Today we had another test run of the secret Strib project. Great fun; wish I could say more, but when it gets up and running I’ll have many fascinating behind-the-scenes tales. A tie was required, and I realized last night while sorting through my collection that I have come to hate nearly all my ties. A few were actually criticized to my face, which is a little rude. You can make a gentle remark that gets your point across – skin a leprous clown, did we? Or Are the batteries replaceable?

There is nothing like the breadth of tie options to remind you that taste is relative, and most of other people’s tastes are bad. You could probably eliminate 50% of all department store ties by general consensus, and the few who complained would either stick around to buy them for half price after the cool people went home, or buy something almost as ugly. I have fairly low requirements for a tie – first, do no harm. Second, do not look like your chest is trying to tune in a program from Mars; no noisy patterns. If the pattern will move on TV, it’ll probably move in real life, too. Nothing from the Jerry Garcia or Jimmy Buffet collection. The Keith Richards collection, maybe, but only if you’re tying it around your arm.

I still have some ties left over from the DC era; things never got narrow enough to push them out of style, and one or two somehow confounded quality control and ended up looking good. We used to have Street Tie days at the bureau, now that I think about it. Hell, we used to have a bureau, now that I think about it. Imagine that! Reporters, sent off at company expense to distant cities to report on matters pertinent to the home office, then write pieces which were cut down and edited to bland mush. It was a constant struggle to get the bureau’s national stories into the papers in the chain – even then, it was space. Never enough space. That’s why it was a great relief to finally join a paper that wasn’t part of a chain, was stuffed with ads you could practically hear the bra-ad models grunt when the paper was dropped on your doorstep, and was woven into the very fabric of the city, of its history. The joy I felt when I got that job. Here I am, and here I will stay! About three months later we were sold to a chain.

I should have worn one of those ties today.

Anyway. That was my day. Let’s go back 61 years to the broadcast schedule for WCCO radio – always a good show at 810 AM. (It’s 830 now.) Hail Ray Noble, featured in the ad: “His straight faced, very English, remarks to the comedian stars of the show have proved to have such hilarious effect that they are now are an indispensable part of each of the air shows.”

Man, they slung the spiel by the yard then. Noble had at least ten hiits in ’38, including my favorite, “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” which hit #311, and the saccharine “Change Partners,” which hit #23, perhaps because Astaire sang it. (1938 was one of the greatest years for popular music last century, but that’s another website I’ll have to do some day.) But I’m not giving you the entire schedule, am I.



There’s Front Page Parade, about which I will have more to say in a few weeks. Captain Midnight and Jack Armstrong were the kid shows – early weekend entertainment. Then Jack Haley, assuming another “dramatic thunderbolt” role. Odd; he was known for vaudeville and comedy, and of course would be the Tin Man in “Oz” the following year. (The show also starred Lucille Ball, and was sponsored by Wonder Bread.)

Burns and Allen is one of those shows that maintains its charm, if not its raison d’etre; hard to see something like that working today. I listened to an episode today on XM en route to work – a Feb. 20, 1947 episode that might seem like ancient history to a boomer, since it came before they attained pop-culture consciousness and thus is part of the benighted era before the Mickey Mouse Club, Leave it to Beaver, the Beatles, and their first time having sex, which no one had ever done before. The pop-culture resonances are growing faint, but they’re there: the postman is unmistakably Mel Blanc, for example. They poke fun at a pop star of the day with the same stick everyone used: he’s too thin, he needs to eat more. (It’s Sinatra, of course.) The plot, among other things, mentions Jolson mopping the charts with Sinatra, thanks to his post-war comeback.

I have to admit I have no particular love for Jolson; it’s like having someone shoot six quarts of liquified ham up your nose. On the other hand, the man could sell a tune, and when he broke into “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World” on the show as I drove to work, I joined right in, because while the song’s okay he’s incredible.

Grand Central Station was an anthology series; Cedric Adams was the Star’s famous cartoonist / radio personality. Rollie Johnson was local – as was Gluek, the beer that sponsored him. (You can still buy it.)

