Generated on Feb 12, 2016
I. Introduction And Acknowledgments
This page began as an attempt at discussing Peggy Lee's contributions to Bing Crosby's radio shows. However, the necessity of providing background data about the shows themselves became increasingly apparent during the redaction process. The page gradually evolved into an overview of Crosby's entire radio career, with special entries dedicated to the distaff members of his cast. Among such cast members, the main subject of my commentary has remained Peggy Lee, of course.
The bulk of the data to be presented comes from Bing Crosby – The Radio Directories, a discographical text compiled by Lionel Pairpoint, the undisputed authority on radio crosbyana. My borrowings from Pairpoint's text are supplemented with details from a variety of sources, among which I would particularly recommend The Digital Deli, a highly informative commercial site about old-time radio. (The Digital Deli has extensive entries for shows such as Philco Radio Time. Admittedly, there are some minor factual errors in their writeup, such as the misidentification of Dinah Shore as a regular on the Philco series, or the claim that Peggy Lee appeared in just 19 of the series' episodes. Moreover, the statement that Peggy Lee's career received "a tremendous boost" from her appearances on Crosby's program strikes me as an overstatement. Still, such shortcomings in the secondary data are more than compensated by the vast and solid amount of information on the main topic, and by the high quality of the prose.) As for my own contributions to this page's overview, I would single out my extended coverage on the female singers who populated Crosby's radio airwaves, because that topic has received very little commentary in the sources that I have consulted. (It's a man, man's world.)
Given my novice status on matters of old-time radio history, and given the length of the text found below, some of my observations may be misguided or even erroneous. Hence corrections and rebuttals will be appreciated. (In the distant future, the page will undergo further revision, rewriting and proofreading. For the time being, I am more concerned with the preparation of the various "all-about-Peggy" pages that are still waiting to be added to this discography.)
Notice also that the present page is actually a supplement or outgrowth of this discography's main Lee-Crosby page, which gives specifics about each of Peggy Lee's 49 appearances on Bing Crosby's radio shows. Two other related pages of the discography are dedicated to Lee's collaborations with Crosby at the Decca studios and over the radio airwaves. Both of those pages display pictures of CDs and LPs that contain such Crosby-Lee material.
II. Radio Crosby: General Remarks
One of the definitive voices of the radio era, Bing Crosby hosted music variety programming for over 30 years (1931-1962). The crooner's popularity as a radio personality went hand in hand with the golden age of radio, ultimately outlasting it. Well after the medium had gone into decline, Crosby radio programming kept on being produced. His strong hold over the airwaves can thus be easily gleaned from the extant records. (In a poll that ranked the greatest personalties of the 1925-1950 period, the singing host came a close second to the voters' top pick, comedian Jack Benny.) Simply put, el Bingo was a perennial star in the world of old-time radio.
III. Bing Crosby's Early Radio Years
Bing Crosby's voice first hit the national radio airwaves in the late 1920s. Back then, he himself was in his 20s, and his professional standing was not as a solo vocalist but as a member of a trio named The Rhythm Boys. Hired as adjunct members of the very popular Paul Whiteman Orchestra, The Rhythm Boys were featured along with the orchestra in two of radio's earliest variety spectaculars, both of them sponsored by the Dodge Brothers Automobile Company: the January 1928 installment of The Dodge Victory Hour (whose tuning audience was estimated at 35 millions) and its March 1928 sequel. Also as part of the Whiteman ensemble, the boys were regularly heard in the CBS show Old Gold Presents Paul Whiteman And His Orchestra (1929 - 1930). After leaving Whiteman, The Rhythm Boys had their own NBC show during the summer of 1930, for which the Union Oil Company served as sponsor.
Thereafter, Crosby went solo, and the two other members of The Rhythm Boys (Al Rinker, Harry Barris) went their own separate ways. The earliest of the crooner's own hosting shows were two sets of 15-minute-long CBS programs, airing daily except on Sundays. The first (Presenting Fifteen Minutes With Bing Crosby, September 2 - October 31, 1931) was unsponsored. Its sequel was sponsored by Cremo Cigars (Bing Crosby, The Cremo Singer, November 2, 1931 - February 27, 1932). Both shows were broadcast within the 7:00 p.m. Eastern coast time hour. For the West Coast, a second version of the sponsored show was enacted and broadcast at 11:00 p.m. Next, from January to April 1933, the crooner served among the rotating hosts of Chesterfield Presents Music That Satisfies. On this CBS 15-minute daily show, he was heard twice weekly at 9:00 p.m, Eastern Standard Time.
Those three hosting gigs were followed by The Makers Of Woodbury Facial Soap Present Bing Crosby, aka Bing Crosby Entertains (October 16, 1933 - June 11, 1935), a 5:30 p.m. program whose first season ranked within the period's top 15. This show was not 15 minutes but 30 minutes long -- a telling sign of the crooner's rising appeal as a radio personality. Like its predecessors, Bing Crosby Entertains was on CBS.
Crosby actually started and ended his radio career at CBS. One of his last two shows was an annually held one-hour CBS extravaganza sponsored by the Insurance Company of North America (A Christmas Sing With Bing, heard every December 24 from 1955 to 1962, except in 1956 and 1958, when no show was made). The other program was a daily 20-minute feature (The Crosby-Clooney Show, 1960-1962, broadcast in the mornings, at 11:40, and aiming at female audiences). In between these last and the aforementioned early shows, the crooner also hosted programs on the other two major networks (NBC, ABC) -- another fact that points to his popularity as a cool and casual, affable and musical radio host ... a highly sought and handsomely rewarded one, too.
IV. Kraft Music Hall, Starring Bing Crosby
The longest and best-known of Bing Crosby's hosting gigs was on NBC's Kraft Music Hall (December 5, 1935 - May 9, 1946). The beginnings of Kraft Music Hall actually predate Crosby's involvement. The show dates back to 1933, when it bore a slightly different name (Kraft Music Revue) and was broadcast from New York. In those early, non-sponsored episodes, Paul Whiteman frequently served as host and Al Jolson was its periodically guesting singer. When the NBC network picked it up (1934), the program received a permanent name (Kraft Music Hall) and Whiteman was officially hired as its host, a position that he kept until the sponsor and/or the network decided to replace Whiteman with a Hollywood-based host.
Bing Crosby had first appeared in Kraft Music Hall as a guest, in an episode broadcast on August 15, 1935. He returned during what could be termed a transitional period, consisting of the last four weeks of 1935. Each of those December 1935 episodes split time between New York, where Whiteman was still serving as host, and Hollywood, from where Crosby would be heard, singing two selections per week. In January 1936, the show made a permanent move to Hollywood, possibly in order to accommodate the demands of Crosby's movie career, which prevented him from broadcasting from New York on a regular basis. More generally, the network's decision could be attributed to a desire to pursue the "popular radio stars who were heading West to fulfill screen contracts," according to Crosby authority Lionel Pairpoint. In any case, Whiteman was no longer heard in the show, as Crosby fully took over its hosting duties. (The bandleader went on to host his own variety show on another network, where he was supported by Crosby's former sponsor, Woodbury.)
