Did The Bob and Ray Comedy Duo Get Their Start Due to Red Sox Game Rainouts?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Bob and Ray got started as a comedy duo due to Red Sox rainouts.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, credited as Bob and Ray, were one of the top radio comedy duos of the 20th Century. Elliott’s comedy legacy continues to this day with his son, Chris Elliott, and his granddaughter, Abby Elliott, both being involved in comedy (Chris and Abby are the first and, so far, only father and daughter to both be cast members on Saturday Night Live).

Their official website (both men have since passed away) quotes the New Yorker on them, “Bob & Ray invented, dreamed up the lines for, and then played, mainly on radio and television, a surrealistic Dickensian repertory company, which chastens the fools of the world with hyperbole, slapstick, parody, verbal nonsense, non sequitur, and sheer wit, all of it clean, subtle and gentle… Bob & Ray’s humor turns on their faultless timing and on their infinite sense of the ridiculous. It is also framed by that special sly, dry, wasteless vision of life perfected during the last couple of centuries by middle-class New Englanders…”

But how did they get their start?
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Did a Popular Radio Show Change the Name of the Show and the Lead Character Because of the Blacklist?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: A popular radio series changed the name of the show (and title character) because the novelist who originated the character was blacklisted.

Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade had already found success in novels…

and film (with some help from Humphrey Bogart)…

before gaining radio success, as well, with the 1946 radio serial, The Adventures of Sam Spade, starring Howard Duff as Spade (Duff was largely an unknown in 1946 – within a couple of years he would be famous and married to Ida Lupino!).

The show was sponsored by Wildroot Cream-Oil.

Here is an old ad campaign for the show that appeared in comic books of the time…

Wildroot Cream Oil also used one of Al Capp’s characters in their ads, using the catchphrase, “Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!”


This becomes important later.

The show debuted on ABC and then ran on CBS for a few years.

So it’s now 1950, and Hammett has been blacklisted by the government due to his constant protests for civil rights. The show had already removed his name on the credits.

Now, though, Howard Duff, as well, has been getting some inquiries from the House Un-American Activities Committtee.
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Did a Radio Show Accidentally Air a Re-Run Complete With the Breaking News Bulletin From the Original Episode?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: A daily Washington D.C. radio show accidentally played a re-run episode complete with a breaking news bulletin from the past.

In 1998, Kojo Nnamdi took over a long-running daily morning talk show called Public Interest on WAMU in Washington D.C. that first began as The Fred Finke show in 1977 (when it was a nighttime public interest show). After a couple of host (and name) changes, WAMU went with “Public Interest” rather than naming it after the new host, Nnamdi.

In 2002, they ended up naming it The Kojo Nnamdi Show anyways, which is what it remains called to this day.

In November of 2002, Nnamdi woke up sick one day and did not feel that he would be able to come in and work.

Without adequate time to find a guest host, the producers decided to re-run a recent show.

They grabbed a show from October and popped it in.

The show went on as it normally did, with Nnamdi discussing various topics. However, while discussing dreams and nightmares with neurologist Richard Cytowik, a bulletin interrupted the show.

Five people had been shot in Montgomery County!!

Yes, the producers had unwittingly chosen the October 3rd episode of the program, the day that the infamous “beltway sniper,” John Allen Muhammed first broke into the news with his early morning sniping murders of four random strangers in Montgomery County, Maryland (just north of Washington D.C.) which was coupled with a shooting from the previous day (Muhammed would go on to murder a sixth victim later that night).
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Did Gracie Allen Really Receive Tens of Thousands of Write-In Votes for U.S. President in 1940?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Gracie Allen received tens of thousands of votes in a joke campgaign for President in 1940.

In the past, I’ve discussed the fact that Gracie Allen never actually said “Goodnight, Gracie.” on the popular television series starring George Burns and Gracie Allen (which was an extension from their equally popular radio show).

Now I’m going to debunk ANOTHER part of the Gracie Allen legend.

As you likely know by now, married entertainers George Burns and Gracie Allen were one of the most popular comedy duos of the 20th Century.

Allen’s act involved refining the “dumb blonde” character to absolute perfection.

Another way that Allen stood out was in the popularity of her publicity stunts. One popular gag involved her looking for her “lost brother George.”

She would show up on all different radio shows looking for him. It was great fun and great publicity for their radio show.

Another stunt involved Gracie running for the President of the United States in 1940.

Check out Radio Revisited if you’re interested in purchasing recordings from these landmark comedy programs.

Allen definitely DID “run” for President – as a member of the “Surprise Party.” However, for years the punchline to the gag was that she actually ended up getting actual votes!

Most accounts say 50,000 votes (I’ve seen others ranging from 40,000-50,000).

That would be pretty remarkable! But is it TRUE?
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Was Life of Riley Originally a Groucho Marx Vehicle?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Life of Riley was originally a Groucho Marx vehicle!

