Rudy Vallee was one of the first on radio personalities to successfully use the variety show format.
Variety programs had long been a draw in Vaudeville. The theater-goer expected and got a number of different acts for his admission fee. Song and dance, comedy, perhaps some dramatic acting, and some magic or ventriloquism would all be on the bill at sometime or another. It seems like a natural fit for radio, but it didn't happen right away.
One of the early pioneers of radio programming was Bertha Brainard. Brainard drove an ambulance during WWI, and had ambitions to get into the motion picture industry when she returned home. It was while listening to her brother's "crystal set" that she discovered just how poor the quality of programming was in the early 20's. She began "Broadcasting Broadway" on local Newark station WJZ, and became the station's assistant manager. When the station was purchased by NBC, David Sarnoff's first inclination was to get rid of her because of her sex, but owing to her competence and expertise, she was promoted, eventually to NBC's Programing Manager. Her job was to find talent and get it on the air. One her crusades was to get the Metropolitan Opera on the air, and the traditional Saturday afternoon broadcasts still play today.
Although being female was considered a liability, many recognized that several NBC successes, notably The Met Opera, The Music Appreciation Hour, and The Goldbergs simply would not have happened without Brainard's feminine influence. She acknowledged it herself in the case of Rudy Vallee. "Only a woman" she would state "could understand the appeal of Rudy Vallee's voice."
The Rudy Vallee Show was an immediate hit, soon rising in popularity until it was second only to Amos 'n' Andy. Rudy would have a mix of well-known and unknown talent on the program. In fact he gained a reputation as a star-maker, introducing talents like Milton Berle, Burns and Allen, Alice Faye, the Mills Brothers and Kate Smith. One discovery that would long be associated with Rudy Vallee's Variety shows was Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Vallee showed professional courage, not only by featuring a ventriloquist on the radio, but also by inviting a number of black singers and musicians to the program. During Vallee's 1937 summer vacation, he insisted that Louis Armstrong take over as host through his absence, making Armstrong the first African American to host a nationally broadcast porgram. Vallee's eye for talent wasn't perfect, however. He believed that Barbara Streisand had no talent, and he turned down the Andrews Sisters.
Vallee Varieties is a rare Rudy Vallee old time radio show with the great profile John Barrymore and guest stars like Orson Welles and the beautiful Billie Burke.