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.


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