An old WLS Stand-By from March 14, 1936 featured him as "Henry Hornsbuckle" and told readers, "After working
on 119 stations I was mighty glad to come back here last fall." The article tongue-in-cheek
attributed the quote to "Henry Hornsbuckle Morpheus Mayfair Manchester Merle Housh." His real
name was Merle Housh and was born in Dennison, Kansas. HIs family moved to Topeka, Kansas
when he was fourteen years old - around 1920. This particular write-up readers will note similarity
to one we wrote for Merle Housh. But one of Merle's more famous personna's was Henry Hornsbuckle and thus,
we include some additional information that relates to Henry.
Merle was evidently did not wait long to start getting paid to work. When he was 19, he
had his own interior decorating business. In other articles, it was mentioned he was "hanging
paper" - we assume that means wallpaper.
But around that time, 1925 or so, radio was becoming popular. Merle could play the guitar
a bit even sang. But he had an idea for a "rural act."
But he needed a partner. He found one in Truman Wilder who he found at a local store playing
the harmonica. They called themselves Henry Hornsbuckle and Hiram Higsby and sold the act
to the local station Topeka - WIBW, we are estimating around 1927. Earlier in that 1936 article, it stated his salary at
his first job with WIBW was three dollars.
For their first radio performance, they had to fill a 45 minute time slot. At that time, they would
play three or four bars of "Arkansas Traveler", stop the music to tell a joke or relate
a story. Then go back to the music for a bit and on it went. But we learn a different story from
the January 1946 edition of the WIBW Round-Up publication. The team went on the air and
started doing their act. The phones started ringing at WIBW. The word went out "keep them on the air".
Another 15 minutes and the word was "Let's have more of that". Their second program had a sponsor -
Ed Marling, a manager of The Harris-Goar Store in Topeka. In 1929, they left WIBW for Chicago.
On September 28, 1928, Hiram and Henry had an audition at WLS. The musical director at the time,
Don Malin, thought the duo was "too hayseed" for their audiences. But George Biggar and Edgar
Bill were of the mind set that they had "possibilities". The duo worked at another local
Chicago station, WIBO, for a few months before Mr. Biggar asked them to come back.
Hiram and Henry captivated the audiences and their tune, "Ain't We Crazy?" became a popular
one. Their stint with WLS lasted a few years before the wandering bug struck again. An old WLS Family
Album from 1931 perhaps gives us an idea of the characters they adapted themselves to. One was "Postmaster Henry
Hornsbuckle" and the other was "Judge Hiram Higsby". On a side note, it was said that Hiram got married in
front of the microphones of WLS in 1930.
They first had a contract with the CBS network. Then went to radio station WGAR in Cleveland, Ohio
for 18 weeks. While in Cleveland, Henry (Merle) encountered an old friend - Rene (Zeb) Hartley
who had played in the Merry-Go-Round orchestra when Henry did. Hiram and Henry split up. Henry
took Zeb with him to Chicago. They crossed paths with another person from Topeka, Ted (Otto) Morse.
The 1936 article stated that "Otto had never given a toot on his tooter before a microphone but he
had played in orchestras and directed them since the age of 14."
The act of Henry, Zeb and Otto spent only a month at WLS before they went to station KMOX
in St. Louis, Missouri for 15 months. In a side note, the article mentioned another WLS alum
had also joined the KMOX staff - Charlie Stookey.
This may start get confusing trying to follow Merle's career and you will see why. Merle came
back to Chicago and worked for a time at WBBM with Holland Ingle, a program director. But before
long Merle adopted the name of Red Ellis and went to radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa
"...where he built 18 different combinations of acts, all of them commercially sponsored."
But apparently, George Biggar strived to end the wandering ways of Merle in September of 1935
and brought him back - Merle/Henry said "...for good". Hiram also came back with him, but he only
stayed for two months before going to radio station KRNT in Des Moines.
The Stand-By article noted that Henry/Merle was one of the most "versatile" men at their studios in WLS.
He would be seen in shirt-sleeves over a typewriter writing out a script or dialogue for the "Drug Trade
Products" sponsored program. He would sing and play guitar on the Saturday night National Barn Dance. He
could be in Pat Buttram's "Radio Skule fer New Beginners Jes' Startin'" and a host of other programs.
