Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Now, That's What We Call a Birthday Present: The Way It Was, 1 May

1931---One would be hard pressed to find a performer getting this kind of old-time radio birthday present: for her 24th birthday, hefty Kate Smith, a former vaudevillian foil (for Bert Lahr and other comedians) with a big voice and earthy manners, hits the waves running with Kate Smith Sings, premiering on CBS.

Able to hide behind a microphone as she can't on stage, the Songbird of the South---shepherded by her manager (many say Svengali) Ted Collins---finds the ideal way to get everyone away from her girth and toward her outsized voice. ("I'm big and I'm fat but I have a voice, and when I sing, boy, I sing all over!") And thus does she launch a radio career that, in turn, will launch in due course such old-time radio legends as quiz show deconstruction It Pays to Be Ignorant, lowbrow laughmeisters Abbott & Costello, and fellow songbird Bea Wain.

Not quite everybody takes Smith's on-air image of earnest wholesomeness ("Kids who grew up to the sound of Kate Smith's voice privately felt that this is what Mom would sound like if only Mom could sing"---television critic Tom Shales) as real or just folks, however.

I said that because the big noise of the day was one Kate Smith, a fat girl who started HER show with a condescending, "Hello, everybody . . . " I, on the other hand, was happy if ANYbody listened in.

---Freewheeling, cantankerous comedian Henry Morgan, explaining the inspiration for his trademark sign-on, "Good evening, anybody, here's Morgan"; from Here's Morgan: The Original Bad Boy of Broadcasting. (New York: Barricade Books, 1994)


1942: SHENK THE STAR---That's what underground Radio Orange encourages Jews to do, urging them to defy Third Reich orders to wear the infamous yellow stars pinned to their lapels at the depth of the Nazi experience.

1945: DEATH OF A DICTATOR---News the world had hoped would pass came to pass at last: the death of Adolf Hitler, believed to have occurred 30 April, is reported today.

THE FIRST BULLETIN---From Stuart Hibberd of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

ANOTHER BULLETIN---The Blue Network (on the threshold of becoming ABC, following its divestment by NBC in an anti-trust action a few years earlier) reports on the BBC bulletin and an early item saying the strangling German government at first suggested der Fuehrer fell to a stroke, "fighting to the last breath."

DEATH AND SUCCESSION---Mutual Broadcasting System delivers a somewhat more detailed report on Hitler's death, the speculation regarding Himmler's succession and surrender terms, and an overview of the little-known (outside the Third Reich, of course) U-boat campaign commander whom der Fuehrer finally designated as his successor, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz.

Indeed, on the day the news Hitler's death began to make way around the world, Hungary's Radio Budapest re-launched shortwave broadcasts.

2008: RETURN TO GAMBLING---John R. Gambling---who once succeeded his namesake father and grandfather as the host of perhaps the single longest-running family presence in American radio history---returns to radio at the station where the family name was made.

WOR announces Gambling will rejoin the station come 5 May at 5:30 a.m. EDT, just over two months after he was let go by WABC in a move news reports called "purely economic." The move means current morning hosts Joe Bartlett and Donna Hanover move to new responsibilities, Bartlett delivering news reports on the Gambling show and Hanover delivering film critics and serving as occasional substitute host, according to published reports.

When WOR dropped Gambling in 2000, it said it was trying to attract younger listeners. But with first Ed Walsh, then Bartlett and Hanover, the demographics didn't change much, and the total audience has never been as large as Gambling's.

Joan Hamburg, who will follow Gambling on WOR, says his return will thrill listeners.

"There's nothing like a homecoming," she said yesterday. "WOR listeners are incredibly loyal, and they still feel like John is one of the family."

---David Hinkley, New York Daily News.

"If you had told me six months ago I would be returning to WOR," Gambling told Hinkley, "I'd have said you were out of your mind."

Gambling's father, Radio Hall of Famer John A. Gambling, whose achievements included radio's first known helicopter traffic and school closure reports, and whose optimism-without-saccharine style set Rambling with Gambling's best-loved tone, succeeded his father John B. Gambling in 1959, after the two men worked together a few years. The third of the Gamblings in turn joined his father as co-host in 1985, working as a team until John A.'s 1991 retirement.

The original Rambling with Gambling format ended in 2000, the same year John A. was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame. The 2003 Guiness Book of World Records called the show radio's longest-running, but that may have transposed the longevity of the Gamblings themselves. Radio historian Elizabeth McLeod, expanding on John Dunning's research, has noted that Rambling with Gambling moved to mornings---following its actual birth as a mid-day talk feature in 1942---as a lead-in to John B. Gambling's original morning show: a kind of "gym class" in which Gambling conducted exercises and bantered wittily, accompanied by the Vincent Sorey orchestra. (Gambling had succeeded publisher Bernarr McFadden hosting the exercise show, whose format was created by Arthur Bagley.)

John B. Gambling died in 1974; John A. Gambling died thirty years later.


1948: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING?---I'm sure at one time or another all of you have gotten a tip on a racehorse. Somebody told you he'd walk in. And he does walk in. The only trouble is, the other horses ran. So muses (Goodman) Ace, who can't wait for the nightmare to place when Jane (Ace) can't wait to get down a can't-lose bet on the horse of her dreams, on tonight's edition of mr. ace and JANE. (CBS.)

Paul: Leon Janney. Norris: Eric Dressler. Ken: Ken Roberts. Writer: Goodman Ace.

1949: CLEANING THE CHIMNEY---The attempt at which by Phil (Harris), Remley (Elliott Lewis), and Julius (Walter Tetley) leaves the Harris household one flue over the cuckoo's nest, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Alice: Alice Faye. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Ann Whitfield. Willie: Robert North. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

1955: SPRING GARDEN---Redemption for her previous year's mishaps doesn't come too easily for Connie (Eve Arden), when Conklin (Gale Gordon) lets her take over supervising the annual student spring garden project, on tonight's edition of Our Miss Brooks. (CBS.)

Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Miss Enright: Mary Jane Croft. Writer: Al Lewis.


1888---Anna Appel (actress: Abie's Irish Rose), Bucharest.
1892---Howard Barlow (conductor: The March of Time; The Voice of Firestone), Plain City, Ohio.
1894---Sam McGee (guitarist, The Fruit Jar Drinkers: Grand Ole Opry), unknown.
1906---Rose Hobart (actress: Night Beat), New York City.
1916---Glenn Ford (actor: The Adventures of Christopher London), Quebec.
1918---Jack Paar (comedian: Take It or Leave It; The Jack Paar Show), Canton, Ohio.
1919---Dan O'Herlihy (actor: One Man's Family), Wexford, Ireland.
1922---Louis Nye (comedian: The Louis Nye Show), Hartford, Connecticut.
1933---Joan Hackett (actress: The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), New York City.


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