Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Radio's First Satiric Duo

If you tuned in to CBS any weeknight in 1931, you would likely be listening to music. A lot of it.

The invasion of comedians into network radio hadn’t quite begun. At CBS, other than a commentary by H.V. Kaltenborn, the bulk of evening programming at that time consisted of 15-minute shows featuring singers or bands. There were only two comedy shows—a stand-up act starring Richie Craig, Jr., the Blue Ribbon Malt Jester (he died of TB a few years later), and the sitcom Mr. and Mrs. with Jack Smart, who would soon be in Fred Allen’s cast before becoming The Fat Man. Around May of ‘31, the network overhauled its schedule and that’s when it got into the satire business with a pair of announcers unknown to New York City audiences.

By that time, big network radio was over four years old—a period long enough to have plenty of programming to make fun of. Raymond Knight began doing it on his The Cuckoo Hour in 1930 on NBC, and he was followed a year later on CBS by Stoopnagle and Budd.

The pair are pretty much forgotten today. They broke up in 1938. Few recordings of their broadcasts exist. On his own, Stoopnagle managed to survive into the TV era, first with a show on the Du Mont Network. He had been writing for Duffy’s Tavern when he died in 1950. Budd found a few network radio jobs over the next ten or so years. 1947 was a bad year for him. His four-year-old daughter was reported missing then found dead in the Miami River in Florida; he and his first wife were divorced at the time. He was working on radio in Buffalo again in 1950, then on TV in Albany, Georgia in 1958. He died in Florida in 1961.

On the air, Stoopnagle and Budd joked about advertising, morning shows, Amos ‘n’ Andy, and just about anything that was on the air at the time. And much like Fred Allen and Henry Morgan in later days, their parodies weren’t appreciated by everyone. Variety reported American Tobacco was prepared to withdraw all its advertising from CBS if it didn’t apologise for a Stoopnagle and Budd routine about Lucky Strike cigarettes. On the other hand, one radio magazine seriously reported how the show’s comedy stopped a woman from committing suicide one evening.

Radio historians compare them to Bob and Ray, another (originally) ad-libbing pair that found radio awash with programming deserving of ridicule. Bob and Ray came up from the local radio ranks in Boston; Stoopnagle and Budd from Buffalo.

Here’s a fairly matter-of-fact story from Radio Digest of July-August 1931 when the two were beginning their network career. They went from Tastyeast Bread to Ivory Soap (with Colonel Stoopnagle wondering what was in the 56-100ths of the soap that wasn’t pure) to Pontiac-Buick to Camel Cigarettes to sustaining (the show opened with the shout “Stoopnagle and Budd still don’t have a sponsor!”).

Goodbye Gloom
Colonel Stoopnagle and His Valiant Army of Tastychasers March on old Gen. Depression and Take Him for a One-Way Tour