It was said he portrayed characters in the Virginia Lee and Sunbeam script and appeared frequently on the
Pa and Ma Smithers program. Chuck Ostler wrote in a Fanfare column that the fellow folks saw 'talking
to himself' in the studio was really Merle "reading over some commercial copy before taking the air."
In 1936, one of his favorite roles was Morpheus Mayfair Manchester, "...that Sleepy Son of Mississippi" who
was on the air daily on the Morning Minstrels program.
The WLS Family Album of 1937 indicated he was on the "Smile-A-While" program.
In June of 1938, we learn that Merle (Henry Hornsbuckle) was doing a show with Rita Ascot ("Widder Green") on the Front Porch
Party program that aired at 9:30pm on Saturday nights. We also learn via a question a reader
asked that Merle played the part of "Ambidexter" on the "Pat and Henry" program.
In June 11, 1938 issue of Stand-By, a listener writes some high praise for Merle.
"I must send my thanks to Merle Housh for I think he is a wonderful announcer. He always puts in so many
kind words where they fit so well. I like his singing, too and wish he would sing more often. I hope he
never leaves your station." That was what Mrs. A Bankoski wrote.
And it was only two weeks later they were publishing another gushing complement from a listener.
"Merle Housh certainly knows how to handle a guitar. He did a grand job playing for Georgie Goebel the
other morning. Why can't we have a 15-minute program with Merle playing and singing? I know a lot of
WLS listeners would be glad to hear more of him. So come on, folks, and let Merle know that we really
do like him and want to hear him more often." It was signed by "A Merle Housh Fan". Mrs. Evelyn Menghi expressed
a similar desire to hear Merle in his own program featuring his singing.
A Dorothy Ames wrote also in April 1938 that she liked the folks at WLS, "...But Merle Housh is the best
of all. He Knows just what to say and how to say it."
But lest you think WLS only published gushing compliments, along comes a 'criticism' from an "F.T.B." out
of Springfield, Illinois after hearing the "Front Porch" program starring Henry Hornsbuckle on May 7, 1938.
This person did not mince words. "Why would you think we would want to spend thirty minutes on
Saturday evening listening to Hornsbuckle and his gang talk about a wiener roast which chatter didn't add a
thing to the evening's program. In fact, I'll guess that most of your radio audience either turned to
some other program or went to sleep during this non-sensical feature."
Chuck Ostler took readers "Behind the Scenes" in one column and we see that Merle could be a bit of a prankster.
Seemingly he was reading come commercial copy as he would do. But Hal Culver was reading the weather report when
Merle suddenly took a chair and placed it behind Hal, got up on the chair and proceeded to give Hal a haircut
or trim all the while Hal had to keep his cool and finish the weather report.
The Hired Man, who wrote the Fanfare column in the WLS Stand-By magazines, told readers that "...Pat Buttram, Pokey
Martin and Henry Hornsbuckle made their first (and he hoped not last) appearance as a comedy trio in an
We learned that Merle stayed left WLS in 1940 - by that time he had originated the Exchange Club
program. He left due to having to deal with a serious illness and went back to his native Kansas to recuperate.
In 1941, he returned to the air on WIBW. In addition to his "Exchange Club" program, he was also
on the Daybreak Jamboree which went on the air at 5am and on Doc and Esther's (Embree) Sparkolite program
The WIBW Round-Up editor told readers that one day, Merle had the tongue twisted time trying to pronounce
the simple phrase of "tomato catsup" but for whatever reason it was coming out "topato catsup." Oh,
would you like to have been listening when as Henry Hornsbuckle he advised his audience to "...get rid
of filthy swy flatters." Then tried to explain it away by stating he meant "sly fatters" or
you get it "fly swatters". In another instance, he was heard to say on the air, "poteeta pailings".
The WIBW Round-Up monthly newsletter / magazine indicated in 1947 that Merle owned the Topeka Addressing Company
which published his Henry's Hints publication.
The Henry's Exchange Hint Monthly publications were full of a variety of tips, information,
ads that were farm, kitchen, cooking, laundry, sewing, gardening and other topics of the day. Below are some
examples of what was included.
"TO MAKE OPENING OF MASON JARS EASIER, keep a pair of pliers handy, just pull on the rubber the lid will
come right off. - Ida Smith, Lawrence, KS
"IF A HOG SHOULD TAKE THE LOCK JAW, If you will feed it nothing by sweet milk it will unlock its jaws."
