The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 8

Feature
The World's Most Popular Radio Artist: Tuning in Again to Chubby Parker
By Tony Russell
 
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He sang whiskery songs from years gone by in a high, clear voice, and plucked a banjo. In the crystal-set era, that could make you a star of the airwaves. Step up, Chubby Parker—businessman turned broadcaster, one of the earliest exponents of old-time music to become famous through the power of radio.

His base was WLS, the Chicago station founded in 1924 by the mail-order giant Sears, Roebuck. The station’s focus was the Midwestern farm home, the men and women who tilled the wheat fields of Iowa and Nebraska, or wrestled with nature in smallholdings in Wisconsin and Minnesota; that focus was sharpened when Sears sold the station in September 1928 to Prairie Farmer, a company with many spoons in the agricultural pie and weekly access to the farming community through its eponymous magazine. Within a few of years of its founding, WLS and its audience turned the station’s artists into household names. They are mostly forgotten now, but back then every listener in the Midwest knew the Maple City Four, the pop duet of Ford Rush and Glenn Rowell, one-man-band

Walter Peterson by only two degrees of separation: both his grandparents were born in the Bluegrass State) and therefore included him in his 1982 book Kentucky Country, where he asserted that Parker “left WLS abruptly in 1926, reportedly upset at the greater success young Bradley Kincaid was having with the same kind of material.” On the contrary, in 1926 Parker could not have been more secure at WLS: in December of that year, the Hammond (Indiana) Times described him as “one of [WLS’s] leading acts . . . at present the most popular entertainer of that station, who has, for the last month, led Ford and Glenn in the number of requests for encores.”

In September 1927, as Wayne Daniel reports in his book Pickin’ on Peachtree, WLS’s director Edgar Bill took a team to Atlanta, where a Sears, Roebuck store (“The Kentucky Wonder Bean”), contralto had recently opened and the company’s Grace Wilson, organist Ralph Waldo Emerson . . . and Chubby Parker.

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