Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hire's Harvesters

Nat Shilkret had so many bands it's like he had multiple personalities. A native New Yorker, Naftule Schüldkraut was born in 1889 when New York was more hardcore than it looked in the movie Gangs of New York. A child prodigy on clarinet, he was touring with the New York Boys' Orchestra before 1900. Before 1915 he'd already played with the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Russian Symphony Orchestra, Victor Herbert's Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera House Orchestra, Arnold Volpe's Orchestra, Sousa's Grand Concert Band, Arthur Pryor's Band, and the Edwin Franko Goldman Band. He hadn't gotten to radio because it didn't exist yet.

His move toward commercial recording and performing began in 1915.  That year he was hired by the Foreign Department of the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1926 he became  director of light music. He went on to make thousands of recordings for Victor. It was in this window he went into radio. He became a conductor for The Eveready Hour on WEAF-AM. The program was sponsored by the National carbon Company which owned Eveready Battery.  the host of the program was banjoist Wendell Hall. The program was dreamed up by George Furness at National carbon who in a way was it's producer.

In that era WEAF founded an early network and by link up over Bell telephone lines networked to WRG in Buffalo and WJAR in Providence hugely increasing their audience.  In 1925 Nat played with his Victor Salon Orchestra on the program, and by 1926 moonlighting as "Hire's Harvesters," for Hire's Root Beer. Now that was an obscure radio tidbit. In his book The Mighty Music Box, author Thomas A. DeLong called it a "less memorable program." NBC bought ads in Colliers magazine in 1926 to plug the new program and listed off their early NBC affiliates WEAF in New York WSAI in Cincinnati, WCAE Pittsburgh etc:
"Every Thursday, at 7:1 5, Eastern Standard Time, let Hires Harvesters carry you to Lands of Romance where the ingredients for Hires are gathered."
Hires was never very active in radio sponsorship. In radioland they spent on Horace Heidt and little else. In 1947 the sponsored the program "Here's To You" on CBS. The John Dunning opus On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio mentioned Hires only one time. The Harrison Summers book Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in the U.S. 1926-1956 lists the NBC program active as in 1926 and 1927. But the program may go back earlier.  Even the Everready Hour was erratic in length and times in that pioneering era. I'll cite the very few known newspaper references below:

Lewiston Evening Journal - April 15th, 1926  "WEAF 8:15pm Hires Harvesters New England Program"
The Daily Argus - February 18th, 1926 "WEAF 8:15pm Hires Harvesters"
Wallace's Farmer - February 25th, 1927 "WCCO 7:30pm Hires Harvesters"

Twice the Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg lists off the show's program in great detail. I note that Shilkret wrote half the songs of each weekly program. The March 21st, 1927 issue describes a program with a "South American theme" theme starting with Valparaiso and ending at Rio De Janeiro. It lists the programs playlist and songwriter credits:
     Harvesters March - Shilkret 
     Fate - Shilkret
     Students's Fado, South American Air Chamarita. Fado Portugese
     Valse des Feuilles - Markoff
     El Choclo - Villodo
     O Madame - Markoff

The March 28th, 1927 issue describes a program with a "Down East theme" focusing on Maine and New England. But it also list the programs playlist and songwriter credits:
    Harvesters March - Shilkret
    Snappy Weather - Shilkret
    Mellis Dunham Tunes - (Traditional)
    Sass - Shilkret
    Dream On - Herbert
    Long, long Ago - Bayley
    Gleaming Shadows - MacDowell
    Dizzy Fingers - Confrey

The Kokomo Tribute actually gives them some credit on the Blue Network on June 2nd 1927: 
"The Hires Harvesters who recently became a regular Network feature will be heard in their second performance in a program broadcast through WJZ and the Blue network at 8 O'clock At this time the Hires Harvesters will present a program of Spanish numbers Including some by Waldteufel, Malvernen, Mowsey and Shilkret The complete program for this broadcast is as follows Harvesters March, Tango De Malvernen, Vocal-Shilkret, La Rubito Guitarre Moskowski, Spanish Shepherds, Moorish Dance, El J,  Sweet Shilkret.  This program will be broadcast by WJZ, WBZ WBZA, KDKA, KYW, WBAL, WJR, WHAS, WSB, WSM, WMC"

An issue of the Reading Times lists it off more concisely on June 9th, 1927. "The next concert by the Hires Harvesters, to be broadcast at 8.30 o'clock will be heard through WJZ. India will be visited in this broadcast, with "The Song of India," "Hindu Seene," "Oriental," "Snake ' Charger" and other selections reminiscent of India and the Near East. Among other features will be a cello solo "Melodie Exotique."the format of the odd little program becomes clear and the musical challenge for Shilkret as well. It's disappearance over that summer seems unsurprising.