Monday, September 26, 2011

The 1976 Chrysanthemum Festival, Bristol, CT / Bob Crane - Grand Marshal

Bob Crane made countless public appearances during the height of his radio and acting careers. From grand store openings to charity events to military functions to awards ceremonies to parades, Bob was regularly called upon to take part in such occasions, and he routinely accepted the invitations.

Bob Crane, right, prepares to
address the audience during a
1970s speaking engagement.
On Sunday, September 19, 1976, the 15th Annual Chrysanthemum Festival took place in Bristol, Connecticut. The festival, launched in 1962 as the Fall Festival and now affectionately known as the "Mum Fest," highlights Bristol's achievements and proud accomplishments. Crane, having worked at WBIS radio in Bristol in 1951, was grand marshal of the 1976 Mum Festival Parade and took part in the opening ceremonies.

The previous day, the city of Bristol held a reception in his honor, during which the native Connecticut radio personality recalled his time at WBIS. "I worked right about where I'm standing now," Crane said. "WBIS radio was on the second floor, and a department store, Kresge's, was below, and I ate at Kresge's lunch counter" ('Hogan's Heroes' star recalls job in Bristol, 1976).

Bob also spoke of his humble and meager beginnings, having lived in a boarding house during his early days in Connecticut radio and needing to keep perishable food items on the windowsill in the wintertime because he had no refrigerator. "My biggest problem was if the sun came out because in a day, I'd have sour milk. I used to play a couple of records, then run up the hill to check on my milk."

It has been a common belief that Bob Crane was a lot like his character, Colonel Hogan, on Hogan's Heroes. During the Mum Festival reception held in his honor, Bob stated he was "a lot like the Hogan that is fun-loving, but I'm nothing like the Hogan that's a hero. I faint at the sight of a hangnail."

As part of his role as grand marshal, Crane was presented with "a key to the city, three giant yellow mums from Mayor Henry J. Wojtusik, a clock from the Mum Fest Committee, and a hard time from a garland of mums he cut through to open the 15th annual festival" (30,000 watch Mum Parade, 1976). Since Bob had such difficulty cutting through the garland, 1976 Parade Master of Ceremonies Val McCormack joked, "You'd never escape from that prison" (Flaum, 1976).

The 50th Anniversary of the Mum Festival was held on Sunday, September 25, 2011, in Bristol. Bill Schwab, who was the chairman of the 1976 festival, served as one of the 2011 parade's marshals and happily recalled meeting Crane, describing him as "charming" and "delightful" (Majerus, 2011).

Mum Fest Parade goers in 1976 would agree. Smiling broadly, Bob Crane received enthusiastic applause as he led the parade through his one-time home streets of Bristol, Connecticut.

To learn more about the Annual Chrysanthemum Festival in Bristol, CT, click here.

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30,000 watch Mum Parade. (1976, September 20). The Hartford Courant, p. 16.
Flaum, D. (1976). Actor leads parade. The Hartford Courant, p. 17A.
'Hogan's Heroes' star recalls job in Bristol. (1976, September 20). The Hartford Courant. p. 17A.
Majerus, J. (2011). All aboard for fun: Mum Fest riding in style. The Bristol Press. Retrieved from

Articles from The Hartford Courant are courtesy of Bill Dillane.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Theme from 'The Green Hornet'

Comic book characters are the hottest new trend these days, and The Green Hornet is no exception. This legendary character, created by George W. Trendle, Fran Striker, and James Jewell, made his radio debut in the 1930s, and has since been seen on TV and on the big screen. The latest film adaptation opened in January 2011 and starred Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, and Christoph Waltz.

From 1966 to 1967, The Green Hornet television series was revived, and its theme song made the cut onto the album Bob Crane, His Drums, & Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV. Crane thoroughly enjoyed making the album because he was able to showcase his drumming skills, and musical and creative talents. According to music producer Stu Phillips, "At the recording sessions, Bob was always 'on.' Jokes flew thick, fast, and funny. The most talented studio musicians were his audience, and Bob had them enjoying every session." (Album Liner Notes)

Theme from The Green Hornet (Bob Crane on Drums)
Bob Crane, His Drums, & Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV
Epic Records - 1966

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bob Crane Show: "...The Wildest, Funniest Morning Program in Radio"

This promotional flyer distributed by KNX in the 1960s highlights the station's leading personalities and newsmen. Here, The Bob Crane Show is hailed as the "wildest, funniest morning program in radio," with Crane being the only radio personality hosting live, unrehearsed celebrity interviews daily.

(Click once on each image below and then again in the new window to view in a larger format for easier reading.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Commercial Break! American Dairy Council for Milk / 1964

Right from the earliest days of his career in radio, Bob Crane experimented with sound effects and gimmicks, and using them in commercials. One of his first gimmicks ever in 1950 was the sound of Elsie the cow being milked right in the WLEA studios. According to Bob himself during a 1961 presentation to LA College: 

Bob Crane, circa 1965
Originally, I started out with the simplest gimmick...I was using a little salt shaker that I filled with water. And we had Borden’s as a sponsor. This was up in Hornell, New York. And I would take a glass and the salt shaker. And I’d say, “Borden’s guarantees fresh milk... Go ahead. Go ahead, now, Bessie.” Or no, I think it was Elsie the cow. And I would use the salt shaker as a sound effect with the water coming out going into the glass. And I’d make believe I was milking the cow. And how fresh can the milk be?! ...This is how I got into the gimmicks thing. Then finally I decided if I could do it with sound effects, why not voices. Then I started adding voices.

