Mary An Estes was born in Crescent, Ohio, a relatively small town of about 300
people back then. She grew up within listening range of WWVA and its famed
WWVA Original Jamboree out of Wheeling, West Virginia.
She learned to play the guitar and sang also, and entered various amateur
contests to test her entertainment talents. Those efforts led to an invitation
to join a "minstrel show" in Wheeling.
One of the other acts in that minstrel show was the Rhythm Rangers, a popular
quartet act that broadcast regularly over WWVA at the time. They liked what
they heard, and asked to meet her. And suggested she audition at WWVA.
A 1940 feature magazine article mentions Mary Ann was in Wheeling for
just about three years and during the time also worked at several other
Ohio and West Virginia radio stations.
When she started her entertainment career, she set her sights on being on
the staff for WLS and its National Barn Dance out of Chicago, Illinois. By the
time she was all of 21 years of age, she achieved that goal.
When Mary Ann joined WLS in September 1940, she saw several familiar faces from
her times back east. Singers such as Joe Rockhold, Smiley Sutter and Jimmie James.
She worked on the Smile-A-While program that aired from 5 to 6:00am on a daily basis,
then a stint with the Prairie Ramblers at 6:30am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
And on the Merry-Go-Round show at 2:00pm on Saturday afternoons. She also appeared
on the WLS National Barn Dance every Saturday night.
We learned a bit of what it was like for performers back in that bygone era of
radio entertainment and making personal appearances from that December 1940
Radio Varieties article. They mention she had a fondness for dill pickles
and home baked bread. It seems that when she would make those many personal appearances
at a theater, a picnic or a fair of sorts, a fan would find their way backstage
and bring some home baked bread while another fan might bring a jar of dill pickles
to show their appreciation and to make the entertainers feel at home. Keep in mind
this was an era where entertainers were not paid the lofty salaries they are today. In some
cases, those little offerings from fans probably helped them save the expense of
having to find a meal somewhere to save their fees for gas to get back home or
to the next show.
Credits & Sources
- Radio Varieties; December 1940; F. L. Rosenthal Publisher;
1056 West Van Buren Street; Chicago, Illinois