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Gerald A. Bartell
(1914-1990)

 

Family Links

Spouses/Children:
Joyce Meta Jaeger

Gerald A. Bartell

  • Born: 20 May 1914 2
  • Marriage: Joyce Meta Jaeger on 02 Nov 1941 in Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States 1
  • Died: 27 Jul 1990, Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States at age 76 3 4

bullet   Another name for Gerald was Jerry.

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bullet  General Notes:


The Bartell Group

Introduction

While many media scholars have written extensively about the "golden age" of radio in the 1930s and 1940s, fewer have written about the events of the post-golden age period after the introduction of television. At times, in fact, it seems as if the history of radio has been eclipsed by the development of television (see Barnouw; MacDonald; Sterling and Kittross).

A number of the successful elements to emerge from this period of forced evolution in the 1950s are still essential to the industry today. One of the innovative approaches to programming from this time was Top 40 radio. Top 40 represents one of the initial efforts in format radio, and, as a successful strategy, it helped make it possible for radio to remain viable and profitable in the post-golden age period.

Top 40 Innovators

During the 1950s, the radio industry was forced to identify new strengths and develop alternative forms of programming, and Top 40 radio represents an innovative approach responsive to the social and technological changes of the time. Radio became more of a companion as people went about their daily business, and disk jockey shows required less concentration than the old network radio dramas. The DJ-centered programs proved to be popular with the mobile listeners using portable or automobile radios. Also, many listeners felt they could depend on hearing something they would enjoy whenever they tuned in, because the Top 40 stations played the most popular songs of the day (MacFarland, "Up" 402).

Media historian David MacFarland has written extensively about the development of Top 40 programming, and he suggests that it represents an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary, change in radio. According to MacFarland, no single organization invented it. Rather, there were several organizations who contributed to its development. In particular, MacFarland credits two individuals and two broadcast groups with the initial experiments in this genre. The individuals were Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon; the two broadcast organizations were Plough Broadcasting of Memphis, Tennessee, and the Bartell Group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin ("Up" 400).

Andave and the Bartell Group

An important broadcast operation during this period was the family-run Bartell organization. The Bartells entered the radio business on the advice of a friend. The Bartells were a relatively large, well educated family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After World War 11, Lee Bartell heard from an associate, a communications lawyer, that broadcasting was likely to be a good business in the postwar environment. After looking at the various members of his immediate family, Lee was encouraged. He felt that, between the six of them, they had the talent and expertise necessary to enter such a business (Fox; Ralph Evans, personal interview).

The Bartell family, children of Russian immigrants Benjamin and Lena, who came to the United States in 1915, included brothers Lee, David, Melvin, and Gerald; their sister Rosa; and her husband, Ralph Evans. Lee and David were lawyers. Melvin was a classically trained musician who sang opera. Rosa, also a singer, and her husband Ralph, an electrical engineer, had worked at WHA, the educational station at the University of Wisconsin. Brother Gerald, who had worked at WHA as well, had also taught radio production at the university (Ralph Evans, telephone).

Brothers Lee and Dave talked to the family, found investors, raised the necessary capital, and provided the initial push to establish the Andave Radio Company. The new company made an application for a license and was granted a construction permit to operate a 1,000 watt, daytime-only station in the Milwaukee area in April of 1947. WEXT became the fifth station in the Milwaukee market when it went on the air on August 31. Rosa Bartell Evans was program director, and Ralph was the station engineer. John Printup was the general manager, and Gerald Bartell, on leave from the University of Wisconsin faculty, was president of the company ("WEXT"; Wolfe).

WEXT had an eclectic mix of programming. The studio was located on the south side of town, across the street from Jackson Park in a relatively diverse ethnic community. The station aired popular music and polkas with John Reddy, the Milwaukee "polka king." Reddy featured a segment on his show called "Here Comes the Bride," in which he aired interviews with couples recorded at weddings using an old wire recorder (Ralph Evans, personal interview). The station made an arrangement with weatherman Howard Thompson to broadcast from the National Weather Bureau each morning, and, on Sundays, WEXT leased out the entire day to groups who aired foreign language shows -("Station").

WEXT was reasonably successful, and in 1950 the family became interested in acquiring a license that would permit them to operate 24 hours-a-day. They formed a new company, the Bartell Group, located an open frequency, and applied for another permit. The minute WOKY went on the air in September 1950, WEXT went off. The Bartells sold the transmitter to another organization and helped investors in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, to apply for the frequency (Ralph Evans, personal interview).

Like the station before, WOKY started with a hodgepodge approach to programming. They aired popular music, Marquette University sports, and household hints for women. They broadcast a classical music program sponsored by a local bread company and a children's show, narrated by Gerald Bartell and produced by Rosa Bartell Evans, called Playtime for Children, which was syndicated around the state. They also briefly subscribed to McLendon's Liberty Broadcasting System (Rosa Evans; Wolfe; "Woman").

