Friday, March 13, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 8

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

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

By 1928, Big Brother had formed a radio drama group, the "Radio Rascals", made up of club members who enjoyed performing. Some even wrote original plays or skits, which he put on the air. He also made numerous appearances for charity and encouraged his audience to dotheir part for their community. In fact, throughout the remainder of the 1920s, Bob Emery continued to find new and interesting ways to teach yet still entertain; one feature involved bringing in real people who had unusual jobs. Bob would create a "you are there" scenario, and through the magic of radio, kids could be taken to all sorts of places, such as a lighthouse or an expedition to the North Pole, and they could pretend they were doing the particular job along with the guest.

On 5 February 1930, something unique occurred - the Big Brother Club was televised, via the experimental station W1XAV, owned by Shortwave and Television Labs Inc. While not many people saw it, we can safely assume that the listeners of WEEI must have been somewhat puzzled when the announcer said tonight's show was not only being heard on radio but was also being televised. Bob Emery was certainly one of the first major radio personalities to do television, and it would be helpful to his career later on.

In the summer of 1930, the opportunity every local personality hoped for happened for him - he was called by NBC, which wanted him to do a once a week (Sunday night) children's show on the network. For a while, he commuted back and forth, working at WEEI and also for NBC. But by the fall, the traveling was too much, and he gave his notice at Edison, to concentrate on developing new children's shows for NBC Red. However, he still loved Boston, and by the summer of 1931, he had signed a contract to broadcast the Big Brother Club over the Yankee Network; owner John Shepard 3rd also made him educational director for the chain of stations.

- 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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