The Deja Vu Theatre
When radio was king:
Broadcasters then were just like Movie Stars
By GORDON GREB
(House lights dim. Theatre curtains open as a dark-suited, well groomed gentleman steps forward. )
MANAGER: (Clearing his throat, he then speaks in a loud clear voice)
Ladies and Gentlemen. We have a special treat for you tonight. Before beginning our feature attraction, The Big Broadcast, three people in the audience have a chance to win valuable prizes by coming up and answering a few questions. To get our contest under way, let me present our famous question master--the one and only Professor Quiz. Yes, youve heard him on the radio and tonight we have him here at The Deja Vu Theatre--in person!
(Turning, the manager bows to a tall gentleman walking on stage.)
FANFARE: (Drum roll and trumpet blare from the orchestra of Kay Kysers Kollege of Musical Knowledge, followed by audience applause)
PROF QUIZ: Ladies and gentlemen. Im going to ask a few simple questions. But please put your names on the cards being handed you. Then come up on stage if your
number is called. Someone is sure to win tonight.
(Waiting briefly, he picks three contestants--a wide-eyed youth, a petite young brunette, and a brainy-looking gentleman.)
PROF QUIZ: First question--Tell me why Nov. 16 is an important day to remember? What happened on this particular day and how has it affected millions of people around the world? Each of you is entitled to one guess. Please give us your name, age, and where youre from.
YOUTH: My name is Steve Allen, 12 years old, visiting from Phoenix, Arizona. I play the piano and love music. Somewhere Ive read that W.C. Handy, a blues composer, gave us Memphis Blues and St. Louis Blues." I think Mr. Handy was born on Nov. 16 and gave us some of our best American music.
BRUNETTE: Im Dinah Shore--age 15--and I come from Winchester, Tennessee. All I know is that my boyfriend and I were out under the moon on Nov. 16 and I was singing Jerome Kerns Ive Told Every Little Star and guess what? On that night in 1932 we saw a spectacular meteor shower.
HANDSOME GENTLEMAN: Im from Berkeley, California, 23 years old, finishing a Ph.D. in economics at the University of California. My name is John Kenneth
Galbraith, originally from Canada. Your question is not difficult because I definitely know Congress revolutionized our banking system on Nov. 16, 1914, when it created the Federal Reserve System. Every investment banker in the country knows that.
PROF QUIZ: Lets go on. Ill tell you the right answers a bit later. Get ready for my second question--What program of the 1930s got the largest audience in radio? Heres a clue--three out of four families listened every night--a total of 40 million people.
STEVE ALLEN: Well, as I said, I love music. My guess is the National Barn Dance which comes from NBC in Chicago. Nearly everybody I know stops everything theyre doing on Saturday nights to listen. Friends of mine in Branson, Missouri, wish they could get these great country music stars on stage there--favorites like Uncle Ezra, the Hoosier Hot Shots, and Arkie, the Arkansas Woodchopper. Id like to be in radio myself someday.
DINAH SHORE: Well, lots of folks in Tennessee like that country music. But I think its The Eddie Cantor Show--one of the most popular comedy-variety shows on radio. Everybody loves Old Banjo-Eyes and Ive memorized the lyrics to his theme song (starts to sing), I love to spend one hour with you. As friend to friend, Im sorry its through.
KENNETH GALBRAITH: I like those shows, too. Our Great Economic Depression guarantees radio programs today get huge audiences because theyre free. But Im
certain the most popular broadcaster in America is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Everybody started listening to his Fireside Chats when he started them in 1933. Surveys say hes heard in almost every home.
PROF QUIZ: You people seem to know a lot about show business. So let me ask you this--my third and last question: Where in the world did people hear radio programs regularly for the first time? Where did broadcasting begin?
STEVE ALLEN: Hmm. I need to guess on this. Since the Russians claim to have invented nearly everything, Id say, Moscow, Russia.
DINAH SHORE: Well, Im not sure on that one either. But knowing our major radio networks--NBC and CBS--have their headquarters in New York City and RCA
President David Sarnoff got his start there, Ill take Manhattan.
KENNETH GALBRAITH: Thats easy, if you pay attention to business news. Ive read that a station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--KDKA--claims to be the oldest. Also WWJ, Detroit, Michigan and WHA, Madison,Wisconsin. Since Id think radio broadcasting must have been discovered by a college professor, my best guess is WHA at the University of Wisconsin.
