Friday, March 16, 2012

The Fraser Radio Gospel Hour

There is scant information out there regarding the Fraser Radio Gospel Hour. It started in 1925 and ran possibly as late as 1973 and was hosted by Rev. Robert Fraser a Blind Radio Evangelist in Philadelphia. He headed several related charities including the Fraser Home for Elderly Ladies, the Fraser Mission and the Fraser Home for Girls.

He was born on March 14th 1906, and attended Overbrook school for the blind also in Philly. The book Undaunted by Blindness by Clifford E. Olstrom claims that he was singing on the radio by the age of 16. That seems dubious as that'd be in 1922, but there were at least a few stations in Philadelphia at that time: WFI-AM, WOO-AM, WGL-AM, WCAU-AM, and WDAR-AM, so it is possible. The Olstrom reference I found for this seemed weak. The book does got the man's age wrong a sentence later claiming he was 19 in 1923... oops.  Fraser  wrote his autobiography in 1936 titled Overcoming Obstacles, chapter 4 is "Growing up with radio." It ironed out the specifics.

It details his early radio appearances. He worked with Christopher W. Graham (Uncle WIP) on WIP-AM, and on WCAU-AM he played the character "Sunshine Boy." He sang with Dumont and Emmett Welsch's  Minstrels on WFI-AM and WDAR-AM.  But in 1924 he was converted and gave up jazz and vaudeville for gospel and preaching. It's unclear where he might have preached on the radio in the early years but he and his wife Ella Stark were married in the studio of WCAU, so it's probably that station.

Another book, 30 Years With Radio looks back at the program over it's history. It was published in 1955 to commemorate 30 years of his radio program. It lists WLBR, WIBG, WNAR, WVCH and WKAP among others but often lacking dates. But the autobiography  noted that they broadcast 532 shows on WIP-AM. If the Fraser Radio Gospel Hour was always weekly program, that means spent the better part of a decade on WIP before appearing on any of those other stations.