Friday, March 06, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 1

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

“Big Brother” Bob Emery ... a Legend in Children's Programming
Donna Halper

If you grew up in greater Boston in the early 1950s, you remember seeing Big Brother on channel 4. By then, he was an older man, grandfatherly in appearance, but still quite energetic. I remember him with his ukulele, singing "Oh the grass is always greener in the other fella's yard/ the little row we had to hoe, oh boy that's hard...", or at least that's what it sounded like. I didn't fully understand the words, but I liked how he sang the song. His program taught values like good citizenship (remember the Toast to the President of the United States? There was President Eisenhower's photo, and Big Brother would hold up a glass of milk, while "Hail to the Chief" played in the background), while entertaining kids with songs and stories and even a contest or two. He referred to his young audience as "small fry", and his closing song was "So long small fry, it's time to say goodbye..."

Since I was only a kid in the early 50s, I had no idea that he had been doing the "Small Fry Club" in one form or another for the past 30 years. I also didn't know that the original version of his closing theme song had a line which said "Come back again tomorrow night and then/ we'll have more fun, there's some for everyone..."; in his radio days, the Big Brother Club was broadcast right after dinner, at 6:30 pm. But on television, the show had a weekday afternoons at 12:15 time slot, causing the lyrics to change to "come back again, tomorrow noon and then..."

Years later, when I had long since outgrown children's shows, I sometimes wondered whatever happened to the announcers and performers I grew up listening to and watching. When I became a broadcast historian, I started doing research on those great personalities from the 40s and 50s, and it was then that I finally learnt about Big Brother's many achievements. One article I found about him was especially interesting – it was written in 1968, just after he had retired, and in it, he told the interviewer that he was busy writing a book about his career in broadcasting. To my knowledge, that book never came out, which is a shame, because "Big Brother" Bob Emery certainly deserves to be remembered.

- Donna Halper is a lecturer and broadcast consultant based in Quincy, MA. Her love of radio history is evident in the way she captures the essence of her subjects.


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