Martin Block

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Martin Block
Martin Block on ABC 1957.JPG
Block at ABC Radio, 1957.
Born(1903-02-03)February 3, 1903[1]
DiedSeptember 18, 1967(1967-09-18) (aged 64)[2]
Englewood, New Jersey [3]
Mutual Broadcasting System
Voice of America

Martin Block (February 3, 1903 – September 18, 1967) was an American disc jockey. It is said that Walter Winchell have invented the term "disk jockey" as a means of describing Block's radio work.[4]


Early years[edit]

A native of Los Angeles, Block began working in radio in Tijuana, Mexico; before that, he sold small household items and appliances.[1] At the age of only 13, he became an office boy at General Electric. When his career had stalled in Los Angeles, Block moved his family to New York; he was only there for a week before he got an announcing job.[5] Block came up with two famous advertising slogans for his sponsors: "ABC-Always Buy Chesterfield" for Liggett & Myers and "LSMFT"-Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco" for Lucky Strike.[1] He was also an avid amateur radio operator with a large station at his home in Englewood, New Jersey.[6]

Career break: Make Believe Ballroom[edit]

In 1934, Block went to work for WNEW at a salary of $20 per week.[7] In 1935, while listeners to New York's WNEW in New York (now information outlet WBBR) were awaiting developments in the Lindbergh kidnapping, Block built his audience by playing records between the Lindbergh news bulletins. This led to his Make Believe Ballroom, which began on February 3, 1935 with Block borrowing both the concept and the title from West Coast disc jockey Al Jarvis, creating the illusion that he was broadcasting from a ballroom with the nation’s top dance bands performing live. He bought some records from a local music shop for the program as the radio station had none.[1] Block purchased five Clyde McCoy records, selecting his "Sugar Blues" for the radio show's initial theme song.[1]

Because Block was told by the station's sales staff that nobody would sponsor a radio show playing music, he had to find himself a sponsor. Block lined up a producer of reducing pills called "Retardo". Within a week of sponsoring the program, the company had over 3,000 responses to the ads on Block's radio show.[1]

Block's style of announcing was considerably different than the usual manner of delivery at the time. Instead of speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard in a theater, Block spoke in a normal voice, as if he was having a one-on-one conversation with a listener. When one of Block's sponsors offered a sale on refrigerators during a New York snowstorm, 109 people braved the elements for the bargain Block advertised; by 1941 potential sponsors for his show had to be put on a waiting list for availabilities.[8]

In 1936, Block and his "Ballroom" inadvertently came to the aid of a young man accused of being a pickpocket. His alibi was that he was home at the time, listening to the show, describing how Guy Lombardo, who was to appear on Make Believe Ballroom, was unable to keep the engagement and sent a telegram, which was read on the air. His story was verified and all charges were dropped.[9] Two years later, current events unwittingly entered the "Make Believe" world with Louis Armstrong singer Midge Williams' renditions of two American popular songs in Japanese. NBC received many telephone calls and telegrams protesting her performance from listeners who were irate over the recent Japanese invasion of China.[10]

Stan Kenton and Martin Block at WNEW.

Make Believe Ballroom was nationally syndicated in 1940.[2] That same year, Block hosted what was billed as a "$20,000 Jam Session" on the show, featuring artists including both Dorsey brothers, Count Basie, Harry James, and Gene Krupa. The musicians improvised live for a half-hour.[11] One segment of Ballroom was entitled "Saturday Night in Harlem". During this, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and other jazz musicians' music was featured.[12] Block and Make Believe Ballroom made the cover of Billboard magazine in April, 1942.[13] During the 1942–44 musicians' strike (also known as the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) recording ban), he was able to obtain new records with full orchestral backing for his program by having friends in England send him UK recordings, as the ban applied to the United States only.[14][15]

When Spike Jones and his City Slickers returned from entertaining the troops in 1944, the New York hotel room shortage meant the musicians had nowhere to sleep. Jones telephoned Martin Block, who went on the air with the news. WNEW was flooded with listener calls offering to accommodate Jones and his band.[16]

In the 1940s Block hired a young record collector, Joe Franklin, as his "record picker." Franklin went on to host his own radio and television programs in the New York City market for more than 65 years.[17][18] In 1947, there were two daily editions of the Make Believe Ballroom: one in the late morning and another around dinner time.[19] The illusion was shattered by a 1948 musical short in which Block talked about the show while sitting in front of his extensive record library. He also did a weekly international version of Make Believe Ballroom for Voice of America beginning in 1949.[6][20] When Block heard that Voice of America would begin broadcasting a popular music program, he volunteered to host the show without pay.[21]

