Saturday, January 31, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 12

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The Mutual-Don Lee Network

Don Lee died suddenly of heart failure on August 30, 1934, at the age of 53, and Lee's son Tommy became president of the network.[9] This presaged a series of events which completely restructured network broadcasting on the West Coast over the next three years. CBS was apparently becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the structure of its western network. The affiliation between CBS and Don Lee, which had been a convenient mechanism for Paley to add affiliates quickly in 1929, was becoming a source of friction as CBS sought more and more control over its affiliates and programming. Apparently this friction even preceded Lee's death.[9] In any event, it came to a head March 19, 1936, when CBS consummated its purchase of KNX in Los Angeles for $1.25 million. This was the highest price ever paid for a radio station to that time. The acquisition of KNX gave CBS a 50 KW clear channel network-owned facility in an increasingly important market. As mentioned previously, Hollywood-originated programs were becoming highly sought after by the radio public, and KNX would become the springboard for a major CBS West Coast program origination effort.[10] (The network's new studios, Columbia Square in Hollywood, were officially dedicated April 30, 1938.[11])

Of course, the acquisition of KNX by CBS completely destroyed any remaining relationship with the Don Lee network. The purchase meant that KNX would replace KHJ as the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. KNX had been sharing a number of programs with KSFO in San Francisco, so it was natural as well for the CBS affiliation in the northern city to transfer from KFRC to KSFO. In fact, CBS soon announced it had leased KSFO with a later option to purchase the station outright.[12] (When that deal later fell through, CBS instead purchased KQW in San Jose, which became KCBS.) The entire structure of the Don Lee Network quickly collapsed. The McClatchy stations lost no time in joining with Hearst stations KYA San Francisco and KEHE Los Angeles to form the short-lived California Radio System.[14] The Northwest station group opted to remained with CBS.

As luck would have it, that same year a fledgling eastern network called the Quality Station Group had changed its name to the Mutual Broadcasting System and was rapidly seeking westward expansion. Tommy Lee contacted Mutual and lost no time in signing an agreement, and the Mutual-Don Lee Network was born. This was how Mutual became the fourth coast-to-coast network, and it also marked the beginning of a new West Coast chain that would continue operation into the fifties. The switch from CBS to Mutual was scheduled for December 29, 1936, the date which marked the expiration of the CBS/Don Lee contract. (In fact, for the last three months of the contract the CBS West Coast programs were produced at KNX and fed to KHJ for transmission to the network.[13] The stations on the new Mutual network were the four Don Lee-owned stations, plus KFXM San Bernardino, KDON Monterey, KXO El Centro, KPMC Bakersfield, KVOE Santa Ana, and KGDM Stockton.[15] Also joining the network via shortwave hookup were KGMB Honolulu and KHBC Hilo. (A number of Pacific Northwest stations were added the following year.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 11

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

Competition with Earl C. Anthony

One of the prevailing attitudes at all of the Don Lee stations was the fierce sense of competition between Don Lee and Earl C. Anthony. Like Lee, Anthony was the Packard distributor with locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. And, he also invested in radio with his two Los Angeles stations, KFI and KECA. Of course, the feeling of competition wasn't as fierce in San Francisco asit was at KHJ, but it was still very much a factor. The most glaring reminder of Anthony's competition was his auto dealership, located almost directly across the street from the Don Lee Building, in an empressive edifice with marble columns. The competition was so intense that, because KFRC's antenna was atop the Don Lee Building, Anthony had to have one on top of HIS building! Thus, a giant radio antenna was constructed, and the letters "KFI" mounted on the towers. Of course, there was no station attached to the antenna, but it was a fine antenna.

Paul C. Smith, later a broadcast arts instructor at the California State University at San Francisco, told an interesting anecdote in connection with the dummy antenna. In his early teens he had become fascinated by radio, and had just finished a tour of the KFRC facility when he spotted the Anthony towers. He crossed the street to the showroom and asked to see the radio station that was attached to the towers. The salesman on the floor smiled and said, "I'll show you what's attached to those towers". He led Smith up the grand mezzanine staircase and to the back of the building. He showed Smith into an office where a wire protruded from the wall and led to the back of a little Remler Scotty radio. "But the sign says KFI", Smith protested. "Right", said the salesman, "and it picks up KFI really well!"

(The KFRC antenna was dismantled in 1958, when the transmitter was moved to Islais Creek. But, the KFI towers stayed until 1972. It was ironic that the last of the scores of old-style T-type antennas once scattered about San Francisco was the only one never actually used for broadcasting.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 10

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The program was one of the first variety shows - a vaudeville production on the radio. During most of its existence, it claimed the vast majority of Bay Area radio dials. When KFRC was joined with KHJ, it was one of the first programs from San Francisco to be heard in Los Angeles, and its following in that city quickly equalled its northern counterpart. On June 7, 1930, the program made its debut on the entire Don Lee-Columbia Network, and by the end of the year, was being heard nationally on CBS. In California, the names Blue Monday Jamboree and Golden State Milk, the regional sponsor, became synonymous.

Holliway told a reporter in 1929 how the program was produced:

"Preparation for this program starts Tuesday morning, nearly a week before it will be presented. The staff begins to talk things over, making suggestions for comedy and discussing available music. They are searching for something out of the ordinary.

"They must provide episodes for Pedro, Frank Watanabe, Silas Solomon, Professor Hamburg and Simpy Fitts, all characters who participate on the broadcast. Suggestions and ideas come from all sides; a few do the actual assembling. In the matter of music, it is much the same. If it isn't a new number, the arranging department provides a new arrangement for it. Those in charge see to it that individual numbers fit into the program as a whole.

"Finally, the entire program -- announcements, "gags", musical numbers and continuity -- is typewritten and rehearsed. Nothing is done "ad lib". As a consequence, the listener hears a program which goes off smoothly, works up properly to climaxes, and has proper music to fit the occasion."

The Jamboree was literally Holliway's own program. He had devised the original concept, and wrote, directed and emceed the program, as well as playing frequent bit parts. Throughout his tenure at KFRC, the program remained his pet project.

One of the regulars on the Jamboree was a comedy team called Murray and Harris: Murray Bolen and Harris Brown. Bolen, later an executive with a Los Angeles advertising agency, told of his experiences with the program:

"As to Murray and Harris at KFRC -- we got there in 1929, and left seven years later after riding through a wonderful time for radio. Harris Brown and I had been to prep school together, went different ways through college, and met again six years later by accident. I was an announcer at KFI (1928) and Harris came into the station to perform in another musical act. He was astounded at our chance meeting, and influenced me to join him as a partner and leave the announcing biz. We rehearsed up an act and went on the road (vaudeville) and to KJR, Seattle, for a year. That went broke, and we came south to San Francisco via Orpheum vaudeville. There we re-met a friend, Meredith Willson, musical director, and he helped get Harrison Holliway to put us on KFRC's Jamboree and the Happy Go Lucky Hour. In 1929, we were a real great success, and radio was a big thing. We "personally appeared" all over the West, and generally whooped it up, along with the whole gang up there."

Personal appearances for the Jamboree were frequent. Not unusual was the week of May 31, 1929, when the entire troupe played 23 performances to audiences at the Pantages Theater in San Francisco.

Another popular follow-up to the Blue Monday Jamboree, called the Midnight Jamboree Revue, was a vaudeville variety program heard weekly from midnight to 2 AM. It was broadcast with the express purpose of reaching listeners in distant cities. The program was heard beginning May 7, 1928.

Still another interesting KFRC program was The Lady of the Clouds with Yvonne Peterson. On this program, Miss Peterson sang and played her ukulele from the passenger seat of an airplane as it flew over the city. A short-wave transmitter was used to relay the signal to the ground where it was re-broadcast. The show was first heard in 1928, but was short-lived.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 9

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

Blue Monday Jamboree

At KFRC, in addition to their own program, the Pearce Brothers were heard as regulars on another program, The Blue Monday Jamboree. This was the most popular West Coast program ever to come out of KFRC, if never as great a sensation nationally as Al Pearce. The Jambouree was Manager Harrison Holliway's own creation. It was a studio musical and comedy extravaganza first heard January 10, 1927. The program began as a fifteen minute feature heard Monday evenings at 8:00. Public acclaim was so sudden and overwhelming that by February 7, less than a month later, it had been expanded to two hours.

Here's how the Oakland Post-Enquirer described the Blue Monday Jamboree:

"The weekly frolic attracts more listeners probably than any other local program. Now an institution, the Jamboree each week parades the import personalities of the station before the microphone for two hours. The important factor that makes the Jamboree attractive is its spontaneity. Listeners never know what is coming next, and the surprise element adds auditors.

"It's a treat to watch the Jamboreeadors in action -- Frank Moss wearing his hat; stars standing behind a roped section waiting their turn to perform; Simpy Fitts playing a tune with a knife and fork on a plate borrowed from a nearby restaurant; Harrison Holliway wondering what Schnitzel or Eddie Holden, the Japanese, is going to ask him next; the Pearce Brothers, ever ready with an idea; Charles Bulotti, singing for the fun of it, leading a burlesque opera group; and some sixty or seventy people seated in the studio already crowded by a large orchestra, Mac's Gang and the artists."

Another newspaper, the Los Angeles Inside Facts, added:

"The studio itself is packed way out to the sidewalks on a Monday night, when an invited list of guests attend for a first-hand glimpse of their favorite entertainer, and are surprised to learn that Al Pearce, who sings "Barnacle Bill" in a high register, is a six footer; that Cotton Bond is not colored but white, and that Frank Watanabe is not a Japanese houseboy, but just Eddie Holden under another name."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 8

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

His guitar and songs had been strictly a hobby until the mid 1920's, when his real estate business suddenly failed. A KFRC executive saw he and his brother Cal performing a vaudeville sketch at a real estate convention, and they were immediately hired. Their program on KFRC, The Happy Go Lucky Hour, first debuted in 1929.

