Milwaukee Radio Programs

 Selected Milwaukee radio programs

AROUND THE DINNER TABLE

Don McNeill (WTMJ, 1930’s)

BADGER STATE BARN DANCE (WTMJ 1930's)

Radio station announced in late December 1934 that it was going to broadcast a new show every Monday night from 10:15pm to 11:15pm beginning on January 7, 1935.

A news story indicated that the show would be "...a fast moving broadcast with orchestras, soloists, duets, quartets and almost any combination suitable to barn dance entertainment."

One of the early acts on this show was Frankie King and the King's Jesters. He later went on to perform as Pee Wee King and is in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Wisconsin State Journal indicated the show was on Saturday night on April 10, 1937.

Another act that got her start on the show was known to fans as Louisville Lou. Her real name was Louise Rautenberg. But the folks at the WLS National Barn Dance had heard her and wanted her talents on their show. Uncle Ezra (Pat Barrett) introduced her to WLS listeners with the name she would become known for - Sally Foster - on Monday, November 17, 1935.

WLS also took another of the shows performers - Art Wenzel, an accordion player.

BILLIE THE BROWNIE

Juvenile adventure serial.

Broadcast History (1931 to December 24, 1955; broadcast began about five weeks before Christmas, depending on how

Thanksgiving fell until Christmas Eve. WTMJ. 15 minutes).

The Story of Billie the Brownie

by

Ralph Luedtke

Once upon a time, as children's stories usually begin, there was a brownie named Billie. No, this is not a children's fairy tale, but a story of a radio character called Billie the Brownie.

Although not a real person, he was to children of that era as real as their imagination and dreams could make him.

The year 2002 marks the 75th anniversary of his appearance in area newspapers and the beginning of a Christmas tradition for a generation of Milwaukee Children.

No story of Billie the Brownie would be complete without rekindling memories of Schusters Department stores and its famous Christmas parade.

Edward Schuster, founder of the store, was born in Bad-Driburg, Westphalia, Germany in 1832. He made his first trip to America in 1854, but returned to Germany to learn the merchandising trade. Milwaukee was a city of 120,000 and growing rapidly in 1833 when Edward Schuster, age 50 returned to America with his family to establish himself in this new land of opportunity. Schuster, having a little ready capital, bought a partner’s interest in a small dry goods store at Twelfth and Walnut streets, then owned and managed by Jacob Poss. The partnership of Poss and Schuster continued for about a year, When Mr. Schuster withdrew to launch a new store of his own.

In this venture, which began in 1884, he was joined by Albert T. Friedmann, aged 19, whom he had contacted first as a bookkeeper and cashier and director of the sales force at Poss and Schusters. The new firm was known as Ed. Schuster & Company.

Albert T. Friedmann was born February 13, 1865, in Vienna, Austria. He was educated in Vienna and came to America in 1883. He chose Milwaukee as his place of opportunity. In time he married Johanna, the daughter of Edward Schuster, and their children, Max E. Friedmann and Ralph T. Friedmann eventually because directors of the company.

The first Schuster store, at 647 North Third street was purchased from Edward Housman, and reopened ad Ed. Schuster & Company. This is counted as the beginning of Schusters, in the autumn of 1884. The first store was located at Third and Garfield. It housed, besides the store, the offices of the company. The second store was located at Twelfth and Vliet street. This store opened in 1894. The third store was located at Twelfth and Mitchell street and opened for business in October of 1914. All three stores were located on the route of the Milwaukee Streetcar system, making it very convenient for shoppers in the day before the automobile became the standard means of transportation. Milwaukeeans were fond of saying ‘Meet me down by Schusters, where the streetcar bends the corner round.’

In response to an invitation to write poems for Schuster’s 50th anniversary in 1934, one lady wrote:

“Which story do you like to hear?

I asked the children on my knee.

We want to hear about the store

Where Santa gets his toys for me.”

Upon the death of Edward Schuster on September 13, 1904, Albert Friedmann became president of the company. On January 4, 1933, Albert Friedmann died and his son Max Friedmann became its third president.

Until Schusters expanded by building Capitol Court and opening a store in Madison, it was known by the name of ‘The Three Schuster Stores’ by Milwaukee shoppers. There were other department stores in Milwaukee at the same time as the Three Schuster Stores, but none were as fondly remembered as Schusters.

Billie the Brownie was created in the art department by one of their nameless artists. He must have familiar with the stories and pictures of Palmer Cox, as the first drawings of Billie closely resemble Mr. Cox’s brownies.

The brownies were the invention of Palmer Cox, a Canadian, who received his inspiration from folk tales of the Scottish emigrants, he listened to as a boy in Granby, Canada. He had a series of books published in the 1900s featuring the antics of the little characters.

Before we continue with the story of Billie, I want to tell you a little bit about brownies.

They have been around for hundreds of years and have gone under various names, depending upon the country they are from. In Celtic folklore they were associated with farm steads and were know to haunt the countryside. They were known as elves in Germanic mythology. They supposedly dwelled in forests and in the sea and in the air. Richard Wagner wrote a series of operas with them living in the depth of the Rhine river.

The Brothers Grimm told many tales about elves and dwarfs. In 1937, Walt Disney produced the first feature length cartoon about these little creatures, call Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In Norway they talked of trolls and gnomes and in Ireland they believed in Leprechauns. There were also fairies associated with these little people and were the center of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Closer to home, elves are featured on the walls and in the windows of Usingers Famous Store on Old World Third Street.

Whatever the country or name they have been known as, they have come to be associated with Santa Claus and Christmas.

Billie the Brownie was brought to life to publicize the Schuster’s Christmas Parade. This he did through the newspapers and on radio. The name Billie was either a stroke of luck for brilliant planning on the part of Schusters. No other name fit his character and personality as well. Whatever the reason, I suspect it might have been chosen for its euphonious sound.

Although Billie the Brownie became better known when he appeared on his own radio program in 1931, he first appeared as Editor in Chief of something called The Reindeer News.’ In the years before the radio program, these daily bulletins served the same purpose, that of informing Milwaukee area children of Santas return to Schusters Department store toyland and the great Christmas Parade.

