Monday, August 31, 2015

Remembering Arthur Godfrey's Time

Like most Americans who were alive at 11:00 A.M. EST on December 30, 1947, I likely heard the radio program below. But you don't remember much when your under two years old. It was a Tuesday. My dad was probably at work, but my mother would have been home sitting at the kitchen table with her sister, Edith, enjoying a cup of coffee and listening to the big radio in the living room. The man on the radio was Arthur Godfrey. Indeed, it was a different time but you will recognize the studio band, the commercial plug, the humorous, conversation style; an opening monologue; the new song or singer; the banter with the crew; an interview; and more music. One could say that Godfrey set quite a trend in formatting for network entertainment. If you know late night television, you'll understand.

Godfrey was born in New York on this day in 1903. He broke into entertainment and civilian radio in Baltimore and Washington in the early 1930's. His Arthur Godfrey Time breakfast show was heard on radio coast-to-coast shortly after World War II. By 1952, it had joined his other program, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, on television. Without question, he was television's first star who at the height of his fame attracted over 80,000,000 viewers/listeners a week - U.S. population at the time was 166,000,000 - at the peak of his popularity.

As folksy as he may have appeared, Godfrey was a quick-to-anger narcissist who demanded complete control of his program and absolute loyalty and submission on the part of his regular cast, an ensemble he referred to on air as his "Little Godfreys."  In late 1953 he exposed his darker side by firing singer, Julius LaRosa, on live radio. The event was the first of many firings and feuds that eventually led to a rapid decline in his popularity and industry perceptions of him as a laughingstock.

As if his role as a radio and television pioneer wasn't enough, Godfrey led a full and interesting life as a farmer, cattleman, equestrian, environmentalist, and achieved some fame as an aviator. For an assessment of his significance in entertainment history visit his page at the Museum of Broadcast Communication website. Wikipedia has a wider biography with several links.   

Godfrey at the CBS Radio microphone in 1948


Photo and Text:, Arthur Godfrey  

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