Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ripley's Believe It or Not Radio

Robert L. Ripley was a natural showman and a great teller of tales, some true some not. He gave his own birth date variably, anywhere between 1890 and 1893 and usually on Christmas. He lied about his education, stuttered and his first name wasn't even Robert. It was used a pseudonym. His real name was Leroy Ripley and he was born in 1890,  beleive it or not. His daily comic  was carried by over 300 newspapers in 33 countries a circulation of 33 million. Because of this, we all know about the comic, they've been collected in books and rerun for decades. What's been forgotten was he had his own  radio show from 1930 to 1948.

Several firsts in broadcasting are attributed to him. He was supposedly the first to broadcast nationwide from the middle of the ocean. He was also ostensibly the first to broadcast from Buenos Aires to New York. Less credibly he claimed to have been the first to broadcast to every nation in the world simultaneously.  It's a outlandish claim made by a man in the business of outlandish claims.

In April of 1930, "Ripley's Believe It or Not" debuted on radio.  At first it was a bit on the The Collier Hour. Before the month was out Colonial Beacon Oil was sponsoring a 15-minute NBC program on Monday nights.Then from 1931 to 1932 his series aired twice a week sponsored now by Esso. In 1933 his routine was added to Benjamin Albert Rolfe's Saturday Night Variety program, aka the Rolfe Show, aka Rolf's Party. Here the format changed to become more dramatic. Rolfe's orchestra added ambiance and Rolfe did color and play-by-play. Ripley now drinking to calm his nervous stutter just did the introductions.

Ripley was the host of the Baker's Broadcast from 1935 to 1937 replacing former host Joe Penner, and interim host Edgar Bergen. The program ran on Sunday nights on the NBC Blue Network. It was at the end of that era that be began doing live remotes.  His program See America First with Bob Ripley ran from 1939 into 1940 on CBS. It too exploited the live remote format.

He went from there to the Mutual Network. Starting in 1944 he was on five nights a week. That faded and he jumped back to CBS with an ill-fated program "Romance, Rhythm and Ripley." That lasted less than a year being dropping in early 1946. In 1947 they recast him in his more comfortable surroundings "Pages from Robert L. Ripley's Radio Scrapbook " That show ran from 1947 to 1948.  The program ended in 1948, primarily because he was moving on to television. The TV show, though promising, ended a year later because he died.  Jack Palance hosted a later version of the TV program. If you want to know more, Bob Considine wrote a great biography Ripley, the modern Marco Polo.