Alice Blue, KFRC staff organist, wrote of her recollections of Al Pearce's beginnings:

"The Gang was developed from a small program of three KFRC staffers, who had no idea what they had spawned -- Norman Neilsen, Monroe Upton and I. Norman sang ballads, Monroe emceed and I played the piano -- preceding Edna Fischer. We had a daily program -- no name -- in 1929 when we were all pretty much on our own without the regulations that came later. The small program grew and grew. Fan mail poured in and still we didn't really realize what we had. One day, Al Pearce walked in and said 'This is it.' He had an eye and an ear for show business. Soon our threesome had a cast that later included the original trio out. One time many years later I sat next to Al at a dinner and he drank a toast to the lost trio who started the ball rolling. It rolled far under Al's clever management."

The Happy Go Lucky Hour was a vaudeville-style variety show, featuring music and comedy skits with a cast of regular entertainers. There was singer Tommy Harris, Upton, who played the character "Lord Bilgewater", Harry "Mac" McClintock, Hazel Warner, Edna O'Keefe, Marjorie Lane Truesdale, Tony Romano, Abe Bloom, Cecil Wright and a host of others.

Al's most popular character was the bashful door-to-door salesman Elmer Blurt, whose knock on the door was always followed by the familiar line, "There's nobody to home today, I hope, I hope, I hope". Another was Miss Tizzie Lish, known for her bad recipes and good gags.

The popular program graduated from a West Coast offering to nationwide on CBS. It moved to NBC in 1933 and became Al Pearce and His Gang, a network staple until 1947. (Brother Cal never made the move to the networks, and returned to his previous career of real estate.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 7

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

Jack Benny's announcer Don Wilson also began his radio career at KFRC as a member of the "Piggly-Wiggly Trio". Manager Harrison Holliway was impressed with Wilson's voice, and asked him if he wanted to try his hand at announcing. He only snickered and mumbled something to the effect that he wasn't going to become a "cream puff". Ralph Edwards and Art Van Horn were also announcers; so was Mark Goodson, who had a knack for quiz shows. He had several on the Don Lee Network, such as The Quiz of Two Cities and Pop the Balloon before he left for New York and teamed up with Bill Todman. Art Linkletter was a staff member in KFRC's later years, and hosted a series of programs from the San Francisco Treasure Island World's Fair in 1939, as did announcer Mel Venter. Bea Benederet was San Francisco's famous lady announcer. Harold Peary and Morey Amsterdam both began their radio acting careers at 1000 Van Ness Avenue, and Juanita Tennyson and Merv Griffin were popular staff vocalists; John Nesbitt began his Passing Parade at KFRC. The list is endless.

One of the most successful performers to come out of KFRC was Al Pearce. Al, a native of San Jose, had always been a born entertainer, having first stepped before the microphone in 1916. The occasion was the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, where radio pioneer Doc Herrold was operating an experimental radio broadcasting station (later to become KQW). As Al once told a reporter:

"In 1916 I sang on KQW. We were trying to demonstrate that radio could be heard overseas. I sang "Hello Hawaii, How Are Yuh?" (In those days, we pronounced Hawaii, "Huh-why-yuh".) The only thing that picked us up was the U.S.S. Sherman, fifty miles off shore! "

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 6

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

In Paley's statement to the press announcing the new venture, he said:

"I know the new connection of the Columbia System on the Pacific Coast will react as a mutual benefit to the listeners in that territory and ourselves. These Pacific Coast stations have not been chosen to join the Columbia System on hearsay evidence, or on cold statistics alone. I personally toured the Coast during June and July of this year, and was convinced that through years of service to a faithful radio audience, the stations chosen are outstanding. It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that they will be our western brothers in the world's largest regular radio network."

Don Lee's companion announcement stated:

"With the growth of public interest in radio, we believe the affiliation of these stations with the Columbia Broadcasting System will be welcomed by radio fans not only on the Pacific Coast, but throughout the United States as well. It will enable us to listen to the finest programs from the East, and will permit the Easterners to get the best of western programs."

The new chain began operations January 1, 1930, and was called the Don Lee-Columbia Network. Two more stations, KGB in San Diego and KDB, Santa Barbara, were purchased by Don Lee and became a part of the network. Also, Lee had been feeding programs to the McClatchy Newspaper station KMJ in Fresno since 1928, and that station became a CBS affiliate, along with the other McClatchy stations (KFBK Sacramento, KWG Stockton, and KERN Bakersfield). Additionally, four Pacific Northwest stations called the "Columbia Northwest Unit" were added (KOIN, Portland, KOL, Seattle, KVI, Tacoma, and KFPY Spokane).[4]

KFRC and KHJ originated numerous programs for the West Coast network. CBS programs were heard in the early dinner hours, and the Don Lee programs were fed after 8:00 when the eastern programs ceased.[5] For these later evening broadcasts, KFRC and KHJ alternated evenings in feeding their programs to the network. Additionally, several of the San Francisco and Los Angeles programs were broadcast nationally by CBS. Many of the most popular KFRC programs became network offerings in this way.

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of KFRC and the Don Lee System during this period is the large number of people they graduated to national stardom. In 1929, Lee hired an unknown flutist to be KFRC's Music Director. The young man was a musical prodigy, having played with John Phillip Sousa's band at age 16, and he had been the lead flutist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at twenty. Now, he was to get a chance to conduct the Don Lee Studio Orchestra in San Francisco. To Meredith Willson, "The Music Man", radio would be the springboard to big and better things.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 5

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The old 50-watt KFRC transmitter saw use for a while as a short-wave relay of KFRC's AM programs. Harrison Holliway and Harold Peery rebuilt the unit to operate on 108 meters, and the station received the experimental call sign 6XD. Originally, their plan had been to use the new station to transmit details of the Dole fliers in their trans-Pacific flight from Oakland that year, a plan later abandoned. But the station was operated for a while and heard as far away as Juneau, Alaska. [16]

The following year (November 14, 1927), Don Lee bought KHJ in Los Angeles from the Los Angeles Times. The station was relocated to the Don Lee Cadillac Building at Seventh and Bixel Streets in that city, where a new radio facility was built and stocked with all the finest new equipment. There were three elaborate studios including a full pipe organ.

Being the owner of two of the Coast's most prestigious radio stations, Don Lee wasted no time in connecting the two stations by telephone line to establish the Don Lee Broadcasting System. Lee spared no expense to make his two stations among the finest in the nation, as a 1929 article from Broadcast Weekly attests:

"Both KHJ and KFRC have large complete staffs of artists, singers and entertainers, with each station having its own Don Lee Symphony Orchestra, dance band and organ, plus all of the musical instruments that can be used successful in broadcasting. It is no idle boast that either KHJ or KFRC could operate continuously without going outside their own staffs for talent, and yet give a variety with an appeal to every type of audience.[2] "

In 1929, the nation's second network, the Columbia Broadcasting System, still had no affiliates west of the Rockies, and this was making it difficult for the network to compete with its larger rival, NBC. CBS president William S. Paley was in need of West Coast affiliates, and he needed them fast. Thus it was that Paley travelled to Los Angeles that summer to convince Don Lee to sign a CBS affiliate agreement. Paley was a busy man, and he was frustrated by Lee's casual, time-consuming ways of doing business. Lee insisted that Paley spend a week with him on his yacht "The Invader" before any business could be discussed. After two lengthy sailings during which Lee had plenty of opportunity to evaluate Paley's moral fiber in the relaxed, informal atmosphere at sea, Lee agreed to sign an affiliate agreement which Paley was to dictate without any negotiation whatsoever. The agreement was signed on July 16, 1929, and the Don Lee stations became the vanguard of the CBS West Coast invasion. [3]

Friday, January 23, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 4

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The Don Lee Era

Perhaps it may be considered to be the re-birth of KFRC (it certainly marked a future of bigger and better things) when Don Lee, the California distributor for the Cadillac Motor Car Company, purchased the station in 1926. Lee had amassed a considerable fortune in his twenty years in the automobile business, and radio was to be an exciting and elaborate new venture for him. On an evening broadcast heard November 15, 1926, officials of the City of Paris formally turned over the station to Don Lee, and the audience was told of his plans for a great station to broadcast from new and elaborate studios he planned to build in the Cadillac building. He had a personal habit of doing everything in grand style, and this was to be his hallmark for the twenty five years he would own the station.

Temporary studios were soon built and installed in the Don Lee Building at 1000 Van Ness Avenue. The transmitter remained in its original location atop the Whitcomb Hotel, but plans were under way for an elaborate new studio complex and a 1,000 watt transmitter.

The new studios were completed and dedicated in a 28-hour marathon broadcast held July 6, 1927. The station was located on the mezzanine floor of the building, at the end of a large and ostentatious staircase leading up from the showroom floor. Two large studios had been decorated in a spanish motif, and they were said to be so acoustically perfect that a full orchestra could be on the air in one studio while a second group rehearsed in the adjoining one. The thousand-watt Western Electric transmitter on the top floor of the building fed a powerful new voice to the new antenna, strung between steel towers on the roof. As a higher power, Class "B" station, KFRC was authorized to move to the preferred frequency of 660 kc. (two years later, the station again moved, this time to its permanent home at 610 kc.) On its new frequency, KFRC was required to reduce its power to 500 watts after sunset.

(This 1,000 watt Western Electric transmitter is in the possession of the radio museum operated by the Perham Foundation in San Jose. The museum is temporarily closed, but plans are under way to reopen again at a new location.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 3

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The City of Paris Years

It was less than a year later that Radio Art Studios was forced to relinquish KFRC for financial reasons. The station was transferred to the City of Paris department store on April 15, 1925, and the facilities were moved to the store on Union Square, where a studio had been constructed at street level, so passers-by could observe the operations through a large window. A year later they were moved again, this time to the eighth floor of the Sherman- Clay Building.

With the addition of City of Paris financial backing, KFRC's programs improved immediately. Frank Moss, a nationally-known pianist, was hired as the Musical Director and given the budget needed to round up first-class talent for a number of new programs. Several musical groups became KFRC regulars, most notably the Lorelei Mixed Quartet and soprano Flora Howell Bruner. KFRC was broadcasting almost exclusively serious music.