Other radio shows and music-related work[edit]

Block was also the announcer for The Chesterfield Supper Club;[22][23][24] some of his other announcing assignments were on Pepper Young's Family, Kay Kyser's radio show and the CBS Hit Parade.[25] In 1945, a busy Block was doing the Supper Club announcing for the first broadcast, going to WNEW for his own Make Believe Ballroom, working on a CBS radio show called Johnnie Johnston three days a week via telephone from WNEW, then returning to Chesterfield Supper Club for the later broadcast for the West Coast.[26] By the end of World War II, Martin Block was making $22,000 a week.[1] He hosted a music show, Columbia Record Shop, for CBS beginning in 1946.[24]

He began a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a series of short musical films, under the umbrella title, Martin Block Presents, in 1947.[27] Both Block and Jarvis appeared in Columbia Pictures' musical comedy feature film, Make Believe Ballroom (1949), with Frankie Laine and other recording artists;[28] the year before, he had a cameo role in Musical Merry-Go-Round with Les Brown.[29]

Though the show continued in New York, Block was imported to Los Angeles by KFWB in 1947 to do Make Believe Ballroom on the West Coast; he returned to New York at the end of his contract.[1][30] While in California, Block broadcast for Mutual Broadcasting System from a studio he owned in his Encino home.[31] He began doing a program for the network called Block Party with bandleader Ray Block earlier in 1947.[32] Block was also able to continue with Chesterfield Supper Club while in California as the announcer for the Tuesday and Thursday broadcasts from Hollywood with Jo Stafford after she moved there.[33]

On returning from the West Coast, Block continued as the New York announcer for the "Supper Club". He went on to do the announcing for the television version of the program when it began in December, 1948.[22][34] In 1950, he celebrated his 15th anniversary on the air. Variety devoted an entire section to Block and his career, with many of those who Block helped become stars voicing their thanks.[35]

Block co-wrote the Glenn Miller hit of 1941, "I Guess I'll Have to Dream the Rest".[36] Miller also recorded a version of the Make Believe Ballroom theme, titled "Make Believe Ballroom Time", for which Block wrote the lyrics.[1][1] He also had his own music publishing companies, Martin Block Music and Embee Music.[37] Block's memory lapse gave a young performer the name she would continue on to fame with. Fannie Rose Shore auditioned for the radio show, singing "Dinah". Block declared Dinah Shore had won the spot on his radio show.[38]

After the Ballroom[edit]

Block left Make Believe Ballroom in 1954 to host The Martin Block Show for ABC Radio, originating from the network's New York flagship WABC.[39] On February 3, 1955, Block was the host of a special program to mark the 20th anniversary of Make Believe Ballroom. The star-studded event was aired in two segments and carried on ABC Radio and ABC-TV. Tickets were sold with all proceeds benefiting the March of Dimes.[40]

While he officially retired from ABC and radio in 1960, he indicated that his retirement merely meant not working in the medium on a regular basis.[41][42] Towards the end of his career, he was heard on WOR/New York.[1][43] From 1962 until his death, Block hosted a public affairs show, Guard Session, for the U. S. National Guard.[44] Block died at an Englewood, New Jersey hospital September 18, 1967. He was survived by his wife, Joyce, and seven children; six of the children were from previous marriages.[3][45]

After his death in 1967, the Make Believe Ballroom was hosted for decades by DJ William B. Williams on WNEW, where it aired into the late 1980s. After Williams' death, the show was hosted by popular entertainer Steve Allen, beginning in January 1987. Allen hosted the show from both New York and Los Angeles.[46] Until April, 2006, it was hosted on Lake Ronkonkoma, New York's WSHR by Bill Frisch.[1] Block was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.[2]

