Saturday, March 07, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 2

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

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

Claire Robert Emery was born in Abington, Massachusetts, and he graduated from Abington High School. Much of his youth was spent on his grandfather's farm. He later moved to Hingham. Unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, he took a job at Gilchrist's Department Store in Boston, managing the shoe department. It was customary in those days for companies to have employee glee clubs or drama groups to entertain at company functions. Bob, who could play several instruments, joined a quartet at the store. It was 1921, and the local radio station, 1XE (later known as WGI) was constantly seeking volunteer talent to perform on the air. So the Gilchrist Quartet went to Medford Hillside to sing at 1XE, and even though they only knew a few songs, they got a good response.

The PD, Herb Miller, liked their harmonies and invited them back. He especially felt that Bob had potential as an entertainer, and during the Christmas season, he asked Bob to play Santa Claus on 1XE. Bob felt he was too young to be a credible Santa, so he created a character called "Big Brother" to read stories and answer kids' letters to Santa. He was ultimately hired full-time, with a salary of $35 a week. During 1922, he alternated with various of the AMRAD employees (including Bill Barrow-- or "Uncle Billy", Eunice Randall, and several others) handling the children's programming.

He also used his musical talent to sing with other Amradians, and sometimes he accompanied a vocalist. But it would be another year before he became the official host of a very successful kids' show - The Big Brother Club.

By late 1923/early 1924, Bob Emery (or C.R.E. when he was announcing - some announcers still used only initials, a tradition from the early days of ham radio) was the Program Director of WGI. He had also started the Big Brother Club, and it was rapidly becoming a very popular program. As its name suggested, it was a club - kids who listened could apply for membership. They would get amembership card and pin, and they had to promise to do good deeds and be good citizens.

- 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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