...there was just WCBS, and its early morning star in the late 1940s through the mid-60s was Jack Sterling, who landed at the CBS flagship in 1948 after a gig as program director of WBBM in Chicago. Sterling was hired to replace Arthur Godfrey, whose expanded broadcast commitments not only included network radio but television as well. If the CBS brass at the time wanted a Godfrey sound-alike they found one in Jack Sterling, whose folksy, furry style came close to matching Godfrey's -- despite Sterling's pencil-thin mustache. For local radio Sterling's show was Big Time. He had writers, did monologues, utilized a studio band, and sometimes even played records.
Submitted by Al Germond, posted July 12, 2001 on the New York Radio Message Board
Here's a transcript of the liner notes on the album "Cocktail Swing" by Jack Sterling and His Quintet. Harmony [Columbia budget label] HL-7202.
Jack Sterling, star of WCBS Radio's Jack Sterling Show, has the warm, easy-going manner, humor and warm personality that make him a favorite of early morning radio listeners in the New York metropolitan area. The three-hour broadcast (there are 30 minutes of news) offers music, news and weather reports with Sterling at the helm. He is assisted by a musical quintet, consisting of Mary Osborne on the guitar; Andy Fitz on the clarinet, Tyree Glenn (courtesy of Roulette Records), vibes; Buddy Jones, bass and Tony Aless, piano. Sterling's success as a leading New York radio star reflects years of experience in show business: more than three decades of trooping.
Jack Sterling was born in Baltimore on June 24, 1915, the son of Jack Sexton and Edna Cable. The names of Sexton and Cable were of considerable note in show business, a profession to which Jack's parents devoted forty years....It was natural then that Jack was destined to make his debut as an actor at an early age. He did, at age 2 when he appeared as Little Willie in 'East Lynne.' By the time he was 7 Jack Sterling had worked up a routine as a minstrel and played the same bill as his parents in their coast-to-coast tours. At 15 Sterling was a leading player in the John D. Winninger stock company which toured midwestern cities.....He rounded out his experience....and in 1939 settled down in Peoria, Illinois, where he joined WMBD as an announcer and producer.
One year later he moved to WTAD in Quincy, Ill., as program director and from there to CBS Radio's KMOX, St. Louis. In 1947, after two years at KMOX, he was promoted to program manager of CBS Radio's WBBM, Chicago.
While in that post, CBS Radio sent out a call to its affiliates requesting audition records of its top local talent. Arthur Godfrey's heavy network broadcasting schedule was forcing him to give up his local WCBS Radio morning show and a replacement was needed. Sterling became active in the midwestern search for a candidate but overlooked the person who was to get the job: himself.
"I never considered myself as a candidate because I decided to devote my time to the executive phase of radio," Jack recalls. "However, WCBS Radio asked for my audition record." Jack's modesty is underlined by the fact that he would only make the audution record on the condition that WCBS Radio would pay the cost. The station did, and on November 5, 1948, Sterling made his debut on WCBS Radio in the early morning time formerly occupied by Godfrey. Jack is married to the former Barbara MacGregor and they have four daughters, Patricia Ann, Mary Elizabeth, Cathy Jean and Susan Adele. The Sterlings live in New Canaan, Conn.
The ten cuts on this 40-year old record are all decent, mostly uptempo of a style that's musically absent from American radio today. Recalling listening on 101.1 forty years ago, Sterling's live performance from the old WCBS studios at 485 Madison Ave. was about as high as the fi was at the time. Live music on the radio in 1959! Gambling had given it up years earlier on WOR.
Jack poses with Bozo the Clown in 1952.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Holbrook, who is researching Bozo the Clown.
BEFORE BIG TIME RADIO...
Jack traveled with the Norma Ginnivan Dramatic Company, a tent show that toured through southcentral Michigan and northwest Ohio. According to Bud Walker, who parents were in the show, the troupe left its winter quarters in Fayette, Ohio, in May and returned in September. Walker says the show put on a three-act play and did vaudeville in between the acts. In 1934, Jack worked Bud, who was four years old, into a comedy act, with Bud dressed as a tramp.
For more info by Walker about this period go to Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia.
THE BIG TOP
Long after his touring days Jack became "ringmaster" of a circus TV show from Philadelphia called The Big Top. Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, on its web site, says that in November 1950 Sterling, who was on WCBS Radio in New York from five to eight am wanted some TV exposure. "The Big Top was broadcast live from WCAU-TV... The story goes that WCAU-TV wanted local personality Ed McMahon (head clown on Big Top) to be the ringmaster. However, CBS, which owned WCBS Radio, had a very popular morning disc jockey. His name was Jack Sterling and he took over the hosting duties from Arthur Godfrey in the forties. In order to get Sterling to sign a new contract, they promised him some TV work. However, as time went on, they had no show for him. So the deal with WCAU-TV was that they could produce the show at the WCAU facilities, but needed to have Jack Sterling host the circus program. That's how Jack got the gig." More about The Big Top from Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia.
