When the photo at right was published in “Radio-TV Mirror” magazine in December, 1949, Martin Block was back at his old stand on WNEW after an unhappy year-long engagement with KFWB in Los Angeles, the station where he first went to work in the early 1930’s. L.A., the second time around, rejected him as a slick, know-it-all New Yorker. Block, in 1949, was five years away from ending permanently his long run on WNEW which had begun in 1934, when the 31-year old super salesman made an unannounced call on WNEW Station Manager Bernice Judis. After reading a few commercials and, the story goes, speaking lovingly and at great length about a common pencil she asked him to describe, he was hired as a part-time announcer for $25. a week. By the time the “Radio-TV Mirror” photo was published, he was earning more than $20,000 a week.
After years of reigning atop the world of popular music with twice-a-day and nationally syndicated “Make Believe Ballroom” shows, movie shorts for M-G-M, TV announcing, music publishing, song writing and other enterprises, Block left WNEW on January 1, 1954, to be heard locally in New York, on WABC. His final new-beginning was a move to WOR in 1961 for the weekend “Martin Block Hall of Fame” shows. He was, by then, a stranger in a strange land of Beatles, Stones and Monkeys, no longer the singular voice that called the tune.
When leaving WNEW, Block was quoted as saying it was strictly business, ABC (his syndicator) had offered him “a much better deal.” But The Associated Press, in a September 19, 1967 dispatch following his death, quoted a friend of Block’s as saying, “WNEW never let go anybody they wanted to keep.”
Martin Block’s “Make Believe Ballroom” is best remembered for its big band popularity polls and hit song countdowns, but the man who led the revolution on radio from live to recorded music, hosted many live on-location and in-studio music specials featuring some of the greatest talents of pop music, big band swing and jazz. For just one example, we direct your attention to “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong: 70 Years of The Martin Block Jam Session,” which includes audio of a session including Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. E.B.
Thanks to Bill Diehl for another flea market photo find.
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