Adverthers take a real beatng on the Weird Gentile-Binge radio program. But the public likes it, so the sponsors have to
RONALD J. COOKEMarch11947
Insult & Injury, Inc.
Adverthers take a real beatng on the Weird Gentile-Binge radio program. But the public likes it, so the sponsors have to
RONALD J. COOKE
ASK ANY RESIDENT of Windsor, Ont., who owns the sleek twin ears that are parked daily outside of radio station CKLW from 6 to 9 a.m., and you’ll be told, “They’re Joe’ n’ Ralph’s.”
Ten floors up you’ll find Joe Gentile (Gen-tee-lee) and Ralph Binge (Bin-gay) ranting, screaming, and burlesquing the 40 to 50 products they advertise, and insulting their sponsors. Throughout Ontario, western Canada and the U. S. a million sets are tuned in for the three riotous hours during which Gentile and Binge do practically everything but commit mayhem.
Their “Early Morning Frolics” have been on the air six days a week for almost 15 years. Early in their career its proprietors considered it a big week when they split $40. Now they divide $1,000 a week from the biggest one-station money-maker in Canada—and second biggest on the continent.
Listeners say they tune in just to hear the commercials, which are reputedly the wackiest on record. Advertisers fight for time on the air and Joe and Ralph have a long waiting list. One jeweller is patiently waiting for 1951. That’s the earliest they can take him.
The Gentile-Binge bonanza is dealt right off the cuff. The show is impromptu from commercials to gags to sound effects. Joe Gentile doesn’t know what Ralph Binge is going to say most of the time,
and vice versa. Yet to most listeners it all sounds carefully rehearsed. There’s no dead air.
Most of the commercials are dramatized with sound effects, improvised with any handy gadget. The most popular prop is a three-gallon aluminum pot. Opening of a filing case does for the opening of a door. A few recordings are kept for involved effects such as train wrecks and airplane motors. Ralph imitates Irish cops, frog-voiced neighbors and maharajas. Joe does women’s voices.
The typical script consists of a few battered envelopes and loose scratch sheets studded with scribbled clues to ideas which develop as the show proceeds. This is supplemented by a typed list of the products to be mentioned. Items are ticked off as commercials are cleared—if Joe doesn’t forget.
Daffiness Pays Off
THE BOYS never miss a trick. The morning after Rudolf Hess parachuted over Scotland Gentile and Binge were on top of the news with sound effects. A plane roared, then its engine sputtered and stopped. A guttural voice exclaimed: “Ach, I have to go down—I should have expected it. I am over Scotland and my engine has tightened up.”
No sooner had the plane landed than a voice with a burr offered to give the flier a good trade-in price on a new car. The skit finished with a deadpan assertion that the whole thing proved that dealers for their sponsor’s car could be found everywhere.
For a finance company they quipped the slogan, “For Each His Loan.”
Binge sometimes plugs a coal sponsor’s product thus: “Here is coal that is absolutely clean. Yes, every lump is washed and scrubbed with bear grease at the mine—then wrapped in ‘Cellophane’ and tied with a red ribbon.”
Advertisers have discovered that this brand of zaniness pulls in customers. After using the program for two weeks one doughnut manufacturer begged to have his contract cancelled. His firm was going crazy trying to keep up with the additional business, and the help was threatening to quit. The doughnut maker returned to the show only after he had built an addition to his plant.
The success story of Gentile and Binge started at CKLW during the depression year of 1932. The station had little money and needed an all-round man. The salary was $25 a week. Along came 24year-old Joe Gentile, a one-time bookkeeper and dancer who had worn his shoes thin looking for a job. CKLW picked him from 1,000 applicants.
It was Joe’s job to do all the odd chores around the studio. One was to open the station every morning a little after 5 o’clock
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Insult & Injury, Inc.
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and play records for early risers. Joe got tired of the grind and began to ad lib with the engineer at the controls.
None of the studio executives heard about this for a long time; radio executives don’t get up that early. But plenty of Windsorites and Detroiters were awake, and letters started coming in.
The sequel should have been that the station owners gave Joe a raise and a big show of his own. But this wasn’t the case. Not a single advertiser could be induced to buy time on Joe’s program. However, since no one discouraged his ad libbing he kept at it for his own amusement.