New episodes of Crosby's Kraft Music Hall premiered each Thursday, initially at 7:00 p.m. (1936-1940), later at 6:00 p.m. (1940-1946), West standard time. East coast audiences heard the episodes at 10:00 p.m. at first, at 9:00 p.m. from 1940 onwards. For almost a decade, the show had an one hour-long slot (1935-1942). In January 1943, the sponsor (Kraft, a dairy company best known for its cheese products) cut the show to half an hour. According to Lionel Pairpoint, this reduction was "a direct result of the war. More cheese than ever was being produced but the Government had blocked off large allocations for the armed forces and lend-lease, requiring sales promotion to yield to a goodwill exercise." The half-an-hour format was also maintained during the post-war years -- and past Crosby's tenure, too.
The Kraft Music Hall team was led by producer Calvin Kuhl. The show's most famous and longest-lasting scriptwriter was Carroll Carroll, who took over Sam Moore in late 1936. Similarly, the series went through two orchestras, the earliest led by Jimmy Dorsey (December 1935 to July 1, 1937). On July 8, 1937, John Scott Trotter's Orchestra came into the fold, staying with Crosby for the duration of the series, and beyond. (Crosby kept Trotter under contract until 1954, when the comfort of a big budget was no longer available to the radio host. They did not fully part ways, however; Crosby eventually re-enlisted Trotter for some TV specials and for a couple of TV series that did not take off.) Announcer Ken Carpenter would serve as the show's announcer from 1936 until the cessation of the series (1946), and would continue to serve the same function in Crosby's subsequent radio shows, all the way to the crooner's last hosting year (1962).
As was true of all other radio series from the same period, Kraft Music Hall was broadcast live. Despite an atmosphere of spontaneity (anchored on Crosby's easygoing persona), each episode followed a script that had been written days in advance, and which would be rehearsed on the same afternoon or early evening of the broadcast. During an interview given to radio broadcaster and published author Chuck Schaden in 1972, bandleader John Scott Trotter remembered the process as follows: "the script was written and sent to [Crosby] on Monday night. The show was on Thursday. And on Tuesday afternoon, it came back to the writer, Carroll Carroll, with marginal notes ..." A 1944 press clipping quoted by Lionel Pairpoint describes a Thursday rehearsal that started at 1:30 p.m., followed by "the ‘dress’, then the break until 4:15 when the ‘dress’ is repeated." Later, in the evening, the scripted episode was enacted twice, once for the East coast and once for the Pacific coast time zones.
During its early years, Kraft Music Hall's lack of an audience made it unique in radio variety programming. Behind this relatively odd practice seems to have been Crosby himself, who hoped to create a more intimate ambience through the elimination of a studio audience. He also disliked applause, generally finding it disingenuous, gratuitous, or forced. Still further, Crosby loathed having to dress up and being forced to wear his toupee -- both formalities which networks and sponsors expected of him while he was in front of live radio audiences.
In time, Crosby ended up capitulating to the demands of the sponsors, networks producers, and audiences. When the Kraft Music Hall production team argued that an audience was required to provide the laughs during the comical sketches, relatives and friends of the show's personnel were invited to come in. Then, the news spread: reports that the popular show was using a live audience elicited many enthusiastic requests to attend. The requests probably eroded Crosby's resolve to keep regular listeners at bay. In the end, a full audience would be present for each episode. Attendees would be told to laugh as much as they pleased (and they certainly did) but to abstain from applauding after the musical performances. Applause was allowed only at the start and end of the show. Yet, in many of the extant shows, applause can still be heard in other spots: after a guest's performance (e.g., Peggy Lee's solo), or a joint performance by Crosby and a guest (e.g., "One Meatball," sung by the crooner and The Andrews Sisters in a January 25, 1945 broadcast), and also on exceptional occasions (i.e, Bob Hope's 1946 surprise appearance, with a cake, as a celebration of Bing's birthday).
(The Old Groaner did not -- or could not -- fully enforce his audience-related directives on the radio shows that he hosted after Kraft Music Hall, either. According to John Scott Trotter, so-called professional showgoers became especially tiresome to Crosby. They were people who would go from show to show on a daily basis, providing what was sometimes pre-planned laughter. The crooner's eventual decision to broadcast from San Francisco for a long stretch -- in 1950, and at his own expense -- was partially due to his desire to get away from such phony Hollywood showgoers.)
Kraft Music Hall had its golden age in the 1930s, when it regularly ranked within the top 5 of radio programming. It still remained a popular program during the first half of the 1940s, regularly placing at either #12 or #13. Then, in its 10th season, the show surprisingly topped the radio countdown. (The reasons for such a major surge are unknown to me. Factors to consider are Crosby's star status as a result of his successful movie career (a success that culminated in a 1994 Oscar for Best Actor), the war years' longing for the type of intimate, warm singing that the crooner favored and, finally, his avowed intention to concentrate, at this time, on musical numbers, substantially cutting down, in the process, the amount of comedy and chat.
Bing Crosby remained the host of Kraft Music Hall for over 10 seasons -- ten and a half, to be exact. At the start of what was expected to be his 11th season (1945-1946), Der Bingle was absent from Kraft Music Hall. After NBC had turned down his request to have the show pre-recorded on disc (as opposed to having it be a live broadcast), he had refused to return. Invoking a California law that precluded an employer from holding an employee to more than 7 years of a contract, Crosby managed to stay off the show for the fall of 1945. After a court battle, an agreement was reached. He would be relieved of his long-term contract (1937-1950) with Kraft, but not before he finished the season and did a few guest appearances. (Showing the effect of the long Crosby hiatus, the show ended up at #20 in the season's ratings.) Hence, in mid-1946, Crosby permanently left the Kraft Music Hall.
Kraft Foods (a maker of dairy products, cheese being the foremost among them) continued to sponsor Kraft Music Hall until 1949. In the fall of 1945 (i.e., during Crosby's absence) and later on, during the 1946-1947 season, the succession of hosts included Edward Everett Horton, Eddie Foy, and Frank Morgan. (Kraft also had a summer edition of the show, whose hosts over the years included Frank Morgan, Bob Crosby, Don Ameche, and Nelson Eddy.) Al Jolson took over for two seasons (1947-1949, becoming the show's new permanent host until the series' demise, and Jolson's own (1950). The demise of Kraft Music Hall was not permanent, however; in 1958, Kraft and NBC resurrected it as a TV series that lasted until 1971.
V. From Kay Thompson To Peggy Lee: The Women Of Woodbury And Kraft Music Hall
Female singers had appeared in Crosby's pre-Kraft series as either guests or members of ensembles. Kay Thompson and The Rhythm Kings performed in 11 of the 33 episodes that ran during the first season (1933-1934) of the aforementioned Woodbury series. Despite her nominal status as part of a group, Thompson seems to have been the one in command, being essentially a solo singer with a backing ensemble. According to her biographer, Sam Irvin, she had taken taken The Rhythm Kings "under her wing ... help[ing] them create special arrangements to showcase their three-part harmonizing" and "adopt[ing them] as her new backup singers."
Therefore, Kay Thompson could be unofficially deemed the semi-regular girl singer of Crosby's first Woodbury season, and the earliest person to fulfill such a role in any program hosted by the crooner. As for the three teenagers known as The Rhythm Kings -- Hal Hopper, Woody Newbury, Chuck Lowry -- they were hoping to fill the void left by their idols, The Rhythm Boys. Building on the popularity of their appearances in Crosby's series, Thompson and The Rhythm Kings actually earned their own radio program in 1934 (Pontiac Surprise Party), but the show turned out to be short-lived, and no further success on radio ensued. To make matters worse, a salary dispute effectively ended the appearances of Thompson and company in Crosbyland.
