Saturday, March 11, 2017

March 12 Radio History

In 1900...announcer Harlow Wilcox was born in Omaha, Nebraska.

He studied voice for three years in his youth and left home in his late teens to try for a career on the stage.  His first radio work was for station WGES in Chicago in 1930. In January of 1934, he was signed as a Chicago staff announcer by NBC.  He would deliver Johnson Wax commercials for the hit show Fibber McGee & Molly for seventeen years, 1935 through 1952, and became an integrated character in the script.  He also became the regular announcer for the half-hour radio version of Amos & Andy, for the Baby Snooks Show, Truth Or Consequences, and the Autolight-sponsored six years of Suspense.

One of the top announcers of bigtime radio, Wilcox died much too young on September 24, 1960, at age 60.

In 1912...orchestra leader Paul Weston was born Paul Wetstein in Springfield Mass.  First big break was as arranger for Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann Hour on NBC Radio.  Worked as arranger for Tommy Dorsey, Dinah Shore and Bob Crosby, then joined Capitol Records, where he met & married singer Jo Stafford. He worked on radio with Johnny Mercer’s Music Shop, his wife’s Chesterfield Supper Club, & the Joan Davis & Duffy’s Tavern sitcoms.  In TV Weston was musical director for Danny Kaye, Jonathan Winters, Jim Nabors, etc.  He died Sep 20, 1996 at age 84.

In actress Georgia Ellis was born Georgia B. Hawkins in Ventura, Ca.  She is best remembered today as Matt’s love interest Kitty in the acclaimed CBS radio version of Gunsmoke.  Other featured radio credits include Dragnet, Dr. Kildare, Escape, Romance, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, This is Your FBI, and dozens of lesser known series.  She died at age 71 March 30 1988.

In 1923...Dr. Lee DeForest demonstrated his method for putting sound on motion picture film. One of the pioneers of radio in the early 1900s, DeForest came up with a snappy name for his invention; he called it: phonofilm. Today, we call it a soundtrack.


In 1933...just eight days after he was inaugurated, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt broadcast his first presidential address to the nation.

It was the first of what were called Roosevelt’s famous Fireside Chats, a name that was coined by CBS newsman, Robert Trout. The frequent, soothing, down-to-earth radio talks helped bolster Roosevelt’s enormous popularity for four terms in office, making him, many say, the greatest President of the century, if not of all time.


In 1953...Memphis disc jockey Rufus Thomas signed with Sun Records to release a song called "Bear Cat," an answer to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog."

In of the great classical conductors of the 20th century, Eugene Ormandy, for 44 years leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra, died at age 85. That symphony had been the first orchestra to make a commercially sponsored radio broadcast (on NBC in 1929) and the first to appear on national TV (on CBS in 1948).


In 2001...TV-radio talk show host/singer/songwriter Morton Downey, Jr., son of singers Morton Downey and Barbara Bennett, died of lung cancer at age 68.

Downey was a program director and announcer at a radio station in Connecticut in the 1950s, and later worked in various markets around the U.S., including Phoenix (KRIZ), Miami (WFUN), San Diego (KDEO) and Seattle (KJR).

Like his father, Downey pursued a career in music, recording in both pop and country styles. He sang on a few records and then began to write songs, several of which were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. He joined ASCAP as a result. In 1958, he recorded "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams", which he sang on national television on a set that resembled a dark street with one street light. In 1981, "Green Eyed Girl" charted on the Billboard Magazine country chart, peaking at #95.

In the 1980s, Downey was a talk show host at KFBK-AM in Sacramento, California, where he employed his abrasive style. He was fired in 1984. He was replaced on KFBK by Rush Limbaugh, who has held the time slot ever since, later via his national syndication.

Downey also had a stint on WMAQ-AM in Chicago where he unsuccessfully tried to get other on air radio personalities to submit to drug testing.  Downey's largest effect on American culture came from his popular, yet short-lived, syndicated late 1980s television talk show, The Morton Downey Jr. Show.

His third – and final – attempt at a talk radio comeback occurred in 1997 on Cleveland radio station WTAM in a late evening time slot.  It marked his return to the Cleveland market, where Downey had been a host for crosstown radio station WERE in the early 1980s prior to joining KFBK. This stint came shortly after the surgery for lung cancer that removed one of his lungs. At WTAM, Downey abandoned the confrontational schtick of his TV and previous radio shows, and conducted this program in a much more conversational and jovial manner.

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