Thursday, May 13, 2010

Uncle Ezra's Radio Station

Uncle Ezra P. Watters didn't really have a radio station. There was no E-Z-R-A in any FCC record. But Ezra did have a radio show, more than one actually. He began as a character on the WLS National Barn Dance. On his own program he had a fictional radio station. It was described as a powerful 5-watt stick down in Rosedale, the friendly little city. The character was played by Patrick Barrett and former vaudeville man born back in 1887. That made him 41 When the barn dance debuted. The WLS National Barn Dance first started in 1928 broadcasting on Saturday nights from the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. It was a small program in the beginning but it's popularity grew until it was a nightly 5-hour country music jamboree. Ezra closed out each episode with a folksy routine. The show was picked up by NBC in 1933 for national distribution. In 1946 they moved to ABC. Distribution was killed in 1957, and the live portion of the program ended. the decline began sharply. It moved to WGN-AM when WLS flipped to Top -40. It was finally canceled in 1968. More here.

Uncle Ezra had a strange fame beyond the WLS National Barn Dance program. He was on the cover of Radio Guide. He published a book of hick poetry titled "Howdy Ev'Vybuddy". In 1936, the Lincoln Theater in Lincoln, IL celebrated its 13th anniversary with a stage show featuring Uncle Ezra and his Hoosier Hot-Shots from WLS and the National Barn Dance. In 1940 Life Magazine wrote up the hayseed humor of WLS and singled out Uncle Ezra:
"A phenomenon in the brief perspective of radio history is the ever popular, ever-corny, National Barn Dance... With it's cracker-Barrel Characters, Uncle Ezra, the Arkansas Woodchopper, the Hoosier Hotshots-and it's slapstick rural hijinks. The Barn Dance typifies the success story of WLS..."
In the 1940 the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company sponsored a program called Uncle Ezra's Radio Station. It ran out of WMAQ and was carried by the NBC Red network. The program ran three days a week Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 7:15 PM. It was only a 15 minute slot, btu it ran for over 4 years. You can read a sample script here.

He died in died in 1959, before the barn dance was canceled, but after it was cut from the big networks. He was 72.