‘Billie the Brownie’ Vacation Radio Present Nonetheless Holds A Candy Spot For Milwaukeeans | WUWM 89.7 FM

Editor’s Be aware: This story initially aired on Could 21, 2021.

It’s not fairly time for the vacations, however for individuals who grew up in Milwaukee between the Thirties and Nineteen Fifties, Billie the Brownie is a well-known character.

Milwaukee County Historic Society

Billie the Brownie in Joyland.

For greater than 20 years, households gathered round their radios through the holidays to listen to the Billie the Brownie present, that includes Billie, Santa Claus and Captain Larry.

Mary Pat Vigil, who grew up on the northwest facet of Milwaukee within the ’50s, remembers anticipating each broadcast along with her siblings. She was the youngest of three.

“We might be sitting at our kitchen desk, however we knew Billie the Brownie was approaching at a sure time so we might end our dinner and run to the radio. And I nonetheless image,” she says, “whoever bought there first, we had just a little chair and only one little chair, so whoever bought there first bought the chair. However in any other case, we might sit on the ground and put our ears proper as much as the radio.”

Mary Pat says it was like a storytelling session. Her reminiscences of the Billie the Brownie radio present prompted her to submit this query to Bubbler Talk:

Was Billie the Brownie a neighborhood radio program within the early ’50s or was {that a} nationwide radio program?

Effectively, the quick reply is Billie the Brownie was not broadcast nationally. It was broadcast domestically, and the present was fairly fashionable right here in Milwaukee.

Schuster’s Division Retailer launched the Billie the Brownie character in 1927 to advertise its annual Christmas parade. Billie was primarily based on Palmer Cox’s Scottish folks characters referred to as ‘Brownies.’ They’re little elf-like individuals invisible to people.

Turnout for Schuster’s Christmas parade was lackluster, so administration determined to create a radio present with Billie because the star. The 15-minute present aired Monday by Friday, and on Sundays from 1931 to 1955.

Billie Radio Show Ad.jpg

Milwaukee County Historic Society

Authentic commercial for the radio broadcast.

Ben Barbera, curator of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, says the Billie the Brownie present was the spotlight of the Christmas season for lots of Milwaukee youngsters.

“So, the Schuster’s vacation parade was all the time the primary Saturday after Thanksgiving, and they’d begin operating the Billie the Brownie present about 10 days earlier than that. And so, the primary 10 days of this present he can be chronicling Santa’s journey his journey to Milwaukee for the parade and there would all the time be some form of catastrophe whether or not or not it’s a storm or a sick reindeer or one thing dramatic would occur,” he explains.

Ben says as soon as Santa Claus arrived for the parade, the present continued till Christmas Eve.

Billie additionally learn youngsters’s letters to Santa and quick tales on air. Ben says Santa obtained 50,000 to 70,000 letters yearly. In 1947, they obtained 100,000.

When the Billie the Brownie radio present resulted in 1955, Billie went on a visit world wide — so the story goes. He got here again underneath new administration.

An original Billie the Brownie doll (left) with a later, updated version of Billie (right).

Milwaukee County Historic Society

An unique Billie the Brownie doll (left) subsequent to an up to date model of the character (proper).

“Gimbels acquired Schuster’s in 1961 and all of the rights to Billie the Brownie within the course of and so then in 1973 Gimbels determined to deliver Billie the Brownie again. They form of recreated Billie, they made him a lot cuter extra of a form of a Pixie like character — extra much like like we might consider as an elf,” he says.

However Billie didn’t return to radio. Ben says Gimbels thought radio would not have the attain, and tv was too costly. So, Billie largely appeared in print advertisements, and if he was in particular person, a teenage boy dressed as him.

Gimbels donated its Billie the Brownie assortment to the Milwaukee County Historic Society in 1984.

Ben says he thinks the Billie the Brownie present was fashionable as a result of it took off simply as radio recognition was rising, and through its run, it made individuals really feel good throughout troublesome occasions in the USA — just like the Nice Melancholy and World Warfare II.

He says Billie the Brownie hit a candy spot for individuals.

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