(With WNEW: 1950-1955 – 1981-1983 –1986-1990)
The name “Jazzbo” was derived from a product Collins had seen, a clip-on bowtie named Jazzbows. Just as WNEW’s Martin Block created the illusion that he was speaking from the Make Believe Ballroom, Collins claimed to be broadcasting from his inner sanctum, a place known as the Purple Grotto, an imaginary setting suggested by the station’s interior design, as Collins explained:
“I started my broadcast in Studio One which was painted all kinds of tints and shades of purple on huge polycylindricals which were vertically placed around the walls of the room to deflect the sound. It just happened to be that way. And with the turntables and desk and console and the lights turned down low, it had a very cavelike appearance to my imagination. So I got on the air, and the first thing I said was, “Hi, it’s Jazzbo in the Purple Grotto.” You never know where your thoughts are coming from, but the way it came out was that I was in a grotto, in this atmosphere with stalagtites and a lake and no telephones. I was using Nat Cole underneath me with “Easy Listening Blues” playing piano in the background.”
Born January 4, 1919, Collins grew up on Long Island, New York. In 1941, while attending the University of Miami in Florida, he substituted as the announcer on his English teacher’s campus radio program, and decided he wanted to be in radio. He began his professional career as the disc jockey at a bluegrass station in Logan, West Virginia. By 1943, Collins was broadcasting at WKPA in Pittsburgh, moving in 1945 to WIND in Chicago and in 1946 to Salt Lake City‘s KNAK. In 1950, he relocated to New York where he joined the staff of WNEW and became one of the “communicators” on NBC‘s Monitor when it began in 1955. Two years later, NBC-TV installed him for five weeks as the host of the Tonight show when it was known as Tonight! America After Dark in the period between hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar.
In 1959, he was with KSFO in San Francisco. During the 1960s, he was the host of Jazz for the Asking (VOA), and he worked with several Los Angeles stations during the late 1960s: KMET (1966), KFI (1967) and KGBS (1968). Collins appeared, as himself, as the star of an episode of the science fiction radio series X Minus One.
He officially changed the spelling of his name to Jazzbeaux when he went to Pittsburgh’s WTAE in 1969. He moved to WIXZ in Pittsburgh (1973) before heading back to the West Coast three years later. While in Pittsburgh, he briefly hosted a late night television show entitled “Jazzbeauxz (yes, he spelled the possessive with the “z”!) Rehearsal”. The show had nothing to do with any actual rehearsal, and was entirely an eclectic sampling of anything that caught Collins’ interest at the time. One of those “interests” was a long-running hard-boiled-egg spinning contest. He conducted the program from a barber chair, as he had on a previous TV show.
In the early 1960s Collins hosted a morning TV program, “The Al Collins Show,” that broadcasted on KGO-TV in San Francisco (the ABC affiliate). The format included light talk and guest appearances. The guest lineup typically included local or state-wide celebrities and B-grade actors, such as Moe Howard of The Three Stooges.
A popular segment on his show was the “no stinkin badges” bit. Al would request (and politely “demand”) his guest for that day don a Mexican bandito costume, complete with ammo belts crossing the chest, six-guns in holsters, a huge sombrero and usually a fake moustache. The guest then had to pose in front of a film camera and for the TV audience. With pistols pointing at the camera lens the guest had to say (with emphasis) “I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges.” If the guest did not say it with enough of a sinister tone Collins made them repeat it until in his opinion the guest got it right. Collins’ bit was a play on a famous exchange in the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In one scene some obviously very bad banditos try to pass themselves off to Bogart as federales (police). Humphrey Bogart’s character knows they are not federales but nevertheless asks to see some badges. The bandito-in-charge responds “Badges?! I don’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badge.” Collins reduced the bandito’s lines to the single phrase so it was easy for the guest to recite.
In 1976 Al Collins returned to San Francisco working at KMPX, followed by a three-year all-night run at KGO. He worked also at KKIS in 1980. After returning to New York and WNEW (1981), he was back in San Francisco at KSFO (1983) and KFRC (1986). Then came one more run at WNEW (1986–90), and then he joined KAPX (Marin County, California) in 1990, and from 1993 until his death, Jazzbeaux did a weekly jazz show at KCSM (College of San Mateo, California).
He died on September 30, 1997, at the age of 78, from pancreatic cancer.