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.


Post a Comment

<< Home