conflicts, but it could also move at the slow, deliberate pace indicative of life in a small town.
The show ran on NBC and CBS—sometimes simultaneously—until 1960. At times, it was broadcast in Canada, Hawaii and throughout Europe. Payne, who was only 23 when Ma Perkins first went on the air, played the title role for the show’s entire run.
Virginia Payne died on February 10, 1977.
Ma Perkins and Virginia Payne were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.