Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra

Today B.F. Goodrich is just a brand of tires marketed by the French-based company Michelin. The original Goodrich was an all-American company founded in 1870 in Akron, Ohio. back then, B.F. Goodrich was also a man, Benjamin Franklin Goodrich. Goodrich died at the age of 46, in 1888.  So by the time the company was advertising on radio, he had nothing to do with it except for his surname... which continues to be used to this day.

He didn't live to see it but the Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra bore his name into broadcasting.   It was a musical variety radio show. The band was actually the Joseph Knecht's Orchestra aka The Waldorf Astoria Dance Orchestra. At the Waldorf, it was directed by Joseph Knecht from approximately 1908 to 1925. The chronology is a bit uncertain. The Waldorf Astoria Dance Orchestra was broadcasting on WEAF-AM from the Rose Room at the hotel before the Goodrich Variety Program ever aired. The Washington Post wrote of a performance in February 1923, they were doing performances on WJZ-AM before that. But all catalogs note he departed in 1925, that's the same time they began their sponsorship from Goodrich. Nonetheless he is definitely on record with the band via Victor Records. The earliest of these was 1917, the latest of those were recorded in 1927.  I assume the oft-given 1925 date is wrong. At the very least his performance affiliation long outlasted his on air. More here.

The staff crooner, Joe White had also been on WEAF-AM since at least 1923. White had begun as a masked character with a silver aluminum Zorro-mask. It was campy but it was popular. In 1925 they began their weekly broadcasts as The Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra, sometimes billed as The Goodrich Silvertown Cord Orchestra.The Orchestra's theme music was "Her Waltz" by Arthur Johnston. The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio states they also were called the Silvertown Zippers, The Goodrich Zippers and The Silvertown Quartet.  This one-hour Thursday night format lasted until 1926 after the formation of NBC. NBC moved them to Wednesdays.

They stayed on Wednesday nights into 1928. That ensemble was focused on a smaller banjo-oriented group which was apparently the aforementioned Zippers. By then there syndicated on the NBC network, at the time that included WEEI, WEAF, WCCO, WGN, WCAE, WJAR, WTAG, KSD, WOC, WGR, WFI, WWJ, WSM, and WADC. Rolfe was an odd character, a film-maker who quit the biz after 5 years and then went into vaudeville. Before he resurrected the Zippers for Goodrich he'd run another group, B.A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Orchestra. He recorded with them for Edison in 1928.
The book Sold on Radio by Jim Cox notes that after the Silvertown Zippers, Goodrich was hands-off with radio for a long time. They Sponsored one more program in 1930 "Uncle Abe And David" (also on NBC.)  Then they stayed out of radioland for 15 years.  In 1945 they picked up the sponsorship of "Detect And Collect" a zany quiz show that had just moved from CBS to ABC. It lasted one year and they went back to tires.