Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 6

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

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

He had also started his own vocal group, the Joy Spreaders. Several members of this band had been listeners of his, while others were experienced young musicians from the Boston area. Big Brother and the Joy Spreaders would become regular performers at Keith's Theatre over the next several years, in fact. And for those who really couldn't get enough of Big Brother, in the fall of 1926, he and his band were asked to make their first record. They were signed to the Brunswick label, which evidently felt our area had a lot of talent because Brunswick also signed several other local radio performers, such as WTAG/ Worcester's singer/announcer Chester Gaylord, and Boston-area bandleader and former WGI alumnus Joe Rines. Big Brother and the Joy Spreaders recorded the Big Brother Club theme song (which included the call letters of WEEI) and did a re-enactment of a Big Brother Club meeting, complete with various songs and poems and letters from kids.

The session was called "Big Brother's Brunswick Record", and although I have never seen the actual 78, I do know it WAS released. (If anyone has a copy, I would truly love to hear it!) The record was sold in stores, and also given away as a prize to club members. Bob would also make at least one other record in 1929 for Speak-O-Phone Recording Studios. That one, I do have a copy of, and it is similar to the first one - a re-enactment of a show, with songs, contests, guests, etc. In 1929, he was not yet using "So Long Small Fry", but he WAS using "The Grass is Always Greener".

Thousands and thousands of kids from all over the eastern United States were now members of the Big Brother Club, and Edison, not wanting to miss an opportunity, encouraged Bob to do some very indirect selling - some shows about using home appliances (Edison appliances, of course) safely. He quickly became a very credible spokesperson, because kids trusted him. When a store wanted somebody to appear at an opening or promote a new product to kids, the management would call upon Bob Emery, knowing what a following he had. To Bob's credit, he did not seem to take every opportunity that came his way, but he did become a fairly frequent voice for Edison products, as might be expected given how Edison had supported his show.

- 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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