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John Speer
Born:  January 21, 1910
Died:  August 10, 1953
KFH Barn Dance Frolic
KFH Wichita, KS
WJEF Grand Rapids, MI
WKZO Kalamazoo, MI

About The Artist

John Rawson Speer was a native of Wichita, Kansas. His parents were John L. and Winefred Marcia (Clark) Speer. The 1930 U. S. Census, when he was 20 years old, shows he was listing his occupation as 'actor.'

His obituary shows that he left home at the age of 16 to begin work as a stage actor, entering the vaudeville, circus and burlesque arenas as an entertainer. He then began to write scripts for radio and motion picture productions.

He wrote scripts for the "Bulldog Drummond" show in New York. He was a gag writer on the original Packard show that starred Fred Astaire and Charles Butterworth. At some point, he was writing scripts for the Walt Disney studios in Hollywood.

He returned to his hometown of Wichita and found employment at radio station KFH, where he worked for a number of years. He produced a show called "The Spirit of 1943," highlighting Wichita's role in the war effort that got the attention of CBS network officials.

During his time at KFH, he wrote or produced such shows as: Oliver Burkhardt aka Barnyard Pete - March 1938

  • Your Parlor Playhouse — KFH studio visitors saw and listened to this program in the 7th floor of the York Rite building.
  • This is Wichita
  • The Fire At The Warren Home — 1941 - The drama had a theme of fire prevention. Each year KFH would present a fire prevention special during fire prevention week.
  • Phantom Theatre — He wrote many of the scripts and played leading role in the production. He tried to include many "surprises" and "suspenses" in the show. Each show had at least ten actors and acresses. Many of the sound effects were done right there in the studio so audiences could see how they were done.
  • Camp Life — Written by John Speer. Cast included Vernon Reed; Mary Elside Reser; Gene Setzer and Vivian Townsend. A story of a woman who lost her friends when she went blind and become 'crotchedy'. She went to summer camp for the blind and discovered "...she could be blind and happy, too."
  • Citizens of Tomorrow — This 13 week series was directed by John. It was produced by KFH and the Wichita City Teachers' Association in 1945. In 1946, the City College of New York (CCNY) gave the program a 'special award of merit for an outstanding education program.' Vernon Reed was program director at the time.
  • In Memory Of Sam White — He wrote and directed this drama aired in January 1947.

Promo Ad - This Is Wichita - John Speer - KFH - Wichita, KS - May 1941
Promo Ad - Your Parlor Playhouse - John Speer Production - KFH - Wichita, KS - June 1941

Promo Ad - Phantom Theatre - KFH - Wichita, KS - John Speer - February 1947
Promo Ad - Citizens of Tomorrow - KFH - Wichita, KS - John Speer - November 1945

Sketch - Elmer Q. Winterbottom (John Speer) - Cousin Clarence (Clarence Brown) One of the challenging aspects of researching some 'characters' on KFH during the era of the KFH Barn Dance was identifying the "real" people playing the roles. As research unfolded, a discovery was made that John played the role of Elmer Q. Winterbottom on the Butter Nut Coffee Jamboree.

He was also one of the most popular characters on the KFH Barn Dance Frolic. He played the role of Aunt Lizzie Glutz. She was forever chasing Cousin Clarence in their comedy routines. In one show, they did a roller skating number together. Identifying this character was one that took a while and some guesses which were all wrong until articles revealed who was in that role and others.

John also took on the role of Uncle Haywood Thistletwitch.

He left KFH to take a position as program director of a radio and television station in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In 1948, KFH had setup an FM transmitter. The early days of this new technology was not without its puzzles and learning curves. Vernon Reed and John Speer were attempting to listen to the quality of the broadcasts over both KFH-AM and KFH-FM. Speer was quoted, "Quiet! FM brings out every sound made in the studio, and you actors have got to learn how to emote without breathing." Announcers and entertainers would look at the control room and ask how they sounded. Speer answered to one person who asked "How do I sound?" Speer replied, "Like a cricket! Are you by any chance gargling marbles?"

One announcer had to visit a dentist to get his bridgework fixed so it wouldn't slip. Even Wayne Euchner, the KFH musical director had is own issues with FM. He found that many musicians liked to tap their feet while playing making a tune sound like a tap dance.

A 1948 article shed some light on his efforts as a writer at KFH. Folks at the station would try their joke on him and he would just say, I know that, it's in my gag file. He was said to have had 75,000 gags that was valued at $3,000. that file covered everything one might consider humorous.

On June 18, 1950, he married Ethel G. Miller in Kalamazoo. He previously had married Virginia Miriam Resnick on January 8, 1942 in Jackson, Missouri.

He died at the age of 43 after dealing with a three month illness.

Promo Portrait - Aunt Lizze Glutz (John Speer) - KFH Barn Dance Frolic - Early 1940's
Photo - ELemer Q. Winterbottom (John Speer) Butter Nut Coffee Jamboree - 1942

Credits & Sources

  • Outstanding Radio Programs on KFH; July 27, 1941; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • Good Listening Today Over KFH; July 20, 1941; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • Present Drama; October 10, 1941; The Wichita Beacon; Wichita, KS
  • Highlights Over KFH; October 1, 1939; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • Camp Life on KFH; September 8, 1939; The Wichita Beacon; Wichita, KS
  • Radio Highlights - KFH (Ad); June 30, 1939; The Wichita Beacon; Wichita, KS
  • KFH - 1330 (Ad); November 14, 1945; The Wichita Beacon; Wichita, KS
  • Receive Radio Award; April 28, 1946; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • Slipping Bridgework Banned By Sensitive FM Microphone; September 19, 1948; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • Your New Joke Is Old Stuff To Script-writer Johnny; September 19, 1948; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS
  • John R. Speer Taken By Death - Actor, Script Writer Formerly With KFH; August 11, 1953; The Wichita Eagle; Wichita, KS

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