Friday, July 26, 2013

Interracial Host and Co-Host

I came across a quote from Ahmet Ertgun that sent me thumbing through my radio history books for attribution:
"The hot show in New York in those days - the two hot shows - were Willie and Ray - Willie Bryant and Ray Carroll, and the Symphony Sid Show..."

The quote was in the context of Alan Freed but of the other two shows mentioned I only knew one. Symphony Sid was Sid Torin. But who were Willie and Ray? Ray Carroll was the first white DJ to co-host a program with a black DJ. He started out co-hosting with another white jazz man Symphony Sid on WMCA. I think ray was at WWRL prior to that.  Ray and Sid paired up for just a year in 1947.  Bryant was already the emcee at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem which is how he got his nickname. He appeared in a couple films. In 1946, CBS hired him as the first black host of a network radio program, "Night Life. By then Ray Carroll was already on WMCA with Sid. Sid Hired Bryant to flip records.  Ray and Willie started their program together that February and stayed at it for 6 years on 1480 WHOM-AM. In 1952 they added a second program together on WOV. Sometimes it aired live from Birdland.

Willie Bryant was born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago. He did vaudeville tours tap dancing with the Whitman Sisters, and later the Chocolate Revue with Bessie Smith. He played the Shim Sham Club in Harlem with Leonard Reed where they invented the dance, the Shim Sham. In 1934 he put together his first band, The Wilie Bryant Orchestra. Between 1935 and 1938 they cut 26 sides mostly for Victor and Bluebird. They were truly excellent. Give it a listen here

Their program was cancelled in April of 1954 by the VP of WHOM, Charles Bolton. Bryant said it was the first time he'd been booted from a job in 30 years. He described the firing as political. Bolton denied it but he was the same guy that later that month very publicly "banned" some slightly risque songs from the station playlist. At the time WHOM was actively pursuing a license from the FCC for UHF TV license. They had first applied for channel 31 in 1952. They abandoned in in April 1954. Maybe Bolton was feeling some pressure about his Interracial program? Maybe it was because Alan Freed had just hit town and White DJs playing R&B were just safer.
Ray just went back to WMCA and was hosting an R&B program, "Night Watch" by May of 1954. Like any career his had peaked, he'd already been in radio 20 years. In 1957 he moved to WICC-AM in Bridgeport, CT to host a morning program. By the early 1970s he was hosting an interview program called "Sounding Board" on 1450 WNAB-AM in Bridgeport, CT. Bryant tried to move into television he was already negotiating terms but it wasn't until 1949 his program debuted. He hosted "Uptown Jubilee" a Tuesday night black variety show on CBS-TV.  It was short-lived. In 195, he got another network radio show, ABC's "Rhythm on Radio. He bought a bar in the Bronx. None of that lasted either. He moved to California and did a little more radio on KSAN and KALI. He died in 1964. More here.