Another popular name associated with KFRC was Harry "Mac" McClintock, who hosted a daily children's program called "Mac and his Gang". Mac's homespun manners and cowboy ballads quickly became popular among the Bay Area's young crowd. His prior life best exemplified the kind of person he was: he had left his home in Tennessee as a boy and joined the circus. After fighting in the Spanish-American War, he headed for the Klondike and the Alaska gold rush. He had also worked as a railroad brakeman and as a miner in Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada. From these experiences he drew upon a wealth of Western songs and stories that made him a favorite with adults as well as children, and his style was often compared to that of Will Rogers. Among the many other feathers in his wester cap, Mac wrote and popularized the song "Big Rock Candy Mountain". His comic western band, Mac and his Haywire Orchestry, was frequently heard on KFRC's variety programs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 2

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The Debut of KFRC

The summer of 1924 found Holliway working at a radio shop called the Radio Art Corporation, on Sutter Street at Powell. That was the same summer that a Western Electric salesman called on the owners of the store, Jim Threlkeld and Thomas Catton, and sold them on the idea of starting a new radio station (and of course, buying a Western Electric transmitter). And so, KFRC was born. Holliway couldn't resist the offer of the job of Station Manager, and never returned to Stanford. He and two other store employees, Harold Peery and Alan Cormack, began drawing up their plans for the station.

KFRC's first home was the Whitcomb Hotel in the Civic Center area. The studio was a converted hotel room on the second floor – a single room hung with "monk's cloth", decorated with a few shaded lamps, and with a lone microphone and a piano. The transmitter was located in a shack on the roof of the hotel, and an L-type antenna was suspended between two 100-foot ships' masts. KFRC's assigned frequency was 1120 kc. The transmitter itself was a fifty watt unit, the latest Western Electric design. The only other one like it was in St. Louis, where it was said to "pound into New York like a local. The relatively low-powered transmitter was said to be preferred by the station engineers because it would cause less interference and yet deliver almost equal signal strength because of its superior circuit design.

KFRC became the official station of the "San Francisco Bulletin", which supplied it with a news service and a radio column in exchange for the broadcast publicity. The station's on-air trademark was a fire siren, chosen because it had also been used by station KDN before it left the air, and when it had been associated with the Bulletin. KFRC's inaugural broadcast took place September 24, 1924, from 8:00 PM until midnight. The program opened with speeches by local dignitaries, and was followed by a concert and dance program by the Whitcomb Hotel concert, symphony and dance orchestras.

Almost immediately, it was noticed that KFRC had an exceptionally strong signal - much stronger than had been anticipated from only fifty watts. It was heard in all the distant places being reached by only the strongest stations: along the Atlantic Seacoast, in Alaska and Hawaii, and even New Zealand. This had San Francisco's best engineers dumbfounded. No one could understand why the signal was so powerful, and it was announced that "the KFRC managers ... are as astonished as anybody." A group of Western Electric engineers was called in to study the situation, and after several months could still not agree on an answer, except that perhaps the Whitcomb Hotel was located on an essentially "perfect" electrical ground.

KFRC's first year of radio activity was nothing exceptional. The station's owners, Catton and Threlkeld, had formed the Radio Art Studios as a subsidiary of the radio store, and it was entirely financed by the retail operation. Budgets were modest, and so were the programs. Perhaps the only noteworthy regular program heard at this time was a variety program hosted by Tom Catton and called the "Tom Cats".

Holliway, who in the first year of KFRC was Manager, announcer, janitor and mail clerk all rolled into one, later recalled some famous personalities of the time whom he interviewed during the early years. They included baseball great Roger Hornsby, and actors William S. Hart, John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Speaking of the French-Canadian heavyweight boxer Jack Renault, Holliway said:

"Renault came to the studios with his manager, the well-known Leo P. Flynn. He spoke very broken English, and at the same time developed a bad case of mike fright. Flynn did the French-Canadian dialect to perfection, so I introduced him as Renault. He made a fine speech, and no one ever knew that it wasn't Renault whom they heard. "

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 1

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The city of San Francisco had several stations that were among the finest in the nation during broadcasting's early years. Bay Area listeners could choose from a variety of fine programs, but one station they tuned to most frequently was KFRC.

Harrison Holliway
To tell the story of KFRC's first years is to tell the story of its Manager and Chief Announcer, Harrison Holliway. He was born November 3, 1900, the first son of a veteran San Francisco newspaperman, Captain W. C. "Cap" Holliway. Cap Holliway was well-known in San Francisco, and at one time had been the youngest newspaper editor in the state. He had since worked on news staffs at the Examiner, Call and Chronicle, and had been President of the San Francisco Press Club.

Young Harrison's first interest in radio appeared at the age of eleven, when he built a carborundum crystal receiver and first listened in on the airwaves. By 1920, he was operating his own amateur station, 6BN, and was very active in local ham circles. He was President of the Lowell High School Radio Club, and an officer in the San Francisco Radio Club. In 1920, he set a world amateur record for distance in voice transmission when he communicated with another ham in Vancouver, over 1,800 miles away. This brought him considerable local publicity. For a time, Harrison was on the air every day with 6BN, broadcasting record programs "for the sheer pleasure of it". He also worked as a part-time newspaper reporter, covering high school sporting news for the San Francisco Call.

The following fall saw Harrison Holliway enter Stanford University. He spent the next few years majoring in law during the winter months, and operating radio equipment on a trans-Pacific steamer during the summer. He took a leave of absence from Stanford in 1922, and, along with friend Harold Shaw, installed and operated KSL, the Emporium Department Store station. When that venture folded after less than a year, he went back to Stanford.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eunice Randall, Pt. 3

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Eunice Randall - Boston's First Female Announcer/Engineer
Donna Halper

In February of 1922, 1XE received its license from the Department of Commerce and was assigned the call letters WGI. Eunice remained in her dual roles of AMRAD factory draftsman and WGI announcer. When the factory needed her more, she spent more time there; when the radio station beckoned, she did that-- in fact, when a guest didn't show up, she and another of the engineers sang duets! The newspapers referred to her the "Radio Mother" because her bed-time stories were very popular with kids all over New England. (The idea of radio bed-time stories was still very new, as were most of the things WGI had been doing. Unfortunately, the station operated on a shoe-string, and seldom got the publicity it deserved.) She represented AMRAD at several radio shows, and it certainly must have encouraged other young women to see her demonstrating equipment and doing broadcasts.

As for the men who heard Eunice speak and saw some of her radio work, they included Hiram P. Maxim, whom she met when she demonstrated one of AMRAD's newest radio tubes at a convention in Portland, Maine in late 1921. (In the early 20s, she was one of a very few women who were licensed radio operators – some reports say she was the only one in New England.) Irv Vermilya, with whom she remained friends for many years, continued to write favourably in QST and elsewhere about her work; this certainly must have helped her to achieve even more credibility. Over the years, the two would sometimes attend hamfests together and compete in code-sending contests. (Eunice could even do 'foot-sending', and she was quite proficient at it!)

Unfortunately, Eunice Randall's radio career was cut short by the fact that WGI and its parent company AMRAD ultimately went bankrupt. The station left the air in the spring of 1925, never to return. Everyone who had worked so hard to keep the station up and running ended up in various other places. Some, like "Big Brother" Bob Emery, would become famous at another station and have a long radio career; others left radio and never went back to it-Eunice was one of those. She continued to work as one of the few women engineers, however, and she also continued her involvement with ham radio (her calls were 1CDP and later, W1MPP). During World War 2, she and a number of other amateurs did volunteer work as part of the WERS, and over the years, she taught many young amateurs what they needed to know to get their license. Eunice and her husband, Ken Thompson, a former AMRAD employee, moved up to Maine after she retired. She died in 1982.

Ever since I began researching the saga of 1XE/WGI and became familiar with this amazing woman, I have wanted to tell her story. My thanks to Barry Mishkind for giving me the opportunity.

- Donna Halper is a respected and experienced media historian, whose research has resulted in appearances on Chronicle (WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston), Voice of America, PBS/NewsHour, National Public Radio/Weekend America, New England Cable News, the History Channel, ABC Nightline, WBZ Radio, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere. Ms. Halper is the author of three books, the most recent of which is “Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting.” She is completing her fourth, “Icons of Talk,” a history of talk shows.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eunice Randall, Pt. 2

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Eunice Randall - Boston's First Female Announcer/Engineer
Donna Halper

And while some women worked as receptionists or confidential secretaries, Eunice Randall was not typical of her generation: not only was she an experienced ham radio operator but she now wanted to work with the men building radio receivers. Needless to say, she underwent considerable hazing in the factory-- what would today be called sexual harrassment-- but gradually she won everyone over, because her drafting work was very precise and she wasn't afraid to learn new jobs.

AMRAD had opened a broadcasting station in 1916; it was mainly operated by Tufts College students (AMRAD's founder, Harold J. Power, was a Tufts alumnus), but now that the AMRAD factory was expanding, some of the non-student workers also took their turn keeping the station on the air. Among them was Eunice Randall. All the amateur stations were taken off the air during World War 1, but as soon as it was legal to do so, the AMRAD station (known legally as 1XE, but referred to in the newspapers as "The Amrad station" or "the Medford Hillside station") resumed its broadcasts.

At some point in 1919, Eunice Randall became an announcer for the station, the first woman on air in greater Boston. By 1921, she was not only helping with the engineering, doing announcing, and at times sending out code so that any amateurs listening could get some code practise-- she had also gotten a sponsor and was now the "Story Lady". At least three nights a week, she read bed-time stories to the kids, sponsored by Little Folks Magazine. (In QST, and even in some of the newspapers, she was still referred to as the "OW of 1XE"-- "OW" being an affectionate term for a female amateur.)

- Donna Halper is a respected and experienced media historian, whose research has resulted in appearances on Chronicle (WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston), Voice of America, PBS/NewsHour, National Public Radio/Weekend America, New England Cable News, the History Channel, ABC Nightline, WBZ Radio, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere. Ms. Halper is the author of three books, the most recent of which is “Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting.” She is completing her fourth, “Icons of Talk,” a history of talk shows.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eunice Randall, Pt. 1

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Eunice Randall - Boston's First Female Announcer/Engineer
Donna Halper

If you had been around greater Boston during the 19-teens and early 20s, you might have heard Eunice Randall referred to as "ER," since radio announcers were not usually allowed to use their names on the air. To her ham radio friends, she was "the OW of 1XE," or "1CDP;" to some of her youngest fans, she was "the Story Lady." Eunice Randall was all of this and more-although she was born in an era when women's options were still extremely limited, she grew up to achieve a number of 'firsts' in the exciting new industry called radio broadcasting.

