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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

‘Dance Band Remotes’ were sound radio programming – Dearborn Press and Guide

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Among the most popular old time radio programs were dance band remotes. Although their greatest popularity occurred between 1935 and 1950, their roots can be traced to radio’s infancy.
As a matter of fact, it is thought by some that Paul Specht’s band made the first-ever dance band broadcast from the WWJ studio in Detroit on Sept. 14, 1920, less than a month after the station went on the air.
By 1921, several US radio stations were experimenting with installing wires from where the bands played to station studios and transmitters. The bands’ locations could be hotels, restaurants, ballrooms and dance halls. Later, military camps became broadcast hosts.
One reason the band programs were so popular is they crossed the invisible cultural boundaries imposed by distance. Listeners could instantly  and easily enjoy popular music from another part of the country, I.e., “Chicago” jazz or “New Orleans” jazz that, at the time, couldn’t have been heard by any other means.
Taking to the air usually after 11 p.m., most dance band remote broadcasts were “sustaining,” meaning the stations and later networks sustained them financially because they were unsponsored. Being unsponsored meant band sets did not have to be interrupted for commercials or limited by three-minute recording time.
One of the very first and most popular bands was that of pianist Vincent Lopez which was heard over WJZ, Newark, beginning Nov. 27, 1921. Although located in New Jersey, WJZ was considered a New York station.
By 1924, Lopez had done so many shows from New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania that his band became known as the Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra. He began his programs by simply stating into the microphone, “Lopez speaking.”
Writing of the musical style of the day, radio authority Erik Barnouw wrote, “The 20s style was lively, rich with saxophone and violin and well-sprinkled with novelty tunes. Lopez was instantly identified by his theme, Nola, given a dexterous workout on the Lopez keyboard.”
To the west, over WDAF, Kansas City, came the music of the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks from the Muehlebach Hotel. The Nighthawks’ leaders, drummer Carleton Coon and pianist Joe Sanders, had met in a music store and formed the group in 1918. There are those who feel the Nighthawks preceded the Lopez organization and were the “first” late night radio band.
Listeners were “picking up” the band on homemade crystal sets over vast reaches of the country and the Nighthawks’ popularity grew. In 1924, they were playing the Congress Hotel in Chicago. Two years later they were at the Blackhawk Restaurant sharing a WGN microphone with such luminaries of the day as Ted Weems and Wayne King.
Coon became ill and passed away in 1932. The group’s popularity faded and was never regained.
The end of World War II marked the end of the band remote era. Glenn Miller, who achieved popularity in the 30s and 40s, was lost in a flight over the English Channel. Artie Shaw’s band had broken up and reformed more than once; and labor troubles led to strikes which, Barnouw said, hurt no one more than the bands’ own memberships.
Brian Rogers is a longtime Allen Park resident who now lives in Dearborn. He is a frequent contributor to the “Great Lakes Monitor,” a publication of Michigan Area Radio Enthusiasts, and to MediaNews Group.
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