During the second Woodbury season (1934-1935), The Boswell Sisters appeared in 13 of the 39 episodes. Out of the trio of vocalists, Connee Boswell was perceived as the ensemble's star. In the studio, she was recording both with her siblings and as a solo act.
The third and final act to make many appearances in the 72 episodes of the Woodbury series was the all-male (and African-American) Mills Brothers. Like the Sisters, the Brothers contributed to about 13 episodes.
In short, we can surmise that a regularly featured vocal group was of more interest to the Woodbury team than any permanent female singer.
The Kraft programs were the first Crosby shows to officially have a resident female singer: Kay Weber. She made her debut in Crosby's earliest Kraft episode as a full host (January 2, 1936) and continued to appear in subsequent episodes, for a grand total of 16. Along with the fact that she was present from the first episode, the sequential continuity of Weber's appearances suggests that Kraft Music Hall had every intention to regularly feature a songstress.
Such suggestions notwithstanding, any notion of a resident female singer appears to have been abandoned after Weber's last appearance (April 19, 1936). For the remainder of the decade, no other regularly featured 'chantooses' served at the Kraft Music Hall. As variety and diversity of talent became the order of the day, Kraft would spotlight instead a multiple array of guests per episode, circumscribing the female component to one-time guest spots by the likes of Sophie Tucker and Zasu Pitts.
In 1939, the concept of a regular vocal trio made its return to Crosby radio programming. The Music Maids, an all-female trio, proved a highly congenial addition to the fold, staying in the show for a long period: from the outset of the 1939-1940 season to the end of the 1943-1944 season.
Connee Boswell, by then a solo star, was hired in 1940. The show finally had a regular female singer again -- one with whom Crosby would frequently duet. She stayed for over a year (November 14, 1940 - December 25, 1941), performing in at least 43 episodes (with the possibility that she was also in a couple of episodes whose cast details are unknown to me). In addition to her Kraft period, Boswell would also guest in 5 episodes of Crosby's other, later series, thereby raising her count to around 49. Still further, and predating all these 49 installments, Boswell had made 13 appearances as part of the Boswell Sisters in the aforementioned Bing Crosby Entertains, sponsored by Woodbury.
According to Boswell herself, she was fired from the show because the brass wanted Mary Martin to replace her. Martin indeed served as the show's next girl singer, from January 1, 1942 to November 5, 1942, for a total of 28 episodes.
Over subsequent years, a few other female vocalists would stay for a fair amount of Kraft episodes, though none for quite as long as Boswell. The closest would be Trudy Erwin (about 36 episodes), who had been a member of the Music Maids, and whose successful tenure provides further evidence of Crosby's sympatico feel for harmony-oriented, group-trained voices. (On that subject matter, it's worth adding that a male vocal group, The Charioteers, best-known for their spirituals, would be eventually added to the roster, too.) Also staying for extended periods of time were Eugenie Baird (about 27 episodes) and Marilyn Maxwell (25 episodes). Janet Blair appeared for only five.
Female guests continued to appear as well. Peggy Lee did so in the penultimate episode (#384) of the Kraft series. As detailed in the May 2, 1946 entry of this page, Bing Crosby's 43rd birthday was celebrated during the last minutes of that particular show, in which Bob Hope and a birthday cake made an unscheduled appearance. Thus the episode was a special one.
Peggy Lee would become the semi-regular vocalist of Crosby's two subsequent series, eventually launching about as many solo episodes as Connee Boswell. Their record would be bested only by Rosemary Clooney. After appearing in a batch of episodes from Crosby's last primetime shows, Clooney would become his regular partner in brief daytime shows whose pre-taped tracks were cobbled together from marathon singing sessions, oftentimes held at Crosby's home and from episodes of the singers' previous series.
VI. Philco Radio Time: General Details
Bing Crosby left Kraft and NBC to be the host of ABC's Philco Radio Time. Crosby signed a contract for three seasons, which he fully honored. His tenure thus began with the opening episode of the first season (broadcast on October 16, 1946) and concluded with the third season's last episode (a June 1, 1949 broadcast). As already stated, Johnny Scott Trotter and his Orchestra backed the crooner for the entire run of not only this series but also his succeeding ones. On the other hand, producer/editor Murdo MacKenzie and scriptwriter Bill Morrow were new contributors to the crooner's radioland. Like announcer Ken Carpenter, both MacKenzie and Morrow remained with the Old Groaner until the very end of his career as a radio host (1962).
A half-an-hour program, Philco Radio Time was heard each Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. across the United States, except in the East coast, where it aired at 10:00 p.m. The apparent reason for the different schedule on the East coast was to desire to avoid competing with CBS' Old Gold Presents Songs By Sinatra, which was broadcast at that hour (as was NBC's well-known Duffy's Tavern, starring Ed Gardner). The press speculated that the re-scheduling had been stipulated by Crosby himself, out of a sense of respect for his fellow vocalist Sinatra. But, by its third season (when Sinatra no longer hosted Old Gold shows), the East coast transmission of Philco Radio Time had also been moved to 9:00 p.m., a time slot that Crosby and his team kept on favoring in the years to come. (Philco Radio Time might have also aired at other times in regional and non-ABC-affiliated radio stations, which had the option to subscribe to the show for a fee.)
Philco Radio Time seems to have been created expressly as a Crosby vehicle. I have found no indication of the show's existence before his tenure, nor any sort of sequel after his departure. Contemporary press reports allude to the substantial control that he was granted over most aspects of the series. El Bingo is said to have particularly relished a newly found freedom: not having to wear a toupee during the recording of each episode, as had been requested of during his previous years of live shows at NBC. ABC allowed him to simply wear a hat.
VII. Philco Radio Time: The Pre-Recording Controversy
Naturally, the toupee had not been the most significant source of disagreement between the well-established network and the Old Groaner. They argued mostly over a more essential matter: NBC's refusal to grant Crosby permission to pre-record the show. The refusal had led to his departure from NBC and arrival at ABC, where the idea was embraced. On this topic, Crosby authority Lionel Pairpoint quotes the words of audio engineer John T. Mullin, as originally transcribed for an article published by High Fidelity in its April 1976 issue:
Bing Crosby ... had been with NBC until 1946 doing the live Kraft Music Hall. He’s a very casual person, and he resented the regimentation imposed by live broadcasts. Some weeks he wasn’t in the mood and hated doing a broadcast. At other times he was ready to do two or three at a crack. He didn’t like having to keep an eye on the clock and being directed to speed things up or draw them out. The obvious solution was to record the shows. But NBC had told Crosby flatly that it wouldn’t air a recorded show on the network: It never had, and it wasn’t about to start. According to Ken Carpenter (in an interview given to radio broadcaster Chuck Schaden), Crosby's foremost concern was the quality of the musical performances; the crooner wanted to broadcast near-perfect renditions of the songs, an endeavor to which pre-recording was more conducive. "Mainly he wanted the proper voice quality," claimed Carpenter, "and he didn't want to rely on [the broadcasts in front of audiences]."
