The Era of the Cities Service Band of America

In 1910, Henry Latham Doherty formed the Cities Service Company. His company sought to supply affordable energy to small public utility agencies. By the late 1920’s, Doherty’s company was recognized nationwide for its ability to refill gas supplies during low demand summer months, so gas would be available at cheaper rates during the peak use winter months.

In order to promote the company, Cities Service Company began to sponsor the 1 hour Cities Service Orchestra. The 1925/26 trial broadcasts in New York featured the Edwin Franko Goldman Brass Band. By 1927, Rosario Bourdon added a string section, turning the former brass band into a 30-piece symphony orchestra. He completed the musical ensemble with the addition of the Cavaliers Quartet. Noticed by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network, the show became part of the NBC musical variety show lineup on February 18, 1927.


In 1930, Jessica Dragonette joined the program. Dragonette, who was once told that her soft singing voice was not conducive to live performances and better suited to radio, had entered into a contract with WEAF, which later became NBC. In the early 1920’s she appeared on the Coca-Cola Hour, where she also took on the role of Vivian, the Coca-Cola girl. She moved on to the Philco Hour, where she stayed until Philco moved to CBS (See also, Kay Starr). Under contract with NBC, the station placed her on the Cities Service Orchestra program. Dragonette continued to be a popular performer on the show, until she replaced by Lucille Manners in 1937.

In 1944, the program was changed to Highways of Melody. Meanwhile, Cities Service Company had also undergone a change in structure and service. Adding to the success of the company, were the numerous oil field discoveries of the 1920’s and the construction of the first long distance, high pressure pipeline in 1931, which stretched over 1,000 miles from Amarillo, Texas to Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, new legislation overshadowed their success. The 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act forced Cities Service to disband either their utility service operations or their petroleum ventures.

Cities Service dismantled their utility operations and began to focus on oil refining and manufacturing. By 1943, Cities Service Gas and Oil company (CITGO) was operating a manufacturing facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This facility aided the war effort by producing high-octane jet fuel. In addition, CITGO opened plants devoted to the manufacture of butadiene for synthetic rubber and toluene, a high-octane booster.

The U.S. patriotism that developed during World War II remained high in 1948, when Paul Lavalle took over as leader of the orchestra. The name of the program was changed one last time to Cities Service Band of America. The new opening theme emphasized the “America” in the name with its 48 states, marching men and Main Street, U.S.A. chorus. Lavalle remained with the musical program, until the show ended on January 16, 1956.

CITGO continued to prosper, opening its first gas station the same year the show ended. However, after a brief venture with Gulf Oil Company, CITGO was acquired by Occidental, which later sold the company to Southland Corporation. Ironically, Southland Corporation, parent company of 7-Eleven sold 50% of the once proud “American” CITGO company to Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. in 1983. The remaining 50% was sold to the Venezuelan company in 1990. Nevertheless, Cities Service Company will always be remembered for nearly 30 years of quality entertainment.

Enjoy this sample episode, Karl King Emblem of Freedom from Old Time Radio at:

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