The bulletins were written in the publicity department of Schusters. They were written with children in mind as the following example explains: The headlines read - LIVE REINDEER COMING; A THRILL IN STORE FOR ALL MILWAUKEE; BOYS & GIRLS, TOY FAIRYLAND RINGING WITH EXCITEMENT. Then Billie explains: ‘Boys and girls - listen! Far from the north comes the distant sound of prancing feet. The mighty polar bear stops in his tracks to listen. In-You-Gee-To, the great Eskimo hunter, pauses in his chase after the Arctic Wolf, ravenous dog teams yowl and the Auk soars swiftly across the plains of ice and snow. Something unusual! Shall we tell you what it is? Well, you might know now. Santa Claus is driving his reindeer to Milwaukee. Yes, sir - live reindeer pounding down from the north headed straight for Milwaukee - that’s the thrill in store for you. Santa is on his way to Milwaukee! Steeds of the north wind, the reindeer, bear him swiftly onward.’

This was written for children to read or for their parents to read to them. It is not the hype of the commercial huckster. These daily bulletins would begin about in the Middle of November and end on the evening of the parade.

Schusters explains it best in their history of the company:

‘Whatever may be said of the travels of Santa Claus on the night before Christmas, as he glides over the rooftops, his pre-Christmas activities in Milwaukee are certainly the talk of the town. His arrival in Milwaukee, according to his annual custom since 1927, is an event that looms large on the horizon of a rapidly approaching Yuletide.

Almost a month before his far-famed midnight ride as superintendent of deliveries, he comes to Milwaukee to get ready for his peak load. He rather looks to Schusters to arrange for his coming and to put on Schuster’s Christmas Parade.

Along about the last Saturday in November, Santa Claus arrives in his sleigh with six prancing reindeer. It’s a long way down from Alaska where the live reindeer make their home, from whence they come every year to Milwaukee. Along with them comes Santa’s faithful helper, Me-Tik, a real honest to goodness Eskimo, who knows all about feeding and harnessing reindeer.

The great Christmas Parade begins about 7:30 in the evening and proceeds along a seven mile route along the lines of the Milwaukee Street Railway Company. Santa and the reindeer, and Me-Tik are mounted on a big flat car in float formation, with hundreds of electric lights to illuminate the scene. In the parade are several other floats, such as Cinderella, Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Peter Rabbit, Peter the Pumpkin Eater and the Cow That Jumped Over The Moon. A loud speaker system from the float plays the theme song of the evening, Jingle Bells.’ No Schuster advertising appears on any of the floats.

The crowd, thickly packed along the seven mile line of march, has been officially estimated by the Police Department as more than 150,000 persons.

Santa Claus, so the new made-to-order legend goes, mindful of the extensive arrangements necessary for his months stay in Milwaukee, sends before him his faithful helper and advance agent, Billie the Brownie.

The parade itself was unique and had no modern counterpart. Nothing like it had ever been seen or heard in Milwaukee. And strangely enough when it left the streets of Milwaukee in 1960, nothing like it has ever been attempted by either of the other department stores, city or county government or private enterprise. What passes today for a Santa Claus parade is nothing more than a showcase for TV personalities or other celebrities or sports or political nonentities. The fact is that the Schuster parade was strictly for children, totally Christmas oriented, very short and held at night when the magic of the bright lights made it a truly unique spectacle.

The first Schusters Christmas Parade was held on the night of November 26, 1927 and was a very short parade indeed. It consisted of only two flat cars converted into floats. The first float was decorated with scenes from the cold north and had an Eskimo band playing Jingle Bells. The second float featured Santa Claus in his sleigh and Me-Tik and the six real live reindeer.

It started from the old Northwestern Road Depot at the lake front and proceeded west on Wisconsin Avenue to 11th street where it ended. What is very ironic about this first parade is that it did not pass any of Schusters Department stores, but rather that of its main competitor, Gimbels, located on Wisconsin Avenue between the Milwaukee River and Plankinton Avenue.

In Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal it was featured on the front page with the headlines reading: SANTA AND REINDEER GET BIGGER PLAY THAN LINDY. The Lindy that is referred to was Charles Lindbergh, who had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean earlier in 1927 and came to Milwaukee late in the year and was feted with a ticker tape parade. There were also two pictures shown, one with Santa, Me-Tik and the reindeer and sleigh and the other of a very small section of the crowd.

A newspaper reporter captured the festivities with this report:

‘Tens of thousands of men, women and children crowded Wisconsin Avenue from the lake to Eleventh Street, Saturday night to see Santa Claus, Me-Tik, his Eskimo helper, the six reindeer, and the brilliantly illuminated floats which depicted the Christmas season. It was a reception that not only almost overwhelmed Santa Claus, but many of the spectators as well. Although 75 extra policemen were on duty, the crowd virtually brought traffic to a halt while the parade was moving along. Thousands of eager children ran into the street to get a close look at Santa and traffic officers had their hands full keeping the youngsters out of harms way.

“The crowd was bigger than that which greeted Colonel Lindbergh,’ Sergeant Ralph Smith of the traffic department of the police said, “We expected a big crowd and made preparations to handle it, but we had no idea that it would reach the dimensions it did.”

“Fortunately, the crowd began to gather early, and before the parade started we sent an extra detail of men to help handle it.”

Traffic congestion was worst at Third Street and Wisconsin Avenue where the delay in north and south traffic filled up Third Street.

Cars were solidly parked in some places ten blocks north of Wisconsin Avenue and after the parade passed and cars began to try to leave, there were jams in which cars could scarcely move for fifteen or twenty minutes.

“Aw, there ain’t any Santa Claus” confidently said a Third Ward urchin impatiently waiting in the crowd by the Northwestern station shortly before the parade started. Just then grinding street car wheels announced the approach of the flat cars bearing Santa and his six reindeer, “There is too a Santa. Just look there,” came the answer of a small companion to the skeptic. Even the doubter gasped as he saw the sleigh with its red-coated driver and real live reindeer whose breaths showed up like steam, despite the mild weather.