At issue were not only NBC's reluctance to modify its tried-and-true routine but also sponsors' fears that the shows would not seem casual enough (casualness and the appearance of spontaneity being big draws for radio audiences of the time). The sponsors strongly believed that the practice of pre-recording would adversely affect any show's popularity, and their worries were shared by the brass at most of the networks (NBC, CBS, Mutual). But Crosby and company had no such fear; they argued that a pre-recorded show could easily convey as much spontaneity as a live broadcast. After all, both were scripted. The degree of spontaneity depended more on the skills of the host and his cast.
In ABC, Crosby found a very receptive listener. Being a newly created network (new at least in theory), the company was more than willing to pursue innovative, potentially self-defining venues. ABC had been formed in 1943 out of what had previously been the NBC-owned Blue network. Blue actually had a history of promoting transcriptions. As early as January 1943 (months before the sale of the network and its official conversion into ABC), Blue's then-president Mark Woods had referred to the network's intention to pursue transcription recording. According to Woods, a strategy underlay this pursuit: it would set the network apart from its sister company (NBC's Red) and their competitors (CBS, Mutual).
Like ABC, Philco was receptive to Crosby's plans -- or, al least, to his star status. An electronics company (makers of batteries, radios and TV sets), Philco had been sponsoring radio shows since the first decades of radio. The wealthy company had long had a close relationship with the Blue network, in particular. Very early, The Philco Hour of Theater Memories (1927-1928) had been broadcast on Blue. So had the very popular Philco Radio Hall Of Fame (1943-1946), a family-suitable spectacular airing on Sundays at 6:00 p.m. and featuring Paul Whiteman's Orchestra as the regular accompaniment, along with a wide variety of guests each week. The Philco-Blue relationship would continue into the network's ABC years.
VIII. Philco Radio Time: Recording To Disc
In principle, Crosby's pre-recorded programs were not dissimilar to the live shows that he had been hosting till then. For both types, the process was the same. First the script was written, revised and approved by the main parties (Crosby, MacKenzie, Morrow). Rehearsals would ensue. (Anecdotal data suggests that an audience might have been present for the rehearsal, at least some times.) The rehearsals would then be followed by the enactment of the scripted show, in front of a live audience.
While it was being enacted, the episode was also being recorded onto 16" discs that played at 33 rpm. According to journalists in attendance, a recorded episode tended to last between 35 and 45 minutes -- 10 to 15 minutes more than the live episodes of yore. To sum up, the stages from the creation of the script to its enactment remained basically the same, the ony significant divergence being the addition of a recording machine.
Another matter altogether was the engineering process, carried out after the episode had been recorded. Such a process departed from the relative simplicity of live broadcasting in more ways than the obvious ones. To wit: the show which would be ultimately broadcast was not only pre-recorded but also heavily edited. Each pre-recorded broadcast combined parts of the actual show with parts of its dress rehearsal, which had also been recorded. A desire to eliminate the flaws inherent to live performing motivated the insertion of bits from the rehearsal into the final product. If Crosby happened to flub a line during the performance in front of the audience, the producer and the engineer of the show had the option of substituting the line with its equivalent from the rehearsal. (Sometimes the substitution was found necessary, and carried out. Other times, the flub was allowed to remain, due to the amusement that it had elicited from those involved, including the audience.)
To recapitulate: each master disc was an edit that combined parts of the actual show with parts of the show's dress rehearsal. In other words, the appelation "master" was predicated on the fact that the disc contained the final product. The master was not, however, the same disc on which the contents had been originally recorded.
The amount of editing naturally varied from one episode to another (or, same thing, from one master disc to another). John T. Mullin, who engineered most of the Philco Radio Time discs, explained the circumstances as follows:
If everything went perfectly, there was no problem — they simply would air [the original recording of the show] — but that seldom happened. Almost invariably, there was editing to be done. That meant copying some discs onto new ones, making adjustments as they went, maybe substituting a song that had gone better in rehearsal for the final take. Since they recorded everything in rehearsal as well as what took place before the audience, there were plenty of bits and pieces to work with. Sometimes it was necessary to make what were called predubs. Say they wanted to use three cuts from three different discs, all within a matter of a few seconds. That didn’t allow enough time to get each one cued up during re-recording. So they would make little pre-transfers, or predubs, making copies until all the cuts were added. The final record, therefore, might be two or three generations removed from the original.
Being able to record the show also meant freedom from having to perform each episode twice. Both time zones were serviced by the same source: copies of the master disc would be pressed and distributed in advance to both East and West coast radio stations. Like the master, those copies were also 16" (aluminum) discs that played at 33.3 rpm. They specified the date on which its contents had to be aired, and made the following stipulations: "This record is furnished to the station to which sent with the understanding and agreement that it will be played for one broadcast ONLY and will be returned prepaid, within 7 days after program date." Despite such stipulations, quite a few of these radio station copies seem to have survived in collectors' hands. (The copies' or records' return address was Philco Advertising Stores in Philadelphia.)
IX. Philco Radio Time: The First Season's Overhaul
Philco Radio Time's prospective transition from live to pre-recorded programming elicited ample press coverage, which in turn guaranteed high ratings (24.0) for the debut episode. Unfortunately, the success was not sustained. Two weeks later, the novice series was experiencing a precipitous decline to a 12.2 score.
Industry naysayers immediately put the blame on the pre-recording format. Some insiders called special attention to the degradation inherent to the process (i.e., the transference of each episode from its master disc to the disc copies that radio stations were receiving). According to sound engineer John T. Mullin, "Philco blamed the poor audio. Crosby’s voice didn’t always sound very good after two or three transfers ... But because the process involved recording and re-recording on discs, quality did suffer ..." Mullin further explained that, due to the cutting and re-assembling involved in combining the live broadcast with the rehearsal segments, a master disc could be "two or three generations removed from the original." Meanwhile, in Time magazine, engineer Marie Howard opined that the radio stations were the primary culprits. In her assessment, the stations were not using the correct needles to play the discs, and as a result the shows sound quality was poor.
Lay listeners also voiced their opinions as to what was wrong -- opinions that must have proven particularly worrisome to Crosby and his team. Such listeners suspected that Crosby was just losing the quality of his voice. As if listeners' suspicions were not alarming enough, Philco's own disappointment must have given Crosby's team plenty of reason to be concerned. According to a write-up published by Variety magazine on November 13, 1946:
it is understood that word has gone out to The Groaner from his Philco sponsors to get busy and do something in a hurry. Everett Crosby, brother and business manager for the crooner, who has been in New York for the past few weeks, getting agency/sponsor/trade reaction on the Philco Time Show, admitted before leaving for the Coast, Sunday [November] 10th, that the platter show is due for some drastic re-vamping. Just who goes off the show and what hypos are contemplated hasn’t been determined, yet. There are only two shows left in the advanced wax works (with Ezio Pinza and Burl Ives as guest stars) and The Groaner is due at the Hollywood recording studios, this week, when the boys will sit down and thrash out the whole advanced pattern of the show. Meanwhile, the rating nose-dive plus the unfavorable reaction to Crosby’s last few shows have contributed to putting a quietus on the ‘live to transcription’ flurry of trade excitement that followed in the wake of Crosby’s premiere and Philco’s super promotion job. In view of the original contract stipulation which calls for Crosby to go ‘live’ in the event that his ratings slips under 12 on four consecutive broadcasts, some of the boys are wagering that The Groaner segues back to live programmes. The fault, they say, doesn’t lie in the transcriptions as such but in the quality of the show ... The new musician’s contract is also raising havoc with the show, with Everett Crosby tipping off that the 31 piece John Scott Trotter Orchestra will be reduced to 18 men, to bring the show in under the talent cost budget.”
