Friday, March 03, 2017

The Cities Service Orchestra

The Cities Service Band of America broadcast it's last show on Monday, January 16, 1956, over sixty years ago. The music was utter schlock, with vocalists like Jesica Dragonette, the Cavaliers Quartet, Frank Parker, Lucille Manners, Ross Graham, Robert Simmons and James Melton. Culturally the program was killed off by the changing tastes of that era, but for a program that had started on a trial basis in 1925 it had a very long run indeed. More here.
After it's trial broadcasts in 1925, and 1926, it debuted as a regular program on February 18, 1927. In this pre-advertising era the program survived with funding from it's sponsor company "Cities Service." You may not recognize the name. Cities Service was formed in 1910 as a utility company. They became notable historically, not though their taste in orchestral music, but through the discovery of the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in Kansas. That and other early petroleum industry advances turned them into a true muilti-national corporation. In 1964, Cities Service changed its marketing brand by introducing the name CITGO.

Graham McNamee was the announcer of the Friday night program and the original band was the Goldman Band, conducted by founder Edwin Franko Goldman. This was a military-style band founded in 1911, they focused on marching songs (of course) and often closed with Ravel's "Bolero."  When picked up by NBC in 1927, the program got it's own 30-piece orchestra, conducted by Rosario Bourdon.

Three years later when Jessica Dragonette showed up, the show became much more popular. The program changed names to The Cities Service Concert. With Dragonette, and host Ford Bond, the show had at CAB of 23.0 during the 1930-1931 season making it a top 10 program. Dragonette left the program as a regular and began appearing on Pet Milk’s Saturday Night Serenade on the Columbia Network. Ford Bond stayed on till the bitter end forging what writer Thomas DeLong, in his book Radio Stars called "the longest sponsor-announcer association in the history of radio." It's some kind of honor, perhaps a dubious one, but an honor nonetheless.

Without Dragonette, the program was cut back to 30 minutes in 1940.  With Lucille Manners as it's vocalist, ratings declined. In 1944 under band leader Paul Lavalle the program changed it's name to Highways in Melody. In 1949 it changed name again to The Cities Service Band of America. It's conductor was then Frank Black, (not the guy from the Pixies.) When the program ended in 1956, Cities Service also ended it's involvement in radio sponsorships. Even the concert format itself was soon extinct.