Sunday, 15 January 2012

Jack Benny on the Air, 1931

Fans of Old Time Radio have heard the story over and over, how Jack Benny first appeared on radio with Ed Sullivan in 1932, and what his first words were.

That isn’t how it happened.

Jack told the story over and over so much, he may have come to believe that’s how it happened. Sullivan told it, too. But Jack’s radio debut was not on Sullivan’s show and was not in 1932. Jack must have known it at one time because he celebrated his tenth year in radio on a special broadcast in 1941. Simple arithmetic dictates that his debut would have been in 1931. And that’s indeed when it was. September 4th to be exact.

To your right you see a newspaper column from the Capitol Times of Madison, Wisconsin of September 3, 1931, listing the following day’s radio programmes. There you can see Jack as a guest on ‘RKO Theater of the Air.’ The New York Times of September 4 shows the programme airing at 10:30 p.m. over WEAF, flagship of the Red Network of NBC. Also appearing in the hour-long show were Irish tenor Joseph Regan, and Aunt Jemima of “Show Boat.”

If you’re wondering about the famous Sullivan show, the radio listings of Times for Tuesday, March 29, 1932 show:
WABC 860 Kcs.
8:45 p.m.—Ed Sullivan Comments; Berger's Orch.; Jack Benny, Monologues.
Jack always credited the Sullivan broadcast with raising interest with the folks at Canada Dry who then signed him for his own show. Jack seems to have misremembered this as a result of his first radio broadcast which, as you can see, was not the case at all. And, to be honest, having Ed Sullivan “discover” him made for a better story. Through all the years Jack told about his “first” broadcast, everyone knew who Sullivan was. Likely no one had heard of ‘RKO Theater of the Air.’ But now you have. And now you know when Jack Benny really began his illustrious and lengthy broadcast comedy career.

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