Bill Cullen's most important non-quiz radio work was for the NBC network, including a five-year run as the morning man for the NBC flagship station in New York. Before that program, there was Roadshow, an early prototype of what would become the standard for much of what radio is today. After Pulse came opportunities to work on two long-running NBC projects.
While there are a few entertainment-oriented NBC programs to be found on our page of "other" Bill Cullen radio projects, we decided to put these three thematically similar series on a single page.
January 9, 1954-June 11, 1955
Originally Saturdays 2-5pm
Later expanded to 10:30 am-Noon, a 90-minute break, and then 1:30-6pm
A Billboard report on January 2, 1954 states that the plan was for the show to have four hosts--a different host for each hour, we're guessing--with the other names being Bert Parks, Herb Sheldon, and Morey Amsterdam. Once the show was on the air, it seems that either the other hosts were drastically scaled back or eliminated altogether. Bill is the only host we've ever seen mentioned in publicity for the show, and his face is the only one we've ever seen in publicity stills. There may have been other hosts (one source mentions Dave Garroway was involved for a time) but even if there were, Bill was almost certainly the "main" host of the show.
According to the publicity effort for the series, this four-hour weekly radio show was one of the first programs designed for drivers to enjoy in their cars. As one article reported, "The trend is away from 'living room' listening. The TV set is the center of attraction there. Radio rules the roost in the kitchen, bedroom and auto." (A study in early 1954 determined that 2 out of 3 radios in use were being used outside of the home.)
At the time, some scripted radio comedies and dramas were still popular, but the handwriting was clearly on the wall, and this program in many ways served as a template for the segmented format of news, features, music and general yakking that modern audiences recognize.
Roadshow was emblematic of these changes, not just in format but in business. As an enticement for advertisers to keep spending money on radio, NBC introduced a "Three Plan" for ad sales. An advertiser who purchased a 30-second ad on a morning show, an afternoon show, and an evening show on the NBC Radio Network was given a steep discount for a commercial on Roadshow. While a 30-second ad on a nighttime radio show on NBC still commanded $14,500, Bill's weekend radio show charged a bargain-basement $2200 per ad to sponsors who participated in the Three Plan.
Roadshow's varied format included numerous contests. A regular feature of the show was "Mr. Safety." Mr. Safety was an alias for an otherwise anonymous man who traveled the country in an unmarked vehicle. He would observe passing motorists, and if one stood out to him as particularly cautious and safe, he'd signal for that driver to pull over and award him a prize. There were also poetry contests, baking contests (with Bill bravely taste-testing all the entries himself), and cash prizes awarded for "Lucky License Plates."
The show also had a mascot, Charlie, a mynah bird, who was trained to whistle the notes G-E-C. Every hour, for the federally-mandated network identification, Charlie whistled the famous NBC chimes.
Bill introduced a variety of recorded and live entertainment, including regular performances from a young Steve Lawrence at about the same time he was being "discovered" on Steve Allen's Tonight. Jack Haskell, a regular singer on Stop the Music, also joined Bill for this show. Roadshow's origination moved to the west coast at some point in order to accommodate Bill's transcontinental commute to host Place the Face. Several episodes of Roadshow are preserved in the Library of Congress, though we have yet to find any collectors who have one.
Between the entertainment and contests, much of Bill's chatter was singularly-minded on the show's concept. He gave traffic tips, talked about wacky auto-related laws in foreign countries, and "Life in These United States"-type cute anecdotes about driving.
In his book Radio Journalism in America, author Jim Cox credits acclaimed NBC President Pat Weaver with creating Roadshow. Though Weaver was known almost exclusively for his contributions to NBC's television division (The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Home, Wide Wide World and more), Cox points to two clues that suggest Weaver created Roadshow. #1, most of Weaver's creations had a magazine format, and Roadshow fits into that mold. #2, in a later interview, Weaver spoke of changes he sought to make to NBC's radio division when he was in charge of the network, and most of what he describes applies to Roadshow. Advertising was sold in the form of 30-second "spots" instead of the old means of having a single sponsor financing the whole show; and the network was in charge of the content instead of the sponsors.
NBC Weekends. June 12, 1955 to January 26, 1975
Bill's regular contributions: 1971-1973
Bill contributed to this ambitious weekend radio series but frankly, what NBC personality didn't? Monitor was a wide-ranging program encompassing news, sports, interviews, features, even traditional record spinning. (Imagine All Things Considered crossed with your favorite easy listening station.) It ran for hours every weekend on NBC radio stations. There was no single, regular host. Instead, a virtual "Who's Who" of NBC newscasters, announcers, hosts and other personalities took turns serving as anchors, who were known as "communicators".
Besides Bill, the list included Frank Blair, Hugh Downs, Art Fleming, Joe Garagiola, Dave Garroway, Monty Hall, Don Imus, Murray the K, Hal March, Frank McGee, Ed McMahon, Garry Moore, Henry Morgan, Bert Parks, Gene Rayburn, John Bartholomew Tucker, David Wayne and many others.
Bill hosted Saturday afternoon Monitor broadcasts from 1971 to 1973. In a January, 1972 interview, Bill admitted "I'm just filling in on Monitor until the network finds someone else." He also revealed he was being paid $500 an hour for his three-hour Monitor shift.
Bill succeeded Joe Garagiola as host, who had succeeded Ed McMahon. Bill also sat in as Monitor host at other times. The picture above, for example, is specifically identified as being from Monitor and is dated December, 1970. That's newsman Bill Moyers with our Bill, by the way.
A scoped aircheck of Bill's shift on May 16, 1971.
July 21, 1973; Bill interviews guest Sterling Holloway
NBC, January 4, 1960 to January 31, 1975
Emphasis began as a five-minute feature heard eight times each weekday on NBC radio stations. Originally designed as a vehicle for the network's news correspondents, it evolved into a lighter feature and included a wide variety of personalities as hosts. It also shrank over time from five minutes down to three and a half, and finally to about a minute. The "emphasis" changed depending on which personality was hosting that segment. Bill's shows on leisure activities were called Emphasis: Time Off (later, they became Emphasis: At Ease).
A script for one of Bill's Emphasis pieces appears in Writing For Television & Radio by Robert Hilliard, a broadcast technique book used in the 1970s.
Other contributors to the series included Dr. Joyce Brothers (Mind Over Matter), Ann Landers (Everyday Living), Gene Shalit (Man About Everything) and Edwin Newman (Critic At Large). Newsmen Frank Blair, John Chancellor, Chet Huntley, Sander Vanocur and Russ Ward were among the journalists who contributed.
A 1967 article says Bill was doing five short features a week for the series. He continued to contribute segments to the series until it left the air in 1975.