Monday, April 10, 2023

Winter Garden on WOR


This was another tough topic to research. WOR-AM has been operating since February of 1922. So we have a solid 100 years of history to sort through to rediscover this radio program.  I eventually found the right answer, but let me take you down the wrong research path as far as I got.

"Winter Garden" is another term with complex disambiguation. There is a town of Winter Garden in Aapopka, FL; A restaurant in London; a Winter Gardens Orchestra until about 1921, a Theater in New York City, a brand of vegetables in the 1950s, a Florida citrus cooperative in the 1970s, a Theater in Seattle, and ones in Baltimore Houston and Yankton. It's the name of a Social society in Edinburgh in the 1800s, a motel in Alabama in the 1950.  There are half a dozen novels by that title, and a litany of gardening advice. I began to have doubts. That wooden box lid could be just another bit of faux kitchen kitsch.

I have no solid contemporary references to a Winter Garden program on WOR or anywhere else. But I have a theory.  Winter Garden was built in 1896 at 1634 Broadway. That's between 50th & 51st Streets. Originally used as a horse exchange, it was converted and began to show musicals in 1911. Al Jolson starred here in a series of hit musicals from 1911 through 1925, including La Belle Paree (1911), Sinbad (1918) and Big Boy (1925). [SOURCE] Al Jolson is one of the few indirect connections to WOR. His recording"April Showers" was the first record played on WOR when it debut on February 22nd, 1922.

It was refurbished and redecorated in 1922, and again in 1928 to convert into a movie house. It still exists today link.  But that 1922 refurbishing was very big. It was actually a complete remodel by Herbert J. Krapp. They even redid the whole 7th Avenue facade and the interior was re-outfitted to 1,600 seats. In that re-launch I can imagine them trying to use radio to advertise the freshly outfitted venue. But evidence is slim. I have a tiny bit of evidence. In Radio News of August 1923 is a reference to the broadcasting of plays

"MANY PLAYS ALREADY BROADCAST - The musical comedy artists seem to feel the strain less than the others, and will play just as high if Mr. Gus Edwards is reported in the house as they will for a radio audience.The first play to be broadcast in this fashion was "The Gold Fish" in which Miss Marjorie Rambeau was starred last year. Since then a great number have traveled far through the air, among them such popular attractions as “The Old Soak," "Sally, Irene and Mary,” “The Dancing Girl" from the Winter Garden..  The majority of these have broadcast only a portion of the play, but some of them have gone out in their entirety..."

This is the best evidence I had for that theory. The problem with this theory is that the wooden box lid actually reads "Winter Garden Brand" which sounds more like canned vegetables than musical theater. There was a brand by that name based in California, and it was initially unclear how they would be connected to WOR in New York City. But the font matches...  sigh.  Sometimes you get pretty far down the road of wrong before you find the right answer.

My confirmation came in the index to the book It's One O'clock and Here is Mary Margaret McBride by Susan Ware. It lists "Sponsors, (specific)" Then lists off a laundry list of radio program sponsors: Wesson Oil, W.H. Nahigian Oriental carpets,  Dolly Madison Ice Cream, E - Z - Cut Ham , Friend's Baked Beans, B&M Brown Bread, and Winter Garden Carrots among others. There it was. Nobody suspects a root vegetable.  That rectangle of wood was probably from a produce crate, in all likelihood full of carrots. 

Mary Margaret McBride was so big in radio for 40 years she has her own 1,300 word Wikipedia article.  I wrote about her in 2007 [LINK]. I went back and fixed the typos if you want to take a gander. In 1946 Mary Margaret McBride was sponsored by Winter Garden Carrots. They were far from her first sponsor. She had already been in radio for over 12 years, having first started at WOR in New York City, in 1934.  She never actually retired from radio. 

In 1954 she and her partner Stella Karn left New York for West Shokun, NY in the Catskill Mountains. There she broadcast her program from her home three times a week carried on 920 WGHQ-AM in Kingston, NY; until she died in 1976. She had been on air 20 years longer than the station itself. WGHQ only signed on in 1954 as WSKN.

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