Monday, November 05, 2018

The Spamettes!


They were never actually called the Spamettes. Some sources claim they were nick-named the Spamettes, but this is apocryphal. Alas, in 1946, the Hormel Company started recruiting for for an all-female troupe of musicians to promote their processed meat products. But before I go any further into Spam-related history, I should note that Jill M. Sullivan and Danelle D. Keck wrote the definitive text on this topic: The Hormel Girls in 2007. Even Sullivan and Keck couldn't resist the inherent schmaltz of Spam. I'll quote:
 "On any given summer Sunday evening in 1948, one could hear on the Mutual Broadcasting System the sponsor of a popular program exclaim 'S-P-A-M! the first meat of its kind in America preferred by most people SPAM! Over eleven years ago the news sensation of the meat packing industry, SPAM. Today this miracle meat of many uses continues to maintain its leadership from coast to coast." 
It's hard to take Spam seriously. It has been around since 1937, and rose to prominence as a war-time food-stuff. But Hormel sold 122 million cans in 2011, a sales increase of 11% from 2009. In short... someone is eating it. Spam has been around for over 80 years. In 80 years as you might imagine they've done a wee bit of radio advertising. The image above is a print ad for the Burns & Allen show. But they have also advertised on radio.

In 1947 Jay Hormel put together a 20-member  all-women's bugle corps. The Hormel Girls were a drum and bugle corps of female WWII musicians. I should point out now that the recruiting process required all those ladies be white, and unmarried. The group toured and held parades in small towns. When they played the came with flag-bearers, and a drum and bugle corps. As an orchestra they added tuba, trombones dancers and expanded to more than 60 members. More here

 In 1948, the Hormel Girls debuted on radio. Music with the Hormel Girls became a top-rated weekend show on three different radio networks.  The program debut on ABC airing Saturdays at 6:30 PM following the Hour of Charm.  It was hosted by Betty Dougherty, and Elina Hart and the 30 minute show included both an orchestra and a chorus. Marilyn Wilson was the announcer. (Later Marilyn Wilson Ritter) They switched to CBS in May of 1950. Out of all 6 years of radio, there are only eight surviving 16-inch transcriptions discs of those Hormel Girls shows. More here and here. Marilyn later worked on KRCU public radio.

The original band was band was comprised of 20 former WACS(Women’s Army Corps), WAVES(Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service),SPARS (women’s reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard) and Marines.  According to Sullivan and Keck, they changed their style for radio.  By 1953, the show was number four in the yearly Nielsen rankings. But they disbanded within a year as Hormel refocused on TV advertising. More here.

The group was disbanded after a February1954 radio show.  But they have a strangely lasting legacy. The Hormel Girls held reunions in 1983 and 1991. The Hormel SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, opened in late 2001 and has an exhibit dedicated to the Hormel Girls. And Hormel didn't give up on radio they were sponsoring radio shows like Country Calendar as recently as 1987.