Schusters enlisted the aid of the local Western Union office to help in advertising the parade as an article in the Reindeer News of November 16th reports. “Because of the great excitement the coming of Santa Claus and his six live reindeer has caused, Charles Salb, commercial agent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, announced that telegrams from Santa Claus will be posted in the windows of the Western Union offices at 116 East Wisconsin Avenue and at 206 West Wisconsin Avenue. Telegrams are also posted in the windows of the three Schuster stores.”

In 1928 The Reindeer News bulletins began on November 11, telling the kids about the big parade to be held on November 24. Schusters estimated that more than 100,000 mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers saw Old Santa last year make his bow to all of Milwaukee.

That year children read that Santa and Company flew by sleigh from the North Pole to the port of Nome, Alaska, and boarded a ship called the Seattle from where they were told that some of the reindeer had sea sickness.

Each day brought new reports on the progress of Santa and Me-Tik and the problems they faced with a storm at sea and snow storms in the Rocky Mountains. However, each disaster was overcome and on November 18 was the day in which children heard about Santa and the parade over station WTMJ, during the Seckatary Hawkin’s radio program.

Just as children sent in letters to Schusters and a few were read over the air each day, so also a few letters from children were printed in the Reindeer News.

In a letter printed on November 20, a little girl had written that she did not believe in Santa Claus and here was Billie’s response:”Last year little Carol Dalton, living at 850 26th. Street said she had her doubts about Santa Clause being real. She wanted to believe, but another little girl told her Santa wasn’t a live man. So Carol went down to the parade last year to see for herself, and sure enough, there was Santa himself and his live reindeer.

Of course, Carol believes in good old Santa Claus now. If there are any other doubting boys and girls (and grownups, too), just attend the parade Saturday night and you’ll never, never doubt that there isn’t a real Santa Claus.

The parade again consisted of two flat cars, but this year a scene from Santa’s workshop was on the first float along with the Eskimo band. It duplicated the route of 1927, beginning at the lake and ending at Eleventh Street.

A reporter wrote a colorful and rather poignant news story of the event. The headlines read: A SANTA? SURE, WE SAW HIM!

“There is a Santa Claus!”

Thousands of thrilled Milwaukee youngsters and their fathers and mothers saw him in person, red suit, white whiskers and all, Saturday night such a large crowd turned out that traffic was tied up for blocks, but nobody minded. Boys and girls from the Third ward sat on the curb, shivering with blankets over their shoulders for an hour before the parade started. Rich children pressed eager, delighted faces to the windows of the limousines they sat in. And Santa beamed impartially on all.

Promptly at 7:30 Santa cracked his whip over the backs of his six live reindeer, Me-Tik, his Eskimo helper whistled and the parade began from Cass Street and Wisconsin Avenue. They were mounted on electric cars.

First came the Eskimo band, merrily playing Jingle Bells. The Children liked that. They stamped and kept time. Then came the workshop where busy elves were fashioning toys. But it was Santa himself, and the reindeer that they wanted to see and to whom they shrieked shrill greetings.

An obliging snowstorm swept down on the city almost simultaneously with Santa’s arrival. Snow flurries whitened the way of the parade and made the reindeer feel at home as a solicitous little girl remarked.

One hundred traffic officers under Joseph Drewniak, deputy inspector of the police department and Captain Arno Hensler, tried to keep order, but their efforts were reduced at times to pleading when the youngsters tried to dash out into the street with special messages for the good natured saint.

“Please don’t try to cross, stay back here,” one officer begged, and then aside, “whatter you going to do? You can’t get hard with them youngsters when they get such a kick out of it.”

The parade was scheduled to go up Wisconsin Avenue to Eleventh Street, but the crowds lined the way far past that. All along Vliet Street, cars were parked and groups were standing three and four deep. Even the most skeptical of modern youngsters were convinced by the actual sight of Santa Claus. Seeing may be believing to them, but they couldn’t deny his actual presence.

Headlines: MANY BOYS MISSED: “WENT TO SEE SANTA”

A desire to see Santa Claus is believed by police to have prompted a dozen or more young boys to wander from their homes Saturday who forgot to return until frantic parents had sent in missing reports and all of Milwaukee’s policemen had been notified to look out for the youngsters.

Desk Sergeant Carl Frank took eight missing reports at central station alone between 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday, but in each case parents later called back to say that their children had returned.

One boy, however, Robert Neuberg, 10 of West Nineteenth and Highland Avenue, North Milwaukee, had not returned up to a late hour Saturday. His disappearance was reported to the sheriff. He is blond and was wearing a blue suit and a striped red tie when he left home.

Several of the children admitted that they had wandered downtown to see Santa Claus in the parade. Two children were found in front of a department store at 5 a.m. waiting for the store to open so they could see Santa, while two 3 year old were brought into the station at noon by policemen who thought their quest for Santa was too great an undertaking for such small boys.

During the Thirties and Forties the parade route became longer and encompassed the entire city from north to south, usually starting at the the Cold Spring Shops of the streetcar company proceeding through downtown as far south as Lincoln Avenue and then returning to the shops via 35th street. In this way the parade was able to pass each of the Three Schuster Stores.

Joseph Canfield in his excellent book, TM The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company, gives a description of the preparations made by Schusters for the parade.

For twenty-seven years, the store conducted its parade along the streetcar lines using street railway equipment. In using the street railway system, Schuster’s consciously or unconsciously paid tribute to the mode which, at the time, brought most of the customers to their three stores.

Cooperation between Schuster’s and TMER&L resulted in the first Christmas train at the opening of its 1928 Christmas sales season. Differential dump motor car D-28 pulled two flat cars, all elaborately decorated to convert them to floats. The response was tremendous, and until the streetcar lines were abandoned, Schuster’s used the trolley to bring on the season.

Long before the train started down the track, children and parents, some reluctant and some not, were seeking vantage points along the route. And weather didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm, though sometimes it did dampen the spectators.

Meanwhile, the creative staff in Schuster’s advertising department had been planning the specific details of the parade units. First came small-scale sketches by Armin Hansen, Milwaukee illustrator. From the drawings came the layouts and the plans and dimensions. The center of interest was Santa Claus and his reindeer. In addition, the train provided a gigantic display of Christmas toys all available at Schuster’s, of course. Characters from childhood stories, such as Humpty Dumpty, Mother Hubbard, or Hansel and Gretel, would be chosen for a special theme on on float.

