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Baby Snooks in CBS Master Control

Fanny Brice crosses paths with radio

“Baby Snooks” in Master Control Any time that the precocious and bratty Baby Snooks got her hands on something at CBS in the 1940s, it was not likely to survive intact. So the thought of her having free rein in the control room would have sent a chill up the spine of any network engineer or executive.

At least, that was the idea behind a publicity photo that shows comedian Fanny Brice in character as Little Miss Snooks in the CBS Radio Master Control room in Columbia Square in Hollywood, Calif.

Fanny Brice was a famed singer and comedian, later portrayed by Barbra Streisand in the 1968 movie “Funny Girl.” Brice was a big name in the Ziegfeld Follies in the teens, ’20s and ’30s, and also was seen and heard singing in films and on records. Her hit song “My Man” was heard on Victor Records and was later the theme song for the movie of that name.

Brice developed the character of the annoying toddler Baby Snooks for a “Follies” sketch, and first brought it to radio in 1938. In 1944, CBS created the “Baby Snooks Show,” featuring Brice as Snooks and Hanley Stafford as her suffering father. The popular program was a mainstay of the CBS evening lineup until Brice died suddenly of a cerebral brain hemorrhage in 1951.

The Columbia Square building was the CBS radio palace and West Coast headquarters — the home of KNX radio and the origination point for most of the network’s programs. It was constructed in 1938 at 6121 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, just a few blocks from the giant NBC Radio City studio complex at Sunset and Vine.

CBS invested 2 million Depression-era dollars in the construction of its West Coast state-of-the-art facility. Designed by architect William Lescaze in the imposing International style, it was really a complex of several interconnected structures surrounding a central plaza. The streamlined six-office tower facing Sunset Boulevard with its giant illuminated “CBS” letters was a Hollywood landmark for decades. The main floor studio complex at Columbia Square had four broadcast studios (Studios 1 to 4); Studio “B,” which seated 400 guests; and the imposing Studio “A” Columbia Playhouse, where live broadcasts played to audiences of up to 1,050 persons.

CBS Columbia Square in Hollywood Each studio had its own control room, and the larger studios also had private VIP viewing rooms for advertisers and guests. New techniques were used in the studio construction, including floating walls, special acoustic designs and treatments and large, sloping glass windows for the control rooms.

The master control room seen in the first photo was on the second floor, at the end of a long hallway. Visible through a large plate glass window, it was seen daily by tourists who paid 40 cents a head to tour the building. The massive audio mixer seen in the second image would have received the different programs from each of the studios and routed them down one or more of several equalized phone lines that led north to San Francisco, east to Phoenix and northeast to Salt Lake City and then onward to the rest of the country. There were also separate feeds for the CBS local station KNX; to KMPC, which carried some overflow network programs; and a shortwave feed that reached KGMB in Honolulu.

A television studio was added to the complex in 1949, and Columbia Square saw great activity during the early 1950s as a production center for early network television. But TV quickly outgrew the space, and CBS’s network production moved to CBS Television City in 1952 and CBS Studio Center in 1967. KNX left the building in 2005 to occupy new studios on Wilshire Boulevard, and in 2007 KCBS(TV) and KCAL(TV) moved out, ending Columbia Square’s life as a broadcast facility.

The building today sits mostly vacant and now belongs to a developer that plans to turn it into a retail complex with an adjoining 22-story apartment building. If successful, it will join a few other iconic radio studio buildings that have found new life repurposed as modern office buildings. In that sense, it will have fared much better than NBC’s Radio City studios in Hollywood, which were demolished in 1964.

John Schneider is a lifelong radio history researcher. Write the author at [email protected]. See other photos from his collection. Click on the Roots of Radio tab at under Columns.