Imaginative “Follow the Funnies” Debuted on WETB Radio in 1950
On July 3, 1945, the Daily News of New York City sold only 106,000 papers instead of its usual 3 million copies because it and 13 other dailies were at odds with the Mail Deliverers Union. This caused 1,700 people to go on strike.
Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, sympathetic with children and adults who missed their daily comic strips, began reading them over radio station WNYC. On one broadcast, he said: “Now children, I know you are all disappointed today that you didn’t get the funnies, so gather around. Ah, here’s Dick Tracy. Let’s see what Dick Tracy is doing. …”
In 1948, WETB-AM 790, owned by Johnson City Press-Chronicle, broadcast its version of radio comics with a program titled, “Follow the Funnies.” The concept was to bring newspaper comic characters to life through the medium of radio. Seven people figured into the early offering: Ray Moore, Patty Smithdeal Fulton, Lee Archer, Newbill “Will” Williamson (copy editor for the Johnson City Press), Bill Snitger (known as Bill Dunn), Merrill Moore and Jim Pendergast.
I contacted Merrill and Patty to see what they remembered about the show that featured such comic strips as ‘Blondie,’ ‘Captain Easy,’ ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ ‘Lucille Sweeney,’ “Joe Palooka,’ ‘Dick Tracy’ and others.
According to Merrill, “It was a taped half-hour show that came on every Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., about the time people would be reading their morning newspapers. Ray Moore instigated the program. He and Patty were initially the main voices behind the show. I was happy to join them because this was the first time I had been on radio. We said to our listening audience: ‘Ok kids, go get your Johnson City Press-Chronicle and put it on your bed or on the floor and let’s follow the funnies this morning.’”
“We used the same story line from the newspaper, except we acted the dialogue rather than reading it. We added sound effects everywhere we could. Ray provided music intros and closures for each comic strip. His transcriptions and music for each funny were probably the most professional part of the show. We experimented with our voices and changed the pitch to achieve certain comic strip characters.
“Those were the days when there was little thought to saving shows for the future so we routinely taped over previous ones. Another problem was that we used acetate film, which was easily breakable. About the only sounds salvaged were Ray’s comic strip openings and closures.
Patty added her memories of the show: “We taped the program on Saturday afternoons before Sunday airtime. We often broke into laughter while doing the show and had to redo it. It took us from one to two hours to tape each show, depending on how much fun we were having. We used a tape recorder, which was an improvement over what we had when I majored in radio at Stephens College in 1947. We cut discs at 33.3-rpm speed.
My office was in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle building on W. Main Street where I was copywriter and Director of Women’s Programs. I did a morning show from a broom closet.”
Patty recalled when Ray thrilled a young Merrill Moore by permitting him to come into the control room, cue a record for a sound effect and start it when prompted. At the time, Bud Kelsey, future station manager, was in college on the GI bill and working at the station in sales.
“When Ray Moore left WETB,” said Patty, “he got a job with WSB-AM in Atlanta and later moved to WSB-TV. He was offered a job with NBC but elected to remain at the station in Atlanta. In 1985, he was inducted into the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.”
“Follow the Funnies” entertained its listeners for about a year and a half before it was cancelled.