About ten days before the parade, a crew of about 45 to 50 men from Schuster’s descended on Cold “Spring Shops with tons of lumber, gallons of paint, electrical and sound equipment, and of course the toys. TMER&L spotted a differential dump, usually D-28 and two, later three flat cars to give Schuster’s men free rein. Laboring with a deadline not far off, the men transformed mundane electric railway equipment into a Christmas delight.

On the afternoon of the parade, the shop building at Cold Spring swarmed with Schuster’s workmen putting final touches on the cars. Officials, too, were trying to direct activity and bring order out of seeming chaos. There was never time for dinner, so Schuster’s sent in a mountain of sandwiches and gallons of coffee to be grabbed in passing.

The train was spotted inside, in reverse order. Some time around 6 p.m., the west door was rolled up and D-28 backed out, shifting over to the track south of the building near the Milwaukee Road line. Then Locomotive L-1, which had once shifted interurban trailers down at the Public Service Building, moved in, coupled onto the floats one at a time and spotted them in place on the track behind D-28 in proper sequence.

As the electricians checked connections and tested sound systems, crowds of youngsters who had gathered along Vliet and 38th Streets converged on the gate at 38th and McKinley, eager for the first glimpse of the spectacle. The motorman, usually George Bscherer, took his place in the cab of D-28.

A corps of Milwaukee’s motorcycle patrolmen (in later years 18 of them) were lined up to lead and protect the parade from the ever increasing throngs of spectators. Schuster’s officials followed the train comfortably, riding in an 1100 series interurban.

Weather or no, crowds lined the streets. As the time approached, children turned to their parents asking, “When is the parade coming?” As the sound of Jingle Bells and The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers from the speaker system came through the winter air, the excitement of the children grew.

Then it came, the big, brightly-lighted car, followed by the three floats. To the less sophisticated children of the the pre-television era, the parade was a veritable fairy and of color and toys.

The train pulled off National Avenue in 1955 for the very last time. Trolley busses replaced streetcars and for the next five years Schuster’s took advantage of the trolley buses overhead wires for a power supply for a parade of towed, rubber-tired floats.

Santa Claus was played by Edward Keenan and Me-Tik was a real Alaskan Eskimo, but was called Alex by his friend at his home in Alaska.

After the parade was over, Santa Claus, the reindeer and Me-Tik made their headquarters at the stables out of Schuster’s Twelfth Street store. During school hours for the next few weeks Santa and Company were mounted on big motorized floats powered by a truck cab. They visited many schools in the city, also children’s homes and hospitals and children’s parties.

Contrary to popular opinion Larry Teich did not create Billie the Brownie. However, he did write, produce and was featured in every Billie the Brownie program during its long run. Since Larry did not reveal to us how he became involved with the program, I can make an educated guess.

Teich had started in radio at station WLS in Chicago, and in 1926 joined WHAD, the Marquette station. He operated it with the help of Milwaukee Journal personnel. In June of 1927, he took the old station off the air from a microphone at Marquette and put WTMJ on the air.

The Seckatary Hawkins club was a syndicated newspaper feature which the Journal carried in a special 2 page section for boys and girls. Teich conducted the Seck Hawkins radio club for half an hour daily and an hour on Sundays. Hawkins was an imaginary boy elected club secretary because he was supposed to be a good speller. However, he couldn’t spell secretary, hence the misspelled title.

When the Journal dropped the syndicated feature in 1930, Teich organized Our Club and switched thousands of children from Seckatary Hawkins to his new self. Captain Larry. The paper and the radio station both promoted the club. As Captain Larry, Teich wrote daily children’s articles and serials for the Sunday paper. On the air Teich had children sing, recite poetry and play instruments.

“The mothers caused me so much trouble by pushing their kids at me that soon the kids who got on the program were kids whose mothers didn’t get into my hair’ said Teich.

When Captain Larry retired from Our Club, Larry Teich went to work with increased enthusiasm on the Billie the Brownie program. Teich wrote stories, told stores and built such enthusiasm among small fry that soon the show was broadcast every day during a seven week Christmas period. The program got 94,000 letters in one year from children.

The first mention of Billie the Brownie on radio was November 18, 1928. In the Reindeer News of the day it said “Hear about the Reindeer Parade! Hear about Santa’s thrilling trip to Milwaukee and Schuster’s. Over station WTMJ between 5:30 and 6 p.m. daily.

This was at the same time that the Seck Hawkin’s radio program was on. Also Schuster’s sponsored a Time Service at that hour so we can assume that Larry Teich producing Seck Hawkin’s program felt that Billie the Brownie was a natural for radio. On November 22, 1929, the Reindeer News tells us “Hear about the Live Reindeer over WTMJ every evening during Seck Hawkin’s meeting.”

The first Billie the Brownie program broadcast over the air with Larry, Billie and Santa was on November 8, 1931, as from a news item in the Milwaukee Journal we find the following: “Santa to be heard on WTMJ. Attention boys and girls. Beginning this morning at 11:30 and continuing every day at 5:30 p.m. Billie the Brownie will speak to you over WTMJ. The wee man has just returned from Santa Claus’ castle on the North Star with a message for all of you. We will have news of Me-Tik, the Eskimo, Prancer and Dancer, and finally of Santa himself.

You Know, Santa is due in Milwaukee on November 28, and, Billie has promised in advance that Santa will be heard every day on his way to Milwaukee. The first broadcast of Santa will come direct from the North Star, according to Billie the Brownie, and will bring all the sounds of Santa’s toy shop busily working, making toys for all the kiddies.

And just as a secret, Billie advises that when he left the North Star, Santa had a cold that was making him angry at the misbehaving toys, and that was going to make him unusually strict with bad boys and girls this year.” (The North Star was Santa’s North Pole radio station).

Also in the November 15, 1931 Seck Hawkin’s Club page of the Journal, Captain Larry writes as follows: “During the last week boys and girls have been thrilled by the program which brings them the voices of Santa Claus and Me-Tik. Since members have been so interested in them I am printing their pictures so you may see them. I wanted to do this last year, but I didn’t obtain their pictures soon enough.

