Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Wax And Needle Club!

The Wax and Needle Club ran for about two years. DJ Bill Evans ran this top 10 count down show of sorts. The station was 1000 WCFL-AM and the program was a half hour program that aired at 7:30 PM on weekdays running after a sports program and followed by a live concert in Grant Park. In 1949 it was preceded by news and followed by news and a serenade. A June issue of Billboard from 1948 describes the program cynically but with some detail:
" ...Bill Evans, the Wax and Needle Club, WCFL, reports a good mail pull on his quiz disk gimmick in which he invited teen-agers to submit the reasons why they'd like to guess the title of a different quiz disk on his show each night. Evans interviews the youngster and, if he can identify the disc, he receives a special Bill Evans album of current pops..."
Let me state for the record now that DJ Bill Evans is not the jazz pianist Bill Evans. Accept no substitutions. Which Bob Evens he was remains unconfirmed.  My theory is that our Bill Evans is the one that was on 720 WGN-AM for years. [more here]. It was the right place at the right time, and it's very rare a market will allow two DJs to use the same name at the same time. My "evidence" is a 1948 advertisement in Billboard listing both WGN and WCFL net to Bill Evans name.
If I'm right, he was running the Bill Evans' Show 6:30 AM to 8:00 AM weekday mornings as early as 1953. A 1955 issue of Billboard put the start of his career as 1943 which works with the timeline as well. His morning program was re-named "Morning Reveille" and ran into the 1950s. His career started in Duluth, Minnesota. Teasingly his 1995 obit confirms that and at least two other stations. "After leaving WGN-AM, he purchased a radio station in Ames, Iowa. He later sold it and bought one in Lakeland, Fla."  I confirmed in a 1958 issue of Radio Daily-Television daily that the station in Ames was 1430 KASI-AM. Interestingly they also state he quit 560 WIND-AM that same year... so we must add more to the resume.

As successful as these early teen target programs were, they also didn't fit the format of the era. Program Directors from the 1940s didn't know what to do with direct audience engagement. For them, getting fan letters was the full extent of quantifiable success... unless you showed up in the Crosley ratings. Call in shows were relatively new. Teens as a marketing demographic were strictly a post-WWII phenomena. They were totally unprepared. I found a few winners of his polls:  Peggy Lee, Herbie Fields, Eddy Howard, and Mel Torme, This was no hot jazz or R&B program. This was safe, wholesome, harmless, homogenized white pop.  Just marketing to teens was edgy enough back then.