Kansas City Public Library: Fun Hats and Future TV Star: What Do You Know About That Kansas City Plaza Radio Show?



September 21, 2021

Here at “What’s your KCQ?” We often hear from people who remember something intriguing or remarkable. But only pieces. They need us to help them fill in the blanks.

Like Robert Griffle. He says that shortly after WWII he would accompany his mother and sisters to Country Club Plaza to watch and participate in a radio show called “Luncheon On the Plaza”.

He recalled that the show’s theme song mentioned “having a lot of fun” and that audience members were asked “to wear fun hats.”

Robert wanted to know more. And frankly, us too!

Our first stop was Bill Ryan, a former journalism professor at Rockhurst University who has done extensive research on the broadcast pioneers in Kansas City.

Ryan pointed out that before television, people listened to radio very differently than they do today, adjusting the entire dial to find the specific shows they most wanted to hear.

Thus, each station offered dozens of them throughout the day and night. Many were produced nationally, but others, like the ever popular Brush Creek Follies, were grown locally.

And although he was not familiar with the program in question, Ryan noted that commercial sponsors – the driving force behind the industry – were always on the lookout for shows that “appealed to women and children.”

Sure enough, “Swing,” a WHB Radio promotional publication, confirmed that the station broadcast its own “Luncheon On the Plaza” mid-morning program every day from 1949 to 1951.

But here’s where it gets a little confusing. A classified ad in the Kansas City Star for March 7, 1951, states that “the audience participation show is broadcast live from 10:00 am to 10:30 am daily at the Plaza Sears store.”

Which didn’t ring true for Robert.

Apparently he and his mother in a corncob hat (“cheesy like Kansas in August,” she told him) must have been at “lunch” much earlier.

The July / August 1949 issue of “Swing” actually says that WHB’s “new show” originated from the “pretty cafeteria in the Plaza”. A 1949 city directory lists the restaurant’s address at 414 Alameda (now Nichols Road).

That same article, titled “The Crazier the Better”, gushes that “there is something happening every minute”. And that “after a quick half hour of continuous hilarity, the audience is weak to laugh”.

The two hosts of the show were the engines that made everything happen. One of them was Lou Kemper, a veteran journalist who ran the show with his rapid-fire patter. The other was a thirty-something energy bundle named Frank Wiziarde.

If this name sounds a little familiar to you, there’s a good reason. A few years later, that same maniacal co-host hit Kansas City TV screens as Whizzo the Clown!

This press release was produced by the Kansas City Public Library. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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