Era of radio dramas was impressive

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I wish I could have attended the “Radio Drama Era” live production presented by the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts last Friday night. Unfortunately, I was not here and could not attend. I am sure those in attendance enjoyed it.

Those old time golden radio shows take me back to my school days in the 1940s. In fact, there was a time in my youth that I could tell you just about anything you wanted to know about those radio programs.

It was an obsession, moreover a driving desire, enjoying all aspects of those programs. I suppose that’s why I have a collection of more than 100 of these old shows and hundreds of albums filled with music of that era.

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Please don’t get me wrong as I certainly don’t want you think I am boasting. But there was a time I could name each show’s theme song, the orchestra leader, the announcer, the sponsor and night and time the show was on.

There were literally dozens of those old programs. And, I am sure some of my older readers can remember some of them.

One of those early 1940 programs afforded me the opportunity to correctly answer a “mystery question” during one of PBS and Pensacola’s WSRE’s fund raising affairs. This was about 25 years ago.

The emcee wanted to know the name of the radio show, which featured an all girl orchestra. Well, I immediately picked up the phone and called the number crawling across the TV screen. The emcee asked if I could answer the question and I said I certainly can.

I told him the name of the show was NBC’s “The Hour of Charm” and it was conducted by orchestra leader Phil Spiltany. It featured a talented violin player named Evelyn Kaye, who would become his wife. The show was popular in the 1940s ending in 1948. That show was sponsored by GE for several years. Ron Rawson was one of the announcers.

Country music lovers tuned in each Saturday night to WSM’s Grand Ole Opry to enjoy an assortment of “down home country music.” A popular announcer was George D Hay. Referred to as “The Solemn Old Judge,” he was formerly an accomplished newspaper writer. Those early GOO shows featured Uncle Dave Macon a unique banjo player and vocalist. He was accompanied by his son “Doris,” a somewhat unusual name for a man.

Red Skelton was known for his many characterizations, but he was also a talented artist. David Rose was his long time orchestra leader and his famous instrumental theme was “Holiday for Strings.”

Fibber McGee and Molly used Harlow Wilcox as the announcer. He was referred to as “Waxy,” probably because the show was sponsored by Johnson Wax. Each show featured Fibber’s junk filled closet, which emptied onto the floor when the closet door was opened.

The Bing Crosby Show used John Scott Trotter as his orchestra leader. Big Don Wilson was the announcer on the Jack Benny program and Bob Hope’s Band leader was Les Brown. Doris Day gained her start singing with Brown.

Redd Stewart and his band leader Pee Wee King wrote and sang two popular hit songs “The Tennessee Waltz” and “Slowpoke.”

Many familiar sayings originated back in radio days. Jimmy Durante always closed his show with “Good night Miss Calabash, where ever you are.” There was another character on his show called “Tyrone Touchbottom.” His part was played by New Orleans native Candy Candido, who also played stand up bass with several well known big bands of that time. But, he was known for his line “I’m feeling mighty low” which he uttered about three octaves below scale.

Fanny Brice played the role of “Baby Snooks” and her famous saying was “silly, silly boy.” Hal Perry and Willard Waterman played the roles of “the Great Gildersleeve.” His famous words were “Leeeeroy,” calling to his talkative son.

A show that I really liked was Horace Heidt. His show featured new talent very much like the Arthur Godfrey talent show. Heidt always closed “it’s better to build boys than to mend men.”

Warren Hull, a popular emcee of a national panel show in the early 50s, used a well-know saying “buzz off Kato.” Hull came to TV after gaining success in radio as the 1940s “Green Hornet.”

There were so many shows back then. The Bing Crosby Show, The Jack Benny Show, Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, the Cities Service Band of America, The Kate Smith Show, The Gene Autry Show which featured Addison, Alabama’s Pat Buttram, The Fred Allen Show, The Spade Cooley Show, The Renfro Valley Show which Red Foley help organize near his Berea, Kentucky home, Jack Armstrong-All American Boy, The Lone Ranger Show, The Jimmy Durante-Gary Moore Show (…change blades that quick), Hawaii Calls with Webley Edwards and on and on and on.

Column space does not allow me to write on all those memorable days of old time radio. Perhaps, I could write it in novel form and give copies to school and public libraries. I would do it if I could only generate the youthful drive I once had.

A couple asked me about my comment last week regarding eating out. Those that I spoke with said they would not trade our Atmore restaurants for any others because our eating places serve such good food. They and I agree it would be accommodating to watch the evening news on the restaurant TVs while we enjoyed our evening meal. Most of us eat out just about the time the news comes on and it would be nice to be able to watch it while we dine at our excellent local restaurants.

I’m sure not all want news on the TV while eating out. Younger folks, especially, like music. I like music too, if is soothing and has a prevailing melody. And, speaking of eating out, it’s refreshing to meet up with friends and enjoy nice “hellos.” There are many who I never see eating out with their family and friends. I wonder why?

About my columns, I wish some of you would email me and let me know the year you would like me to write about. As you know last week we closed the curtain on the year 1966. We had about six months of news from that year and now I would like to hear from you on the year you are interested in.

Again, congratulations to the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts for using a very memorable theme in what I hear was an excellent production.

Can you identify an incorrect word I purposely used in today’s column?

“…..yes… always whispers to me…those days of long ago.”

Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at