While it may be true for movies, as well, the media of Radio and Television seem to be places where the following statement is particularly true – strong performances (or, in the alternative, strong personalities) can often make the difference between a show being a classic and a show being forgotten.

A great example of this phenomenon is the classic early situation comedy from 1941 (and likely THE original situation comedy, at least in how we think of the term today), Life of Riley.

The show is basically a generic sitcom, with its sole distinguishing plot characteristic being that it is about lower middle-class people in New York City, specifically a wing riveter at an Aircraft plant named Chester A. Riley.

The title “Life of Riley” is play on the phrase “Living the life of Riley,” which means living an expensive lifestyle (this, of course, was meant as an ironic title).

While the only distinguishable plot characteristic was the setting of the sitcom, the one thing that REALLY set it apart was its star, veteran movie character actor, William Bendix.

In the able hands (and voice) of Bendix, Riley was kept from turning into an insufferable lout, which the character easily could have turned into. Riley did not have the depth of, say, a Ralph Kramden or an Archie Bunker, but Bendix still kept him grounded in life enough that listeners could root for the guy. The addition of John Brown’s gravedigger character Digby O’Dell, really sold the show, making it a permanent hit. It was even one of the rare radio hits that continued as a major hit on television (an early attempt to adapt it for television show had Riley played by none other than the future Ralph Cramden himself, Jackie Gleason) with Bendix eventually playing the character on the most successful adaptation of the show on television.

Here’s an ad for the show from one of their first sponsor, the American Meat Institute…

Amazingly enough, though, the Life of Riley almost never existed, because it was based on a failed pilot that originally starred Groucho Marx!
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Did the Pestering of Reporters Lead to the Famed Description of the NBC Monitor?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Pat Weaver came up with the trademark description of The NBC Monitor on the fly when being pestered by reporters.

The NBC Monitor was a radio program that basically saved NBC Radio in a time when radio was deemed on its way out with the advent of television.

The show almost defied definition, as NBC (Radio and TV) President Pat Weaver came up with the idea of developing a weekend program that would put together the best minds available to NBC and producing quick bits of news and infotainment that would last the whole weekend. It would work so that no matter when you turned to the program, you would be able to get SOMEthing interesting to listen to.

It was seen as a bizarre gambit by Weaver at a time when radio stations were locked into general 30 minute or 60 minute shows, but it definitely paid off.

Basically, it is the same principle Weaver used on television for NBC’s Today Show (which still goes on today). You just use up blocks of time with interesting people and viewers will tune in. Soon, basically every radio station affiliate across the country were “on the Monitor Beacon.”

The show was introduced with an otherworldly sound called the Monitor Beacon (it would also be used to transition out of station breaks).

Courtesy of the great Monitor tribute site, The Monitor Beacon Tribute Pages, click here to hear an MP3 of the Monitor Beacon sound.

In any event, as you might imagine, it was difficult for Pat Weaver to describe a show that would have, say, X minutes of an old-time radio show then X minutes of visiting a Celebrity Chef then X minutes of straight news then X minutes of Bob and Ray doing a comedy routine then the weather (done in a breathy, sexy voice by “Miss Monitor,” played by actress Tedi Thurman) then X amount of minutes of live jazz.

So when he first described the show to affiliates on Friday, April 1, 1955, the affiliates must have felt that this was some sort of April Fool’s joke by Weaver! While they did not fully grasp the concept all that well, Weaver had an even tougher time when he debuted the concept to reporters in a press conference a few days later.

It is there that Weaver actually came up with the phrase that would forever be connected to the Monitor – and he did it on the fly!
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Did David Sarnoff Work a Telegraph Three Days Straight Covering the Titanic Sinking?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: David Sarnoff stayed on the telegraph for three days straight getting the first details of the Titanic sinking.

As horrific of a tragedy the sinking of the Titanic was, it turned out to be a major boon for the future of radio.

At the time of the Titanic sinking, wireless communication was only just beginning to become a major tool, particularly for naval vessels, who could use telegraphs to communicate with people at great distances.

That any of the passengers of the Titanic survived the sinking was due entirely to the fact that the ocean liner Carpathia picked up the wireless transmissions of the Titanic’s two Wireless Operators (who continued transmitting until they literally could not do it any longer).

This, coupled with the fact that the ship closest to the Titanic, the Californian, did not stop to help because their Wireless Operators were asleep and their wireless station shut down, was a major success, of sorts, for the American division of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.

It proved the impressive utility of wireless communication, and it did so in a massive news story with the whole world paying attention.

While surely the radio industry would have eventually started ANYways, this definitely gave it a jump start.

One person that this ALSO gave a jump start to was a young Marconi Wireless worker named David Sarnoff.
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