‘Dishpan Parade’ Brings Back Memories of Radio

image_pdfimage_print
Bill Loeb and Lloyd MacInnis performing on CJCB Radio’s Dishpan Parade, ca. 1948. 2015-010. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University

Bill Loeb and Lloyd MacInnis performing on CJCB Radio’s Dishpan Parade, circa 1948. (Photo via Beaton Institute, reference code 2015-010)

Folklorist Ian Brodie’s presentation last week at The Old Sydney Society on the locally produced CJCB program “Dishpan Parade” and its spin-off, the Cape Breton Songs Contest, brought back great memories of radio, especially its heyday locally in the ’40s and ’50s.

CJCB was the only game in town then, having begun broadcasting on 14 February 1929. Nate Nathanson had opened an electronics store in Sydney where he sold radios but with no local station, and only a couple of hours of American feed available in the evenings, they were not exactly flying off the shelves. So, entrepreneur that he was, Nathanson founded his own station, whose call letters stood for Canadian, Jeanie (his wife) and of course, Cape Breton. Needless to say, all radios sold were tuned to CJCB, which entertained listeners with news, music and lots of local entertainment.

 

‘Pier Bus’

As Brodie pointed out, one of the most listened-to programs on CJCB was “Dishpan Parade,” hosted by Lloyd MacInnis and Bill Loeb (or “Teo and “Jarge”). Because of its time slot — 9:15 to 10 a.m. — its audience was largely made up of women. Besides household hints and rhymes solicited from listeners — which came in hand over fist —  they provided their own entertainment, including Cape Breton Songs. These were often written by listeners as part of a “Dishpan Parade” contest and featured, more often than not, the voice of Lloyd MacInnis, obviously a very talented man.

Charlotte St. Traffic (detail), 1953. Photograph by Abbass Studios Ltd. Reference Number: N-4363.1. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University

Charlotte St. Traffic (detail), 1953. (Photo by Abbass Studios Ltd, via Beaton Institute
reference code N-4363.1.)

In his talk, Brodie concentrated on “Pier Bus,” a parody of “Mule Train” that described a pretty torturous trip on said vehicle; “Frankie & Johnny,” which dealt with the closure of the Pier Post Office and, like the original song of the same title, ended in Johnny’s death; and, most appropriately for here and now, “The Little Wash Brook,” which flooded on a much more regular basis in those days, causing havoc in the city as, according to the song it “went on a rampage again.” Well, we all know it went on one heck of a rampage last October, making one wonder why all these years later one could still write the same song…

The songs spoke to problems in Sydney at the time re: transportation, lack of postal services for a swath of the population and flooding, and all were received with plenty of laughs at last week’s presentation.

 

Culture & Corn

Brodie also focused on the community of fans that formed around “Dishpan Parade.” Listeners, besides writing in with requests and poems and songs of their own, would form groups and hold get-togethers which they’d then write up for the radio show.

I was lucky enough to see a cache of “Dishpan Parade” letters and poems and song lyrics given to local musician Donnie Campbell (a cousin of my own) by Nate Nathanson’s son, Norris. (Donnie hosted Celtic Serenade on CJCB for almost 25 years and can now be heard on Coastal Radio.)

“Dishpan Parade” had a sister show called “Culture & Corn” heard at least an hour earlier, judging by one letter-writer, who listened faithfully before she headed off to school at 8:40 a.m. She was from Portage and her offering took the form of a rhyme:

A young girl from Big Pond said ‘Why?

Can’t I look in my ear with my eye?

If I give my mind to it, I’m sure I could do it.’

You never can tell till you try!

Another listener referred to Lloyd and Bill as “you flakes,” while yet another writer asked to hear “Buttons and Bows” by Gracie Fields (whom I hadn’t realized had recorded it.) Many, of course, included rhymes or limericks for which, if they were read on air, the writers received theater tickets from the Bill Brothers (whose identity eludes me).

While I do recall (vaguely) “Dishpan Parade” — since I too would have been in school when it aired — I have no memory of “Culture & Corn,” which apparently featured the same two heroic announcers, or as one reader addressed them, “Colonel Korn” and “Colonel Kobb.”