In the early 1900s, Mattapoisett (a town in southeastern Massachusetts) was still rural, and Eunice's father was a farmer, while one of her brothers ran a mill. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there were no 'radio bugs' in her family, and yet somehow she became fascinated by the rapidly-expanding world of ham radio. Her first station, which she built herself, was called "ER", and her technical skills impressed one of the men who received the code she was sending out – he was the regional director of the ARRL, Irv Vermilya, a man who was very influential in amateur radio.

Irv was surprised that a young woman could build her own station, but he was also immediately supportive; he was the first to write about her radio skills, in the ham magazine, QST.

Not content to stay on her family's farm, Eunice moved up to Boston, with the plan to study art. But she found that she was good at drafting, and when she heard that the American Radio and Research Company needed draftsmen, she applied; in 1918, she became the first woman AMRAD ever hired. I would be lying if I said everyone welcomed her with open arms – it was highly unusual for women to work in technical professions back then..

- Donna Halper is a respected and experienced media historian, whose research has resulted in appearances on Chronicle (WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston), Voice of America, PBS/NewsHour, National Public Radio/Weekend America, New England Cable News, the History Channel, ABC Nightline, WBZ Radio, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere. Ms. Halper is the author of three books, the most recent of which is “Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting.” She is completing her fourth, “Icons of Talk,” a history of talk shows.

Friday, January 16, 2009

History of WMAQ, Chapter 1, Pt. 3

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

The History of WMAQ Radio
By Tom Goatee
Reprinted with permission

Chapter 1

With the 1920 fall election approaching, the Westinghouse Electric Company conceived the idea of broadcasting the election returns. Accordingly, a large studio was built and equipped with the latest carbon microphones, and the original transmitter was overhauled, further adjusearer the studio. A new call was assigned to the station: KDKA, indicating that the transmitter was no longer considered experimental equipment. There was a line installed between the new studio and the offices of the Pittsburgh Post, and the election results were broadcast throughout the evening. The broadcasting idea was an instant success, and drew nationwide attention to KDKA. A new industry was rapidly in the making.

KDKA continued to operate on regular schedules of a few hours a day, and almost immediately the way was cleared for other radio stations, in other locations, to erect and operate broadcasting equipment. Radio patents held by the General Electric Company, the Western Electric Company, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and the newly formed Radio Corporation of America were pooled together, and arrangements were completed for the construction of radio tubes, radio equipment, and complete broadcast transmitters for sale to private individuals as well as to the government.

The Westinghouse Company itself was not slow to realize the immense possibilities of broadcasting, and got to work developing and constructing transmission equipment. In September, 1921, there was a grand total of four stations in the United States, and a fifth was put on the air in October. But it was not until November of that year that Chicago welcomed its first radio station.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

History of WMAQ, Chapter 1, Pt. 2

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

The History of WMAQ Radio
By Tom Goatee
Reprinted with permission

Chapter 1

But in spite of these adverse conditions, manay amateurs went ahead with radio telephonic experimentation. The priceless "E" tubes, "OG" tubes and others were occasionally obtained by some amateurs---usually "from a friend in the Coast Guard", or other slightly illegal sources. The many difficulties blocking the paths of the early radio amateurs in their experimentation did little to shake their enthusiasm.

By the time the winter had arrived in 1919, there were many amateurs on the air "actually talking". And from that time Morse code was destined to take a back seat in radio, to be used principally for communication.

Not satisfied with merely talking to other local amateurs (and, incidentially not being "tied down" by any federal regulations) the hams son conceived the idea of broadcasting entertainment. And so, using their home-made "rigs" and makeshift equipment, they began transmitting programs to their friends---and to the public.

This condition was particularly so in the Chicago area, where a great many amateurs resided within a comparitively small radius. One of the largest of these stations was owned by Austin A. Edward, and influential "ham" who not only had the best equipment available but also constructed a small studio in his home. Other well known stations in this same vicinity were operated by Thorne Donnelly, Arthur Leonard, Jr. and even our own Larry Dutton (NBC, Chicago).

All through the sping of 1920 interest in amateur radio broadcasting continued on the gradual increase. "Hams" gladly built and sold small crystal receiving sets for their neighbors and friends, but there were relatively few people who knew---or even cared---about the possibilities of radio.

Then a remarkable thing happened. And radio underwent another radical change.

A Pittsburgh engineer, Frank Conrad, had spent most of the spring developing and perfecting a radio-telephone transmitter in the Westinghouse Laboratories at East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was assigned an experimental call by the government, and began transmitting speech and test programs late in the spring. Only a few amateurs with receiving sets heard his programs. Then others began to listen. Soon Dr. Conrad had an enthusiastic following of listeners, and he began a more-or-less regular experimental schedule.

Late in the spring of 1920, Pittsburgh department stores advertised and quickly sold “receiving apparatus for listening to Doctor Conrad’s radio programs”. The general public was finally becoming conscious of radio broadcasting. Every program, no matter how irregular, was assured of a large audience. And the Westinghouse Electric Company began to take an interest in the possibility of broadcasting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

History of WMAQ, Chapter 1, Pt. 1

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

The History of WMAQ Radio
By Tom Goatee
Reprinted with permission

Chapter 1

The history of WMAQ, Chicago’’s first radio station, so clearly parallels the History of Radio Broadcasting that it reads like a chronicle of many trials, tribulations, failures and successes that beset the first broadcasters, who were unknowingly laying the foundation for a great new industry: radio.

It is a far cry from the Early Twenties to Present Day Broadcasting. No industry has ever moved so quickly, so efficiently, to the high state of perfection that Broadcasting enjoys today.

It is difficult for most of us, who have lived and worked through this change, to fully comprehend the historical and sociological significance of our progress. Yet all this happened within a span of less than twenty years, two amazing decades.It is hard to say exactly when broadcasting first began, Before the First World War there were a few thousand radio amateurs, most of them noys and young men, who tinkered occasionally with "spark" sets and established purely local telegraphic communication.

During the War, however, the radio art underwent the first of its many radical changes. The army became interested in radio as a means of field communication and experimentation began on a more important scale. The vacuum tube was developed and used with some fair success, and this opened the path for many new circuits never possible before. Many of the radio amateurs received further training from the Government and, in addition to serving their country both here and abroad, they gained a great deal of practical experience in radio communication.

After the War was over there were well over twenty thousand men in this country with a technical working knowledge of radio. Some of these found immediate employment as ship or land commercial operators. But a much greater number returned to their former employment, and looked upon radio, specifically amateur radio, as just an interesting hobby. The ban on amateur activity was lifted in the summer of 1919, and new "ham" stations using new equipment began to appear, various scattered from 50 to 250 meters. They were still primarily interested in radio telegraphy, because telephony was too new and much two expensive for experimentation. Vacuum tubes could neither be bought or manufactured, except by the Government, due to frozen patent rights held by competing companies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Archives of the Airwaves: A Review

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Archives of the Airwaves (7 Volumes)
By Roger C. Paulson
Publisher - BearManor Media
Price - $135.00
Reviewed by Jim Beshires

Archives of the Airwaves is a seven volume set of paperback books, with each book addressing radio programs and stars beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet. For instance, Volume One covers the letters ‘A thru C’, and is 323 pages long. There is no index, which makes it a bit difficult to locate subjects. After getting frustrated in looking in several books to find items, my solution to this problem was to tape a small piece of paper to each spine listing the letters the book covered.

According to the publisher, this set has been twenty years in the making, and proposes to be the most complete old-time radio encyclopedia ever written. It does have a good amount of both series and stars that I was not familiar with, and my career in old time radio goes back to the early 60s. I was glad to see this coverage of so many obscure shows.

In its format it’s very similar to Dunning’s ‘On The Air’, in that it attempts to give a synopsis of the series, network affiliation, broadcast dates and times. It also lists sponsors.

Most synopsis’ are short - a paragraph or two, three at the most, so it obviously does not go into the depth of descriptions as some other reference books do, and it does contain a fair amount of mis-information, most that only a serious researcher would catch, and I have heard from some highly respected OTR people on this subject of the errors. Some of them feel the set contains too many. But nearly all other reference books contain some errors, as reference sources are constantly being revised, updated, or new ones being discovered. Researching old time radio is not an easy job, and that’s why it’s very important to cross-check everything. The set boasts that it’s at least seven times the size of Dunning’s book, but this is a real exaggeration. It more likely is twice the size, but remember, Dunning’s book does not include bios of radio stars, and Archives does. The bios are fairly complete, with birth dates, death deaths, and credit lists included.

It is certainly the most comprehensive set ever attempted.

The set can be purchased from BearManor Media for $135.00, but also can be found in many major book stores and also online. Individual volumes can be purchased for around $21.95 each.

Should you purchase them? The price would deter most collectors, but I believe that it would be a good addition to any serious researcher’s reference set, despite some of its mistakes. Many libraries may be interested in having this set, so you might want to inquire into this possibility with your library.

Would I recommend it? Certainly I’m glad to have it to add to my reference library. It provides another tool when I’m researching a series, and we need all the help we can get. I’d also be very interested in hearing from others who’ve purchased this set as to what they think of it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

3D Movie Memories

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

First 3D Movie Still Leaps from Memory
Bob Cox

In late 1952, my father and I drove to the Tennessee Theatre on West Main Street to experience the city’s first 3D movie, “Bwana Devil,” starring Robert Stack. The color film promo promised “A Lion in Your Lap - A Lover in Your Arms.” Being a young lad of ten, I was more fearful of the mushy lover than a ferocious lion, reasoning that I had a fighting chance with the wild beast. The simplistic plot involved two vicious lions, randomly dining on a crew of British railway workers in Kenya in 1898.

Upon entering the theatre lobby for the evening viewing, we were each handed a pair of cardboard “glasses,” containing red and blue lenses. After patronizing the refreshment counter, we chose seats about halfway down the center section, having been warned not to sit too close to the screen lest we be in harm’s way. As show time approached, growing tension could be sensed throughout the theatre.