THIS is two success stories in one. It is a story, first, of the phenomenal rise to a place of prominence in the national Radio picture of "The Colonel and Budd — the Tastyeast Gloom Chasers". And it is a story of how a great organization and business was built up almost entirely through the medium of Radio.
Radio's history is filled with tales of sensational success, but few compare with that of "Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle and Budd", Buffalo's two exponents of extemporaneous comedy. The rise of this dizzy duo has been even faster than meteoric, which is pretty fast. It happened in a manner which was something like this.
Announcer Wilbur Budd Hulick, of Station WMAK, Buffalo, found himself in somewhat of a predicament on the morning of October 10, 1930. This predicament arose suddenly and painfully in the form of a 15-minute gap to fill between programs.
In a panic he rushed into the studio offices. The first person he saw was F. Chase Taylor, announcer, continuity writer, director and actor for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation, who was pounding out a script on his typewriter.
"Hey!" pleaded Hulick, "I've got fifteen minutes to do and nothing to do it with. Come on and ad lib with me."
Pausing only to lug a folding organ into the studio, the pair went on. Hulick's first words announced an overture on "the mighty gas-pipe organ" by "Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle". They began their extemporaneous buffoonery. Radio history was in the making.
Just a couple of "mike" men until that time, with a few mild successes to their credit, Taylor and Hulick overnight were catapulted into prominence.
"The program went over in spite of everything we could do," Taylor, alias "The Colonel", observes philosophically.
Letters poured in after that first broadcast asking for more. "The Colonel and Budd" continued their ad lib nonsense, taking the name of "The Gloom Chasers". They made no special effort, wrote no script, kept the chatter extemporaneous and soon were given a half-hour spot. A little later they were switched to an evening period over WKBW because business men complained they could not hear "The Gloom Chasers" in the morning and because it kept their wives from doing the housework.
The popularity of a Radio presentation is gauged largely by the response through the mails. "The Colonel and Budd" shattered all Buffalo fan letter records into tiny pieces. There were weeks when from 2600 to 2700 missives addressed to "The Gloom Chasers" cluttered up the offices of the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation. Some of these epistles bore post marks of cities in Alaska, Bermuda and Nova Scotia as well as of neighboring States. The fan mail editor of the B. B. C. hired an assistant whose duty it was to devote his time solely to the correspondence of this dizzy pair.
The flood of mail grew larger and larger. If "Stoopnagle" coughed during a broadcast, the next day's mail conveyed scores of boxes of cough drops. If "Budd" sneezed, auditors sent handkerchiefs and advice in profusion. Their mail included hundreds of well-done drawings and paintings of the listeners' conceptions of the act and its principals.
Fan mail was not the only indication of the growing popularity of Taylor and Hulick. From 1600 to 2300 persons crowded into the B. B. C. studios each week to watch "The Colonel and Budd" perform, even though no invitation was extended to them. Busses were chartered by the residents of nearby towns and excursions were made to Buffalo for the sole purpose of seeing "The Gloom Chasers" in action.
Dowd & Ostreicher, of Boston, advertising agents for Green Brothers Company, of Springfield, Mass., manufacturers of Tastyeast, were searching for a good Radio act when they heard news of "The Colonel and Budd". John C. Dowd, a member of the firm, went to Buffalo, heard the act and signed up Taylor and Hulick for a trial period along with other acts in different sections of the country to determine which was best suited for a nationwide network.
Taylor and Hulick, with their nightly half-hour of nonsense, built up the sale of Tastyeast 600 per cent, in their listening area and created such a demand for the product in Canada that the Green Brothers Company decided to open a branch factory there. There now is 100 per cent, distribution of the product in that area where hardly a bar was sold in November, 1930. "The Gloom Chasers" put Tastyeast in all chain stores without a representative or salesman ever calling.
A little more than five months after that morning in October when they first began their clowning over the air, Taylor and Hulick were signed by the makers of Tastyeast to broadcast nightly except Fridays over WABC and the Columbia network from 8:45 to 9 P. M., EDST. The contract signed by the Green Brothers Company with the Columbia Broadcasting System was the second largest ever placed with the chain. It calls for the appearance before the microphone of "The Gloom Chasers" for two years.
Not content with having shattered a number of records in Buffalo, Taylor and Hulick had to break another one before departing for New York to begin broadcasting over the Columbia chain. Billed as "Buffalo's Most Famous Laugh Creators and Fun-Makers", they appeared for a week at Shea's Buffalo Theatre and broke all attendance records.
Taylor and Hulick made their network debut over twenty-three Columbia stations on Sunday, May 24. Many stations have been added to the hook-up since then, and it is safe to say "The Gloom Chasers" will be heard over virtually the entire network before much more time has elapsed.
There you have the story of the amazing success of Wilbur Budd Hulick and F. Chase Taylor — "The Gloom Chasers'. More chapters will be written in the months to come if "The Colonel and Budd" continue at the same pace.
As for their modus operandi, Taylor and Hulick never have used a written script. Radio listeners, with their letters, write their programs. Most of the requests they receive are for imitations of Henry Burbig, Calvin Coolidge, Lindbergh, Rudy Vallee and Amos 'n' Andy. Sometimes they mix them all up and have Amos and Burbig or Coolidge and Andy working together.
These fun-makers work best when a crowd is present in the studios. They have never lacked a capacity audience. Because of the many requests for passes to the studio in which they work, Columbia shifted them to one of their largest studios so that as many of these requests as possible could be filled.
