About The Disc Jockey / Emcee
George Maurice Menard was born the youngest of seven to a Sergeant's Bluff, Iowa farm family. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1934 where he had been a soloist with the Glee Club.
Kenan Heise of the Chicago Tribune said that he worked at WMBD with legendary Chicago sports broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse. Then at WROK in Rockford where he met and married Martha McNess in 1937. On to WLS in Chicago where he sang and announced for the "National Barn Dance" and later with WGN "Man on the Farm" live from Libertyville.
The old WLS Family Albums give us a peek at his career there. In 1939, he was in charge of all the farm programs on WLS and conducted the shows "Dinnerbell" and "Corn Belt Gossip". He also did the remote broadcasts for farm events that were broadcast on the station.
In 1940, they wrote that he loved to sing in addition to his announcing chores. The fans of the WLS National Barn Dance would hear him sing as the "WLS Prairie Singer."
In 1941, he was doing such shows as "Bulletin Board", "Man on the Farm" and still singing as the "WLS Prairie Singer". They said he had a leathercaft hobby at that time, too, doing such things as belts, billfolds, purses and other novelties.
Details in the WLS Family Albums did not reveal much again until 1944 when they indicated he was doing "15 minutes of national and local farm news" at six o'clock in the morning. Farmers were able to keep up to date with George's shows on the latest news in market developments, legislation and research.
Even through 1945, the WLS Family Album was mentioning he was good at singing, but "...hasn't worked at it much lately..."
As to his singing, his daughter Noel relates to us that he had apparently studied opera while he was in college and in fact did have a beautiful voice. However, perhaps because he was only five feet five and half inches tall, opera was ruled out as a career path. He would sing at church masses, tunes such as "O Holy Night" would bring tears his daughter says. While appearing on the "Man on the Farm" show, he did the hit tune, "Mule Train" and used a prop he had made two strips of wood and two leather straps so he could make the sound of a whip during the song. Noel also recalls he sang "They Called the Wind Maria", too.
An advertising brochure published by the Keystone Steel & Wire Co. out of Peoria, Illinois sponsored segments of the WLS National Barn Dance and other shows such as the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic. In one brochure, they mention "Jack Menard" as the master of ceremonies for the "Keystone Barn Dance" party, "...keeping the show moving along and saw that everybody had a good time" as well as doing the commercial plugs for their Red Brand fencing.
Come 1946, and he was still working six days a week at 6:00am, doing his fifteen minute farm reports. He was also heard every Tuesday evening at 6:15 pm on "The RFD Mail Box" show. Then on Saturdays, he'd do the "Man On The Farm" show with Chuck Acree. They mentioned he was also the originator of the "Radio In the Barn" Club. And noted he was a singer of "extaordinary ability."
He was a pioneer in Chicago television doing a children's quiz show from a little studio at WBKB in the Wrigley Building during World War II. In the 1950s he had a 2 hour morning show "Fun and Features" (on WGN) with celebrities, a home economist, a cartoonist and our dog "Goggles" who was featured in the dog food sponsor's ad.
Also a show called "Pet Shop" which daughter Paula was often on.
He had a weekly show 'Farm Town USA' (1952-55) in which he introduced the city audience to farm people and farm animals. He had a knack for making people comfortable and bringing out their stories.
Imagine him bringing a bull up to the studio in the freight elevator of the State-Lake Building! Bulls and many other critters. From 1952 to 1972 he was Farm director for WBBM (CBS) radio and television with early daily broadcasts. Some of his shows were heard on Voice of America in Europe. During his 35 years of farm broadcasting he was closely associated with many farm organizations including 4-H, Pure Milk Association, Pork Producers and the Farm Bureau. He was a frequently invited to speak on farm issues.
In 1961 he introduced "Junior News Room" 7:55am to 8:00am, revolutionary at the time. A news show for children only; the only one in the country. In 1966 George and his family went to Mayo's where he received a Starr-Edwards mitral valve to replace his own which had been damaged by rheumatic fever in childhhood. When he and Martha went to Japan for a friend's wedding he was examined by interested doctors who actually warmed their stethoscopes.
George was honored to serve a term as president of the Notre Dame Club of Chicago. He also served a term as president of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
Memorabilia are at the Museum of Broadcast History in Chicago. George sang in his church choir for 25 yrs. When he retired he and Martha continued decades of volunteer work for Mount St. Joseph where their oldest daughter, Martha Anne (1938-1996) lived with peers and friends. She had Downs Syndrome.
George and Martha enjoyed travel. But most of all he liked to build things in his workshop. He was unusually creative and filled a variety of needs for friends and relatives with his wooden creations, often accompanied by humorous poems. His grandchildren enjoyed the indestructible toys he produced.
"Not much for pretty but hell for strong" he liked to say. He was humble and humorous, tempermental and warm and he left the world a better place.
George's wife, Martha is at the age of 89, relaxing. Daughters Noel Rose and Paula Chambers lead busy lives.
Credits & Sources
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