Here at “What’s your KCQ?” We often hear from people who remember something intriguing or remarkable. But only pieces of it. They need us to help them fill in the gaps.
Like Robert Griffle. He says that shortly after WWII he would accompany his mother and sisters to Country Club Plaza to watch and participate in a radio show called “Luncheon On the Plaza”.
He recalled that the show’s theme song mentioned “having a lot of fun” and members of the audience were asked “to wear funny hats”.
Robert wanted to know more. And frankly, us too!
KCQ is a community referral partnership between The Star and the Kansas City Public Library.
Our first stop was Bill Ryan, a former journalism professor at Rockhurst University who has done extensive research on the broadcast pioneers in Kansas City.
Ryan pointed out that before television people listened to radio very differently than they do today, adjusting the entire dial to find the specific shows they most wanted to hear.
Thus, each station offered dozens of them throughout the day and night. Many were produced nationally, but others, like the very popular Brush Creek Follies, were grown locally.
And although he was not familiar with the program in question, Ryan noted that commercial sponsors – the driving force behind the industry – were always on the lookout for shows that “appealed to women and children.”
Sure enough, “Swing,” a WHB Radio promotional publication, confirmed that the station broadcast its own “Luncheon On the Plaza” mid-morning program every day from 1949 to 1951.
But here’s where it gets a little confusing. A classified ad in the Kansas City Star for March 7, 1951, states that “the audience participation program is broadcast live from 10:00 am to 10:30 am daily at the Plaza Sears store.”
Which didn’t ring true for Robert.
Apparently he and his corncob hat-wearing mother (“cheesy like Kansas in August,” she told him) must have been at “lunch” much earlier.
The July / August 1949 issue of “Swing” actually says that WHB’s “new show” emanated from the “magnificent cafeteria in the Plaza”. A 1949 city directory lists the restaurant’s address at 414 Alameda (now Nichols Road).
That same article, titled “The Crazy the Better”, gushes that “there is something happening every minute”. And that “after a quick half hour of continuous hilarity, the audience is weak to laugh”.
The two hosts of the show were the engines that made everything happen. One of them was Lou Kemper, a veteran journalist who ran the show with his rapid-fire patter. The other was an energy bundle in his thirties named Frank Wiziarde.
If this name sounds a little familiar to you, there’s a good reason. A few years later, that same maniacal co-host hit Kansas City TV screens as Whizzo the Clown!
Even without makeup and oversized shoes, “Wildman Wiziarde” (as he was called in the article) found plenty of opportunities for merriment and chaos in the game show format.
He always had a blouse and a kiss for the oldest lady in the house. He has presided over soda contests and cheered on contestants dressed in fun hats as they contested all kinds of prizes.
You must be wondering how well this worked on the radio.
One of the show’s regular listeners was a housewife from Kansas City, Kansas named Jerri Crum. We know this because her son, Steve Crum, writes about movies and media at crumonshowbiz.com.
In a 2014 article, he explained that his mother’s love for the series actually inspired his father, Harold Crum, to invest in a reel tape recorder with which to record the episodes.
But not for the sheer pleasure of listening. Harold hoped to make and sell copies to the people who were on the show each day. Those who have blurted out names and addresses he could use to find them!
Her father, Crum wrote, soon discovered that making cold calls to women like “Mrs. Curry from Mission ”was not really a good business plan.
Eventually, Jerri Crum was able to attend “Luncheon On the Plaza” and was almost certainly wearing a silly hat. Steve Crum isn’t sure if she got to speak with Wiziarde, but he does know that she hasn’t brought home any awards.
As for these audio recordings, only three short reels of tape have survived. About five minutes in all, but still more than what exists in many shows of this era.
Despite the pops and whistles that run through them, Crum’s bands confirm that the gags and blunders on stage at the Plaza Cafeteria (and later at Sears) have consistently sparked the audience interaction he promised.
There is no record of the exact reasons WHB canceled “Luncheon On the Plaza”. But as radio historian Bill Ryan explained: TV and the migration of ad dollars to it were about to change everything anyway.
As they say, “the video killed the radio star”.
In 1954 the station was sold to Storz Broadcasting and quickly became one of the first in the country to install a new format – the Top 40. Over the next 20 years, the “happiest broadcasters in the world” dominated. radio here in a way that will likely never be seen again.
But that’s another KCQ for another time.
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