Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nocturnal Nighthawks

The story starts with the Coon-Sanders Original Kansas City Nighthawks.  The orchestra began broadcasting in 1922 on WDAF-AM. At the time they were a share time on 730 AM with WHB-AM. They were broadcast live from the Muehlebach Hotel, which still exists today. More here. The group started in 1919, as the Coon-Sanders Novelty Orchestra.  There's nothing racial about the name, Mr. Coon is Carleton Coon and Sanders is pianist Joe Sanders. They took the name Nighthawks because their program aired late at night an approach they took around the country with them on tour in 1924. They first played in Chicago on KYW-AM. More here.

The group left Kansas City for the first time in 1924 for a three-month engagement in a roadhouse in Chicago. WBBM specialized in local, live programming, including a station promotion called the "Nutty Club." With over a million listeners in the US and Canada wiring, phoning or writing in for membership, it was clear that Program Director Charlie Garland, aka "Colonel Nut," and his crew had something good going.Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, who were named as the official "Nutty Club" orchestra. I'll quote teh St. Petersburg times from 1927...
"...the Nutty Club of WBBM, the Stewart-Warner Air theater known from coast-to-coast for its "Cuckoo Signal" and the other is the orchestra that has made insomnia a famous indoor sport Coon-Sanders Original Kansas City Nighthawks. Under an arrangement just completed this orchestra is to broadcast exclusively over WBBM by remote control from the Blackhawk Grill; Chicago. It will be heard during the three weekly sessions of the Nutty Club, which start at midnight Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday Nights."
They actually played quite regularly on WBBM and were syndicated coast to coast on CBS after 1928. A 1926 news article described them as playing nightly there at 8:00 PM and again from 11:00 PM to Midnight Tuesdays and Thursdays. the band recorded a large number of sides for Victor, and at lease a few furtively for Vocalion. In 1928 Henry Sellinger made them an offer to bring their late night shindig over to WGN-AM. For the next twenty years they performed at the the Blackhawk Restaurant live on that Chicago Tribune radio station. More here.

In 1932 Carelton Coon came down with a jaw infection and died. He was only 38 years old. Joe Sanders tried to keep the band together, but failed. He started his own group and stayed in music until his death in 1965. The band is celebrated annually at the The Coon Sanders Nighthawks Fans' Bash in in Huntington, WV. Why it's not held in Kansas City or Chicago... I have no idea.