Gassing up his car one day, Joe noticed that the service station man seemed a good storyteller. In fact the attendant was so good that he just stood around telling gags while the customers filled their own tanks. Joe asked the whimsical nozzle-jockey to join him at CKLW. That’s how he teamed up with Ralph Binge.
Ralph was to be paid on the basis of the show’s earnings. Nil earnings remained at nil. So Ralph quit, and Joe went back to his solitary platter changing.
In 1938, six years after the program began, a clothier agreed to buy some time. Joe Was jubilant—his first paid
customer! He hunted up his former partner, who was now a plumber’s helper, and induced him to rejoin the show at $15 a week—guaranteed. The clothier still advertises on the show.
At first the fledgling fireballs used the stereotyped scripts given them by the advertising agencies of their few clients.
Soon they threw the scripts away and things started to pop. From then on all commercials were bom in front of the microphone. National advertisers took notice. Station revenue for the program jumped from an annual gross of $3,000 to a 1946 figure of more than $300,000. Joe and Ralph now have a contract which gives them a salary and commission. Last year they split $50,000. According to the advertising agency through which they work, their show’s annual gross is exceeded, among one-station features, only by the New York show, “Make-Believe Ballroom.”
Ghost Voice Sells Real Estate
Sponsors of “Early Morning Frolics” have no idea what’s going to be said about their products. Occasionally they telephone in agony over some particularly rough bit of treatment. Joe takes all calls right at the “mike” and listeners hear every word he says. Sometimes they even hear what the sponsor says.
For a shoe polish they developed the slogan:
“So and so polish contains no helium —no other manufacturer dare make that statement.”
Most profitable sponsor is a garage owner and car dealer who buys six spots every day. At $20 a shot this is $720 a week. Listeners last St. Patrick’s Day were informed that at his garage only green oil is served, all gaskets are cut to the shape of shamrocks, and attendants speak with a brogue.
For a real-estate man they developed a “ghost voice” that comes out of the oddest places at just the right time. In one commercial an elderly man (Ralph) visits a real-estate dealer (Joe) and tells him he is fed up waiting 20 years for Joe to sell his house. The real-estate man replies that it takes time to sell a house with 24 rooms and no stairs— the owner was a fireman. The realestate man says he hopes to have a buyer for the place in a year or so. Then the ghost voice, representing the sponsor, breaks in with:
“I’ll sell your house for you at once. Yes, and get you cash in 24 hours.” Records are often used to introduce commercials. “I’ve Got Those Backbreaking Blues” introduces a liniment. “Stormy Weather” heralds a fur coat announcement.
Gentile and Binge tell small boys that if they eat the bread they sponsor they won’t just grow strong—they will outsuper Superman and lift streetcars with their little fingers.
They go into oh’s and ah’s about the big bargains their sponsors offer and figures like $7.95 and $2.98 are flung around recklessly. CKLW is the only station in Canada that mentions prices on the air. Ordinarily, Ottawa doesn’t allow it. But Joe explained it was necessary in the Windsor area because of the competition from the three stations in Detroit which are allowed to quote prices. Ottawa gave him permission.
To liven tilings up, Gentile and Binge will sometimes spiel out commercials for products which do not exist. With mock seriousness, Joe will ask:
“Have you tried Mother Dracula’s brown bread lately? Here’s a treat you’ll enjoy. Every loaf is aged 10 years in a damp basement and guaranteed to contain ground glass, chipped
cement and other roughage you need for good health.”
Or Ralph will plead:
“If you’re the silly, chilly type, you need Dr. Chilblain’s Steam Heated Diathermic Nightgown. Each gown is lined with asbestos and ground duck feathers. It’s available in three sizes: small, medium and enormous. It comes complete with switches and wiring. The nightgown can be removed at the flick of a wrist and can be rolled up like a blind. Any electrician or plumber will gladly install one for you in just three or four days.”
Sometimes the fake commercial backfires; the faithful at the loudspeakers don’t realize they’re having their legs pulled. Once Joe and Ralph advertised their famous Dr. Quack’s reducing pills They told how a fat woman got lodged in a phone booth and had to be fed through a straw. It was solemnly explained that this couldn’t have happened if she had taken Dr. Quack’s medicine. Within a week • more than $5,000 had arrived by mail from people who wanted some of the reducing pills, and they had to employ a girl just to return the money.