An audio engineer, William Savory, recorded jazz radio shows for his collection for many years. A highly secretive man, he rarely allowed any of the tracks to be issued commercially. When Savory died in 2004, his son, Eugene Desavouret, inherited the collection. He worked at salvaging the disks, selling them to the National Jazz Museum in 2010; many of Martin Block's old radio editions of Make Believe Ballroom are part of this collection.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hinckley, David (17 March 2004). "Future of Radio:Martin Block Makes Believe". New York Daily News. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "Martin Block". Radio Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 13 May 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Martin Block Dean of Disc Jockeys Dies". The Cumberland News. September 20, 1967. p. 2. Retrieved January 9, 2017 – via open access
  4. ^ a b Rohter, Larry (16 August 2010). "Museum Acquires Storied Trove of Performances by Jazz Greats". New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  5. ^ McKenney, W. E. (20 June 1942). "McKenney On Bridge". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  6. ^ a b Boyle, Hal (26 October 1949). "Block, Dean of the Disk Jockeys". The Milwaukee Journal.
  7. ^ Martin Block. Billboard. April 18, 1942. p. 4. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  8. ^ Fisher, Marc, ed. (2007). Something in the air: radio, rock, and the revolution that shaped a generation. Random House. p. 400. ISBN 0-375-50907-0. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Smith Ballew Takes Over 'Shell Chateau' Program". The Windsor Daily Star. 4 April 1936. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  10. ^ "Japanese Songs of Midge Draw Protest". The Afro American. 7 May 1938. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  11. ^ "$20,000 Jam Session". The Afro American. 22 June 1940. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  12. ^ "Tuning In, Jazz To Bebop". New York Times. 23 September 2002. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  13. ^ Martin Block, Conductor of WNEW's 'Make Believe Ballroom'. Billboard. 18 April 1942. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  14. ^ "Where There's A Will". The Milwaukee Journal. 16 July 1943.
  15. ^ "Radio Station Crew Quits In Record Fight". The Milwaukee Journal. 21 July 1943.
  16. ^ Bellamy, Richard K. (20 September 1944). "Riding the Airwaves". The Milwaukee Journal.
  17. ^ Hinckley, David (January 25, 2015). "Joe Franklin Dead at 88". New York Daily News. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  18. ^ Barron, James (January 24, 2015). "Joe Franklin, a Talk Show Institution in New York, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  19. ^ Martin Block/WNEW Ad. Billboard. 9 August 1947. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  20. ^ Biosatt, Bruce (13 November 1949). "Voice of America Sings Jazz; It Wows the World". The Victoria Advocate. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
  21. ^ "'Voice' Goes Juke Box, Hits World-Fan Jackpot". The Deseret News. 27 October 1949. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  22. ^ a b Macfarlane, Malcolm, ed. (2009), Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record, McFarland, p. 310, ISBN 0-7864-3701-4, retrieved 28 April 2010
  23. ^ "Big Plane To Serve As Broadcast Studio". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 28 March 1946. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  24. ^ a b BCL (11 January 1946). "Martin Block's New Program Debut". The Milwaukee Journal.
  25. ^ "Radio Day By Day". Reading Eagle. 6 July 1942. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  26. ^ Pepan, Bea J. (28 January 1945). "The Man Whose Voice Sells Millions". The Milwaukee Journal.
  27. ^ Block To Turn Pic Producer. Billboard. 26 July 1947. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  28. ^ "Current Attractions". Reading Eagle. 5 June 1949. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  29. ^ "Martin Block". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
  30. ^ Block Kisses Off Sunkist H'wood. Billboard. 17 July 1948. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  31. ^ MacPherson, Virginia (19 January 1948). "Chief Platter Jockey Ignores Recording Ban". The Portsmouth Times. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  32. ^ MBS To Base Show On MB Hits of Week. Billboard. 28 June 1947. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  33. ^ Ad for 'Chesterfield Supper Club'. Life. 13 January 1947. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  34. ^ Gaver, Jack (14 April 1950). "Dean Of Disk Jockeys Thinks Some People Have Poor Musical Taste". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
  35. ^ "Nation's First Disk Jockey Marks 15th Anniversary". St. Petersburg Times. 19 February 1950. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  36. ^ Tucker, George (30 October 1941). "Man About Manhattan". Prescott Evening Courier. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  37. ^ Martin Block's 2 Publishing Firms Are Active Again. Billboard. 30 October 1943. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  38. ^ Oliver, Myra (25 February 1994). "Songbird Dinah Shore dead at 76". The News. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  39. ^ "Disk Jockey, ABC Sign Big Contract". Youngstown Vindicator. 17 March 1953. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  40. ^ Lester, John (January 19, 1955). "Radio and Television". The Gazette and Daily. p. 18. Retrieved January 10, 2017 – via open access
  41. ^ Torre, Marie (28 October 1960). "The Granddaddy Of Disk Jockeys, Martin Block, Retires This Week". Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  42. ^ Bundy, June, ed. (24 October 1960). Block Retirement Means End Of Era. Billboard. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  43. ^ Martin Block Set for Radio Return. Billboard. 11 September 1961. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  44. ^ Martin Block Is Dead at 64--Made Radio "Personality". Billboard. 30 September 1967. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  45. ^ "Famed Disk Jockey Martin Block Dies". The Lawton Constitution. September 20, 1967. p. 9. Retrieved January 9, 2017 – via open access
  46. ^ Wilson, John S. (8 April 1987). "The Pop Life; Steve Allen Remodels 'Make Believe Ballroom'". New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2010.

External links[edit]