"DID YOU KNOW A SMALL FUNNEL is just the thing to separate white of the egg from the yolk? You can place the funnel
in a glass and the white will run through leaving the yolk in the funnel."
CARDS AND THE BIBLE
T. Texas Tyler had quite a hit song in the 1940s entitled "Deck of Cards". Mr. Hornsbuckle must have liked
it as well as he included the narrative in a column in one of his monthly newsletters as a submission from a Mrs.
"INK STAIN ON NYLON STOCKINGS:" Miss Maudie here at WIBW passes this new discovery on to all of you. She
spilled a bottle of ink on her nylons and she didn't have time to change, because of an appointment, so she
grabbed a bar of the regular Grandpa's Tar Soap, leaving her stockings on she lathered them, covering the stain
completely. Then she rinsed the hose, still on and let them dry. Every trace of the ink stain came out and
she made her appointment on time."
"CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES: " I grind my chips first and then there are more chips in cookies and they seem to taste better or at least we like them
better. Also to give them a different flavor, put about two or three teaspoons of peanut butter in. This really improves
the flavor." Mrs. E. E. Dirks of Dodge City, KS
"PINEAPPLE PIE: One and a half cups pineapple (grated), one and half cups of sugar; two and a half cups
butter; one cup cream; five eggs. Cream butter, add sugar and beaten egg yolks, beat lightly. Add cream,
pineapple and egg whites, stiffly beaten. Bake with undercrust only. Eat Cold." H. Worge of Crab Orchard, NE
"I've got a heap of troubles
And I've got to work them out,
But I look around and see
There's trouble all about.
And when I see my troubles
I just up and grin,
And count all the trouble
That I'm not in."
Submitted by Mrs. James Tester of Lawson, MO
"BAKING POTATOES: Before putting potatoes in the baking dish, stand them in boiling water a few minutes, then
drain on a clean cloth. Put a little shortening in the palm of the hand and rub it around the potato. When
treated this way they cook more quickly and taste better." from Elizabeth Ediger of Buhler, KS.
"TEA OR COFFEE STAINS may be removed form china cups by rubbing with a damp cloth dipped in baking soda."
"CARAMEL FROSTING: 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons SPRY. Heat and stir together
until all is melted. Remove from fire and let cool. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and flavoring. Beat until right to spread.
This will ice a three layer cake or use one half the amount for loaf cake. - Mrs. A. W. Roberts"
In January, Merle was among several entertainers at WIBW who received a pin to honor their five year anniversaries
with the station.
Merle/Henry was married before went into the world of radio entertainment - his wife's name was Vivian. They
enjoyed the changes in scenery as he took jobs at various stations. They had a daughter named Dona Jeane.
In our research and efforts to determine when Merle passed away, we learned that he was hospitalized
Eight years prior to his passing, we learn from his obituary, that he had developed a brain tumor.
He was placed in the Valley View rest home in VAlley Falls about eight months prior to his passing.
He entered the Winchester Hospital around December 10-11 in Winchester, Kansas, where he spent his remaining
days and passed away on Saturday, December 22, 1962. The obituary did not mention his wife but did mention
the daughter Donna Jean who was living in Phoenix, Arizona at the time.
Credits & Sources
- WLS Family Album; 1931; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; March 14, 1936; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Family Album; 1937; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; January 29, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; February 19, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; April 9, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; April 16, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; April 23, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; April 30, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; May 21, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; May 28, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; June 11, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; June 18, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WLS Stand-By; June 25, 1938; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
- WIBW Round-up; No. 3; June 1945; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; January 1946; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; July 1946; No. 16; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; September 1946; No. 18; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; January 1947; No. 22; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- Henry's Exchange Hint Monthly; September 1947; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KSHenry's Exchange Hint Monthly; February 1948; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KS
- Henry's Exchange Hint Monthly; October 1947; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KSHenry's Exchange Hint Monthly; February 1948; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; May 1947; No. 26; WIBW Round-Up; G. W. Doc Embree, Editor; Topeka, KS
- Henry's Exchange Hint Monthly; February 1948; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KSHenry's Exchange Hint Monthly; February 1948; Merle R. Housh; Pine Street; Topeka, KS
- WIBW Round-up; October 1948; No. 43; WIBW Round-Up; Allen Young, Editor; Topeka, KS
- Atchison Daily Globe; December 12, 1962; Atchison, KS
- Winchester Star; December 28, 1962; Winchester, KS
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