PROF QUIZ: Very good, all of you. Now here are the correct answers:
Question No. 1: Each of you was correct on what important people or events happened on Nov. 16. But the communications revolution were experiencing in radio today actually began with the idea of one man, who was born on Nov. 16 at Fulton, Illinois
in 1875. He was Charles David Herrold, whose genius led him to invent radio broadcasting.
Question No. 2:- Who can claim to have the most popular radio program in the l930s? Each of you came close, because those you named were very popular. But nobody surpassed the drawing power of Amos n Andy, which came over NBC in 1929. At the peak of its popularity movie houses purposely scheduled their features to end just before this radio show came on--at 7 oclock in the evening--so they could pipe this 15-minute show over loudspeakers into their theatres. Unless they did this, people stayed home to hear it on the radio. The l930 census listed 120-million people living in the United States and Amos n Andy got 60-mllion of them. President Roosevelt may have had a larger audience in a single broadcast than Amos n Andy but he wasnt doing them regularly.
Question No. 3: Where could people tune in regularly to hear news and music on the radio for the first time? The answer is: San Jose, California. After Charles Herrolds parents moved to California, he studied physics and astronomy at Stanford
University, then became a professor at his own College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose. In l909 he built a radio transmitter and microphone enabling him to put clear speech and music into the air. By 1910 he was broadcasting musical concerts every Wednesday night to the San Francisco Bay Area listeners. The whole wide world listens to radio today, but programming to an audience originated in San Jose,
California with Herrolds news and music in 1909.
STEVE ALLEN: Gee, I thought I had it. But thats news to me!
DINAH SHORE: My goodness, I thought San Jose only grew prunes.
KENNETH GALBRAITH: Herrold must have made a fortune. Where is he now?
PROF QUIZ: Well, I talked to Charles Herrold by phone today in Oakland, California. He informs me his station--KQW of San Jose--will celebrate its 25th birthday next year--1934. Every radio station in Northern California will contribute stars and entertainers to KQWs 24-hour long broadcast. Listeners will learn how Herrold did it when hes interviewed. Dont miss it.
STEVE ALLEN: Jeepers creepers, that must have been the start of something big. Hey, those would be good lyrics to a song. Wheres there a piano?
DINAH SHORE: Wow! What a great invention. Why doesnt NBC put Herrold on Your Hit Parade.
KENNETH GALBRAITH: Well, I agree Herrold is a winner, but how about us? How did we do?
PROF QUIZ: Youve all won prizes. Come up and get them from my young 14-year old assistant--Pauline Kael, who loves radio as much as movies.
PAULINE: For you, Steve, we have a one-hour documentary about Charles David Herrold filmed by writer-producer-director Mike Adams, called Broadcastings Forgotten Father. Im sure you and your friends will enjoy it.
The prize for you, Dinah, is this authoritative book. Its the story of the birth of broadcasting and how the radio industry got started, as told by Gordon Greb and Mike Adams in Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting. People can get it at their bookstores or by contacting McFarland Publishers in Jefferson, North Carolina.
And for you, Mr. Galbraith, we have a welcome surprise--steady employment in broadcasting. With your Ph.D. in economics, KQW wants you to work for them. When you return to Berkeley, phone the manager and tell them youll be happy to host their
new show--something called, Wall Street Week. But work fast, because we have a kid working here named Louis Rukeyser and he heard me on the phone while sweeping the floors. I wouldnt be surprised if he may try to do it himself when he grows up.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen On with the show!
MUSIC: Happy Days Are Here Again, sung by Harry Babbitt, Ginny Sims, and Iskabibble with Kay Kysers Kollege of Musical Knowledge.
MANAGER: Thank you, Professor! Now sit back and enjoy our movie, our major Hollywood film, The Big Broadcast with radio stars Bing Crosby, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Kate Smith, Cab Calloway, Stuart Erwin, Leila Hyams, the Mills Brothers, and the Boswell Sisters.
(Our 1932 Hollywood film begins. Movie critics gave it three stars, praising Bing Crosby for his two hit songs--"Here Lies Love and Please." Its followed by a Walt Disney technicolor animated cartoon, The Three Little Pigs, and Fox Movietone News. Professor Quiz expects his radio show to be picked up by the CBS network in l936).
©2004 by Gordon Greb.
VISIT THE CHARLES HERROLD WEBSITE BY CLICKING HERE: HERROLD
Prof. Gordon Greb isn't kidding. Nov. 16 really is the birthdate of Charles Herrold. Greb really is the author of Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting" from McFarland books and his co-author, Mike Adams, really did make the TV documentary "Broadcasting's Forgotten Father," which aired on PBS.
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