If you haven’t heard the program, I suggest that you listen today and every day. It begins right after the meetings each day. In other words, tune in at 11:30 each Sunday and at 5:30 each day. Not only will you hear the latest news and gossip about Santa and Me-Tik the Eskimo and the reindeer, but you will hear news directly from Billie the Brownie so you can be sure it is the right dope. Through special arrangements we will let you hear the voices from Santa’s toy shop.”

The sound men were really busy from the very beginning of the Billie the Brownie show. According to Schuster’s history, Ross Coles, Schuster’s Production Manager is a great help to Billie the Brownie, often telling him, so they say, just what to do and say on his famous broadcast.

The ad for the Billie the Brownie program of November 8, 1931, shows Santa and Me-Tik pictured in a replica of an early microphone. The pictures Larry refers to on the Seck Hawkin’s Club newspaper pages, show Santa in a sleigh with two reindeer and Me-Tik holding onto the reins and also a picture of Me-Tik in front of a drawing of an igloo.

Evidently the mention of Billie the Brownie on the Seck Hawkin’s show was not the voice of Billie or Santa, but Captain Larry telling boys and girls of the Schuster’s Christmas parade.

According to Larry, the first programs were only meant to be on the air until the annual Schuster’s Christmas Parade. However, the programs proved to be so popular that it was extended each year to Christmas Eve.

The early programs had small budgets and no money for studio musician. There were no recorded sound effects so Larry, when writing the scripts, had to make sure that he had a sound effect before putting it into the script.

RCA Victor made of record of the Billie the Brownie program on their Nipper Series of records. It was the story of “The Star on Top of the Christmas Tree.” During World War II a contract was drawn up between the Journal Company and Schuster’s that nothing less than a disaster would interrupt the program. It was felt that this being a children's program, it should be kept free of the war distractions that sometimes interrupted radio programs.

In the early days of the program, when Larry would come home, his father would tell him exactly when the program would begin each day as the neighbor lady would blow a whistle so the the neighborhood children knew it was time for Billie the Brownie.

Larry introduced a doll on the program, she was first called “Fairy Queen” and later “Greta.” Billie’s dog “Willie Wagtail” would also be on the program, especially the December 24th program. He would bark and Larry would indicate that he would make sure that children’s dogs did not prove troublesome to Santa.

That was when children began to write in their letters to Santa that they would leave milk and cookies for Santa and Billie, sugar for the reindeer and a bone for Willie Wagtail. One day Larry met a butcher friend and the butcher asked Larry what was going on around town. Larry asked what he meant, and the butcher replied that there didn’t seem to be a single bone left in town. Larry explained that children were leaving bones for Billie’s dog Willie Wagtail. He was amazed at the power of radio.

On one program Larry had a drummer beat a drum and Larry asked the children at home to march around the house to the beat of the drum. After the show an executive of Schuster’s called and wanted to know what that had to do with buying toys. “Nothing” Larry replied. The man then asked what that had to do with Christmas, and Larry said: “Isn’t it remarkable, that we could get kids out of their chairs and march around the House.”

Schuster’s owned the copyright to the Billie the Brownie name and scripts and that was transferred to Gimbels when it bought Schuster’s. In the contract between the Journal Company and Schuster’s, it was agreed that WTMJ was to supply Schuster’s with one copy of the program for each series beginning in 1935.

There were eight actors taking the part of Billie the Brownie and seven Santas during its run.

The Billie’s were: Frank Behrens, Jimmy Harrington, Jimmy Peterson, Nancy Frazier (sic), Beatrice Shole (sic), Sari Ross, Judy Laufson (sic) and Carol Cotter.

The Santas were: Gene Emerald, Captain Bill Campbell, Russ Letty, Howard Barr, Ray Tessnick Joe Hickey and Arnold Hildebrandt.

Frank Behrens was the first to play the part. After leaving the show in the early 30s, he went on to network radio, playing Jack Armstrong on the program of the same name. Other radio programs he was on were “Guiding Light”, “Lorenzo Jones”, “The Right to Happiness”, “Woman in White” and many others. He also wrote for may comedians, including Tony Randall and Don Knotts. He married actress Amzie Strickland. They had two sons.

Sari Ross played the part from 1945 through 1947. She now lives in Colorado with her husband, Reid. Sari is a Master Storyteller, and has written childrens stories. She also performs her stories at libraries, schools, senior center, festivals and churches using her warmth and magic, props and puppets to tell her stories.

I wrote Sari and asked her how she got the part of Billie the Brownie and what it was like to do the show. Here is what she wrote: “I was in high school when I played Billie the Brownie, and went everyday after school by bus to WTMJ to rehearse and perform the show. I had auditioned for the part with Larry Teich, after hearing about it at the Shorewood Players, where I was an active player for several years. I was asked to keep my identity a secret, as I was to play the part of a boy brownie.”

“Brownies were not in the Schuster’s parade, as they are invisible to non-North pole people. I loved playing the part, and it was my first real job, so I was extremely proud and thrilled. I earned $15.00 a week. I don’t remember the war, WWII ever having any effect on the show. Larry never let it enter the fantasy stories of Billie the Brownie. We told stories to our audiences, and it way my first introduction to storytelling.” Sari donated a record of the show made in 1948 with her as Billie to the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Carol Cotter was the last actress to play the part, from 1950 to 1955. She is best remembered as Billie as it is her voice that is on most of the available recordings. Carol was born in Wisconsin and worked for years in Chicago radio. She also worked on radio in Boston and Florida. She now lives in Madison. In 1964 Carol had her own morning show on WTMJ and on December 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th she and Larry reprised the show by reminiscing about what it was like to put on the show. Excerpts from earlier shows were played on her program.

The format of the show remained constant throughout the years. The first two weeks of each new season were devoted to the travels of Santa and Me-Tik from the North Pole to Milwaukee. We were kept tuned in by listening to Billie’s shortwave radio and we were able to hear the voice of Santa through the static. Of course he always made it to Milwaukee in time for the annual Schuster’s Christmas Parade.