Many of the other programs on the new station were record-oriented, disk jockey shows. The DJs used names like "Mad Man" Michaels, Bob White, and "Lucky" Logan. One popular personality, Jim O'Hara, began his shows with the greeting, "Hey, you kids, get off that roof!" The programmers at WOKY tended to pick their music from the list of top-selling tunes reported by Cash Box and Billboard magazines and the local record stores, and they began to play songs that appealed to most of the people most of the time (Ralph Evans, personal interview; Drew).

In addition to putting WEXT and WOKY on the air, the Bartells also established other stations as their enterprise expanded. They applied for frequencies in underserved radio markets and built stations in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1948 and Miami, Florida, in 1949. They also set up stations in Charles City, Iowa, and Appleton and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, in the early 1950s (Ralph Evans, personal interview; Fox).

In time, however, the Bartells sold off most of their small-market stations to invest in radio property in larger markets. Between 1954 and 1968, they bought and sold a number of stations, including KYA in San Francisco, KRUX in Phoenix, KCBQ in San Diego, WAKE in Atlanta, WYDE ' in Birmingham, Alabama, WADO in New York City, and WILD in Boston (Freedgood 122-24).

According to the family, one of their particular areas of success was in the work of their station acquisition "SWAT" team. When the Bartells purchased a station, they would send in their own engineer, salesperson, and management consultant to review the books and inspect the studio. The engineering crew would upgrade the technical facility by increasing the power, changing the tower site, or purchasing better broadcast equipment. The sales and management crew worked to find a successful programming approach to get the ratings up, increase the ad revenue, and overwhelm the market before the competition knew what hit them (Fox; Ralph Evans, Jr.).

The Elements of Top 40

In programming their stations, the Bartells worked to establish an objective and systematic approach responsive to the needs of the community. Whenever they entered a market, they attempted to find a niche audience that was not being served by the programming of other stations. As a result, the group became known as one of the leaders in the development of format radio (Freedgood 124-25).

The Bartells' approach to programming shared a number of characteristics with the other developers of Top 40 radio. Generally, the innovators of Top 40 came to radio after World War 11, when many of the industry's successful programmers and managers were transferring to television. These innovators were typically younger than most of the managers within the established broadcasting community, and they concentrated on becoming group owners of independent radio stations, rather than television.

The Top 40 operators were not interested in preserving radio's status quo. Instead, they were intent upon fashioning a new order with themselves at the top. As a result, they refused to be tied down by the traditional business practices of the industry, and they were more willing to experiment with programming than many of the older network affiliate stations (MacFarland, "Development" 593).

The Bartells and the other Top 40 innovators also had a number of important programming and business practices in common. The Top 40 sound was based upon a systematic approach to programming that included a specified mixture of music, news, DJ chatter, public service announcements, and commercials, which were repeated throughout the day. In many cases, these stations established a program clock or hot clock, which mapped out the type, number, and duration of specific program elements that were to be included at each moment of the program hour.

During the late 1950s, the musical elements of the Bartell hourly program clock included records from the station's list of top hits of the week, an older hit that had recently fallen off the charts, a song that was considered to be multigenerational with broad appeal, a song gaining popular momentum, and a new release. The clock, then, helped to establish a station's pace and overall sound. The definition of this sound was determined by the station management, not the individual disk jockeys.

The Top 40 stations often stressed public service, and, as a result, their managers and programmers became involved in local events. In addition, news was an essential element of the Top 40 approach. The news segments highlighted local events, and they often reported national news from the perspective of its effect upon the local community. The stories were frequently recorded by the station news staff in the field or reported from the field using remote vans, trucks, cars, planes, or even helicopters (Freedgood 125, 222).

In Milwaukee, WOKY was the first station to broadcast traffic reports from the air. Their pilot and on-air host, Art Zander, provided commuters with information in a regular program segment called "The Safer Route" (Rosa Evans).

Top 40 stations commonly used prerecorded station IDs featuring musical jingles. They also experimented with echo chambers, filters, and other newly developed technological gadgets to help create a unique on-air sound (Freedgood 125).

While the traditional radio networks had used singing commercials for many years, local stations had not. Most of the members of the Bartell family had some musical training, and it seemed natural that they would produce their own commercials and jingles beginning in 1948. These spots set them apart from the other stations, and it seemed that Gerald Bartell had a distinct talent for writing them (Rosa Evans).

The object of many of these on-air activities was to establish a station personality that was more important than the individual announcers at each station. As a result, station promotion became an integral part of the Top 40 approach. Promotions helped to create an image of the station in the minds of the listeners as an alternative to traditional radio and the other outlets in the same market. In order to get public attention, then, many of the Top 40 operators invented games, giveaways, and treasure hunts. One article about the Bartell stations appearing in Fortune magazine in 1958 lists six audience participation events that aired on WAKE in Atlanta. These contests included "The Smile File," "Games for the Family," "Neighbor of the Week," "My Pet Peeve," "Bright Sayings of Children," "and "The Thought of the Day" (Freedgood 125).