The less alarmist tone of a subsequent Variety article (November 27, 1946) suggests that a policy of damage control had been put into effect. The article also leaves no doubt about the overhaul that was taking place:
While there's "no feeling of panic" at Philco hdq. despite the Hooper-droop of the Bing Crosby platters, some changes are in the making. The quotes belong to H. Pierson Mapes, media head of the Hutchins agency, but the general feeling in the Crosby camp is that the "groove'' has not yet been cut. Understood that Philco has asked for more of the Bill Morrow witty dialog and less music without affecting The Groaner's share of vocals. That means cut will have to be made in the piano solo of Skitch Henderson and occasional write-out of The Charioteers. Format will be flexible enough to switch around the various elements. Lina Romay finished her six shots and femme spot goes to Peggy Lee on alternate weeks with Andrews Sisters when they're in town. Also pencilled are Kay Starr Pearl Bailey. Guest list also gets a hypo and on desk are Judy Garland for a repeat, Jimmy Durante, Jascha Heifetz, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen and Frances Langford. Daily double waxing will be dis-continued (two in one day) and while el Bingo is working in a picture he'll cut one disk a week, otherwise two a week but not on the same day. Although there has been some criticism of the quality of the records, the use of Miller tape (film) or wire recorder, has been casually discussed but their actual utilization is said to be still far away.
Thus famous guest stars were being brought in, and changes to the show's cast were being made. Invited for the episodes that followed the pair already in the can (per the above-quoted comments from Variety) were two guests who could be trusted to grab an audience's attention: Judy Garland (episode #7) and Jimmy Durante (episode #8). As for the size of the Trotter orchestra, it might have been reduced, or it might have not been; specifics on this topic are absent from the sources at hand.
Somebody else who might have fallen victim to the show's upheaval: the season's first girl singer. As stated in the articles, Lina Romay was heard on each of the 6 episodes that preceded the announcement of the decline in ratings. She was not heard at all in episodes #7 and #8, for which the aforementioned guests (Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante) had been quickly recruited. The ensuing episodes (#9 and #10) featured a third guest: Peggy Lee. After the guest-less Christmas episode (#11) that closed the season's first half, Lee returned for episode #12. She would go on to appear in 9 more episodes of the season's second half (#12 - #35).
Allegedly wanted by Crosby but unavailable at the start of the season, Lee thus appears to have been pursued and recruited as part of the overhaul which hoped to rectify the drop in ratings. At this point time, the young songstress was riding on a wave of hits that included various top 10 hits (e.g., "Waiting For The Train To Come In," "It's All Over Now") and two of her own compositions ("I Don't Know Enough About You," "It's A Good Day"). Peggy Lee essentially replaced Lina Romay, who made only one additional appearance (episode #15) before vanishing from Crosbyland. Unlike Romay, however, Lee's contract with Philco must have been as a special guest or a semi-regular, rather than a regular cast member. (Also unlike Romay, Lee went on to make many additional appearances in subsequent seasons.)
According to Lionel Pairpoint, this first season (1946-1947) of Crosby's Philco series ended up with an overall 16.1 score. This rating might seem relatively low when we compare it to the season's top rating (30.2, earned by NBC's comedy series Fibber McGee & Molly), or when we consider that a 16.1 placed the program outside of the season's top 20. However, a 16.1 was still good news for the then-emerging ABC. (Being a newly created -- or re-created -- network, ABC was still fighting to gain an audience. Since the other networks had been on the air for decades, luring listeners away from them was an uphill battle. Substantial ground would not be gained until the 1950s.) With that rating, Philco Radio Time ranked among the network's top-rated shows of the season. Doubtlessly to Crosby's relief, the score was also far above the 12.0 rating that would have contractually forced him to go back to live broadcasting. The episodes thus continued to be pre-recorded.
X. Philco Radio Time: The Second Season / Recording To Tape
The 1947-1948 season of Philco Radio Time brought a slight improvement in the series' overall rating: 16.8, and a #20 placement. Top-rated honors went to NBC's comical Fred Allen Show, with a 28.7 score.
Details about the season's ratings are secondary, however, to the seminal technological advancement that Crosby and company brought to the world of radio at this point in time. Starting with the season's opener (October 1, 1947, featuring Peggy Lee and Gary Cooper), all episodes of Philco Radio Time would be pre-recorded on magnetic tape.
A technology imported from Germany, magnetic tape was brought overseas by World War II soldier and electrical engineer John T. Mullin, whose U.S. Army Signal Corps unit had been given the task of assessing Nazi electronic equipment. After obtaining permission to bring back with him two German Magnetophone audiotape recorders, Mullin partnered with engineer and filmmaker William A. Palmer to develop the machine to their standards. They introduced their improved model to America in 1946-1947, during demonstrations that took place in San Francisco and Hollywood, the latter aiming at garnering interest from the movie industry.
Among the audiophiles present for (or aware of) the Hollywood demonstration was Murdo MacKenzie, producer and editor of Philco Radio Time. In June 1947, a demonstration for Crosby and company was set up. After a test, Crosby not only embraced the process but also hired Mullin as the show's new engineer. Still further, Bing Crosby Enterprises invested $50,000 in a deal to distribute the tape recorders, that would be manufactured by the Ampex Corporation.
Initially, and as a safety procedure, the shows were recorded to tape and then transferred to a first-generation disc for airplay, but eventually the taping fully took over, and the disc were used kept only as safety copies.
The use of tape allowed for an approach to the shows that was far more lax than it had ever been before. It also dramatically improved the engineering process, solving the aforementioned shortcomings of editing and recording to disc. The following two comments give hint of the more flexible work conditions that the new method brought on. The first comment is from Crosby's autobiography (as quoted in his biographical entry at Wikipedia):
By using tape, I could do a thirty-five or forty-minute show, then edit it down to the twenty-six or twenty-seven minutes the program ran. In that way, we could take out jokes, gags, or situations that didn't play well and finish with only the prime meat of the show; the solid stuff that played big. We could also take out the songs that didn't sound good. It gave us a chance to first try a recording of the songs in the afternoon without an audience, then another one in front of a studio audience. We'd dub the one that came off best into the final transcription. It gave us a chance to ad lib as much as we wanted, knowing that excess ad libbing could be sliced from the final product. If I made a mistake in singing a song or in the script, I could have some fun with it, then retain any of the fun that sounded amusing.
The second comment is from Philco Radio Time's engineer John T. Mullin:
Crosby’s taping schedule was determined by two factors: when he was available, and when Bill Morrow, the writer, could come up with the material. Sometimes we went right up to the wire. At other times we would be two months in advance. We might do three shows in a row — one a day particularly if we were in San Francisco, where Crosby liked to work because of the audiences ... I had two recorders and fifty rolls of tape to work with — just what I had sent home from Paris. With those fifty rolls I was able to do twenty-six Crosby shows-splicing, erasing, and recording over the splices. There were no textbooks on tape editing in 1947, so I had to develop my own techniques ... And if there was anything at all that indicated where I had made a cut, I would have to rework it until it was inaudible — either that or abandon it. Sometimes it would take me a whole week to put a show together after Bing had performed it ...