When the movie finally commenced, the 3D effect was impressive without being unduly threatening. Suddenly, a variety of missiles were hurled at our faces, chests, and laps from an array of objects, ranging from ravenous lions to crude spears. Over the next 79 minutes, the audience blinked, ducked, flinched, squirmed, gasped and screamed, occasionally spilling their popcorn and soft drinks. A few hardy patrons kept their glasses on throughout the entire movie, savoring each exciting scene as it unfolded on the screen. The nervous crowd soon learned that closing their eyes or removing their glasses would immediately neutralize the 3D effect.

This unique film genre was being ushered in to combat the loss of income resulting from the intrusion of television into homes. This less than impressive technology had been around since 1915 with modest acceptance by the public. The 5000 participating U.S. theatres utilized two projectors to reproduce two images (left eye and right eye) through polarizers onto a screen, where it could be viewed using a pair of glasses with matching filters. The result was the illusion of depth as perceived by our brains.

These movies were not without problems. Projectionists had to continually monitor the picture quality; people occasionally left the theatre experiencing headaches and dizziness. By the conclusion of the film, the cardboard glasses had become very uncomfortable. Moviegoers soon became weary of lackluster plots and 3D gimmicks, forcing production crews to focus more on the story lines than on special effects. The 3D fad of yesteryear was coming to a finale, delivering only 46 films between late 1952 and early 1955.

I attended several 3D cinemas during this time, most playing at the Majestic Theatre. My favorites were “House of Wax” (1953 in stereo), “The Maze” (1953), “Hondo” (1953 with John Wayne) and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954).

As Dad and I exited the theatre and headed for our car in the direction of Fountain Square, I glanced up at the lights emitting from our slumbering tranquil town in all of its three-dimensional glory … and without the use of projectors, polarized images, or cardboard lenses. I had returned to the real 3D world.

If anyone has additional information about area 3D movies, please let me hear from you.

This article first appeared in the Johnson City (Tenn) Press, on July 11, 2005 Mr. Cox submitted it for reprinting in the December, 2008, issue of the Old Radio Times.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 4

Originally published in the November, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

The wall to wall radio coverage of the trial elevated several announcers and commentators to a higher level of fame that they previously had. But the radio personality that benefited most from the trial was a new announcer at WNEW who had just started at $20 a week. Hearing that WNEW would be broadcasting periodic reports from the Flemington court house and wanted something to fill the gaps between, Martin Block convinced station management that him playing musical records would be the best solution. He called his show Make Believe Ballroom, a title he borrowed from former associate, Al Jarvis, who used that same name for his west coast DJ show. Block’s show became very popular during the six weeks trial and when it was over, WNEW made it a permanent fixture in their programming, eventually making Block a millionaire.

Mutual Radio had a tradition in those years to air a year end summary each December of what they termed “The Top News Stories of the Year.” In 1935 the program was narrated by announcer Seymour Birkson. Although the Hauptmann trial was clearly the top story that year, Birkson bumped it down to number 2, right behind the Italian war in Ethiopia. Birkson summarizes the trial in a half dozen sentences. Copies of this program are in general circulation.
But it would be over a year before the execution, due to a series of long and complicated appeals, one of which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Hauptmann’s widow raised thousands of dollars, mostly from German audiences in the East and the Midwest, pleading “Help me get a new trial for the father of my poor baby.” Meanwhile the kidnapper was held at the state prison in Trenton, declining to confess in order to escape the death penalty, even after a personal visit by the governor. On the scheduled day of his execution in April 1936, he was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He declined, saying he was not hungry, but he did have a special request. When asked what it was, Hauptmann said he wanted to address the American people on the radio so he could convince them he was innocent. The request was denied.

After all appeals were exhausted, the execution was scheduled for April 3, 1936. Hundreds of press and radio reporters gathered outside the prison, not counting the 30 members of the media who were among the 55 official witnesses watching the room containing the electric chair. All had been frisked for cameras and microphones since the warden was aware that five years earlier a reporter with a camera hidden on his leg, photographed murderess Ruth Snyder when she was electrocuted.

Everyone had been told the execution would take place at 8 PM so Gabriel Heatter, who gained some publicity with his bulletins on the trial in Flemington, took his place outside the prison with about five minutes of material in case the execution was a few minutes late. However, the few minutes stretched to 45 minutes and Heatter ad-libbed without a break for the entire time, a feat that would push him to the top of radio commentators and insure his successful career on the air. Hauptmann was executed at 8:45 and the news was flashed around the world.

The grieving widow was given no peace from the media. She was staying in a room at the Stacy-Trent Hotel in Trenton with a few friends and defense attorneys. About five minutes after the execution, about a dozen camera men, newspaper and radio reporters burst into her room, taking photos and shouting questions at her. After about 15 minutes, her associates were able to push the media out of the room, leaving the widow sobbing on her bed.

But the case did not die with Bruno Hauptmann. Doubts about his guilt were expressed by Eleanor Roosevelt, NJ Governor Harold Hoffman, and other well-known figures who were apparently unfamiliar with the mountain of evidence of his guilt. Hauptmann’s widow embarked on a crusade to prove his innocence, a quest that she followed until the day she died in 1994 at the age of 96. To further complicate the case, about a dozen men sought the spotlight by claiming to be the Lindbergh baby, now grown up. While they may have been seeking an inheritance from the Lindbergh millions, at least three of them actually sued NJ for the records to prove their preposterous claims and one of them made a living on the lecture circuit with his claim.

A wise philosopher once pointed out “Nothing is as strong in human beings as the craving to believe in something that is obviously wrong.” So it was natural that Anna Hauptmann’s pleas would find sympathetic ears. The mutterings about Hauptmann’s innocence, which simmered for years, became more prominent in 1976 with the book “Scapegoat” by Anthony Scaduto which claimed the baby was not even killed but was still alive in the person of Harold Olsen (one of the dozen impostors.) Anna Hauptmann filed a series of multi-million dollar civil suits against NJ in the 1980s, and while she lost every case, the publicity encouraged the publication of more pro-Hauptmann books, including Noel Behn’s 1994 book, a TV documentary, and an HBO movie, all claiming that Hauptmann was not the kidnapper, he was an innocent victim of a law enforcement plot.

All these phony theories of Hauptmann’s innocence were crushed in the 1999 book, “The Ghosts of Hopewell” by Jim Fisher, a Lindbergh historian. I do not have time to summarize his compelling evidence but I urge you to read his book if you have slightest doubts about the case and the verdict.

Now over 75 years after the kidnapping, the case continues to fascinate many people. When the Union Hotel in Flemington, which had housed the jurors, several reporters, and many prominent spectators, was offered for sale three months ago, it made the front page of several Eastern papers. Today, across the street from the hotel, in the original court house, a live drama of the Trial of the Century is being performed every weekend in October. Actors portraying all the main characters of this drama are featured in this two and a half hour summary of the trial. Harry Kazman wrote and directs this play and you can find details at

The pertinent sites of the ransom negotiation, the payoff, and the arrest of Hauptmann are all covered in a bus tour of the Bronx every year in May, usually the third Saturday. Richard Sloan, who created and manages this interesting tour, has been researching the case for years. You can email him for details at <>

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 3

Originally published in the November, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

Although most law officials thought the kidnapping was the work of a gang (as many kidnappings were in those days) Shoenfeld declared in November 1932 that the kidnapper was a lone amateur. He also concluded the kidnapper was a German alien with little formal education, recently settled in the Bronx, had been institutionalized, worked with wood, had low income, was approximately Lindbergh’s age, if married, was tyrannical at home, was methodical and very cautious, had supreme confidence in himself, and when arrested would not cooperate nor confess. While the profile was not specific enough to uncover the kidnapper, it was accurate in all respects, which the police would confirm after the arrest of the kidnapper in 1934.

The ransom bills continued to be turned in after the U.S. went off the Gold Standard on April 5, 1933 but now any that were gold certificates became more rare every day so they were more likely to arouse the suspicions of merchants and banks who accepted them. In addition, the kidnapper had used up most of the five dollar bills and was using the tens and twenties. Eventually a few of the recipients actually remembered the description of who had given them the bill. A pattern description emerged of a Caucasian male, mid-30s, medium build, felt hat, German accent . . . it was the same description Dr. Condon had provided of the man to whom he paid the ransom in a Bronx cemetery. But it brought the police no nearer to his capture.

Finally on September 15, 1934, the big break in the case occurred. Walter Lyle, a manager at a gas station at Lexington and 127th Street, got a ten dollar gold certificate from a man who was paying for 98 cents worth of gas. Lyons was afraid it might be counterfeit so before the man drove off in his 1930 Dodge, Lyon wrote down his license number on the ten dollar bill. Three days later the teller processing the gas station’s deposit found the ransom bill and phoned the authorities. Their interviews at the gas station confirmed that what had happened and a quick check of motor vehicle records determined that license plate was registered to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, 1279 E. 222nd Street in the Bronx.

A decision was made to arrest Hauptmann away from his residence so they could catch him with another ransom bill in his possession. They set up surveillance, including three cars, and when he left the next day, September 19, 1934, they followed him from his home to White Plains Avenue where they arrested him in his car. Among the twenty-nine dollars in his wallet, Hauptmann had a 20 dollar gold certificate which was part of the ransom package.

He was taken into custody and a search of his residence and garage discovered about $15,000 in the missing ransom money (carefully hidden), a tool set in which a chisel was missing (which matched the one found the night of the kidnapping), and Condon’s address and phone number written in a closet. Hauptmann was grilled for several days and never confessed to any wrong doing. He insisted the money found had been left to him by an associate, Isador Fisch, who had died in Germany a few months ago. Despite all the overwhelming evidence, he continued to protest his innocence and the October 5, 1934, The March of Time program summarized his interrogation for CBS radio,citing all the damning evidence against the kidnapper. (The program is in general circulation.) While there are no credits on this program, Hauptmann was probably voiced by Dwight Weiss, who did most of the roles on The March of Time which required a German accent.

