Friday, June 01, 2012

Harold Kayes Mailorder Network

It's almost unthinkable now. In 1950 WGN-AM just handed over night programming to Harold Kaye Mailorder service. The company was very real,  Kay was a former exec from the Olian Ad Agency. the company even appears in the 1950 and 1951 Broadcasting yearbooks simply as "Mail Order Network." According to a 1949 Billboard article they had 50 stations on board. They provided up to 35 hours of programming per week, and were on stations as big as WOR-AM in New York. The "network" was linked by transcription, but provided programming, advertising copy and sponsors. They were headquartered at 1440 Broadway, in New York. The book The Deejays by Arnold Passman described it somewhat grandly:
"So in the fall of 1949, WGN, Chicago, shocked the industry by turning over its midnight-5 A.M. hours to Harold Kaye's Mail Order Network. With Erv Victor spinning pop and hillbilly records between the "per inquiry" spots, plastic Jesus radio, with six pitches per hour, was spewed from WGN's superengineered, wide-ranging, 50-kilowatt mountaintop, where big bands had been beamed to the nation just a few years earlier."
 Their first produced program was "Big Joe," hosted by Joe Rosenfield which was carried by 710 WOR-AM. His program ran from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM from 1949 to 1954. Joe went on to host Big Joe's Happiness Exchange on 770 WABC-AM in 1959. How long his WOR program was involved with Kaye is unclear. More here. The aforementioned Uncle Erv Victor was a country music DJ formerly of KMOX, where he had been since at least 1946. He left for WGN in September that year. The program ran overnights, 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM, syndicated on 56 stations.  One of them was KHJ-AM. The mail order network had previously claimed to have 50 affiliates with stations in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans, Buffalo, Rochster and New Orleans. I count 15 cities in that list. With 50 affiliates that is either a lot of double coverage or a lot of omitted stations, or a gross over-estimation. The article went to some pains not to name the stations, describing wattage and market but not the call sign... almost as if there were some shame attached...

It was said that NAB didn't like the precedent, but WGN wasn't a member so there wasn't much they could do. For Harold Kaye results were great. the huge coverage area of WGN parlayed into more orders from more customers in more markets. It was the QVC of it's day and as programming it bordered on repugnant, but the sales numbers didn't lie. But in 1951 Kaye told Billboard that his similar programming on TV was "headed for the junk pile."  Kaye credited the two-month drop to "the current economic squeeze, public resentment of phony claims and inferior merchandise, and the fact that mail-order pitches are no longer a novelty to TV audiences." Unsurprisingly Kaye shows up as the new TV department head at the Dorland Ad Agency in June of 1951. I can't be certain that it's the same Harold Kaye... but it fits the story.