As Mullin makes amply clear, the practice of combining parts of the rehearsals with parts of the official show continued unabated. If anything, taping might have facilitated it:
We continued to record all of the material from the afternoon rehearsals. Crosby didn’t always know his songs very well, and he might start one and blow it. John Scott Trotter, the music director, would play the tune on the piano. When Bing got it, we would record two or three takes. In the evening, Crosby did the whole show before an audience. If he muffed a song then, the audience loved it — thought it was very funny — but we would have to take out the show version and put in one of the rehearsal takes. Sometimes, if Crosby was having fun with a song and not really working at it, we had to make it up out of two or three parts. This ad-lib way of working is commonplace in recording studios today, but it was all new to us.
As for master discs, they were still created, but more as backups or safety copies than as the primary medium on which to edit the shows. Furthermore, the original sources used to assemble the master disc would no longer be discs. They would be tapes. "When the show was finally assembled on tape," Mullin explains, "it had to be transferred to disc because nobody — including me — had confidence that this newfangled thing could be relied on to feed the full network ..." As will be illustrated below, this lack of confidence was merely a momentary byproduct of dealing with a new technology whose longevity had yet to be determined.
The high fidelity elicited by the new recording method became widely acknowledged in a short period of time, and Crosby came out a winner in more ways than one. The partnership that he had set up with the Ampex audiotape company would prove particularly profitable. Bing Crosby Enterprises became the one and only distributor of Ampex taping machines. In early 1948, ABC alone would buy 12 such machines (each one bearing a $12,500 price tag), and would promptly change all its recorded programming from disc to magnetic tape. By mid-1948, the technology had earned enough approval for Variety magazine to confidently state that "[p]rogrammes edited on the original tape are now being aired and retain the original broadcast quality" (June 9 issue). And by the following year, all 4 major networks had embraced recording to tape, as an ever-increasing number of radio producers were asking it they could adopt the method.
Magnetic tape had just overtaken the radio and recording industry, making the alternative of recording to disc a secondary or supplementary practice. Soon enough, tape would make the practice of mastering to disc obsolete. (The obsolescence would apply to master discs only. So-called transcription discs continued to be made and to be used for a long time; such discs remained the medium in which radio stations received the episodes of the radio shows which were aired.)
XI. Philco Radio Time: The Last Season
The final season of Philco Radio Time brought another slight improvement in the ratings: 15.7, which placed the program at #19 (top rater: CBS' Lux Radio Theater, with 28.6). Both Philco and ABC seemed still pleased with the show. As previously mentioned, ABC named it among the network's best rated series. For its part, the sponsor proclaimed that the ads placed during the half hours of Philco Radio Time had proven effective in increasing the public's demand for Philco products. Given such endorsements from both its network and its sponsor, the show could have probably continued to air with full corporate backing, had Crosby seen fit to keep on hosting it. Instead, having fulfilled his three-year contract with Philco, Le Bing would go on to accept a more lucrative offer.
XII. Peggy Lee's Served Time At Philco Radio Time
As already mentioned, Peggy Lee's earliest appearances in Philco Radio Time took place during the first half of the first season (episodes #9 and #10). Next, in the season's second half, the vocalist became a semi-regular. All in all, she ended up making a total of 12 appearances. The fact that her output amounted to a third of the season's episode total (36) might be telling. That fractional number could be clueing us in to the existence of a contract with Philco -- a contract that would have required Lee to be present for a dozen of the season's episodes. This is, however, merely speculation on my part. (I know of one source that might help clarify the matter. A headline from the March 1947 issue of the promotional magazine Capitol News proclaims: Bingo! Crosby Lands Peggy Lee; Dave Barbour Also Signed To Philco. Unfortunately, I do not have access to the article under the headline. If any reader owns a copy of this magazine, I would appreciate finding out which specifics are given in the article. Given the March 1947 publication date, the signing would have been for the last 6 appearances that Lee made that season.)
The season's two other semi-regular performers do not sport such a proportional quantity of appearances, yet logic suggests that both had signed contracts to perform in two thirds of the first season. The acts in question were pianist Skitch Henderson (23 episodes) and vocal group The Charioteers (21 episodes).
The second season of Philco Radio Time had no regular performers aside from The Rhythmaires, who replaced the departed Charioteers. Skitch Henderson was no longer a member. The distaff gender was actually well represented, thanks to a fair share of female personalities (Claudette Colbert, Margaret O'Brien, Esther Williams) and guest singers (Dinah Shore, Kay Thompson, Ilene Woods). But none of those females made enough appearances to qualify as a regular or a semi-regular.
Peggy Lee came the closest. Curiously, after a first season in which she had made a dozen of appearances, Lee appeared in half as many episodes of this second season (#37, #38, #56, #58, #62, #64). Even so, this amount was still enough to rank her as the season's most frequent returning act.
Her total amount of appearances (more than any other guest) also raises speculation a to whether there had been plans for Lee to continue in her role as a semi-regular -- plans that would have been eventually aborted. Hints of what might have transpired may be gleaned from an amicable exchange that aired as part of the February 25, 1948 episode:
Bing: "While I'm still under the spell of your voice, I wanna confess something to you. The work you've been doing over on Durante's show's very impressive."
Peggy: "Oh, thank you."
Bing: "I'm not the least bit mad because you threw me over for Jimmy. The best man won."
Granted that this dialogue was not spontaneous but part of the episode's script (and a means to an ensuing joke), its tenor is still suggestive of the wheelings and dealings that might have happened behind closed doors. Lee probably had the option to become either Crosby's or Durante's girl singer during this season. She wisely chose to work for Durante's show, where she was given a fairly prominent, multi-faceted role. Another allusion to the songstress' choice can be heard at the end of the February 11, 1948 episode, when announcer Ken Carpenter stipulates that she appears in the Philco show "through the courtesy of the Rexall Drug Company." Carpenter is referring to her contract as the regular girl singer of The Jimmy Durante Rexall Show. (For full details about her stay on his show for Rexall, consult this page.)
Interestingly, four of the six episodes in which Lee guested were among the second season's most eventful ones, due in part to the company that was invited along with her: Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Jimmy Durante, and a hot jazz rhythm section, the latter highlighting the musical talents of pianist Oscar Levant and violinist Joe Venuti. Still further, she was present for the season's opening episode (#37), which has historical importance in the annals of radio. It was the very first radio program to be recorded on magnetic tape, thereby ushering the era of audiotape. Also of note is the fact that Lee was enlisted to participate in a couple of sketches from these episodes -- in contrast to her more limited involvement during the first season, when she was circumscribed to singing and to very occasional bits of banter with Crosby.
