Monday, March 16, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 11

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

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

In the 1960s, WBZ began moving his show around, changing its day and time, shortening it, changing its name... Clubhouse 4, Big Brother and Flash, Big Brother's World... and finally limiting it to one day a week and asking him to tape it. While Bob did not feel that he was "too old" or out of touch with the audience, a number of the older announcers and performers were being encouraged to retire, as TV continued to change.

Finally, in early January of 1968, Bob did in fact retire, at the age of 70. Some of the surviving members of the Joy Spreaders were at his retirement party. To this day, many of us who grew up watching him have not forgottenhim. After he retired, he was still asked to make some personal appearances for charity, and he did. But he also had time to enjoy his hobbies - he liked to cook, he played golf, he did some acting in theatrical productions.

He and Katherine, his wife of 43 years were very close (she had produced some of his TV shows, in fact); they also had four grandchildren. Yet, although he seemed content that he no longer had the pressure of a daily performance, it still seems to me (based on interviews I have read from that time period) that, given his choice, he would have remained on the air in some capacity. Ultimately, it was a stroke that slowed him down; he died in July of 1982, at the age of 85.

I know of few performers whose careers ran from the era of crystal sets all the way to the era of satellites. The world changed so much, and so did the types of programming for kids. Yet Big Brother Bob Emery kept re-inventing himself decade after decade, appealing to entirely new generations of "small fry". I don't know if his style would work for today's kids - he certainly came from a more innocent, less contentious time. But then, I am sure he would say that some things are timeless, and if a show is honest and interesting, if it provides kids with a chance to get involved in a positive way, it will work no matter what year it is. I don't know if our post-literate society of video games and South Park has room for somebody like Big Brother, but I am certainly glad I was around in those formative years of TV, and I wish I could have heard him on the radio. Rest in peace, Big Brother - and thanks!!!

- 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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