WDAF Nighthawks and the Merry Old Chief

WDAF Nighthawks radio program anthem cover illustration featuring Leo Fitzpatrick and the Coon-Sanders orchestra

"Station WDAF, the Kansas City Star Nighthawks, just doing a little hawking" is a phrase familiar to radio listeners all over the United States and other parts of the world. For when the Merry Old Chief starts to dispense his happiness and good cheer at 11:45 p.m., fans invariably dial for Kansas City.

The Merry Old Chief is the most popular feature of the Nighthawks program. His original style of announcing, his ready wit, his million-dollar laugh and his unusual singing voice have endeared him to the hearts of many fans. Formerly a feature writer on the Star staff, Leo Fitzpatrick was made radio editor upon the opening of station WDAF. He won fifth place in the Radio Digest announcers' contest despite the fact that he had not been heard over radio during the entire length of the contest.

There is hardly a listener in the country who does not know by heart the catching signing-off words of the Nighthawks as they are repeated by the Chief each night. "WDAF, the Nighthawks, bidding good night to those on the Pacific coast, good morning to those on the Atlantic, goodbye to all until tomorrow night at 11:45 o'clock. Alright, Don, turn off the juice, crank the flivver, and let's go home."

The School of the Air program from 6 to 7 p.m. each night contains many entertaining and educational features for the whole family. It would be hard to say whether the Tell-Me-a-Story Lady or the Trianon Ensemble of the Hotel Muehlebach is the more popular feature of this program.

Mrs. J. Leon Coulter, the Tell-Me-a-Story Lady, has entertained the kiddies nightly with her bedtime stories since March 4, 1924, and has instituted for them a Laugh-in-Your-Dream club. Any kiddie may become a member by doing a kind act. Grownups as well as the youngers enjoy her stories and are included in the membership of the club. Although the club is only two months old, there are already 5,000 members.

Other regular features of the School of the Air programs are the readings of Cecile Burton; weekly talks by representatives of the Meat Council of Greater Kansas City; Health Conservation association; children's bureau; C.H. Cheney, under the auspices of the American Bankers Association; a personal message from Roger W. Babson, statistical expert; and a book review by Louis Mecker of the literary department of the Star.

WDAF's popular musical programs on Monday and Friday nights are unsurpassed for variety. A popular feature of these programs isthe flivver with its motor, horn, rattles, bumps, and everything. The Merry Old Chief is the driver and the listeners in are the passengers. The flivver takes imaginary trips around the town, transporting the radio audience to various theaters and hotels where entertainment is furnished by orchestras, soloists and vaudeville artists.

This remote control broadcasting involves an intricate system of special telephone lines. As many as 11 places may be connected with the Star's operating room in as many seconds.

WDAF is the institutor of one of the most unique and original ideas in the history of radio in the broadcasting of telephone conversations. This system, perfected by the Kansas City Telephone company, enables anyone to talk over the radio by calling the station on the phone. The calls are put directly through without the aid of a microphone other than the telephone transmitter. By this system also the station may transmit entertainment. Recently a full program was broadcast over telephone from various homes in Kansas City.

Since Harry Snodgrass has discontinued broadcasting from WOS, it is doubtful there is a pianist in the country as versatile as Lee, the "mystery man" of WDAF. His full name is Lee Mansfield and he is almost totally blind. He plays only by ear, being unable to see the notes on a sheet of music, and having once heard a piece he is able to reproduce it without mistake. He plays on the Nighthawks program every night, supplying numbers requested.

The radio staff is exceptionally small for the hours the station is on the air and for its popularity. Fitzpatrick is radio editor of the Star, director and announcer of station WDAF and the Merry Old Chief of the Nighthawks. He is assisted by Don D. Johnson, chief operator; V. S. Batton, remote control operator and assistant announcer; Ralph H. Patt, assistant program director; and Martin McKiddy, corresponding secretary.

From Radio Digest, February 28, 1925

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