Taylor and Hulick are going to keep the tenor of their humor unchanged. Some humorists may deal in sophisticated gags, but "The Gloom Chasers" will adhere to homely, naive, simple jests. And they'll continue to ad lib their absurd nonsense.
Before that day when he asked Taylor to go before the microphone and ad lib with him, Hulick had only a few months of Radio experience to his credit. Although he had been dabbling in Radio for seven years, Taylor had only taken it up as a career a month or so before that day.
Taylor was born in Buffalo thirty-three years ago, a son of Horace F. Taylor, prominent Buffalo business man. He was christened Frederick Chase Taylor. His friends call him "Chase".
Originally Chase Taylor intended entering the lumber firm founded by his grandfather in 1865 and headed by his father since 1904. He prepared for this career at Nichols School. Montclair Academy, in New Jersey, and the University of Rochester, where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi.
During the World War he served in the Navy. It was at that time that he first became interested in Radio. Radio became his hobby after the cessation of hostilities and continued to hold his interest after he entered his father's lumber firm. Later he became a stock broker, advancing to the position of vice-president of his firm.
All the time he was working Taylor was active in amateur dramatics and writing. For several years he was seen in the principal parts of many productions of the Buffalo Players, a Little Theatre group.
Taylor was heard many times over the air before the hobby became a career. He appeared before the microphone over WGR some seven years ago for the first time. Later, in 1926. he achieved considerable success in "Nip and Tuck", a black-face comedy act. which was presented regularly over WMAK. Still later came several series of presentations over WGR, and finally, a year and a half ago, the "Smax" and "Smoke and Ashe." broadcasts. On these last two programs he appeared with Louis Dean, who is announcing the "The Gloom Chasers" over the Columbia network.
The hobby finally gained the upper hand last fall and Taylor became a full-time member of the production staff of the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation.
Taylor is good-looking, ruddy of mien and jolly as a comedian should noted for his vocal imitations of Coolidge and Lindbergh, and can make up to look exactly like President Hoover. During the last Presidential campaign Taylor's imitation of Coolidge was stopped by the Federal Radio Commission. They allowed him to resume after the campaign.
Eggs, from ostrich up or down, are his preferred dish. He likes 'em any style but old.
Railroad timetables and the minutes of City Council are his favorite reading matter. The sport in which he likes to participate above all others is going to fires. The sport he likes to watch is someone making out checks (good checks) to him.
Taylor has a younger brother, Horace, Jr., who resembles him so closely people take them for twins. Horace, Jr., attended Dartmouth, where he was captain of the swimming team in 1922-23. He now is secretary of his father's lumber firm and of Sunflower Plantation, Inc., and is president of the Clipper Oil Corporation.
"Stoopnagle" is married and has a son, F. Chase Taylor, Jr. eight. His wife is the former Lois Ruth De Ridder, daughter of a prominent Rochester shoe manufacturer.
Hulick, the "Budd" of this act, is a fair-haired boy of twenty-six. He actually intended to follow a musical career. As a boy he sang in the choir of St. Mark's Cathedral, Asbury Park, N. J. At the age of twelve he was winner of a school-children's singing contest.
At Georgetown University Hulick enrolled for a music course and spent much of his time with the glee club and the instrumental club, singing and playing the saxophone. He also played football. During his undergraduate days Budd always nursed the desire to enter show business or its cousin, Radio.
After his graduation Hulick tooted and crooned with Johnny Jones' recording orchestra. In Buffalo he made his inauspicious debut behind the spigots of a soda fountain. One day an executive of WEBR saw him cutting up for the customers, and Budd was placed before the microphone and told to talk. Three months later the Buffalo Broadcasting Company signed him as an announcer, actor and continuity writer.
Previous to his successful role on the "Gloom Chasers" act, Hulick was famed chiefly as the "Don" of the "Happiness House" program. He appeared also in the "Major Bullmore Expedition" episodes and as "Elisha" in the "Plain Folks" act. He also crooned on several programs.
One night Hulick was announcing a program from the Palais Royal, a Buffalo night club. Helen Lewis and her girl band, appearing at a motion picture house that week, were guests at the club on this particular night. During the evening Budd met Wanda Hart, an entertainer appearing with the band. Two weeks later they were married. Since then Mrs. Hulick has been on a number of programs with her husband.

Since someone would probably mention it in the comments, let me add that Stoopnagle and Budd, like many comedians, ended up making short films. One was a Fleischer screen song, Stoopnocracy, the title being a pun on Technocracy.

The internet being populated with fans dedicated to now-obscure pop culture, there’s an old web site devoted to Stoopnagle (and Budd). Visit it here.


  1. I don't know if you can see it -- I hope you can -- but I uploaded a copy of my autographed photo of Col. Stoopnagle and Budd, with Stoopnagle cradling quite lovingly a very early model "Columbia" microphone, meaning that it's likely the photo dates from the early 30s. Picture is here:

  2. Stoopnagle's shtick of spoonerized fairy tales would be revived by Archie Campbell on "Hee Haw" ("Don't forget to slop your dripper").
    Interesting that Budd worked in Albany, Georgia in the late '50s - which would certainly be at WALB channel 10 (whose owner James H. Gray founded what is now Gray Television).
    Richie Craig Jr. was mentioned in Milton Berle's autobiography - he and Berle, inspired by the Walter Winchell-Ben Bernie feud, started their own mock-feud, which ended with Craig's death.