Eventually, Crane would invent and perform more than 1,000 different voices during his radio routine by the time he left KNX in 1965.

Here is a clip of a milk commercial that aired over KNX in 1964. Too bad Elsie the cow doesn't make an appearance here! But it's still a fun, nostalgic listen. (If only some of those very early recordings from New York and Connecticut still existed...)

American Dairy Council - Milk Commercial
Bob Crane Show / KNX-CBS Radio

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Hollywood Legend Is Born: 'The Bob Crane Show' Debuts Over KNX-CBS Radio - September 3, 1956

Bob Crane KNX Portrait / Gabi Rona,
Photographer. Original autographed photo
from the personal collection of Carol Ford.
On September 3, 1956, Bob Crane launched his radio show over KNX-CBS Radio in Los Angeles. Within a very short period of time, he took the West Coast by storm, quickly earning himself one of Southern California's top radio seats, rivaled only by Dick Whittinghill at KMPC. Over the course of the next nine years, Crane and Whittinghill would combat each other over the airwaves, and while Whittinghill often edged Crane out in the market share by mere fragments, it was Crane who became immortalized in radio history as "King of the LA Airwaves."

By 1957, Bob Crane had become a household name and an advertiser's dream (or nightmare!). Gimicks, drums, 1,000 voices, and more than 3,000 individuals, most of them celebrities, had become staples on Crane's show in the early morning Pacific Coast hours. Listeners came to expect one thing from their frenetic morning man: the unexpected. 

Early KNX ad promoting 'The Bob Crane Show.'
September 1956

Journalist and news reporter Leo McElroy worked with Bob at KNX as the station's booth announcer from 1960 to 1963. He recalled how Crane had been discovered by CBS and lured from the East Coast in 1956: "CBS put the word out by asking their CBS radio stations across the country, 'Who do you have that’s causing you trouble in your market?' And WEEI in Boston had the biggest horror story. They had this guy in Bridgeport, CT, who was just killing them. So CBS solved two problems at once. They solved WEEI’s ratings problem, and at the same time, they found KNX a morning guy, and he shows up out of Bridgeport, CT, and just takes over."

And take over the West Coast, Bob did. Friend and Variety Magazine Editor Harvey Geller remembered: "The number-one guy was Dick Whittinghill at KMPC, who had the biggest audience. But Crane had the people inside the industry - the movie industry and the record industry - so he had, I think, a better audience."

Crane also had the sponsors. Through his innovative routine of integrating various gimmicks, voices, drumming, and gags into the commercials, companies that had purchased 15 or 30-second ad spots usually ended up with a minute or more of airtime as Crane knocked around their product or service.

Yet, Bob was careful, and he was conscious not to go too far with his gags. In a 1961 presentation to LA College, Bob urged the next generation of radio personalities: "If you’re ever in doubt, if you think something is a little bit off-color, you’re debating it. If you have to debate it, then don’t do it. If you reach that point where you’re thinking, should I say that? Then don’t say it. 'Cuz you’re gonna offend somebody. If you gotta think about it, then they’re gonna think about it. They’re gonna hear it at home and say, 'Ehhhh?'

KNX-CBS Radio / Columbia Square
Los Angeles, CA / circa 1960
In Leo McElroy's recently published memoir, he recalls his friendship with Bob as well as working along side of him. He states: "Being on duty during Crane's show was immensely entertaining. He played records, but interspersed with them were comedy voice tracks and his frequent drum solos. He didn't hesitate to interrupt commercials, and sometimes, a 30-second ad might take three or four minutes to finish." In a separate conversation, McElroy added: "So much of Bob’s show seemed to spring from his brain instantaneously. I think that for many of us, it was hard to tell what was pre-thought and what was something that just suddenly cropped up. He managed to make it appear that it was spontaneous even if it wasn’t."

In 1963, McElroy was let go from KNX as part of a reduction in staff. However, he soon began receiving phone calls from other stations looking to hire him. Leo later discovered that Bob had contacted those stations, stating, "You want the guy who can beat me in the ratings? Leo is the guy!" When Leo tried to thank Bob, Bob wouldn't hear of it. "In my dictionary," Leo states, "when you look up the word 'friend,' it's still got Bob Crane's picture on it."

Bob Crane KNX Postcard / circa 1960

Despite the catchy title, "King of the LA Airwaves," Bob Crane's work in radio has been severely under-recognized over the years. Speaking of Crane's push to change radio in ways that had previously been unimaginable, such as spinning his own records, McElroy states, "Bob did things in radio that opened up a lot of doors and a lot of possibilities for other people. Some of the result has been good and some of it has been God awful. But nonetheless, he unwrapped the box and opened it up."