The letters, all handwritten with the exception of one or two that were typed, indicate a real love for the show and the emcees, although a few took potshots at them as well. One writer, while admitting to truly enjoying the show, referred to them as the “looniest people on earth.” Another listener, whose penmanship was quite elegant and who hailed from Sydney, sent Lloyd and Bill this warning: “Do not play for me ‘A Slow Boat to China.’ I hope it soon gets lost in a storm with all aboard.” And here’s her own version of the song:

I’d like to get you in an igloo in Alaska

All by yourselves alone.

Get you and keep you off the air evermore.

Make weary listeners happy on this faraway shore.

Out on an ice floe, where only the seals know.

You can melt her heart of stone.

I’d love to get you in an igloo in Alaska

Far from my radio!!

Quite a few listeners/writers, while submitting their rhymes and poems, were reluctant to have their names used on air, but were no doubt pleased as punch to hear their offerings read and to receive the theater tickets as a reward.

 

Dumping Slag

Item is a photograph of a view of the Sydney Steel Plant from Westmount Road, with a car in the foreground. (Beaton Institute, https://www.cbu.ca/campus/beaton-institute/ reference code 77-66-200, circa 1945)

View of the Sydney Steel Plant from Westmount Road circa 1945. (Photo via Beaton Institute, reference code 77-66-200)

Many of the songs from the “Dishpan Parade” — the ones so many of us remember fondly and can still sing  fairly accurately — were written for the show’s song contests. Classics like “Meet Me In Dominion, Rory,” “Herring and Potatoes,” “Peter at the Meter” or “When Malcolm Dances with Me”:

When Malcolm dances with me, lucky me/When Malcolm dances with me/Although some tobacco he does like to chew/He never partakes of C.B. Dew/When he’s holding my hand/He takes off his mitts too/He really knows how to woo/Yahoo!

“A Slow Bus From Sydney”:

Did you ever go out on a slow bus from Sydney/ And land in the Bay with a pain in your kidney/ Your legs out of kilter, your bones out of place/And some stranger’s hat pulled down over your face?

“You’ll want to come back to C.B.”:

You can live in a penthouse in Brooklyn, my boy/You can have the grass hut on Fiji/In a sidewalk cafe in Paris you’ll stay/But you’ll want to come back to C.B.

“Dumping Slag”:

They’re dumping slag/ Over to the steel plant/ Dumping slag/In the middle of the night/They’re dumping slag/Over to the steel plant/So go back to bed Mama/ Everything’s alright.

 

Radio days

One letter to the radio show stands out — and really gives a sense of the program’s identity as a “women’s show” — “Ode to the Dishpan Parade.”

Your dishpan parade has made quite a hit

With hints and suggestions and surefire wit.

From nine ’til nine-thirty with duster and broom

I carry my radio from room to room.

Resolved to miss nothing you birds have to say

And the lovely music you occasionally play.

I start every day with a grin and a laugh

Thanks to CJCB and its funny old staff.

So keep it up boys, don’t let us girls down

Because then, you see, there’ll be many a frown.

Instead of a chuckle, a laugh and a grin

When with Dishpan Parade, a new day we begin.

RCA plastic clock radio, 1950s (via Phil's Old Radios https://antiqueradio.org/rca07.htm)

RCA plastic clock radio, 1950s (via Phil’s Old Radios)

My own CJCB radio memories run more to the request show each day after school with Andy MacDonald (if memory serves me right) and Bob Banbury’s “Night Watch” (I think every girl at school could sing Jo Stafford’s famous song). Emilio Pace had a local Sunday afternoon show that was excellent.

Many will recall American shows like “Our Miss Brooks,” “Bergen and McCarthy, “Fibber McGee and Molly,” Lux Radio Theatre” and “Suspense.”

And of course, the soaps were on from 4-5 p.m. and everybody listened. When Miles Nelson died on “The Right to Happiness,” people kept talking about him as someone they knew until they remembered he was on the soap!

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBI to us here in Cape Breton) hit the airwaves on 1 November 1948, with programs like “Maggie Muggins” (on Sundays at 1:30 p.m., we always missed the last 10 minutes as we booted our way to Sunday School at 2) and “John and Judy.” Since CJCB is now country music and many of our local FMs are popular music (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I’ve been a loyal CBC listener for years.

But my all-time favorite radio show? That would have to be Ann Terry’s inimitable CJCB morning show.

Here’s to radio!

 

Dolores Campbell

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.

 

 

The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported, consider subscribing today!