After the contract with Durante expired, Lee came back to the Crosby fold. During the third and final season of Philco Radio Time, she appeared in 13 out of 35 episodes, thereby becoming a series semi-regular again. (The Rhythmaires remained the show's only regular performers -- besides Bing Crosby, Ken Carpenter, and The John Scott Trotter Orchestra, of course.) As in the previous season, Lee was called for duty in episodes that featured hot jazz playing: #79 (Levant and Venuti once more, along with Ziggy Elman and Red Nichols) and #97 (Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Venuti). Other episodes saw Lee joining Crosby's family (#82, Bob Crosby and Cathy Crosby), collaborators from his earliest radio days (#88, Johnny Mercer; #86, The Mills Brothers), alma matter representatives (#101, The Gonzaga Glee Club), and close professional friends (#84, Bob Hope). Notable as well is the increased amount of dialogue and/or role playing that Lee is given, particularly in episodes whose guests were parody writers: #105 (Alec Templeton), #90, #94, #103 (Abe Burrows in all three cases).
XIII. The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield
During the last six months of Bing Crosby's three-year contract with ABC's Philco Radio Time (January - June 1949), the trade press began to report that he was being heavily wooed by executives and sponsors tied to other networks. Most prominent among those was CBS' chairman William S. Paley. After having reportedly offered Crosby $500,000 (about $200,000 more per season than ABC) and investing about a million in one of the crooner's own businesses, Paley succeeded in luring Crosby back to his alma mater network. Potential sponsors for the prospective new Crosby show were promptly courted, and various financial offers were made. Chesterfield became the winner of Crosby's services by offering to pay at least $27, 500 per show -- $2,500 more than what Philco had been investing -- or, according to other trade reports, anywhere between $30,000 and $35,000. One report added that Crosby would be earning $8,500 per show, plus yet-to-be-determined bonuses. As he had done with Philco Radio Time, Bing Crosby proceeded to sign a three-year contract as the host of The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield.
The very first episode was broadcast on September 21, 1949. Apparently at Crosby's request, the Wednesday schedule from his Philco Radio Time period was kept through the entire run of the Chesterfield series, though a slight change was made to the starting time -- 9:30 instead of 9:00. (For the second season, press reports indicated that there were plans to move the show back to 9:00 p.m., but I do not know if such plans were put in action.) Ken Carpenter, John Scott Trotter, and The Rhythmaires remained firmly in place for the duration of the series. Naturally, Crosby and his team continued the practice of pre-taping every show.
When the season ended, it became amply clear that the move from upstart ABC to established CBS had increased the show's audience. The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield ranked #9 in that first season, with an 18 audience share (top rated show: 25.3). Unfortunately, the second season saw a fall to a 10.0 audience share (top rated program: 21). Such a low number prevented the show from landing within the top 20. During the third season, and while the medium's audience was becoming increasingly eroded by the rise of television, radio's top rated program would earn just a 17.0 score, while Crosby's show would again fail to land anywhere near the top 20. The last episode of the series was transmitted on June 25, 1952.
Crosby's reputation as a radio star remained strong, however. Lionel Pairpoint mentions that the Groaner came a close second in a countdown of The Greatest Radio Personality During The Last 25 Years, as determined by 330 radio journalists in March 1950. Only comedian Jack Benny had bested el Bingo.
XIV. Peggy Lee's Appearances In The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield
Peggy Lee performed in 13 episodes of this entire series, suitably appearing in both the first two (September 21 & 28, 1949) and the last two (June 18 & 25, 1952).
Tthe majority of Lee's visits to Crosby's Chesterfield show (9, to be exact) were circumscribed to the series' first season (1949-1950). In the initial episodes (#1 and #2), she was again paired with parody man Abe Burrows. (Perhaps audiences had responded favorably to the combination of Burrows & Lee?) In another episode (#117, January 11, 1950), she exchanged banter with guest star Groucho Marx. And, for a third time through the years, she was the female singer of choice when the show scheduled an episode featuring hot jazz (#19, January 25, 1950, with Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and, of course, Joe Venuti.)
Peggy Lee appeared in only two episodes of the second season (#46, #56), and ditto for the third season (#112, #113). Hopalong Cassidy guest-starred in one of the second season episodes that also featured Lee, while Tallulah Bankhead starred in the other. In the episodes that closed the series, Lee could be deemed the only guest star, essentially, or she could be alternatively considered an unofficial cast member. The other co-called guests in those last installments were series' regulars (Joe Venuti, The Rhythmaires).
It may be asked why, in comparison to previous years, Lee appeared in so few episodes during this period. At issue was, most probably, Lee's busy schedule during the early 1950s, when she was hosting not only her own radio show but also various TV shows. Television required her to stay in New York, and thus away from the California-based Crosby show.
XV. The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric
I have found very little in the way of specifics about Bing Crosby's contract with General Electric. Compared to the Philco and Chesterfield programs, Crosby's General Electric installments seem to have received scant attention from the press. The lack of press probably correlates to disinterest in the crooner's new series on the part of listeners. The show lasted two seasons -- one season less than each of his two previous series.
Since it was also on CBS, The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric could be considered a mere continuation of The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield, though with a new sponsor. For its first season, the program appears to have kept Crosby's favored slot -- Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. In the second season, the show was moved to Sundays. Lionel Pairpoint's general observations on the series are worth quoting at full length:
... [T]he first season of General Electric [stuck], pretty much, to the formula which had sustained the Philco and Chesterfield programmes but from [the second season onwards], quite sweeping changes were made ... The songs and the patter hung on but the commercials were abandoned in favour of several minutes of fatuous ‘discussion’ between Bing and Ken Carpenter, on such heavyweight subjects as ‘Government’, ‘Communism’ and ‘Collectivism’. The cry will be, that this was the era of McCarthyism but the pompous cant of these creepy ‘seminars’, surely had no place in a light radio show. Other ‘discussions’ included a résumé of the most recent General Electric Annual General Meeting and GE’s 75th Anniversary Share Presentation to employees’ new babies, subjects that would have had most of the radio audience, reaching for a good book. To the public, the ‘transcribed’ programme was now a normality, but there may still have been some questions regarding an ‘assembled’ show. Tape recording had, by this time, reached some degree of expertise and skillful editing could produce a conversation between two parties who were miles or even, days apart, without any noticeable ‘joins’. Chunks of dialogue could be shuffled, applause added or deleted and even the most devoted listener would have been hard pressed to recognise that the song that they were hearing was the same rendition that had been broadcast, two weeks previously. There is little doubt that an extensive ‘library’ was built of songs by Bing, which in many cases were sold on to Decca for re-mastering as commercial issues.
The fact that The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric placed #6 and #7 during its two seasons suggests that listeners did not dislike the "fatuous discussions of heavyweight topics" as much as Pairpoint did. On the contrary, such ratings prove that the show was among the most watched of its time, and might place a question mark beside my own assertions about press and audiences. Still, and once again, it is not the ratings but the audience share that tells the main story: the show was able to place in the top 10 with very meager shares (6 for the first season, 6.5 for the second). It turns out that lack of interest in radio was actually an across-the-board attitude among 1950s audiences. The top program of the 1952-1953 season had a 14.2 share, which was a significant decline over previous years, when the rankings had remained within the 20s. For the 1953-1954 season, a crippling 8.4 was enough for the game show Things Are Funny to come on top. (At issue was, as already stated, the advent of television. In the United States of America, the TV set had firmly taken hold as the entertainment of choice, making radio its old and unremarkable cousin.)
The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric would be the Old Groaner's last fully sponsored radio series.