Saturday morning was thin. The Air Almanac was brought to you by Northrop King Seed, a company for which I worked in the summer of 79 – now since bought and moved. The Dayton’s Musical Chimes – brought to you by the department store of the same name – offered shopping news and time & temp. (Dayton’s has been absorbed into the MacyBorg.) The “Contest Index” featured Clellan Card, who would join with Rollie Johnson on “Axel’s Treehouse” – a much-beloved kid’s TV show on the CCO TV side.

That’s what you can get from one small ad on an ordinary page on an ordinary day of a newspaper. As much as I love the web, it’s hard to think of a single page anywhere that contains so much concentrated history, waiting to be reconstituted. Every page had a couple dozen doors that led somewhere. Most are locked or rusted shut now. Imagine what we could learn if we scanned every page and annotated it; imagine what we’ll lose if we don’t.


38 Responses to Tuesday, Jan 27: the WCCO 1938 lineup

  1. Cory says:

    Of course Jack Haley was the second choice for the Tin Man in W of O.
    The original pick was a young hoofer, fellow by the name of Jed Clampett, but he couldn’t physically tolerate the make-up the Tin Man needed. Made him sick.
    Forced to do odd jobs, cowboy, second banana. Did OK, though. Later in life, struck oil and moved out to Beverly Hills.

  2. Mikey NTH says:

    I heard a Burns and Allen show while I was driving to North Carolina last Christmas. It was funny. Obvious – but funny.

  3. John F. Opie says:

    Hi -

    This is what keeps me coming back for more and more. :-)

    I’ve been listening to OTR (Old Time Radio) for about 20 years now, and as an economist, I’m also fascinated with the sponsors who are no longer with us: whatever happened, for instance, to Roma Wines, or the myriad brands of cigarettes that have forever disappeared?

    The sponsors were an integral part of the business, buying entire shows, and I often wonder what the entertainment world would look like if that had kept up: of course, the establishment of the TV and radio networks of independently owned stations that handled syndicated programs allowed local stations to sell local ads and stay in business. But I wonder if IBM would’ve sponsored Star Trek or if Durex would have sponsored 91210.

  4. As much as I love the web, it’s hard to think of a single page anywhere that contains so much concentrated history, waiting to be reconstituted.

    How about this page, James?

    I don’t share your passion for all things retro, but I recognize your on-going contribution to the historical record.

    One day, somebody’s great-great-grandchild is going to feel the same way you do and hit the motherlode when he/she comes across the lileks.com archive.

    Keep up the good work…

  5. Kim says:

    For a minute it looked like Sophie Tucker was sponsored by “Rot Tan Cigars”.

    I see now it’s Roi Tan Cigars.

    I have steered clear of satellite radio, if I can get old shows like this, maybe I need to rethink my need……

  6. rivlax says:

    If you want a tie mentor you can’t go wrong with Fred Barnes on Fox’s “Special Report” panel. The man has very good taste in ties. I met him once and told him he should start the “Fred Barnes Collection.” Turns out he buys them all from Brooks Brothers.

  7. Gibbering Madness says:

    Read the show descriptions, and note how everything in the world seems to happen in New York City or Los Angeles…

    …and so the cultural cancer started. Places like Minneapolis aren’t real cities; people who live in places like Minneapolis don’t live real lives…

  8. Chris Gumprich says:

    I wonder if there are surviving recordings of “opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct”. No snark intended — I’d love to hear how they spent thirty minutes covering this event without so much as a photograph.

    (Quick check of radiogoldindex.com shows nothing… too bad.)

  9. Lars Walker says:

    I remember Cedric Adams and Rollie Johnson, from WCCO TV in my childhood. The legend is that pilots flying over Minneapolis could observe thousands of house lights going off at night, the minute after Johnson’s radio program ended.

    And I remember Axel and His Dog very well indeed.

  10. Lars Walker says:

    Correction: The lights went off after Adams’ radio program ended. Johnson didn’t have that kind of following.

  11. roger h (bgbear) says:

    The funny realization I got with the Burns and Allen Show was that the main writers was Paul Henning who later created Beverly Hillbillys, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. I realized that all the “dumb” characters (Jethro, Lisa Douglas) were just extensions of Gracie Allen. The surreal interpretation of the world did not get old.

