Monday, December 22, 2014

Famous Cats of Radio

On the Internet cats are more popular than people. But even superstar cats like Grumpy cat, Maru and Lil Bub followed in the footsteps of the cats that came before them. Even casting aside fictional cats like  Felix and Garfield we still had Morris the Cat the spokes-cat for 9-Lives cat food. his career began back in 1968.  More recently there was Mr. Bigglesworth in the Austin Powers franchise.. but yes most famous cats were animated because cats are just uncooperative and bitey. But there is a single radio precedent for famous cats.

There's a bit of cat-branded radio out there with "Cat Country" franchises all over notably 107.3 WPUR in Atlantic City, NJ. But in all of radio land past and present I am aware of only one live cat mascot: Barty the cat on KFOX. Barty was the 1280 KFOX-AM radio mascot in the late 1940s and early 1950's. He was featured on Hal Nichols Memory Room radio program. I know you've never heard of that either so let's get into it.

After relocating from KDZQ-AM in Denver in the 1920s  Hal George Nichols opened the Echophone Radio Shop and worked as a musician. He founded KFOX in 1924 by buying KFON-AM with partner 20th Century Fox, who later backed out leaving Hal with the station. By about 1940 Hal Nichols was already playing what he called oldies and his cat was co-hosting. I have found print references that confirm the cat was "on air" as early as 1946, and still there in 1952 when Nichols died. It was written that the cat could purr on command.  The image above is from a post card, they also made pins. In the 1956 book  Mr. Tipps author Vivien Robinette mentioned her experience with the program:
" [Nichols] who owned Radio Station KFOX in Long Beach, California, and his pet cat, Barty, a very beautiful and very famous cat who is known all over the world, played a record for me on their daily Memory Room program and dedicated it to me."
The book Mr. Tipps is of course about a cat, which starts to give you an idea about the kind of people who listened to Hal's program. In the 1960s Sonderling Broadcasting bought the station from Nichols' estate and flipped the station to a country format sans cats.