Radio AM to FM: August 1, 2003
Bob Hope Radio Memories
As you probably already know, legendary performer Bob Hope passed away July 27th at the age of 100.
At least two web sites -- probably thousands more -- are paying tribute to one of America's most popular entertainers of all time, focussing on his radio career and giving visitors a chance to hear recordings of those programs.
RadioSpirits.com, a site that specializes in selling CDs and cassettes of old time radio shows, has two Bob Hope Show programs available for free: one from 1943 with guests Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake; and one from 1948 with special guest Jack Benny.
Radiolovers.com, a site that I just discovered (with the help of reader David Schwartz) specializes in providing free streams of numerous old-time shows. The Bob Hope page has nine different shows available for listening, including guests Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, and Doris Day.
Hope started his entertainment career in vaudeville. His radio career began in the early 1930s as an advertising hook for New York's Capitol Theater: in order to promote Capitol's box-office attractions, the Capitol Family Hour broadcast from the theater every morning. Hope, who was performing at the theater, was booked for the show, and proved to be very popular.
In 1937, Hope was signed to the NBC Radio Network for 26 weeks as part of The Woodbury Soap Show. One year later he got his own sponsor and his own show, The Pepsodent Show, which became one of the country's most popular radio programs.
Not that everything was easy going. Hope's monologs, tame by today's standards, were considered racy at times. And NBC, not wanting to offend sponsors, political parties or the government, actually considered canceling his show in 1942 -- even though it was number one at the time. Notes from a staff meeting (available online at the Library of Congress site, www.loc.gov/exhibits/bobhope/radio.html) even mentions that the Columbia Broadcasting System wouldn't pick up the show if NBC canceled it because CBS wouldn't touch anything that NBC felt was "lewd."
Cooler heads prevailed, and Hope remained on NBC with his regular Weekly Tuesday night show until April, 1956. From there he went on to that thing that was just a fad, called "television."
Show regulars included Jerry Colonna, Brenda (Frazier) and Cobina (Wright, Jr.), Vera Vague, a vocal group called Six Hits and a Miss and announcer Bill Goodwin. Doris Day and Judy Garland are among the featured singers that appeared on the show, and special guests included Bing Crosby and Jack Benny. In fact, Hope and Benny often made guest appearances on each other's shows.
1941 was the year that Hope began making remote broadcasts for troops at U.S. military bases, a tradition that carried through five wars. As President, Bill Clinton signed a congressional bill making Hope an honorary veteran. Hope is the only person ever to achieve such status.
Hope has 58 doctorates, all honorary. He was also named an "honorary student" and was presented a degree in Comedy (with a minor in One Liners") from the student body of UCLA, and was provided an honorary parking space for one day a year at USC.
While it has been years since Hope has been on radio, he certainly was influential in its early development. And as with almost all tributes to Hope, I'll end this one with the title of his theme song: Thanks For the Memory.
Copyright © 2003 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.
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