Friday, September 03, 2010

The Midnight Frolic

In the late 1920s, the Commercial Appeal newspaper ran WMC-AM. The Midnight Frolic was a late night jazz program on WMC in Memphis that was an all-request show that supposedly was broadcast from the actual roof of the Commercial appeal building.

790 WMC-AM first began broadcasting on January 19, 1923. A review of a Bessie Smith program there dates the program to at least that year. It clearly describes the program as starting at 11:00 PM and airing from the rooftop of the Commercial Appeal Building. My latest confirmed reference to it's Midnight Folic is in 1925 but it probably dates to earlier. The Book Jack Teagarden: the Story of a Jazz Maverick refers to the show:
"The Peacocks broadcast frequently on The Midnight Frolic Show over WMC The Commercial Appeal radio station. The following item from The Appeal  gives an indication of how dependent these bands were on listener requests.  'Tonight they will start their programme with a medley air.  the entire list of numbers has not yet been selected... it is hoped that there will be enough requests made to carry on through the hour..."
The band (The Youngberg-Marin Peacocks) played a couple numbers they planned on then apparently requests carried them through the rest of the live program. The Peacocks had 10 members and were able to play 25 different instruments among them... just not simultaneously. Bessie smith cplayed with a orchestra as well but the number of musicians is less than certain.
If you start to read about this, you'll find there was an unrelated program of the same name on KMCS-AM in Inglewood, CA, and one on WDAF-AM, and another on KFI-AM in Los Angeles.WHO-AM had a Barn Dance Frolic back in 1932. 1160 WJJD-AM in Chicago had both a Breakfast Frolic and a Suppertime Frolic program.  But there's a reason for all that. During that ugly separate-but-equal era many shows were divided by race into two very separate evening programs. Today that's an indication that the earlier program is the family-friendly program. The notion came from cabaret and it's at least a hundred years old, and the trail of etymology loses me there.
But it stands to reason this is something that radio inherited from vaudeville. Commercial radio was born in the 1920s and it took it's ideas for entertainment directly from the stage. In Birmingham There was a theater called "The Frolic Theater" where Bessie Smith also performed. In New York City the New Amsterdam theatre was called The Frolic as well.  I'll quote from Virtual 42nd street.
"When it was built, the New Amsterdam was the largest theatre in New York, and could seat 1800 people.  It opened in November of 1903... In 1914, the rooftop theatre was renamed Danse de Follies and  Ziegfeld added a dance floor on the rooftop.  Later, in 1923, the rooftop would be renamed again, to the Frolic Theatre."
Notice that program is also broadcast from the roof of the building.  Each of these programs at WMC, KFI, WDAF, KMCS and others probably has a connection to local theaters, and local theatre troops.