The Gentile-Binge madness isn’t confined to the commercials—it’s scattered generously over the whole three hours. Take their technique for finding missing animals.
When a resident of Windsor or Detroit loses a dog or a cat the first step in finding it is usually to call Joe and Ralph. The boys immediately broadcast an appeal—directly to the animal. They tell the dog he is breaking his owner’s heart and won’t he please come home.
A horse belonging to a university professor strayed from the bam and the boys found it in 20 minutes.
The world’s most important people are thrown out of the studio to the sound of ripping cloth. The cloth is an old duster borrowed from the charwoman.
Soap Opera—Windsor Brand
Joe and Ralph have developed their own brand of soap opera too. Here’s a typical one:
Digby Kenilworth Macauley, the scion of a poor but noble family . . . blind with pain during the hay fever season . . . suddenly departs for the far north without his long underwear. When his devoted wife, Cathie,' makes the discovery she is frozen with terror.
The studio is filled with the roar of planes as they search the Arctic for Digby. Time passes. Cathie, still a young and beautiful girl at 63, decides to open her father’s feed store to support her children, of whom there are five. A young, handsome dynamite salesman, Charlie Kadung, is impressed by Cathie during a visit, and when the second chapter opens he is in the store proposing to her.
Charlie wants to take her to his onion farm in Bermuda. Her long slim fingers are fondling an old horse collar and her gaze is fastened on a bag of fer-
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tilizer as she makes up her mind. At last she agrees to marry the hero.
But wait—a special messenger appears with a telegram. Has Digby been found? Does this mean the end of happiness for the couple?
Listeners are asked to listen in next week for the answers.
But Joe gets sorry for the listeners añd tells them. The telegram is from a seed house announcing a special offer.
The couple marry and live happily ever after.
One character of whom listeners never seem to tire is Professor J. Stilson Blowtorch, piano virtuoso. The professor can play only in an empty warehouse, and he prefers a steam piano. After a few chords, Joe says:
“You too can play like Professor Blowtorch in just 10 easy lessons or five hard ones.”
The studio is opposite the elevator and the door to the hall stands open while all this is going on. People drifting along the corridor sometimes step in to ask the way to the men’s room. The hucksters take full advantage of such situations and strangers are often grilled over the mike.
Professional radiomen, who are used to having every word checked, rechecked and counted before broadcast time, are amazed at the ease with which Gentile and Binge put on their show, and the relative scarcity of bad breaks.
They recall only two boners which caused them embarrassment.
One day Joe received a message that a colonel stationed nearby had become a proud father. Joe said a lot of glowing things for the occasion and ended by saying:
“The colonel is to be congratulated —in fact I think the whole regiment should be proud of the event and be congratulated too.”
On another occasion Joe was talking about the merits of a new electric stove. He said:
“Here is an electric range you’ll be proud to own—yes, sir, get one of these and you’ll really be cooking with gas.”
It is reported the electric company promptly cancelled its contract.
Every weekday morning a restaurant on nearby London Street sends two quart bottles of coffee and a bag of doughnuts to the studio and for the next half hour Joe and Ralph do the show between gulps of food and drink.
The first thing likely to happen to visitors is to have a paper cup of coffee pushed at them.
Out-of-town listeners are frequent visitors. Until recently brigades of bobby soxers could usually be found at the studio. While the Canadian girls were able to get to school on time by leaving during the last record, Detroit girls often missed classes. This became such a problem that Joe and the truant officer became good friends. Teen-agers aren’t encouraged any more.
Last year Mutual Broadcasting System offered them a contract under which, without relinquishing their own show, they would do an extra half hour on a national hookup in the U. S. They had just about agreed when Ralph had a heart attack and the deal was off. He’s taking life easier now and when the weather is bad he doesn’t show up for the broadcast. He telephones instead. Joe holds the receiver to the mike and Ralph says hello to his followers.
Gentile and Binge expect that they ’ll be able to take on the MBS proposition before long. Local listeners await the day impatiently. They feel “Early Morning Frolics” ought to be shared as generously as possible, jç
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