Old Time Radio

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Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd Meet a New Generation

Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd on Charlie McCarthy #6 (1949) This past semester I've been teaching American humor to a group of 11th and 12th graders who have been brought up on Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Sure, they've seen Bob Hope and Edgar Bergen and they remember Jack Benny and Groucho Marx. But Jack Carson? Judy Canova? Joe Penner? Fred Allen? Wasn't he the coach of the Red Sox? Well, being a OTR freak,I had to set these kids straight on just ... (read more)

Roy C. Knapp Followed the Beat of His Own Drum

A 1952 ad for the Roy C. Knapp School of Percussion A series of accidents led Roy Knapp Into the life of a professional musician. Of course, Knapp had been reared in music. His father was a violinist, and from his earliest days Knapp was taught to play the violin. Then he broke his left arm in such a way that, even after it healed, it was impossible for him to finger the strings of the violin. So he took up the trumpet. His father wanted Knapp to be a farmer, and several times Knapp was ... (read more)

Jack Benny: How Radio Made Comedy Grow Up

In the past 20 years, American humor -- accelerated by radio -- has come out of the barnyard. It has been cleaned up, perfumed and sparked by those unsung heroes, the gag writers. Today, the ether is so full of good gags that even the ghosts have hysterics. I will go out on a limb to say that radio has done for American humor in 10 years what it would have taken vaudeville 50 years to reach. I feel no heartaches over vaudeville's passing, when I think of the way the old-time comic used to ... (read more)

Nelson Selby, the Busiest Organist in Buffalo

Organist Nelson Selby at Old Laube's Restaurant in Buffalo One rarely thinks of an organist as being a much-traveled man or one whose activities would run from virtually dawn to midnight. But WBEN organist Nelson Selby is currently providing the musical backbone of Breakfast at Laube's Old Spain five mornings a week, playing at the Hotel Lenox six evenings a week, and airing a Sunday afternoon organ program on WBEN. He also is heard frequently on Sundays at Buffalo's leading churches. ... (read more)

Bing Crosby: A Quick Study in Singing and Acting

Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949) When Bing Crosby changed from "live" radio shows to transcribed ones, it was because he felt that better programs would result when they could be assembled and produced with the care and control that transcribing allows -- you can't change a song or a comedy line once it's gone on the airways, but you can always "edit" a transcription. Besides, having to show up for rehearsals and broadcasts at set times every week was ... (read more)

When Radio Memories Was Heard on KDKA

Harold Peary and Jane Darwell in the movie The Great Gildersleeve (1942) An honorable mention-winning entry in the KDKA Radio Memories essay contest: About two years ago, a week before Christmas, I was putting up the Christmas decorations in my room and decided to listen to the radio. A little tired with the music on the FM band, I switched it over to AM. After twiddling around with the dial, I came upon KFKA and heard someone yell with what seemed like anger, "Leroy!" Which was followed ... (read more)

Command Performance Radio Entertains the Troops

Bing Crosby and Jimmy Cagney on Command Performance (August 30, 1942) A few Sundays ago, a young and unknown radio producer sat down to a telephone in the War Department in Washington and called Leopold Stokowski, in New York. "Mr. Stokowski," he said, "I want you and your orchestra to appear on my radio program two weeks from today." Stokowski -- who won't lift a baton for less than $4,000 -- gasped. But before he could hang up, Glenn Wheaton, radio producer for Uncle Sam, explained. "We ... (read more)

Warden Lewis E. Lawes on Radio in Sing Sing Prison

Sing Sing Prison Warden Lewis E. Lawes on Time Magazine (Nov. 18, 1929) The other evening, I made one of my accustomed tours through the cell blocks. As I strolled along I could hear laughter issuing from practically every cell and could see, of course, that the radio was creating this atmosphere of joviality. "Hello, Warden," the men greeted as I passed by. "They got a swell program on tonight." I knew the program they were referring to. It was one of the prominent half-hour variety ... (read more)

Major Bowes: The King of Radio's Amateur Hour

Major Bowes and Amateur Hour performer Frank Sinatra in 1943 It's a bit puzzling, on first meeting Major Edward Bowes, to decide whether you are looking at a churchman or the head of a prosperous money-lending agency. His manner is faintly pious; his eyes are as cold as a polar bear's paws. Still, it's his nose that really gets you. It is a great, engulfing over-riding thing which makes Jimmy Durante's look like a wemple. The man behind it is about 66. He has hair which is thin and ... (read more)

H. W. Arlin: Broadcasting Radio in the 1920s

KDKA announcer H. W. Arlin on the radio in 1921 Announcing radio programs might be called the world's most recent profession, because announcers for broadcasting stations were introduced first about four years ago when KDKA, the world's pioneer station of the Westinghouse Company at East Pittsburgh, Pa., was started. H. W. Arlin, the world's pioneer radio announcer, made his debut early in 1921 and has been continuously "on the air" since. Thus his long service entitles him to the honors ... (read more)