XVI. Appearances by Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney And Other Artists In The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric
"Gone was the roll call of ‘big name’ guests," Pairpoint declares, in a bit of an overstatement, while talking about Crosby's series for General Electric. As he himself acknowledges, both Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Stewart guested thrice, and ditto for Dinah Shore. Bob Hope of course appeared as well, in his case twice. Other two timers included Kay Starr and Perry Como. Ella Fitzgerald made 5 appearances. Judy Garland and Connee Boswell, though not at the heights of their popularity at this point in time, made the odd appearance, too. Former big band star Helen O'Connell made it into the series' three-timing club. And old-time stars were not the only type of guests to visit the General Electric installments. Popular male acts of the day, some of them on the rise (Frankie Laine, Gordon MacRae, Guy Mitchell) came in for at least one show, too. Therefore, the list of guests was not as wanting and sparse as Pairpoint would have us believe. (Granted, Pairpoint might have zeroed in on the scarcity of film actors and radio personalities. Otherwise, his perspective might prove a bit more valid if we circumscribe it to the second season, although some of the appearances from the aforementioned guests did take place during that season.)
One notable modification to the personnel of this Bing Crosby series was the disappearance of The Rhythmaires, which were, by the early 1950s, an old staple of his shows. The Rhythmaires did stick for the full first season (being absent for only the last 7 episodes, which were made under special, perhaps rushed conditions, due to a Crosby trip to Europe). During the second season, John Scott Trotter's instrumentals replaced the vocal group's usual spots, and no new group was hired. Budgetary concerns might have been at issue. (Listeners of the second season might want to qualify my statement with the mention of a December 1953 episode in which The Rhythmaires accompany Crosby in nearly every single one of his performances. However, it turns out that those are not 1953 performances but, according to Pairpoint, 1952 Decca recordings that were spliced into the episode.) Only old reliables Ken Carpenter and John Scott Trotter remained regular cast members throughout the series.
Coming in as semi-regulars during the General Electric series were pianist Buddy Cole (24 episodes), Crosby's sons Gary and Lindsay (11 episodes), and singer Rosemary Clooney (19 episodes). In a pattern similar to Peggy Lee's, Clooney had made her debut appearance in one of the last episodes of Crosby's previous series (The Bing Crosby Show For Chesterfield) and had then proceeded to make repeat appearances in the early episodes of The Bing Crosby Show For General Electric. (In Peggy Lee's case, she made her debut appearance in one of the last episodes of Kraft Music Hall, and then proceeded to make repeat appearances in some of the early episodes of his subsequent series, Philco Radio Time.) After the series ended (1954), Clooney would join Crosby again three years later, for the last 4 months of The Ford Show (a five-minute daily program that would run from September 1957 to August 1958). After three more years, they would pair once more for another daily program, the 20-minute-long Bing Crosby And Rosemary Clooney Show, which ran from February 1960 to September 1962, and was Crosby's final radio series.
During this General Electric period, Peggy Lee made the same number of visits as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Dinah Shore and Helen O'Connell: three. Lee's earliest appearance (episode #21) took place during the first season. The old, tried-and-true pattern of singing both a solo and a duet with Crosby is maintained in that episode, on which the female vocalist also participates in the scripted banter. Peggy Lee's two other appearances were made during the show's last season, and both had an air of sweet nostalgia; those episodes (#47 and #49) included numbers that Lee had sung when she was a semi-regular in Crosby radio programming.
In her very last episode (#49), Lee rejoins forces with Crosby for the fourth of their hot jazz mini-concerts over the years. "Folks," Crosby declares as a way of introduction to their duetting segment, "Peggy and I would like to sing some of our favorite tunes -- sort of ad-lib 'em in the proper fashion. I hope we run across some of your favorites, too." Indeed, they sing most of the same tunes that they had picked for the previous dates, accompanied this time by a so-called Dixieland Ensemble. And thus, with a joint reprise of favorite standards ("Exactly Like You," "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me"), Bing Crosby gives a fitting send-off to his partnership with Peggy Lee on primetime radio.
XVII. Crosby's Later Radio Years
Six months after the last episode of the General Electric series (May 30, 1954), The Bing Crosby Show returned to CBS as a sustained program -- one that Lionel Pairpoint has aptly categorized as a gap filler. Debuting on November 22, 1954, this new series was heard from Monday through Friday all year long (summers included) at 9:00 p.m., but it lasted just 15 minutes.
A need to reduce financial costs probably dictated many modifications. Crosby's understandable fatigue, after so many consecutive years in the medium, must have also been a factor. John Scott Trotter was out of the picture, and there was no replacement orchestra; Crosby was accompanied only by rhythm section musicians, who had also been part of his previous series. No guests other than the crooner's offspring made appearances. (The show occasionally included duets with female singers, but those duets were among the recycled numbers that had been taken from Crosby's Decca recordings and earlier CBS radio series.)
The songs heard in a given episode were an amalgam of the old and the new. Some had just been taped, some were years-old Decca recordings, and many others were performances taken from the tapes of Crosby's previous shows for General Electric and Chesterfield. Topical dialogue, sometimes of a serious nature, sometimes with a promotional bent (e.g., newly published books, sports, Valentine Day gifts) played as prominent a role as the three songs that were featured in each episode.
This mostly non-sponsored edition of The Bing Crosby Show lasted over two years. Starting in January 1955, the odd episode would acquire a sponsor (most frequently, Lanolin Plus Liquid) but the sponsorship would remain sporadic -- i.e., limited to single rather than back-to-back episodes. Despite meager audience shares of 3.1 (1954-1955) and 2.2 (1955-1956), the series rated #14 and #10 during it two seasons. The final episode was broadcast on December 31, 1956.
Thereafter, Crosby moved away from primetime radio, settling on daylight programming. CBS' The Ford Show featured rotating hosts, with Buddy Cole & His Trio as the accompanists for all musical selections. The rotating hosts were Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Arthur Godfrey, and Edward Murrow. The episodes were pre-taped and repeated at different times of the day, all week long. Each episode lasted only 5 minutes, which allowed for just one song, or at most a two-song medley. The remainder of the program was dedicated mostly to promoting the sponsor. Crosby served as rotating host from September 2, 1957 to August 31, 1958.
Next, CBS signed two of the hosts from The Ford Show to co-host the Bing Crosby - Rosemary Clooney Show, which ran Mondays through Fridays at 11:40 a.m. for 20 minutes. The first episode was broadcast on February 29, 1960. According to Lionel Pairpoint, the program was specifically aimed at a female audience. Even more than Crosby's two previous programs, this one was a heavy mixture of old and new performances. Numerous solo Crosby performances were culled from his previous series, and numerous Clooney solo performances were taken from her own previous show on CBS. Their dialogue and their duets were taped long in advance, often in marathon sessions held at Crosby's home. Those duet performances were also recycled in multiple episodes. Buddy Cole & His Trio provided, once again, the accompaniment, with no guests ever invited. Although the series' title gave credit to both singers as equals, the episodes' scripted dialogue suggests that Crosby was in charge, and that Clooney was still serving in the old role of girl singer. The last episode was broadcast on September 28, 1962, and thereafter Crosby would not be involved in any other radio series. He would still be heard, however, on the occasional radio special, both in the United States and the United Kingdom.