After a grand jury indictment and extradition to New Jersey, the trial was to begin in the courthouse in Flemington, NJ, a town of less than 3,000 people, located an hour from New York City. Due to various motions, the trial was postponed a few times and finally began on January 2, 1935. The prosecution team was led by David Wilentz, the state’s AG, while the defense team was headed by Edward J. Reilly, a prominent Brooklyn defense attorney. The trial had attracted over 100 reporters from America and Europe, 25 radio and telegraph operators, and even a newsreel camera were used in the gallery. Walter Winchell and other well-known columnists were there, joined by prominent novelists also pressed into service: Edna Ferber, Alexander Woolcott, Fannie Hurst, and Damon Runyon. Sports stars, Broadway luminaries, and other show-biz personalities flocked to courtroom as spectators including Jack Benny.

Samuel Leibowitz, a prominent Brooklyn defense attorney, was hired by WHN Radio to broadcast regular trial updates on the air. They were done on transcription disks for subsequent airings and are apparently the only radio programs that survived, of the thousands of radio shows and bulletins that came out of the lengthy trial. Nearly five hours total of Leibowitz’s trial observations remain with us, but unfortunately they are all in the custody of the Museum of Television and Radio in Manhattan. That means that anyone can go there in person and listen to them, but no one can dub any copies of them. Here is an excerpt from one of Leibowtiz’s programs: “What difference does it make whether there was an accomplice, or two accomplices, or a whole army of accomplices? If (Hauptmann) had a hand in this kidnapping, whether he actually committed the kidnapping or not, he is just as much of a fiend, and is just as guilty as if he actually killed that innocent child.” The trial would last for six weeks with nearly 400 witnesses, dozens of evidence items introduced, and a variety of experts on handwriting, wood, and medicine testified. All of Hauptmann’s past history was revealed including his robberies in Germany, his escape from jail there, and entering the U.S. as an illegal alien. It was shown he had not worked a day after the ransom was paid and yet spent money lavishly for the next two years during the Great Depression. Jack Benny summed up the pitiful defense in a statement to the press: “Bruno needs a second act.” Near the end of the trial, Hauptmann’s attorney went on national radio and appealed for witnesses with any knowledge of the case to come forward. Only a few kooks responded. The jury convicted Hauptmann of murder on February 13, 1935, with no recommendation for mercy, thus requiring the death penalty.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 2

Originally published in the November, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

The New Jersey State Police were officially in charge of the investigation which made their agency head, Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf the lead man on the case. His fame in this case would later catapult him into radio’s Gang Busters as the narrator and he was also the father of General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, the hero of the first Gulf War. The first ransom note demanded $ 50,000 for the safe return of the child. It contained a unique symbol as a signature (two interlocking circles with three holes punched through the design) which turned out to be very valuable in separating the real notes from the kidnapper (there would be 13 more) from the hundreds of fake ones that poured into the case, claiming to be from the kidnappers.

The media, particularly the newspapers and radio stations, had their reporters surrounding the Lindbergh and Morrow estates as well as NJ police stations, waiting for news, and sometimes creating news if there was none. Everybody wanted to get into the act, even Al Capone. At that time, Capone was serving time for tax evasion in Chicago but promised if he was released he could find the kidnappers in a few weeks and would return the unharmed baby to his parents. Capone seemed insulted when his offer was declined by authorities.

A week after the kidnapping, a 72 year old retired school principal in the Bronx, Dr. John F. Condon, unknown to Lindbergh, injected himself into the case by sending a letter to a local newspaper, offering to act as intermediary in the ransom payoff. Astonishingly, the kidnapper responded to Condon and sent him a series of ransom notes with instructions for the payoff. (The amount had now risen to $ 70,000.)

Lindbergh and his advisors met with Condon several times and approved him making the ransom payoff. The kidnapper had specified a wooden box of certain dimensions be made and the money placed inside. All bills were to be unmarked and their serial numbers not recorded. Lindbergh, fearful of his son’s life, insisted the police follow the kidnapper’s demands, despite the police protests it would make the solution even more difficult. Not only was Lindbergh overruled by the police (they recorded every serial number) but also at the demand of Treasury investigator Elmer Irey, the majority of the bills were gold certificates. Irey had surmised accurately, that the U.S. would be going off the gold standard shortly and thus gold certificates would be easier to identify, locate and trace. While no one knew it at the time, his plan would eventually result in the arrest of the kidnapper. The actual payoff was made on April 2, 1932 in the Bronx by Condon to the kidnapper, who called himself John. Since only $50,000 would fit in the wooden box, Condon left the other $20,000 in the car when he made the payoff, telling the kidnapper that was all Lindbergh could raise. The lesser amount was accepted and Condon was given instructions to find the baby on a boat near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It was a cruel hoax; neither the boat nor the baby was found after days of searching. The ransom money began appearing in business deposits in the New York City area that very week. One at a time, they trickled in but no one could be located who remembered the customer who had spent the bill in their establishment. None of the merchants had the numbers of the ransom bills so it was up to bank tellers to find them in the incoming cash deposits, a daunting task. Meanwhile Condon and Lindbergh’s aids tried to recontact the kidnapper to obtain better information on where to locate the baby.

On May 12, 1932 a truck driver parked his vehicle on a muddy road near Hopewell and walked into the woods to relieve himself. About 75 feet from the road, he found the body of a child, partially decomposed, under the branch of a tree. He immediately alerted the police who determined it was the body of the Lindbergh baby. It had been found two miles from the Lindbergh estate. The baby had been killed by a blow to the skull and apparently had been dead since the night of the kidnapping.

The case, which was being covered widely by all the news media, increased greatly with the tragedy of the dead victim. A reporter and cameraman actually slipped into the office at night where the body was being examined and took photos of the partially decomposed corpse and then sold copies of the photo for five dollars on the street. (Note: Regrettably, these photos are still being sold today on EBay by a Canadian dealer.)

Law enforcement authorities, no longer fearful of putting the child at risk redoubled their efforts throughout the Eastern U.S., where the ransom bills continued to find their way back to banks, primarily in the New York City boroughs. They even were the recipient of one of the first, effective examples of criminal profiling. While this technique is relatively common nowadays, in the mid 1930s it was virtually unknown. A 39 year old psychiatrist in NYC, Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld, was permitted to examine all the physical evidence, including all 14 ransom notes.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 1

Originally published in the November, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

NOTE: This topic was presented orally on October 24, 2008 at the Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark, NJ, but this is the first time it has appeared in print.

OTR researcher Derek Tague has often, and correctly, declared that the three most newsworthy events in the 1930s all happened in New Jersey: the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, the Martians landing at Grovers Mills, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping in Hopewell. Since the first two events have been discussed several times at OTR conventions, but never the Lindbergh Kidnapping, I felt compelled to correct that omission.

The kidnapping of Lindbergh’s baby in 1932 has been accurately termed “The Crime of the Century” based upon its impact on the national and international scene. This startling crime, which involved not only the kidnapping but the murder of a small boy, generated more shock among the citizens of North American and Europe than a presidential assassination. And this crime, and subsequent trial, certainly resulted in more news stories, radio summaries, and magazine articles over a five year period than any other criminal event, before or since.

The story actually begins in May 1927 when Charles A. Lindbergh, an obscure mail pilot, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, landing in France. The feat electrified the world and brought him immediate honors, riches, and fame. He was accorded the Congressional Medal of Honor and President Coolidge dispatched a Navy ship to return him and his plane back to the U.S. The National Archives has released, under their audio file entitled “Sounds of History” the audio exchange of Coolidge and Lindbergh as it aired over the major networks in 1927.

Lindbergh’s face was on the cover of every U.S. and European magazine, there was a dance named for him, and he was truly the best-known personality on either side of the Atlantic. In May 1929 he married Anne Morrow, the daughter of a multi-millionaire banker and ambassador to Mexico. In June 1930 their first son was born at the Morrow estate in Englewood, NJ, but they had already purchased 390 acres near Hopewell, NJ, to build their own mansion. It was completed in late 1931 and the Lindberghs alternated between the two residences. They were in their Hopewell residence on March 1, 1932 when a kidnapper placed a ladder under the second story nursery about 9 PM, took the child without a sound, left a ransom note in the bedroom, and escaped to a nearby car without being heard by the family or staff. In addition to abandoning the home-made, collapsible ladder, the kidnapper also left a chisel at the scene.

The baby’s nurse discovered him missing about 10 PM and alerted the Lindberghs who found the ransom note. Local and state police were notified and the most extensive law enforcement investigation began; it would go non-stop for two and a half years until the perpetrator was arrested in September 1934. At that time, kidnapping was not a federal offense so the FBI and Dept. of Treasury had no jurisdiction. However the public outcry forced the White House to direct all federal agencies to render any possible assistance tolocal authorities. The Coast Guard searched the shores for the missing baby and the Commerce Dept. did the same at airports and train stations. Immigration authorities examined every vehicle coming to or from Mexico and Canada, trying to find the baby.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

This Day in Network Radio: A Review

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

This Day in Network Radio
By Jim Cox
A Review by Ryan Ellett

Jim Cox’s latest book, This Day in Network Radio, hits the market just in time for Christmas and let me assure you this book is a perfect stocking stuffer for the old time radio fan in your life.

This Day is a step out of line with Mr. Cox’s other works which focus on a single series (Mr. Keen), a single genre (like his previous book Sold on Radio), or a single aspect (Frank and Anne Hummert’s Radio Factory) of old time radio. Instead the book gives the reader day-by-day old time radio highlights including births, deaths, debuts, and cancellations.

This effort is a fun compilation of so much information that Mr. Cox has given us in past works and other new information that surely was compiled during his research but did not sneak into those works. As we’ve come to expect from the jovial pen-weilder, Mr. Cox focuses not only on the well-known actors, actresses, and series of radio’s Golden Age but he delves into the nooks and crannies of the field, spotlighting the lesser-known series and behind-the-scenes men and women who made the industry hum.

The first question that comes to mind in reviewing the book is why didn’t somebody do this earlier?

At $50 it’s a bit pricey, especially for a paperback and one that checks in at 235 pages, short by Mr. Cox’s standards. If one is still missing some of the author’s previous works I would recommend sinking the money into one of those as they only sell for an extra five or ten dollars. If your lucky and have a complete Jim Cox library you won’t regret adding this volume to your shelf.

I plan to leave this book on a shelf in my water closet and read daily entries during my morning visits. The next best thing to starting one’s day with an OTR recording is starting one’s day by reading about OTR.