Further, those who knew Bob Crane well - those who worked with him and called him friend - will attest that his memory has been treated unfairly since his death. "Bob was kind," Leo remembers. "He was kind to those he worked with. He was kind to those he knew. He was a guy who quite obviously cared to make their lives a little easier, a little nicer without intruding himself on them. I really honor him for that. This was a friend who wanted nothing in return, and had he the opportunity to do something nice, he would do it. He did it for me, he did it for others, and he did it because he was a kind man."


Of the many celebrities interviewed by Bob Crane, Richard Chamberlain was a favorite guest. Here, in this early 1960s radio clip, Chamberlain helps Bob try to give away a $500 stereo system to a contest winner. Their efforts go awry when the winner has a rather difficult time comprehending the situation! 

Bob Crane / Richard Chamberlain / Contest Winner
Bob Crane Show / KNX-CBS Radio

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Leo McElroy's book, ...But You Can't Report That!, was published on May 10, 2011. Leo currently works as a consultant in Los Angeles and stays active with community theatre, most recently directing the successful production of Dinners with Augie at the Geery Theatre in Sacramento, CA.

Harvey Geller passed away on March 12, 2009, following a brief illness. He was 86. In 2002, he voiced his opinion about Auto Focus in a Letter to the Editor to the LA Times, claiming the way the film presented Bob Crane was severely "out of focus." To read the letter, click here.

For a partial listing of celebrities interviewed by Bob Crane, click here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Commercial Break! Ralphs Grocery Store / Los Angeles 1964

For those of you on the West Coast, you'll enjoy this vintage radio spot for Ralphs Grocery Store, as read by Bob Crane over KNX in 1964. What's mostly interesting are the prices! Listen as Crane speed-reads through this ad, and you'll long for the days when nickels and dimes actually bought you something.

Ralphs Grocery Store Commercial
The Bob Crane Show / KNX-CBS Radio
May 1964

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bob Crane and United Cerebral Palsy

Bob Crane with his wife Patty; their son, Scott:
and Eliot Dober, Connecticut State
Director for United Cerebral Palsy.
United Cerebral Palsy Telethon - 1976
Photo courtesy of Eliot Dober.
Bob Crane spent a great deal of his personal time volunteering for various charities, and not the least of which was for United Cerebral Palsy. He had close ties to the organization; a dear friend, Eliot Dober, from Bridgeport, CT, who Bob had met while working at WLIZ/WICC in the 1950s, suffered from cerebral palsy. 

Eliot and his family had owned a portion of WLIZ radio when Bob began working at the station in April 1951. (On November 17, 1951, WLIZ purchased WICC, and Bob's morning show then moved over to WICC.) At that time, Eliot was 15 years of age, and according to Eliot, "I was in and out then, hanging around. And was a real pest!" Eliot remembered Bob being very patient with him during that time, and even gave Eliot the opportunity to go on the air with him. They remained friends after Bob left Bridgeport and moved to Los Angeles in 1956, and Eliot took several trips out to the West Coast to visit him.

Throughout his life, Eliot was a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities. In 1977, he was appointed by the governor of Connecticut to the position of Executive Director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities for the State of Connecticut, and he served in this role until 1994. Further, he also acted as the Connecticut State Director for United Cerebral Palsy.

As State Director for United Cerebral Palsy, Eliot asked Bob if he could host the local Connecticut edition of the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon, and Bob always agreed. Generally, a celebrity would be paid handsomely to host a telethon nationally - around $20,000 in the 1970s. Bob turned down the national offers (and the big bucks), and instead, flew back east to Connecticut to do the local edition, accepting only $2,000. Bob hosted the United Cerebral Palsy telethons locally in Connecticut for three years: 1976 through 1978.

Eliot passed away on July 30, 2010, at 74 years of age. Before his passing, he remembered Bob this way: "I will be honest with you, he got along with everybody very well. And everybody liked Bob. I want people to remember the good things about Bob. He gave of himself, and he was a good person. A positive person. He wasn’t a bad guy - Bob was just Bob. And nobody is all good or all bad."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Who's Who in Radio - WICC and Bob Crane, 1953, Bridgeport, CT

In March 1953, the annual publication Who's Who in TV & Radio ran a short biography about Bob Crane, announcing the young, local celebrity as a growing sensation on the East Coast. By this time, Crane, who was then just 24, had already established himself as a prominent radio personality at WICC in Bridgeport, CT, and was climbing the career ladder as quickly as he was climbing the audience share ratings. His brief biosketch reproduced from the magazine (shown here) offers an overview of Bob's successes in radio and music, both of which had been dreams of his since childhood. In 1953, after just two short years, Bob was already a radio star in his own backyard...and advancing rapidly.

From Who's Who in TV & Radio
"In Your Own Backyard"

"Here are America's home town favorites, 36 stars who shine on Main Street, USA. Disc jockeys, newsmen, musicians, and comics, their names are magic to a vast host of admirers."
Bob Crane, Who's Who in TV & Radio, 1953, p. 92.