    Another bit was that Gracie had a pet duck named Herman for awhile that she treated like a child/human. This gag would come up again in Green Acres with Arnold the Pig and Alice the Chicken.

    “and remember, keep smiling”

  12. hpoulter says:

    I didn’t realize the Paul Henning connection – that’s interesting.

    Speaking of surreal – I liked the way George not only spoke to the camera on their TV show, he actually walked around the sets (everyone else had to take the “legal” paths). Another odd bit was in the second or third season. The first Harry Morton had been replaced by another actor (just like Darren Stevens) with everyone pretending nothing was different. However, when Blanche (Bea Benaderet) and the new Harry were quarreling, she said “you know, you could be replaced”.

    This also might be of interest:

    Complete Broadcast Day – WJSV September 12, 1939:


  13. Ben Stanwright says:

    Burns & Allen not work today? Granted, there were no celebrities, but what was Seinfeld except an updated Burns & Allen, with Kramer instead of Gracie?

  14. swschrad says:

    in those days, folks watched the radio.

    yes, watched the radio. as in stared it down during shows.

    stared it down until the eye tube blinked.

    nowadays, there are few attention spans longer than a heartbeat.

  15. Glenn says:

    Is this listing really from 1938?

    I ask because I’m curious about the mention of a “Los Angeles Aqueduct”. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was finished in 1915, though there was an extension built that was completed in 1941. These aren’t related to the Colorado River though; rather, they tap water in the Owens River and Mono Basin, north of L.A.

    The mention of the Colorado River might relate to the Colorado River Aqueduct (built, like the L.A. Aqueduct, by Mulholland), but it wasn’t turned on until January ’39 and wasn’t finished until ’41.


  16. roger h (bgbear) says:

    hpoulter, I forgot about the TV show, I remember once George wanted to see what was happening at the Morton’s so he turned on the TV to the Burns and Allen show and watched.

    The more recent show that used this kind of gimmick is an oldie now in it’s own right, the Gary Shandling Show (not to be confused with the Larry Sanders Show).

    Now I remember Ray Noble, he was on the earlier version of Burns and Allen when George and Gracie’s radio personas were not married and Ray was always a potential suitor for Gracie and who put down George all the time.

    They also had Meredith “Music Man” Willson who played nearly as naive as Gracie.

  17. Bizarcane says:

    Speaking of ties that bind …


    Personally, I’d go for the “Pong” tie.

  18. hpoulter says:

    The thing that bugs me about George and Gracie’s shows are the commercials. Most years they had Bill Goodwin as the announcer – pretending to be as obsessed with Hind’s Honey and Almond Cream or Swan Soap or Johnson’s Wax as Don Wilson was with Jell-o, Grape Nuts Flakes or LSMFT (or General Tires, if you really want to go back). The difference was Don (and the Benny writers) could almost always make it entertaining, but Goodwin was just annoying.

    The other problem with the shows is that it’s hard to make out Gracie’s high-pitched voice on the poorer quality recordings.

  19. akalinear says:

    Hate to mention it, but wasn’t 1938 actually 71 years ago, not 61? (and yes, I double-checked on my computer calculator just to make sure I wasn’t losing it…)

  20. grs says:

    Let’s go back 71 years if we want to get to 1938 . . . 61 only gets us to ’48.

  21. Jody Morgan says:

    Ray Noble also appeared in a series of shorts from MGM, Ray Noble’s Musical Merry-Go-Round; Turner Classic Movies has shown a couple of them this past year.

  22. roger h (bgbear) says:

    It would be impossible not to like Don Wilson. He was the only cast member that openly laughed at Jack’s jokes. He was the definitive jolly fat man.

    Caught him the other night in “Niagra” with Joseph Cotton, he was laughing with every line.

  23. Paul says:

    “whatever happened, for instance, to Roma Wines, or the myriad brands of cigarettes that have forever disappeared?”

    Never even mind that, can you imagine that Chase & Sanborn coffee was once big enough to sponsor the most popular show on radio during this time (Edgar Bergen)? Now you look at those blue cans, on sale for $3.99 for a 3-pound tin, and it’s hard to think they were as big as Maxwell House.