This Day in Network Radio is published by Mcfarland ( and can be ordered by calling 1-800-253-2187. It is likely available at and other online book sources.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bing Crosby on Radio, Pt. 9

Reprinted in the October, 2008, Old Radio Times.

Bing Crosby – The Radio Directories
(out of print)
compiled by Lionel Pairpoint

For twenty years, Bing Crosby had run the gamut of radio sponsors, from tobacco, through soap, cheese, radio sets, back to tobacco again and after three years with Chesterfield Cigarettes, the fall of 1952 found him extolling the virtues of refrigerators, on behalf of the General Electric Company. However, the famous overweight lady was waiting in the wings, loosening her larynx for the swan song of the radio series in this particular format. One by one favourite shows were vanishing from the air, engulfed by the tsunami of television which had rolled over the network schedules. The huge numbers of radio receivers that Bing had helped to sell for Philco had now become slightly passé, surrendering their place as the focal point in the living room to the “magic fish tank.”

Between the end of World War II and 1955, the number of major prime-time variety programmes fell by a staggering 1,000%, and by 1954 Bing would find himself having come full circle back to where he had begun, providing 15 minute gap fillers. Network executives, who may have been contemplating the locked room and a loaded revolver, found a degree of comfort with this format and the benefit of lower production costs. The decline is only too apparent in the GE programmes. Gone was the roll call of big name guests. James Stewart wandered in twice and Frank Sinatra was heard on two shows. Jack Benny guested once and, surprisingly, Bob Hope managed only a single appearance for the annual broadcast from Fort Ord. The remainder could be classed as “friends and family,” represented by frequent visits from Rosemary Clooney and Gary and Lindsay Crosby.

Apart from Miss Clooney, a miscellany of female vocalists was pressed into service to lend a hand with the chores. Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee (yet to become legends), Kay Starr, Jane Morgan, Helen O’Connell and a dozen others took a turn at the microphone. Long time associate, violinist Joe Venuti capitalised on his inimitable catchphrase (“Is dis der place?”) and made himself available to provide regular light comedy for the first season and together with Lindsay Crosby, was in attendance for all seven of the so -called “French” programmes.

To the public, the transcribed programme was now a normality but there may still have been some questions regarding an “assembled” show. Tape recording had, by this time, reached some degree of expertise and skilful editing could produce a conversation between two parties who were miles or even days apart without any noticeable “joins.” Chunks of dialogue could be shuffled, applause added or deleted and even the most devoted listener would have been hard pressed to recognise that the song that they were hearing was the same rendition that had been broadcast two weeks previously. There is little doubt that an extensive library was built of songs by Bing, which in many cases were sold on to Decca for re -mastering as commercial issues.

In spite of shortcomings in the guest star department, the first season of General Electric kept pretty much to the formula which had sustained the Philco and Chesterfield programmes but from the September of 1953 quite sweeping changes were made. If only we could have been privy to the discussions which set out the ground rules for these shows. Did the man who fought for “Where The Blue Of The Night” in 1933 weakly succumb to the unknown piece of music that was to introduce his show? The songs and the patter hung on but the commercials were abandoned in favour of several minutes of fatuous “discussion” between Bing and Ken Carpenter, on such heavyweight subjects as Government, Communism, and Collectivism. The cry will be that this was the era of McCarthyism but the pompous cant of these creepy “seminars,” surely had no place in a light radio show. Other “discussions” included a resumé of the most recent General Electric Annual General Meeting and GE’s 75th Anniversary Share Presentation to employees’ new babies, subjects that would have had most of the radio audience reaching for a good book.

A few eyebrows were raised when Bing kicked off the opening show of his new series with Bob Merrill’s, “Feet Up (Pat Him On The Po-Po).” Since the latter part of the 19th Century, the history of the popular music has reserved a niche for so-called novelty numbers. From “Bunk-A-Doodle I Do,” through “Mairzy Doats,” to Sparky’s Magic Piano, belting out “Chopin’s Revolutionary Aytood” and there was no need to be alarmed because, as the index reveals, the seventy-five programmes demonstrated more than a hundred other songs designed to please the more discerning.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bing Crosby on Radio, Pt. 8

Reprinted in the September, 2008, Old Radio Times.

Bing Crosby – The Radio Directories
(out of print)
compiled by Lionel Pairpoint

In March 1933, nine men met in the offices of the J. Walter Thompson Company. Their objective was to fashion a show to introduce a new product called “Miracle Whip” for the Kraft Cheese Company. This was at that time when advertising agencies wrote and produced radio shows for their clients. Those present at the meeting were, John U. Reber, Vice-President in charge of radio for the Thompson Company; Carroll Carroll, writer for the Burns and Allen/Guy Lombardo Show; H. Calvin Kuhl and Robert T Colwell, two more of the Company’s top producers; Abbott K. Spencer, producer of Eddie Cantor’s highly popular radio series for Chase & Sanborn; George Faulkner and Gordon Thompson who, together, created the Fleischmann Yeast Hour for Rudy Vallee; Robert A Simon, at that time, music critic for The New Yorker and musical adviser to the Thompson Corporation and Sam Moore, another successful writer of radio shows.

In order to incorporate the brand name of the product and to establish an identifiable locale for the listeners, they decided to christen the yet “unborn baby,” The Kraft Music Revue. The other prime decision made at the meeting was that the host should be Paul Whiteman whose orchestra and entourage contained sufficient talent and variety to sustain the show.

There was the up and coming young songwriter and comedy singer, Johnny Mercer; Ken Darby and The King’s Men (Jon Dobson, Bud Lynn and Rad Robinson), a quartet so -called because they appeared with Whiteman - “The King Of Jazz”; Johnny House, a ballad singer and Ramona (Davies) the popular pianist/vocalist. In addition, the orchestra featured some of the best musicians of the day, in the shape of Joe Venuti, Oscar Levant, Tommy Dorsey, Frankie Trumbauer, Roy Bargy, Mike Pingatore and Jack Teagarden.

To inaugurate the series and to ensure a smash send-off, a two hour show from the New Amsterdam Roof starring Al Jolson was planned for 26th June 1933. Typically, the egocentric Jolson was still going strong at the scheduled close of the programme, obliging the Thompson Company to hurriedly negotiate for a further fifteen minutes of air time. The series, featuring Whiteman together with special guest stars, ran successfully for two years from New York with the name being changed to The Kraft Music Hall in 1934. Bing made a guest appearance on 15th August 1935. Later in 1935, it was decided that the Kraft Music Hall would move to Hollywood, following the more popular radio stars who were heading West to fulfil screen contracts.

The new host was named as Whiteman’s former “Rhythm Boy,” Bing Crosby and on 2nd January 1936 the Kraft Music Hall was presented from Hollywood. The show was produced by Calvin Kuhl and written by Sam Moore until the Spring of 1936, when Moore left and Carroll Carroll took up the writing chores. Carroll Carroll publicly claimed on many occasions to have been responsible for the development of the personality, which the world would recognise as Bing Crosby. The much maligned but nevertheless, informative book, The Hollow Man by Don Shepherd and Robert F. Slatzer recounts the familiar story of “Bing’s reluctance to talk” and of how, “Guests were given ‘wild’ lines that were not in the script, thereby forcing Crosby to respond.”

Bing’s character has always been a matter of some contention, particularly since his death. In the 1940’s, there were those who were unkind enough so say that he never played anyone but the character that appeared in his first Mack Sennett short - a theory that time proved to be palpably untrue. Further quotes from the same book, however, offer some sharp contrasts to Carroll’s claims. For example, referring to the period when Bing was Master of Ceremonies at the Paramount Theatre in 1931, it notes, “his relaxed manner, together with his natural wit and humour were so popular that Paramount Publix extended his engagement for a further ten weeks and on his Chesterfield Show (“Music That Satisfies”), Bing began establishing a format that he would perfect later on the Kraft Music Hall, (pleasant banter, both written and ad –libbed; Bing was very sharp at ad-libbing) that would eventually make him one of the most popular radio personalities of all time.”

The musical accompaniment for the re -located Kraft programme was supplied by the recently formed Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and to counter -balance Bing’s role as the worldly, hyper-articulate host, the perfect foil was available in the hillbilly humour of Bob Burns, The Arkansas Philosopher. Burns has achieved a claim to immortality by appearing in both Webster’s and the Oxford dictionaries as the originator of the “bazooka,” a curious instrument composed of a few lengths of piping from which he extracted tones, more amusing than musical and which later gave its name to an anti -tank weapon first used in the Western Desert during World War II.

For a short period, Don Wilson announced the programme and there is also a mention of Roger Krupp but there is now, little doubt, that Ken Carpenter began performing this duty, much earlier than had been previously supposed. Carpenter’s contribution to the Hall’s popularity should not be underestimated. In addition to his announcing duties, he was, on occasions, encouraged to sing (never too seriously), played a wide range of characters in sketches and for the commercials, and became a student at Doctor Crosby’s imaginary KMH University which had been created by Carroll Carroll. The college’s colours were pomegranate and puce and the school poet was Edna St. Vitus Mitnick. Football games were contested with rival universities, rejoicing in such names as Tich Tach Tech and Pulse Normal. The school song, Hail, KMH, written by Carroll Carroll and John Scott Trotter, survived for many years as the closing theme of the show and could still be detected in the later series hosted by Al Jolson.

It was on 8th. July, 1937, that John Scott Trotter became the Musical Director for KMH and conflicting reasons are given for the departure of the Dorsey outfit. Dorsey’s own version is that he felt that he was losing his identity and a weekly radio show was not providing sufficient exposure for the band. However, this may have been inspired to offset the implied slur in the other reason given, that the sponsors considered the orchestra inadequate when handling the mandatory classical spots in the programme.

Among the criticisms that have been levelled at Trotter’s arrangements is that he was repetitive, and possibly there is some evidence which may support this. Students of Bing Crosby’s recordings may well be surprised when listening to the existing Kraft material to hear for the first time, arrangements to which they had become familiar, as the opening bars in the recordings of East Side Of Heaven, And The Angels Sing and You Lucky People You respectively, serving as introductions for, I Get Along Without You Very Well (March 2, 1939), Hurry Home (December 8, 1938) and My Mind’s On You (March 20, 1941) and there are other examples.

