You just never know where a nickel tour of a radio station may take you. On a 1939 school field trip, 10-year old Frank Bresee visited KFAC, a classical music station in Los Angeles. It must have made quite an impression, because later that year, he asked to be on the air. And thus began the career of one of the best known radio historian in the U.S. Bresee passed away on June 5 at the age of 88. Through his long tenure in broadcasting, he touched many lives. His friend and co-host of the “Friday Night Live” show on the Yesterday USA Radio Networks, Walden Hughes, shared his recollections of Frank Bresee with me.
In 1941, Bresee auditioned for the “Red Ryder” radio show and was runner up to his long-time friend, Tommy Cook. This show began in 1942. While Cook was busy acting in movies, Bresee played Red’s sidekick, “Little Beaver,” on the show.
In 1942 Bresee was Alvin on the radio show “Major Hopalong” also starring Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan. Bryan was perhaps better known as the voice of Elmer Fudd. Arthur later became a second father to Frank. The two often collaborated on projects.
Bresee was probably one of the first dumpster divers. As a little boy, he took his wagon, went behind radio stations and retrieved the from trash various radio broadcast transcription discs. He also collected radio scripts after attending many of the broadcasts. What began as a childhood pasttime grew into an important private collections of radio memorabilia. In addition to the discs and scripts, Bresee’s tape archive of around 3,900 reels is held at the Thousand Oaks Library
In August of 1949, Bresee began the “Golden Days of Radio” show with his large collection of transcription discs. He played early discs from current radio shows while new shows were being broadcasting. At the same time, Bresee spun records for Johnny Grant’s radio show. Grant hosted a late night DJ show, and Bresee would host the last hour of the show so that Grant could grab a nap. The broadcast took place at the Ham and Eggery.
Grant also recommended Bresee to Bob Hope. Bresee owned one of the first mobile tape recorders in town, and he would go over to Hope’s dressing room at Paramount and record a Hope radio spot or special materials. At the outbreak of the Korean War, Bresee was scheduled to join the armed forces. He was relieved of his duties when Hope wrote a letter requesting Bresee be a part of his staff. He travelled with Hope and was part of the radio team that traveled to Ohio when Hope starred in “My Favorite Spy” with Hedy Lamarr. Bresee also helped with Hope’s weekly radio show.
Bresee was one of the first people in Hollywood in the late 1950s to have a movie theater in his home. The theater had around 30 seats and a projector purchased from a local movie theater. Mel Torme, Elvis Presley and Natalie Wood were some of the celebrities who came over to watch films. Many autographed the wall inside the theater and later the chalk board.
This theater became the home where TV shows would have their first run though. Monty Hall and Steve Hadeck ran “Let’s Make A Deal” for six months in Bresee’s theater before they sold it to the network.
Around this time, Bresee’s “Golden Days of Radio” was being featured on KGIL and KMPC. In 1966 “The Golden Days of Radio” began to play in Germany over the Armed Forces Radio Network. It went on the full network in 1967, and became one of the main features for the next 29 years. Bresee played highlights from shows and interviewed people who worked in radio. Some of his guest included Mae West, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and George Burns.
During KFI’s celebration of its 50th birthday, Bresee produced a 12-hour special hosted by many of the stars heard over KFI in the golden days of radio. Some of the hosts were Rudy Vallee, Jim Jordan (Fibber McGee from “Fibber McGee and Molly”), Edgar Bergen and Hal Parry (the Great Gildersleeve).
Bresee had his own radio studio at the Hudson House. There, he displayed transcription discs and the handrail that Cecil B. DeMille created for the Lux Radio Theater. It was displayed next to a picture taken at a Lux Radio Theater rehearsal from 1946. Bresee regularly took pictures on Sundays at the radio rehearsal of Lux which included Lana Turner, John Hodiak and many others.
Throughout his long career, Bresee received numerous awards, including recognition from Pacific Pioneers, the Diamond of Circle, The Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio, Drama, Variety, and Comedy’s Byron Kane Award.