George Frame Brown and His Real Folks, Pt. 6

This article originally appeared in Radiogram, January 2016.

            Real Folks announcer, Alwyn Bach, was an award-winning speaker with a lengthy history in radio even by the late 1920s. Bach was born to a Danish mother that he felt contrasted with his 6’ 2” frame accented by dark hair and eyes and olive complexion. Bach had very distinct childhood memories of his mother poring over a dictionary and pronouncing words at all times, even while stirring soup on the stove. She insisted on perfection diction from her son, admonishing him “Alwyn, I’m ashamed of you. For heaven’s sake, use your lips.” At 16 Bach began formally studying singing and within a year he was conducting a 32-voice chorus in a local church and singing in the choir of a second church. Bach also directed a number of musical productions.

As a young man Bach served in World War I with the 44th Coast Artillery Corps and saw action on the Somme-St. Mihiel front. After the war he went into the printing business and he learned the ins and outs of English grammar. Bach claimed he got into radio in October 1922 announcing for Springfield, MA’s WBZ where he announced the Boston Symphony broadcasts. A humorous episode in which Bach was involved happened in 1924 at the Democratic Convention in New York City.

Recognizing that the nomination process was going to extend well into the night Bach decided to freshen up and take a bath at 2:00 in the morning. Without warning just as Bach had lathered up in his hotel tub, the WBZ engineer burst in on him, microphone in hand, and Bach began broadcasting the latest updates without hesitation. Bach’s intuition was correct; the convention would be the longest nominating process in election history.

In 1926 Bach moved to sister station WBZA in Boston and then to NBC in 1927. By 1930, after Real Folks had been on the air two years, Bach was announcing a number of shows including The Davey Hour, The Hour With Shakespeare, Reminscences, Around the World with Libby, Enna Jettick Song Birds, Famous Loves, and shows sponsored by Iodent, Enna Jettick Shoes, Beacon Oil, and Natural Bridge Shoes. That same year Bach won the Medal for Good Diction given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an award that would be won over the years by such notables as Edward R. Murrow (1957), Garrison Keillor (1990), and President Bill Clinton (2004).

Real Folks was produced and directed by none other than Raymond Knight who had joined NBC in 1928. He was behind a number of the network’s programs in 1929 such as The Gold Spot Pals, Embarrassing Moments in History, Hello, Mars! Triadamas, Empire Builders, and most famous of all, Station KUKU, also known as The Cuckoo Hour. NBC music director Harry Salter was in charge of the series musical background. He wrote the music and led the Thompkins Corners Firemen’s Band and also the Ladies’ Augmented Orchestra. The Firemen were noted for playing all their songs just a step out of tune.

George Frame Brown and His Real Folks, Pt. 2

This article originally appeared in Radiogram, January 2016.

George Frame (Francis) Brown

On March 1, 1896, Brown was born near Seattle, WA, a continent away from the rural New England hamlets that would serve as backdrops his future radio shows. His parents were pioneers in the region and his father ran a small store and supply company. As a young man Brown planned a career in architecture but got sidetracked when the United States entered World War I. He shipped out overseas and saw action in France with the American Expeditionary Forces. During his time in the service he suffered from gas attacks that caused injuries from which he would periodically suffer for years to come. After returning from Europe Brown enrolled at the University of Washington where he modified his original plans and studied theatrical architecture and stage settings.

Exposure to the stage changed Brown’s mind yet again and he started to act in small parts in local productions. After writing a one-act play that ended up getting produced, Brown decided to try and make a full-time living in the theatre. Some time spent in Washington’s stock theatre scene convinced Brown to move to New York City and the lights of Broadway. He quickly found, however, that the lights can dazzle the eyes but they don’t fill the stomach. By his own account Brown was practically starving and had to perform what janitorial work he could find just to survive.

Even when a bit of luck fell his way something was sure to blow it. At one point Brown was offered a part for a tidy $100 per week, big money for a man with barely two nickels to his name. But at the worst possible time he experienced a lung hemorrhage and had to back out of the role, just one example of the gassing Brown experienced in France returning to haunt him.

Brown’s first appearance on radio was not planned and even a bit ironic. He earned a part in a stage production, “The Manhatters,” in the fall of 1927 that also featured future radio stars Raymond Knight and William Johnstone. The play made light fun of the then-new phenomenon of radio, but portions of the production were then actually broadcast over the air.

Intrigued by the idea of radio, Brown broadcast an early morning radio monolog that he later described as a “travesty.” He delivered cooking lessons and led exercises on the broadcast dubbed Cretonna in the Home. WRNY’s station manager liked it enough to invite Brown to do some monologs over his station. Brown agreed and subsequently did some broadcasts over WABC including a program called The Music and Musings of Dr. Mu in which he talked about a variety of topics in the guise of an old Chinese philosopher.