Though the Top 40 stations did, indeed, share many programming strategies, the approach employed by the innovators tended to be flexible. The Storz stations, for instance, adjusted their musical offerings somewhat throughout the day to appeal to housewives during the school hours and to the teenagers afterwards. The Bartell managers talked weekly to analyze and develop new programming approaches (Bundy; Grevatt; Freedgood 222).

The Bartell stations were not afraid to experiment. When the group purchased WADO in New York City in 1959, all-Hispanic stations were relatively rare. Others had included Hispanic shows in their program mix; but at WADO the Bartells installed a Hispanic manager, sales staff, and on-air crew. In New York, that proved to be a successful strategy (Ralph Evans, personal interview).

Conclusions

In the 21 years that the Bartell family owned and operated radio stations, they made a number of important contributions to the industry.

They helped develop an approach to programming for independent stations that served as a viable alternative to network radio, and they made important contributions to the development of format radio and Top 40, in particular.

In programming their stations, the Bartells found that Top 40 radio was more than just a list of the most popular tunes culled from national trade magazines and local record stores. To be successful, it included an entire package of program elements that worked together to create a station's on-air sound. For the Bartells, this sound was based on a program or hot clock, which included locally oriented news, DJ chatter, public service announcements, singing commercials, prerecorded station IDs and jungles, and contests and special promotions, in addition to the top tunes. The Bartell stations were among the first local operations to produce and record singing commercials and station jingles.

Their businesslike approach to purchasing stations presaged some of the acquisition strategies of the 1980s and '90s, and, in general, the Bartells helped the industry identify business techniques that would help radio survive the onslaughts of television and lead the way to economic success in the post-golden age period. For their contributions to the industry, three members of the family, Gerald, Ralph, and Rosa, have been recognized by the broadcasting community in Wisconsin and inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame (Ralph Evans, letter).

The success of the Bartell family and the other innovative Top 40 programmers in the 1950s and early 1960s inspired others within the radio community to mimic their business approach. But some of the imitators tended to apply the program techniques as if they were rules, without understanding why they were used. As a result, many of the rigid programmers proved to be less successful than the originators of the approach (MacFarland, "Development" 597, 599).

Other programmers, however, were able to take the techniques of the Top 40 method and employ them in new areas. During the 1960s, managers were able to apply this approach in the programming of MOR and country music (Wagner; D'Angelo). In general, however, the Top 40 stations were known for their successes with the teen audience, and by the end of the 1950s, the music that was increasingly able to reach that audience was rock and roll."
[by Charles F. Ganzert, Popular Music and Society, Volume 21.4 Winter 1997]

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bullet  Noted events in his life were:

Occupation: head of production for the University of Wisconsin station WHA, 1941, Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States. 3

Social Security Number: 399-05-8040, Bef 1951, , , Wisconsin, United States. 5


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Gerald married Joyce Meta Jaeger, daughter of Christian Frederick Wilhelm Jaeger and Emma Anna Herbst, on 02 Nov 1941 in Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States.1 (Joyce Meta Jaeger was born on 11 Apr 1917 in Marinette, Marinette, Wisconsin, United States 6 and died on 16 Oct 2002 in Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States 1.) The cause of her death was Cancer.

bullet  Noted events in their marriage were:

Marriage: First Congregational Church, 02 Nov 1941, Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States.


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Sources


1 Editor, The Wisconsin State Journal (see details, The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison Newspapers, Inc., P. O. Box 8056, Madison, WI 53708), 20 Oct 2002.

2 Social Security Administration, Social Security Death Index (see details, Social Security Administration, Office of Public Inquiries, Windsor Park Building, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235, http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm), 22 Jan 2003. GERALD A BARTELL Born 20 May 1914.

3 Editor, The Wisconsin State Journal (see details, The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison Newspapers, Inc., P. O. Box 8056, Madison, WI 53708), Sunday, October 20, 2002.

4 Social Security Administration, Social Security Death Index (see details, Social Security Administration, Office of Public Inquiries, Windsor Park Building, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235, http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm), 22 Jan 2003. GERALD A BARTELL Died 27 Jul 1990.

5 Social Security Administration, Social Security Death Index (see details, Social Security Administration, Office of Public Inquiries, Windsor Park Building, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235, http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm), 22 Jan 2003. GERALD A BARTELLSSN 399-05-8040 Born 20 May 1914 Died 27 Jul 1990 Issued: WI (Before 1951).

6 Margaret Elizabeth Jaeger Gilbertson (1915-2001), Family Group Record of Margaret Elizabeth (Betty) Jaeger Gilbertson, Family Records.

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