The Norman Rockwell picture of America sitting around their radios, listening to adventures of “Rin Tin Tin” and “The Jack Benny Show” in the evenings, personifies what most older folks remember. Dad finishing his dinner, then getting comfortable in his easy chair with his pipe and paper; mom clearing the table to join the children already on the floor anxiously awaiting what was being piped out of the NBC and CBS studios. The pre, during and post WWII scenario was indicative of how the country was being fashioned into their family entertainment.
However, during the 1930’s a cultural shift was beginning to take place in how America listened to radio and the programming that was available. Everyone loved the evening adventures and comedy, but people were wanting more in other parts of the day. Breakfast was a perfect time to turn on the box and catch-up with the latest news or have a chuckle with the the crackle of their cereal and orange juice. Breakfast shows had the potential to reach a new demographic, while drawing in their current batch of late day listeners.
Another reminder of the value for early day radio concerned the many people of Christian faith wanted that spiritual time, and those that loved a day that began with music and melody, and the ones that eagerly awaited news of the day. The value for radio programming was becoming a staple to the faithful followers and wanted to have their sunny morning dosed with the very thing that completed their evenings.
One individual that personified the start of the day radio voice was Don McNeil. McNeil was kind of an unknown personality that made his presence known when he was given a relatively common placed variety show called The Pepper Pot. The minds that shaped programming thought he might have the wherewithal to create something out of this program that had no sponsor. At the reigns of this show, he changed the name to the Breakfast Club and gave it varied and distinctive scripting.
Don McNeil’s “Breakfast Club” June 1933-December 1968
The heart of the Breakfast Club was it had no particular regiment. It was a mix of humor sketches, music, talks with the studio audience and topics of interest. Don McNeill turned a happenstance show with no great following and developed into the first program of its kind. Along with the humor, music and talk, The Breakfast Club initiated time for quiet prayer. The morning program allowed the audience an opportunity to experience a radio variety format. The breakfast Club started its broadcast out of NMC’s Merchandise Mart, and later moved to an ABC studio.
The program allowed a relative unknown performer, Fran Allison, to gain her start as Aunt Franny in one of the comedy bits that became popular on the show. For the next couple of decades, The Breakfast Club was a hit with ABC radio and maintained a vast following until its end-run in 1968.
Don McNeil and his talent for randomness began a genre that others would soon try to ride on the bandwagon with their breakfast programs.
Breakfast in Hollywood 1941-1948
NBC, ABC and the Mutual all carried this early morning variety program during its 7 year run. Hosted by Tom Breneman, and its founder, Breakfast in Hollywood was another unscripted travel into the public mind. The show contained considerable audience involvement along with a wide mix of celebrity talent that would visit the program. Breneman got the idea for the show when in 1940 he realized that Hollywood was a perfect venue for an early morning radio broadcast. The program name changed a couple of times, but Breakfast in Hollywood was its trademark persona. people loved the exchanges of comedy and the celebrity feel. Many of the big companies wanted to sponsor the show, from Aunt Jemina to Ivory Soap. A movie script of the same came out, inspired by Breneman, in 1945 and carried some top talent in its cast.
Breakfast in Hollywood was an inspired success.
Breakfast with Binnie and Mike 1946-1947
What made better sense for a breakfast morning program then one that showcased a family…at breakfast. The Breakfast with Binnie and Mike was a show classing the family conversation around varying topics, always with mirth, around the family children, dog , maid and anything else that came out. The show was a hit because it brought a simple family into the hearts and homes of average Americans. Although it was scripted, the feeling was genuine as mom and dad sought to converse with the country while talking to each other and the ones they loved. Binnie was actress Binnie Barnes and Mike was her husband/producer Mike Frankovitch.
Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick 1945-1963
Another of the early morning genre that showcased a husband and wife tea, this time from their actual home. Hosted by actress/columnist Dorothy Kilgallen and her husband/actor Richard Kolmar, Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick came out of their New York apartment home and had serious topics blended with varied entertainment. The show went from being a standard fare of entertainment, to more commercialized as sponsors had the couple endorse their products while at their own table. Spontaneity gave way to script, but the format never failed to bring a solid audience fan base.
Tex and Jinx Show late 1940’s
Tex McCrary was a journalist and his wife, Jinx Falkenburg an actress and together they hosted this celebrity talk/ issues of the day format. The romance history and fame of these two personalities added to the attraction many held for their radio morning show. Whether it was about the United Nations or disease, the couple never failed to tackle topics that mattered to Americans.
Wake-up Ranch (with Cliffie Stone) 1940’s
Country music was not forgotten as a breakfast programming favorite. Cliffie Stone hosted the The Wake-Up Ranch with heaped out a healthy dose of Grand Ole Opry flavor from Califor-i-a.
The son of comedian, Herman the Hermit; Cliffie Stone would bring his bass, humor and down home love of country music and please the morning radio listeners.
The Breakfast programming genre for old time radio included other shows that would cross-match to please segments of society. Thanks to the work of people like Don McNeill, the early morning breakfast stretch inspired entertainment to start the day with.