It’s not uncommon for performers to jump between different formats. Many television actors have recorded songs, sports heroes have stepped into movie careers, and comedians have become talk show hosts; it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that some famous game show emcees had careers before they began watching excited contestants bounce with delight at the notion of getting a new car.
In the modern era, most of the hosts tend to be comedians of the aforementioned sort, experts who rose to the top of the stand-up or improvisational circuits before getting shows like Deal or No Deal (Howie Mandell), The Price Is Right (Drew Carey), 1 vs. 100 (Bob Saget), Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (Jeff Foxworthy) and Let’s Make a Deal (Wayne Brady). It wasn’t always that way, though. In previous decades, hosts were often chosen based on their ability to impress a producer with their ability to spontaneously chat with people.
Gene Rayburn was one such person. Before becoming the host of Match Game, he’d made a smaller mark in a couple of ways. He was a stage performer, playing the lead on Broadway for Bye Bye Birdie after Dick Van Dyke stepped away for his eponymous television show, and trivia mavens are often ready with the information that Charles Nelson Reilly was his understudy for that role. More impressively, he’d already claimed two entertainment firsts. The lesser achievement was being part of the staff (the announcer) for the first late-night television talk show: Steve Allen’s Tonight. His more notable success was in radio. As the co-host of “Scream and Dream with Jack and Gene” (quickly retitled “Anything Goes”) in New York City, he and his partner Jack Lescoulie formed the first morning drive-time radio pair, developing a format that continues throughout the country to this day.
He wasn’t the only game show host to begin on the radio. Chuck Woolery, later to achieve fame with Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and some lesser shows, began his career there too. Unlike Rayburn, it wasn’t on the conversational side of the microphone; it was a pop song, written in the late 1960s. And, although the effort to keep modern politics out of the Owl is best served by not going into Woolery’s current activities, it’s worth noting his star turn, writing and then singing “Naturally Stoned”.
Question of the night: Did you have a favorite radio station when you were a teen and younger adult?