About a dozen letters from children to Santa were read each day. Kids waited anxiously for their letter to be pulled from a drum at Schuster’s toyland and read over the air. Santa usually arrived during the program having been at Schuster’s toyland. Then “The Magic Storybook” was brought out and kids were told to face the radio and say they have been good for the book to open. Favorite stories were “The Wonderful Train that Billie Built”, “The Little Juggler”, “The Wooden Shoes” and “Why We Put a Candle in the Window.”

Sometimes Santa would demonstrate how he was able to slide down a chimney and how he was able to decorate the Christmas Tree.

The program of December 24th always consisted of the loading of the sleigh. A great deal of pounding and background talking accompanied the loading of the sleigh. Larry would remind Santa not to forget his glasses and not to eat to many of the goodies left for him by the children.

After Santa and Billie and the sleigh left, Larry would end the program by reciting Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” This was accompanied by appropriate Christmas organ music. Then Larry wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and the quartet singing “Jingle Bells” another Billie the Brownie season ended.

The last program was broadcast on December 24, 1955. By this time television was beginning to overtake radio in popularity in what once had been radio’ exclusive territory.

Schuster’s had for sometime been contemplating putting Billie the Brownie on television. A woman by the name of Carla had a dance studio in Milwaukee and produced a stage production three times a week on television for Schuster’s.

She insisted that one of the segments on her show be a televised version of radio’s Billie the Brownie. Larry said that they rehearsed for eighteen hours, even though at first they didn’t show Billie. It was then agreed that they show just a peaked cap such as Billie wore, however this too was discarded.

Later they had a little girl dressed in a brownie costume and had her prance around the stage. It was a complete failure and Schuster’s abandoned the effort almost before it began.

Larry Teich was proved right when he said “You can’t put on a screen, a picture as pretty as a kid can dream.”

When the generation of kids that grew up with Billie the Brownie in the thirties and forties look back to those Christmases past, visions of Santa, Me-Tik and Billie still dance in their heads.

Larry Teich:

In 1926, Teich joined WHAD, the Marquette university station and operated it with the help of Milwaukee Journal personnel. Teich did everything, from baseball broadcasts to manual labor during the building of a transmitter. In June of 1927, he took the old station off the air from a microphone at Marquette and put WTMJ on the air.

The Seckatary Hawkins club was a syndicated newspaper feature which was carried in a special section of the newspaper. Teich conducted the Seck Hawkins radio club for half an hour daily and an hour on Sundays. Hawkins was an imaginary boy elected club secretary “because he was supposed to be such a good speller. However, he couldn’t spell secretary - hence the misspelled title.”

When the Seck Hawkins club was dropped, Teich organized “Our Club” and switched thousands of children from Seckatary Hawkins to his new self “Captain Larry.” As Captain Larry, he wrote daily children’s articles and serials for the Sunday paper. On the air Teich had children sing, recite poetry and play instruments. It was just one more step for Teich to become Larry on the Billie the Brownie program.

Larry Teich died on January 13, 1978.

Palmer Cox

Palmer Cox, writer and illustrator of the Brownie stories, was born in Granby, Quebec, Canada on April 28, 1840. The area had many Scottish immigrants whose folklore would later influence his stories.

He came to California in January of 1863 where he began his writing and drawing career. After staying here for about 13 year he became an American citizen.

In 1875 he relocated to New York in search of a literary career. His first Brownie story appeared in the St. Nicholas magazine in 1883. It was called “The Brownie’s Ride.”

He published twelve Brownie books in all. The immense popularity of the Brownies prompted Cox to take the unprecedented step of licensing the Brownies to promote a multitude of products such as toys, games, biscuits and of course the famous “Brownie” camera, Even the Girl Scouts “Brownies” were named after Cox’s creation.

He died on July 24, 1924

CROATION TAMBURICA ORCHESTRA

Ethnic musical troup (WSOE, Milwaukee, 1925).

DAMMAN LADIES TRIO

Female music group (WKAF, Milwaukee, 1926).

DINNER TABLE OF THE AIR

Don McNeill. Voted in a Milwaukee Journal poll the reader’s favorite program (WTMJ, 1930’s)

FOOD GOES TO WAR

Food authority Ethel Morrison Marsden suggested how to prepare and serve meats, vegetables, canned foods and various substitutes for war rationed items (WTMJ, Milwaukee, 1942).

GIMBIE AND ELLIE

HAPPY HANK'S ROUND UP

Country and Western musical program. (WTMJ, Milwaukee, 1939).

HEINIE AND HIS GRENADIERS

By Ralph Luedtke

“Hello efferybody vot iss listening in.” It was the signature opening of probably the most famous and best loved Milwaukee radio personality from the days when radio ruled the airwaves. This was Jack Bundy, better known as “Heinie” to millions of radio listeners. He was the leader and conductor of a group of musicians call “Grenadiers.”

Heinie and His Grenadiers played regularly each day over WTMJ radio from 1932 to 1944.

Jack Bundy was born in Milwaukee on August 30, 1903, and at age 14, he and his family moved to Detroit. After graduation from high school there, he studied engineering for two years at Detroit City College. He worked at a number of jobs after leaving college, but decided to try his hand at the entertainment business. He trained the family dog well enough to travel the vaudeville circuit.

A new form of entertainment called radio was becoming popular around this time. He decided to leave the stage and try his hand at radio, working first at several stations out East and then with a chain (network) station in Chicago. At the urging of some friends he came to Milwaukee and WTMJ radio, and a new career began.

During the twelve years, from 1932 to 1944, that Heinie conducted the band approximately 100 musicians played with the group. The original eleven members of the band from 1932 were: Droopy, Oscar, Valter, Villie, Rheinhold, Andreas, Clarency, Rudie, George, Johan and Edward.

Some of the original Grenadiers also had nicknames which they used on the show. The was Frank (Villie) Rauch, Who played the trumpet. He joined the WTMJ music staff in 1929 after having played in New York theatres and with dance bands out East. Walter (Valter) Grebe, who in addition to playing the sax was an early vocalist with the band. Others were Harold (Droopy) Stark, trombone; Alex (Guiseppe Mayr, clarinet; and Clarence (Clarency) Berlin on trumpet.

