Wednesday, February 11, 2009

America Radio Warblers

I rejected the idea at first. I was at an antique store somewhere near Galesburg IL. On a shelf of 78s was a book called America Radio Warblers. On the cover was a drawing of a bird in a cage with the tag line "The Original Feathered Stars of the Air." Had there been a radio show of bird songs? Yes there had been.

From 1937 to 1952 the Mutual Broadcasting system carried the 15 minute program Sunday afternoons. Organist Preston Sellers played and was "accompanied" by 10 trained canaries. The program was sponsored by birdseed and pet shops. Hartz Mountain was an early sponsor. Hatz's name is actually on some versions of the recordings. It was Arthur C. Barnett (of Barnett Advertising) that brought the act to the recording studio. Barnett made a record that supposedly trained canaries to sing and to talk. It was just a recording of birds tweeting. It was called "How to Teach Your Parakeet to Talk." He had a thing for birds.

Preston Sellers was the WGN organist. If you look at this schedule from 1948 Sellers is just playing the organ to fill time randomly through the day. But it was a fine hybrid Wurlitzer-Kimball organ and people liked it enough. Organ music was common and even popular in the 1940s. WENR had a similar fill-in organist schedule. Sellers was also the organist at the State-Lake Theatre in Chicago playing organ for both stage and screen. He and his wife Edna performed as a husband-and-wife team at the Oriental theatre ias recently as 1972. This page leads me to belive he is deceased. Barnett brought Preston Sellers together with his troops of birds to WGN-AM. The program was picked up by MBS and carried coast-to-coast.

Barnett had the 78s re-released in 1951 as a set of 45s. 1952 MBS transformed from Cooperative network to corporate network. The birds got the hook. Sellers went back to theatre. Barnett added a partner to his advertising firm and it became Weston-Barnett Advertising. The State-lake Theatre became an RKO Movie house then was closedin 1958, gutted and is now the home of WLS-TV. The fate of the birds remains unknown.