Others have denounced his work as unimaginative and it is true that one can detect slight acknowledgments to Rustle Of Spring in Sweet Little You (October 21, 1937) and more overtly, The Entry Of The Gladiators in Marie (October 28, 1937) but it would be naive to suppose that John Scott really intended to deceive with these tongue in cheek plagiarism’s. A few, unable to express their disapprobation more coherently, merely labelled his accompaniments hackneyed or corny, but his prodigious workload for the Kraft Music Hall series cannot be denied.It included not only arrangements for Bing but also for the Music Maids’ backgrounds, the various female singers’ vocals and, at times, some of the guests.

Perhaps it would be as well to leave the last words on this subject to the person who was in the best position to judge. Bing maintained an association with Trotter which endured for twenty years of broadcasting and recording without, it is said, any formal contract. At the commencement of this comfortable alliance, he is quoted as saying, “I just know he is very good and he has marvellous taste” - and towards the end, that opinion had not changed when he described John’s orchestrations as, “. . . never obtrusive . . . always in good taste.”

To add a little romantic interest to the proceedings, a regular place was found for an attractive chanteuse who, on occasions, dueted with Bing in addition to having her own solo spot. Among those engaged to fill this role were Connie Boswell (her adoption of the name Connee coincided with her departure from the Hall), Mary Martin, Janet Blair, Marilyn Maxwell, Eugenie Baird and Trudy Erwin.

During his radio career, Bing Crosby seems to have found somewhat more affinity with a backing group than some other solo performers. He would probably have said, “I like somebody to share the blame!” but it is a personal belief that Bing enjoyed this dueting, relishing the competition and at times, taking the opportunity to indulge in musical ad -libs and asides, thus enhancing the laid back quality of the performance, to the benefit of the listener.

Appertaining to this, the previously mentioned Trudy (Virginia) Erwin had graduated from The Music Maids, a quintet which joined the programme in February 1939, replacing the Paul Taylor Choristers who had been providing vocal support for Bing until that time. Apart from Trudy, the other four members were June Clifford, Dorothy Messmer, Alice Ludes and Denny Wilson. Inevitably, the personnel altered over the years and the group was eventually reduced to a quartet, later still to become, variously, The Music Maids & (Hal) (Phil) (Lee) (Men). Other combinations who filled this role were, The Charioteers, a coloured group, composed of Wilfred “Billy” Williams, Eddie Jackson, Ira Williams, Howard “Doug” Daniel and James Sherman (Piano) who were, ultimately, to be carried forward by Bing to his Philco Radio Time series and The Kraft Choral Club (Society) (Group), originally composed of 90 employees from Kraft’s home office in the East, who, invariably made featured contributions at Christmas and Easter.

Sometime scriptwriter and warm -up man for the Hall,Leo “Ukie” Sherin found some measure of permanence, for a couple of seasons, playing a buffoon whose general dumbness was only exceeded by his ambitions to be the star of the show. One of KMH’s outstanding discoveries was Victor Borge who came for a week and stayed for more than a year! On occasions, he hosted the programme, eventually progressing to his own, internationally acclaimed, one -man show.

Two other popular comics emerged from the ranks of the Trotter orchestra. Jerry Colonna, a trombonist, described by Bing as, “the only singer who started on his high note and then went up” went on to became an invaluable member of the Bob Hope troupe and appeared in several movies including two Road pictures. There was also Spike Jones who, together with John Scott and Perry Botkin, created the inimitable musical style of Spike Jones and his City Slickers, originally intended to accompany Bob Burns’ efforts on the bazooka.

While not necessarily being regarded as the supreme accolade, it was considered a reasonably prestigious compliment to make a guest appearance on the Kraft Music Hall and indeed, some stars actually asked to appear even though the remuneration was below that of other shows of similar standing. There were, however, benefits in the form of minimal time spent on tiring rehearsals and a bumper hamper of Kraft products from the sponsors. A perusal of the relevant index reveals that the guest list was nothing short of breathtaking. Stars from Hollywood and the concert hall, top sporting personalities, as well as literary figures and even politicians dropped in.

There appeared to be a tacit rivalry between the Fleischmann show and KMH as to who could come up with the biggest and the best. While Rudy Vallee rubbed shoulders with Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward, Eddie Cantor and Tyrone Power, Crosby chatted to Leopold Stokowski, Amelia Earhart, Spencer Tracy and John McCormack.

In the beginning, the show was to have no audience, due, it is said, to Bing’s reluctance to dress up and to wear his toupee but a compromise was reached when it was decided that an audience was needed to provide the essential laughter for timing gags. Members of the show were permitted to bring along friends who were allowed to laugh but not applaud. Very soon, On Thursday nights, these friends were forming extensive queues outside the NBC studios until, in the end, it became so difficult to prevent the audience from breaking into spontaneous applause that the rules had to be abandoned.

After Pearl Harbour and to some degree, even before, KMH became a typical wartime radio programme. Members of the armed forces and officials from government agencies were featured and in line with other leading radio shows, allocations were received from the Office of War Information. These allocations were in the form of broadcast appeals to the public to join in the war effort of the nation. The effectiveness of these propaganda plugs can be judged by the erroneous announcement (read by Bing), of a minimum age requirement which resulted in a flood of under -age volunteers having to be turned away on the very next day.

The musical content of the shows altered quite dramatically. To some extent, the more mawkishly sentimental songs were eschewed in favour of the rousing marching songs of the various branches of the armed services and the patriotic products of Tin Pan Alley, such as, Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer, Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, Vict’ry Polka, The Bombardier Song, A Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin, Ridin’ Herd On A Cloud, etc., and musical invocations stressing the need to invest in War Bonds, as in The Road To Victory and Any Bonds Today?.

Possibly, the most poignant story connected with the show occurred very soon after the beginning of the war with Japan when General Douglas MacArthur and his troops were beleaguered by the Japanese invaders in the Philippines and a weary corporal in the Signal Corps felt lonesome for the voice of Bing Crosby. He sent a coded message requesting a short wave broadcast to the Philippines, “in order to divert our thoughts from the pressure of battle.” The request was transmitted by MacArthur to Washington which resulted in a personal telegram being sent to Bing, saying, “General MacArthur is specifically asking you to broadcast to the men in the Philippines on Bataan Peninsula” and thus on the 29th January 1942, the complete programme was dedicated to the fighting men in that far -off Theatre of Operations.

The end of the war roughly coincided with the commencement of hostilities which presaged Bing’s departure from the Kraft Music Hall. By this time, the programme was assured of its rightful place in the Golden Age Of Radio and this, surely, was also the Golden Age for Bing Crosby, when he was at the peak of his career, commanding a listening audience measured in excess of an astonishing fifty million!

Compiler’s Notes
From a personal viewpoint, the Kraft Music Hall radio programme has been always been the Holy Grail of Crosbyana, covering ten years during which an emergent crooner with an agreeable personality rose to be a Twentieth Century icon. Unlike the later Philco, Chesterfield or General Electric series of which complete copies exist, providing a perfect continuity and means of verification, the Kraft series (with the exception of some of the later shows) has no such continuity and relies on hearsay and (notoriously flawed) newspaper columns. Without being too critical of hearsay on which a great deal of the world’s history is based, it is an accepted fact that a great proportion of the programmes do not survive in complete form, making it impossible for anyone to be certain of their exact content.

It would seem that even regular participants in the shows are not immune to confusion. A quote by Trudy Erwin appears in the sleeve notes for the LP issue Spokane 23. “One of the songs Bing and I sang together was Stay As Sweet As You Are. Strange as it seems, when I was a senior in high school, I had harmonised that very same song with a record of Bing, in a little recording booth at the World’s Fair”. Discographers would be as delighted to find this record, as I would to find a place for the duet in this Directory! Or, is Trudy remembering, The Way You Look Tonight which qualifies on both counts and has some vague lyrical resemblance.

Fifteen years ago, I produced a very limited edition of twenty-five copies of a Directory for this series. At that time, I bemoaned the fact that I still had a list of guest stars who were supposed to have appeared and songs that were alleged to have been sung for which I could find no place. Further research has resolved many of these queries but some remain and I have little doubt that there are copies of shows in existence that I have not had the benefit of hearing. For example, there is evidence that a copy of the programme of the 18th April 1940 endures, featuring a Crosby duet of Alice Blue Gown with Anna Neagle. (Come on, own up. Who’s got it?). I am equally sure that there are those whose knowledge is greater than mine whocould add more detail to this Directory. In spite of these pitfalls, a strenuous effort has been made to avoid assumption and I have resisted including the names of even the most regular of the personnel, unless there is a modicum of evidence to support their inclusion.

There is no doubt that excerpts from the Kraft Music Hall were used in programmes generated by the Armed Forces Radio Service. The transcribed AFRS Music Hall series which was short-waved at noon on Sundays provides glimpses of shows which may no longer be available in their original form. Here the hazard to the researcher is that although they may have been based on an original Kraft programme, wild songs have been inserted, by Bing or others, from other shows in order to produce a full hour/half hour without commercials.

It is also an accepted fact that Kraft provided the source for many of the V -Discs that were issued during World War II. There is a school of thought which suggests that Bing performed the show twice, explaining the difference between the broadcast version of a song and that issued on V –Disc, but it has been established that many of these alternates were recorded from same-day rehearsals for the programmes. I would further suggest that these rehearsals were somewhat more formal than usual as it has been noted that, at a rehearsal, Bing might “la, la, la” his part, saving the lyric (and his voice) for the actual broadcast. Please note that I have chosen to link these V -Disc issues with either the original programme or its rehearsal, on occasions, pointing out the salient differences.

The 385 separate programmes, which comprise the Kraft Music Hall series, have been divided into seasons. Special mention is made because although the seasons may still, roughly, coincide with Bing’s annual vacations, compared with other series they were slightly more unpredictable. It should be pointed out, however, that the Kraft Music Hall was a year -round programme and during Bing’s absences, The Hall was hosted by other personalities, including Bob Burns, Mary Martin, Bob Crosby, Victor Borge, George Murphy, Frank Morgan etc.