Although most of the music played by the band was of the lighter variety with a good deal of musical kidding around, many of the musicians had played with fine theatre bands. When talking pictures replaced the silent versions the house orchestras no longer were needed. Many of these musicians began to find employment at the newly emerging radio stations. These musicians were equally at home with the symphony as with the polka. Even though they played mostly German songs as the Grenadiers at noon, in the evening they became the “Black and Gold Ensemble” or the musicians of “The Kilowatt Hour.”

Over the years other musicians joined the group as some left. Among those were Andy Firman, Eddie Koch, Roy Peterson (who doubled as music librarian), Alex Mayr (also known as “Guiseppe”) and Lester Gaulke. The Grenadiers also had a number of announcers over the years. An early announcer was Louis Roen, later announcing for national networks in Chicago; Stanley Morner, better known as Dennis Morgan, who later moved to Hollywood and Silver Screen fame as a leading man and heartthrob, also Bob DeHaven, Bob Heiss and Johnny Olsen.

Johnny, besides announcing for Heinie and His Grenadiers, was emcee of a popular nighttime program called “Johnny Olsen's Rumpus Room.” Along with spinning record platters he interviewed widely known musicians and interesting personalities. With Johnny now evening was dull. If it was, he called on his cousin Olaf or Bumpy Klaxon to liven up the proceedings. Both voices were played by Johnny Himself. For a time he went to Hollywood and worked on shows there. He returned to Milwaukee and WTMJ to host the Rumpus Room. A few years later he left for New York to become announcer for many national radio and TV shows.

Johnny Olsen’s personality and brand of humor fit in perfectly with that of the bands antics. It was at this time the Ralph Herman became the music arranger for the band and as a promotional stunt (although none was ever needed to hold listeners interest) each band member, including Johnny Olsen, had to compose a “landler” (an Austrian country dance in slow rhythm and triple time). Each day a different musician’s song was played and listeners sent in votes as to their favorite piece.

As early as August 25, 1934, the band made a chain broadcast. This one was recorded on records by a Chicago recording company. The following Monday the boys listened to themselves as the discs were played through the WTMJ studio monitoring system. Each musician listened for his mistakes and Heinie groaned when he heard himself offer a few jokes. They were super critical of their playing, but their thousands of admirers didn’t agree, as for the next ten years Heinie and His Grenadiers were the most popular orchestra on Milwaukee radio.

During the middle thirties the band featured a give-a-way in the form of a silver medallion. It was called the “3-G Club”, Which stood for Gemutlichkeit, Gesundheit and Gluck, which translated means Harmony, Health and Happiness. It was sponsored by WTMJ and The Journal.

The Grenadiers originally started out as a German band, however their popularity was not limited to hausfraus on the North side of Milwaukee. The group made hundreds of appearances not only locally but including Grand Rapids Benton Harbor and Traverse City in Michigan, among other cities in states surrounding Wisconsin. Their warm, friendly sense of humor brought as many as 15 to 20 thousand people to these personal appearances.

Their first engagement was at Gonrings Resort on Cedar Lake in Washington County. They appeared in their Grenadier costumes with a jacket that had a high collar, ribbon across the chest and a small flat pancake hat on their head. The musicians left the Journal Building at 4th and State in a bus for the journey. As they neared the resort they saw long lines of automobiles stopped in front of their bus. It could only be an accident that would cause such a traffic jam, they thought. However to their surprise thousands of people turned out to see, hear and dance to the music of Heinie and His Grenadiers, the “Band With A Million Friends.”

Their appearances at various church benefits helped pay off mortgages for many congregations. They even played at fireman’s picnics to help smaller towns buy their first fire truck.

Locally they performed at an annual Christmas party at the auditorium. Crowds found it difficult, if not impossible, to get in to see them perform. They also had a baseball team composed of various band members. They Challenged a similar group of musicians fro Seymour Simon’s band to a baseball game.

The band maintained a friendly feud between themselves and the “Seymour Simon Orchestra” which was broadcast from the Hotel Schroeder following Heinie’s noontime broadcast. The grudge game was held at Borchert Field at 8th and Chambers. Local pundits predicted a low turnout of fans. When the band members began arriving at the field at 1 P.M. they had difficulty finding places to park. Bob DeHaven, local announcer, was the umpire. When Seymour Simon’s players arrived some came in wheelchairs and others on crutches and all bandaged up to add to the hilarity. The game was not scheduled to be aired. When 2 P.M. rolled around Russ Winnie (longtime announcer for the Green Bay Packers and sports broadcaster for WTMJ) was in the announcers booth ready to broadcast the game.

By the start of the game the hot dogs were all consumed and shortly thereafter there were no more soft drinks available. The fans not only jammed the stands and bleachers but also sat on the field all the way to second base. Since both teams couldn’t hit very long balls and didn’t use the long bases it didn’t make much difference. For a game that was billed to be a flop it drew one of the largest attendances at Borchert Field. Another fun game at Borchert Field between the Grenadiers and Simon’s band was when instead of running to first than to second, etc. they did everything backwards and had crowds roaring with laughter at the antics.

A memorable appearance by the band was held at Maders restaurant in April of 1933, when they, along with the rest of the nation, celebrated the repeal of prohibition, and the return to the enjoyment of glass of Milwaukee’s finest.

Capacity studio crowds used to see and hear the Grenadiers six-days-a-week noontime show in the Radio City Auditorium. In 1942, when WTMJ dedicated its new Radio City, the Grenadiers were featured on the dedication broadcast. When applications for tickets to these broadcasts came in, Heinies name let all the WTMJ personalities for seats to his program.

The show was a family affair, although women dominated the audience, especially grandmas. There was also a sprinkling of teachers, retired businessmen and youngsters there. In between the clowning by the band members, they managed to play all kinds of music, such as polkas, waltzes, schottisches, marches, and occasionally a classical number.

The merrymaking Grenadiers had a day for everything. There was plenty of audience participation. Two prim schoolteachers would frantically race to hang up a clothesline full of men’s BVDs and ladies unmentionables while the band played a lively gallop to speed up the action. The gags and games sometimes reached hilarious proportions.

