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Fitch Bandwagon Show Summary

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Fitch Bandwagon Show Summary  Empty Fitch Bandwagon Show Summary

Post by Seamus on 11/29/2019, 5:49 pm

Summary written by CompleteDayMan

In 1929, F.W. (Fred) Fitch built a mansion on Foster Drive in Des Moines, IA and after they moved in, he and his wife Gertrude entertained numerous Hollywood and radio personalities in lavish parties at the house. Party guests were known to include Don Ameche, Buster Keaton, Gloria Swanson and Bill Holden among others, and musical stars such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo were also frequent attendees. The residence was later used to entertain some of the performers who appeared on Fitch's national network Bandwagon show.

In 1938, in order to expand his business further afield, Fitch decided to embark on a national network radio campaign, becoming the first manufacturer from Iowa to nationally advertize his product. Picking up the Sunday time slot sandwiched between Jack Benny at 7:00 p.m. EST and Chase & Sanborn (Bergen and McCarthy) at 8:00, Fitch decided to utilize big band music to sell his product in a show called the Fitch Bandwagon, a time slot that it retained throughout its run. Fitch was also a humanitarian and insisted that once each year a program be dedicated to providing underprivileged children an opportunity to see the circus. That show would incorporate the Ringling Bros / Barnum & Bailey Band, their circus music and interviews with associated folks.

On September 4, 1938 at 7:30 p.m. EST, announcer Jack Costello introduced Master of Ceremonies George Hogan, who in turn brought Guy Lombardo to the microphone and the Fitch Bandstand was born. The format of the show was simple. Feature a big name band each week, have them play a few numbers, talk to the featured artist(s) in between numbers and throw in a few short Fitch commercials along the way. In addition, the producers of the show came up with a great idea to keep the program  running during the summer months. During the 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942 summer breaks, nationally unknown up and coming bands were featured, using the same format as  the regular show.

Although others filled the role occasionally, there were four main individuals that acted as M/C during the tenure of the program. They were Henry M. Neely, Tobe Reed, Tom Reddy and Dick Powell.
Henry M. Neely, a long time CBS commentator who was known in radio circles as the 'old stager', resigned his position at CBS to fill the role from the third show on September 18, 1938, continuing through June 30, 1940. He was replaced by Garry Morfit for the 14 week Summer Bandwagon series in 1939 and guest bandleaders performed the M/C duties during the 1940 Summer Bandwagon. The 1939 summer series ran for 14 weeks, from June 4 through September and featured bands who otherwise would never have had the chance at a national radio spot. A number of the bands on the program went on to become quite famous in their own right. Names such as Jack Teagarden, Van Alexander, Johnny Long and Mitchell Ayers were amongst those featured that summer. The 1940 summer series, which ran for 13 weeks from July 7 through September 29, was much the same as in 1939 except that established bandleaders were brought in as guest M/Cs to talk with the up and coming bandleaders. Eddie Oliver, Saxie Dowell and Claude Thornhill were amongst those who featured that year.

Tobe Reed, the longest tenured M/C, was next up, commencing his run on October 6, 1940, following the 1940 Summer Bandwagon run, and continuing through June 27, 1943. He did not participate in the 1940 Summer Bandwagon run but did do so in 1941 and 1942. The series ran for 13 weeks, from July 6 through September 28 and featured The Beverly Brothers All Twin Orchestra and the Barnee-Lowe Orchestra, among others. The 1942 format remained the same, and the series ran for 13 weeks, from July 5 through September 27. Sabby Lewis and Sid Hoff were amongst those who featured.

Tom Reddy, formerly of WHO radio in Des Moines,IA replaced Reed for the start of the Summer Bandwagon on July 4, 1943 and continued in the role until the end of the 1943/44 season on  September 17, 1944. The 1943 Summer Bandwagon featured Freddy Martin & his orchestra and a guest song writer each week. The series ran for just 10 weeks, from July 4 through September 5. The 1944 Summer Bandwagon featured Les Brown & his orchestra eack week, with vocalists Doris Day and Gordon Drake, along with Jerry Sears and the Fitch Choristers. Tom Reddy remained as the MC. The series ran from Jul 2 through September 17 for 12 weeks.

Dick Powell was the final 'regular', taking over on September 24, 1944 and continuing through the end of the 1944/45 season on September 16, 1945. His role was much changed from previous M/Cs in that he participated in skits that had been introduced into the show, and he sang some of the songs. The Summer Bandwagon of 1945 changed everything. It became a conduit for Powell to demonstrate his acting ability as a private detective as he starred as Richard Rogue in Bandwagon Mysteries. Powell then span off the Rogue character into a series of his own following his Bandwagon run.

By the summer of 1945 the whole format of the regular program had changed. With Dick Powell as the M/C, the Summer Bandwagon run had nothing to do with bands. The series ran for 14 weeks, from June 17 though September 16 and featured Dick as Richard Rogue in The Bandwagon Mysteries. Powell later starred in a spin-off network series entitled Rogue's Gallery. A similar approach was used in 1946 and 1947 but by then big bands were no longer the focus of the show.

Starting in September 1945 and running through June 1946, the Fitch Bandwagon essentially became a weekly variety show headed up by Cass Daley. Featured bands still had a couple of spots each week, but the focus was not on them and starting January 20, 1946 even that went away as other artists and guests were incorporated into the show. In September of 1946, the show moved to situation comedy for the rest of its run through May, 1948. Headliners were Phil Harris and Alice Faye.

When the US became involved in World War 2, Fitch benefitted greatly from contracts for his products from the armed forces. When the war ended these contracts were cancelled and cash flow became a major problem as the cost of producing his weekly radio program escalated. Fitch relinquished his sponsorship of the Bandwagon to Rexall in 1948.

For much of its time on the air, at least through the end of WW2, the Bandwagon  was a weekly program focusing on featured big bands playing popular music of the day. In other words it was an actual big band program. With the onset of American involvement in WW2, just like Spotlight Bands and One Night Stand, the show became hugely popular with the armed forces. It was through AFRS that most of the available shows come to us.

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