Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bob Emery, Pt. 9

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

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

I have never been able to find out what caused Shepard and Big Brother to part company - the Big Brother Club was just as popular a decade later as it had been when it first went on the air. Big Brother had famous guests, he put on state-wide spelling bees where schools could field teams and compete for prizes, and of course, he had "opportunity night" - this was a weekly talent show, with the winner having the opportunity to join the supporting cast that put on the Big Brother Club. Yet, despite the popularity of his show and the respect educators and the Boston media had for him, by mid-1933 he and his wife were back in New York.

This time, Bob went to work for WOR, where he developed a highly successful children's show called Rainbow House; during the early 40s, it began running on the Mutual Network. The mid-40s saw a renewed interest in television, and the Dumont station, WABD hired him to create a kids' program for TV. And so it was in 1946 that the Small Fry Club was born. It would run in New York till 1950; interestingly, when WNAC-TV, channel 7, came on the air in the summer of 1948, it began carrying some Dumont shows, including Big Brother's Small Fry Club. It must have brought back a few memories for people who had grown up hearing him on radio, and now here he was on TV.

By the early 50s, Bob was trying to find a way to get back to the city he had always loved, and finally, in November of 1952, he negotiated a contract with WBZ-TV and returned to Boston at last. The remainder of his TV career would take place at WBZ-TV. Although by now he was much older, to a new generation of kids, he was the kindly and informative man who kept them entertained while teaching them new things-- he was very proud of all the kids he taught the Pledge of Allegience, for example. Bob had always liked working with young people, but there is a certain story - attributed to Uncle Don, Big Brother, and various other hosts of children's shows - that claims he allegedly called the kids "little bastards" one day while not realising the mike was still open. I can assure you that this story is an urban legend. There is absolutely no evidence that Big Brother ever did such a thing, yet the story has circulated for years.

- 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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