There were also birthday party days. The listener would make all the plans for a relative or friend and bring along to the studio a birthday cake and small personal gifts. The station would supply coffee and soft drinks and additional ‘fun’ presents such as old fashioned nightgowns, bloomers or the sponsor’s products. Heinie would proceed to give out the gifts while in the background the musicians would play tricks on the guests to the delight of the studio audience.

Another hilarious entertainment feature was the ‘housekeeping contest’. Two ladies chosen from the studio audience would compete against each other in potato peeling contests, ironing race or a clothes hanging competition. There were also quiz days and dance contests. The conga line was especially funny when it consisted of a few matrons on the buxom side.

During school vacations children made up a part of the studio audience and a regular feature then was to bring up three or four youngsters on stage who would sit on Heinie’s lap to recite verses and sing songs. Unknown to the kids, a portable mike was strapped to Heinie’s back. The listeners got a completely unrehearsed and unaffected account of all the children told Heinie.

Although the Grenadiers were noted mostly for their instrumental music they occasionally featured vocalists. One such singe was Don McClellan, a tenor who was heard regularly on the show in the early 1940s. In 1941 Don was inducted into the army and was stationed at Camp Dix in New Jersey. Bob Heiss, the veteran station announcer of the Heinie show volunteered to sing on the show in the absence of Don. Heinie, familiar with Bob’s singing ability, gently, but firmly declined the offer.

As a joke to be played on Heinie, Heiss conspired with musicians in the band to sing a song and on the following show what assailed the horrified ears of Heinie, was none other than Bob warbling the the current hit tune ‘Hut Sut Song’. Needless to say, Bob remained the announcer and the vocalizing was left to more talented singers. Heinie was quoted as saying “I think Don McClellan is still a great singer.”

During the period of time that Don was singing with the band he became a father. The mere mention of Don’s new baby on the show brought countless items of clothing, toys and other baby items

In December of 1941, Germany declared war on America, Even though resentment against anything German was not as apparent ad during the first World War, there were suggestions from people that the Grenadiers change their name.

Because of their tremendous popularity this did not happen although they did give up the German accents. They were only used for comic purposes anyway and they were quite happy to oblige. German songs were gradually replaced by more and more polkas, marches and music hall airs. Nevertheless, the beat and rhythm always stayed the same. Heinie would get letters from proud mothers telling of their little ‘musical geniuses’ keeping time with the Grenadiers by beating perfect rhythm on their highchairs with their spoons.

Valter would occasionally sing some of the many German songs that were popular with radio listeners. Another Grenadier, Villie, besides clowning on stage, would sing the song composed after America entered the war called ‘Der Fuhrer’s Face’. These gestures were accompanied by the appropriate sounds made popular by Spike Jones in his version.

The Grenadier show with Heinie as its leader came to an end after a dozen years and Bundy went to New York, where he was master of ceremonies for local and Mutual network programs.

Ben Gross, radio editor for the New York Daily news in his column dated April 13, 1945, ‘Listening In’ writes “about hats excite monkeys. The monkeys at the zoo are in a terrific dither these days, according to disc-jockey Jack Bundy who opens up his recorded ‘Album” for dialers every weekday at 1 P.M. over WOR. The cause of this furor is women’s hats. The new Spring creations, Bundy says, are sending the caged ring tails into fits of wild shrieking and frenetic activity. Some have been so irked that they’ve reached out and snatched the gals bonnets right off their bonny heads.”

From the musical antics with the Grenadiers in Milwaukee to the monkey shines in the ‘Big Apple’, Jack had come a long way.

In 1947 Heinie returned to Milwaukee and went back to radio. He played at various stations including the defunct WMAW. He also started an advertising business which kept him occupied until he returned to WTMJ in 1962 as an independent talent.

As the late George Comte, president of WTMJ, said of him, “in my estimation he has been, in total broadcasting and telecasting years, the largest and biggest personality in this market.”

Jack Bundy operated an advertising and public relations firm shortly before he died in November of 1973. He was 70 years old.

His theme song for all those years was ‘Ach Du Lieber Augustine’ and even today, hearing that song played stirs up fond memories to a generation of radio listeners, who thrived on Heinie and His Grenadiers on WTMJ, The Milwaukee Journal Station, in the 1930s and 1940s.

AUF WIEDERSEHN, HOMER BENCHBOTTOM

A pre-game baseball interview show with Don McNeill (WTMJ, 1930’s)

JOHNNY OLSEN'S RUMPUS ROOM

KILOWATT ORCHESTRA

Instrumental musical program. (WTMJ, Milwaukee, 1937).

LETTERS OF THE CARTWRIGHT FAMILY

A daytime serial that told its story in a format by means of family member's letters to each other. When the letters were presented they were broadcast in the voice of their writers. (WTMJ, Milwaukee, 1937-1938).

MANHATTAN BEACH ORCHESTRA

Popular local band (WSOE, Milwaukee, 1926).

MILWAUKEE DISTRICT COURT

Actual cases were broadcast from the city's courtrooms on the program sponsored by the Milwaukee Safety Commission. Two microphones were placed at the judge's bench. Except for a brief introduction by the program's announcer, the only other voices heard were those who actually were participating in the cases. No one was forced to go on the air, but it was reported that few ever declined (WTMJ Milwaukee, 1935).

NEW BABY OF 1939

From the time of its birth, the progress of a baby was reported periodically on the program. The first two programs of the series were broadcast from the hospital where the baby was born. The others were from the baby's home. Broadcast in cooperation with the Milwaukee Medical Society, the program included the baby's parents, doctors and nurses in "how-to-do-it situations" about the "radio baby" (WTMJ, Milwaukee, 1939).

PARK AVENUE HILLBILLIES

Country and Western musical program. (WTMJ), Milwaukee, 1936).

SATURDAY NIGHT JAMBOREE

An audience participation show with Don and Kay McNeill (WTMJ, 1930’s)

UNDERWOOD'S QUADRILLE ORCHESTRA

Popular local band (WSOE, Milwaukee, 1926).

WANDERING MINSTREl

Vocal musical program by an unidentified performer (WISN, Milwaukee, 1935).