A young Jack Sterling with an even younger Bud Walker in 1934
click to enlarge
Letter dated December 1956 from WCBS General Manager Carl Ward extolling the virtures of "The Jack Sterling Show," and enclosing a United Nations Human Rights Day commemorative stamp. Submitted by John Landers.
STERLING FIRED, BOUNCES BACK
New York Daily News, Oct. 18, 1966. click to read complete image
New York Times, Nov. 17, 1966. click to read complete image
From Ken Lamb, ABC: I worked with Jack when he was at WHN after WCBS fired him! I did overnights at WHN then and he followed. Needless to say, it was a thrill to work with a big name like Jack Sterling. And yes, he was always very nice to everyone. I have a "line check" of Jack's 10th Anni show for WCBS, 11/6/58, and it is really something to hear. He does a bit about his first day at WCBS, talks about his enginer, Lee Dresner, there's plenty of live music, a Hal Simms newscast, a reasonable amount of commercials, a very clean, well produced show. WCBS was really the big time then! By the way, after the show ends they kept rollng and we a hear a singing roast by other WCBS local stars of the day including Jim Lowe, Freeman & Hayes, Lanny Ross, and Martha Wright plus the WCBS GM at that time, Sam Slate.
From Bob Gibson, WOR: Jack Sterling [moving from CBS to WHN] in essence was going out one door and in another about 2 1/2 blocks away. I never saw anything in print about just how close one shop was (geographically) to the other. As Sterling said in the audio clip from '58...we have just moved around the corner to, as he called it, the studio building. That was his reference to the building at 49 East 52nd Street just east of Madison and literally around the corner from the then CBS headquarters building at 485 Madison.
WHN, the Storer station, was located at 400 Park Avenue on the west side of the street just north of 54th street and the Lever Building.
A personal observation....400 Park was and is a nice address. But I made a visit in the very early 80s to WHN and most of the newsroom and studio area of that place was, at least at that time, a dump.
Sterling was ultimately succeeded at WHN four years later by Herb Oscar Anderson. And what did Jack do then? He opened a restaurant in Eastchester! [NOTE: Bob contributed the Jack Sterling clippings above.]
Jack Sterling died of lung cancer in Stuart, Florida, on October 31, 1990. He was seventy-five. Here's his obituary in The New York Times:
Clipping courtesy Bob Gibson
- MARGIE LATZKO 10/26/10. My husband, Walter Latzko, was a writer for Jack Sterling for ten years, and his feature "It Happened This Day, I Think" was his. Also, as I listened to the tenth anniversary party for Jack, I knew that Hank Miles had written many of the jokes as well as the musical parody. He was very good at it. My husband passed away September 10th, but I have his scripts and the show rundown schedules. Sincerely, Marjorie Latzko. email
JACK STERLING AUDIO
- A clip of Jack Sterling from 8:15 AM to 9:00 AM on his tenth anniversary at WCBS. Quality very good. Commercials are intact. Announcer Hal Simms reads the news (another Cuban airline hijacking). Recording courtesy of Ken Lamb, ABC, who says, "Got this WCBS recording from a WPAT staffer who had worked with Jack Sterling at his last radio job which was at WEZN in Bridgeport, CT.
Sterling just left it behind, on a ten inch reel, in a desk at WEZN. He apparently brought it into the station to make a copy or to listen to it or something. No one is sure why he left it there, maybe he forgot it or just didn't want it? Anyway, the tape fell into the hands of a guy who
came to work at WPAT. I made a copy." 11/6/58 (40:00). Jack Sterling Tenth Anniversary
- Audio not intended for air of a party thrown for Jack Sterling on his tenth anniversary at WCBS. Quality very good. Deejay-singer Jim Lowe is the MC. Features Lanny Ross, Martha Wright, Sam Slate (GM), and others. 11/6/58 (10:00). Jack Sterling Tenth Anniversary Party & Roast
- HAL SIMMS READS THE NEWS. Eight-thirty AM, Nov. 6, 1958. CBS staff announcer Hal Simms reads the news during WCBS Radio's AM drive "Jack Sterling Show." It was still in the hey-day of the staff announcer when voice was all -- and Hal had the voice. (3:40) Go to: Hal Simms
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