    It’s too bad that almost none of this was saved. But then the technology wasn’t there yet. Much of the currently existing OTR was whatever was sent by the networks to Armed Forces Radio for the soldiers overseas, and that leaves out almost all the locally produced stuff that really gave each individual station its character.

  24. D T Nelson says:

    I hate to be That Guy who reads a fine post and then picks nits … but I will. 1938 was not 61 years ago, it was 71 years ago. (I know, it’s hard to believe.)

  25. Wright says:

    My sister was a big fan of radio mysteries. One day she was looking through the listings in the paper and saw one she had never heard before. She waited all day in excited anticipation for ‘The Red Skeleton.’ Boy, was she disappointed when it came on – my folks howled.

  26. bgates says:

    I’m going to change DT Nelson from That Guy to one of Those Guys by mentioning that no matter how thin he was, it would have been a bad idea to poke at Frank Sinatra with a stick.

  27. Yang Wei says:

    I am surprized that Cedric Adams is not mentioned on Wikipedia.

  28. CharlesH. says:

    I also thought that Al Jolson was a little too hammy… that is until I heard him singing “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?”. I had never heard something so heartfelt and intense before and it definitely puts the Bing Crosby version to shame.

    Little bit of random trivia here- Ray Noble’s american band was organised by a then-unknown Glenn Miller. The Burns and Allen show (where Noble played) was sponsored by Chesterfield, which later went on to sponsor Glenn Miller’s own show.

    “The Red Skeleton”…. that was a good one! I can imagine a creaky opening ala Inner Sanctum followed by Kadiddlehopper’s “Heeeeere I yaaam!”

  29. TeeOc says:

    Jack Benny show was the best, but Burns & Allen was right up there. I loved how they would blend the sponsor’s spiel into the dialogue as if normal people talked that way. “Ya know Gracie Johnson’s Wax blend of pasteurized emulsifiers makes my floor ten times brighter than next most popular leading national brand!”

  30. Mikey NTH says:

    Red Skelton – heard his after Burns and Allen on the trip to N.C.

    Junior was going to be in the production as the little christmas tree, and one of the cast hoped the costume wouldn’t short out and start a fire.

    Junior’s mother said, ‘I hope not! He’s wearing his good suit!’
    Heh. Good clothes. I can remember that from my own childhood in the late sixties-seventies.

    BTW – Roi Tan cigars? Wasn’t Roi Tan used in ‘Bored of the Rings’ as the land of the sheepriders, the home of Eorache?

  31. RR Ryan says:

    It really has been that long. My grandmother was a friend of Jean Peters(she was kind of Zelig-like in that respect) and gran has been dead for almost twenty years. Time flies when you’re not really paying attention.

  32. Gary says:

    810 Kilocycles? I guess it wasn’t always the big 8-3-0…

  33. Mikey NTH says:

    I found the Song of Roi-Tan from Bored of the Rings:

    “Ve ist der merry, gay Roi-Tanners,
    Who like der boots, salutes und banners.
    Ve ride der scheeps in vind und vheather
    Mit vhips und spurs und drawers of leather.

    Ve dance und sing und valse und two-step
    Und never ever mach der goose-step.
    Peace iss vhat ve vant und do have,
    Und a piece of anything you have.”

  34. Mikey NTH says:

    It was a long epic…

  35. viggen says:

    I’m not sure Rollie Johnson had anything to do with “Axel and his Dog.” Could you be thinking oF Don Stolz?

  36. Kev says:

    Interesting stuff. I had no idea that Ray Noble was also a comedian; to us jazz musicians, he’s the composer of “Cherokee,” an enduring but challenging tune over which to improvise.

  37. Roy M says:

    A tie was required. It’s a streaming video news service.

  38. Julian West says:

    If Rollie Johnson had anything to do with “Axel and His Dog” (“Axel’s Treehouse” wasn’t actually the show’s title), it’s news to me — and I wrote the book: “What a Card! The Story of Clellan Card and ‘Axel and His Dog’” available in bookstores now.

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