Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 10

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

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

While handling a studio audience of kids was probably no easy task, people I know who worked with him say he was a professional and knew how to run his show; he took great pride in his ability to relate to kids. (When WGI/AMRAD held a reunion in 1964, Bob was there, and said something very interesting - various of the AMRAD folks were lamenting how awful rock and roll was and how radio had deteriorated and how kids these days were uncontrollable. But Bob refused to agree. He said he liked some of the rock music - he especially enjoyed the Beatles - and said that kids today were no worse than kids of any other generation, if you didn't talk down to them and if you let them know what you expected of them. Given how bitter some of the old WGI announcers had become about what had happened to radio over the years, it was refreshing to hear somebody in his 60s saying positive things about the music and about the kids. While I am sure he had bad days like everyone else, Bob Emery never stopped believing in the fact that kids COULD be reached with intelligent children's programming, and he continued to provide it.)

Big Brother, even in his 60s, was a tireless fundraiser. When he went back on the air at Channel 4, he immediately aligned himself with various charities. During one campaign, he encouraged his young viewers to send in their pennies, nickels and dimes to help the Jimmy Fund, and the kids responded with nearly $11,000. This was actually very typical of what Bob could do. He made kids aware of those children who were less fortunate, and then created opportunities for his audience to help. And, to teach responsibility, he asked kids to EARN the money they were donating - by doing chores or baby-sitting or working around their neighborhood.

When storms and tornadoes devastated central Massachusetts in mid 1953, the members of the Small Fry Club helped him raise $18,000; the money went directly to agencies helping children whose families had lost their homes and their possessions. And as he had done during his radio days, Bob was also a frequent visitor to Children's Hospital, where he sang for the kids and entertained them. And he continued making appearances at venues all over eastern Massachusetts - for example, I have a clipping from May of 1958 that announces his visit to the "Kiddie Ranch" on route 1 in Saugus, and another from the spring of 1957 announcing a traffic safety campaign that was taking him to various schools in greater Boston. The idea of doing a good deed - Be Someone's Big Brother or Sister Every Day - was one he never abandoned.

- 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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