Don McNeil and the Breakfast Club -circa 1948

Don McNeil was born in Illinois, but grew up in Wisconsin (he was a first cousin to Casper Weinberger, with whom I would not have readily connected him!).
After trying his hand at a variety of performance gigs across the country, McNeil was offered a little-noticed 8AM slot on the NBC network from Chicago in 1933.
Re-naming the obscure show he inherited as “The Breakfast Club”, and organizing the hour into 15- minute intervals called the first, second, third, and fourth, “call to breakfast”, McNeil created a radio hit.
McNeil hired a consistent set of fellow performers who maintained a lively patter of human-interest stories, letters from listeners, interviews with audience members, and casual comments about the news.
The show was not political; it adopted a tone more folksy and sentimental.
The show included a moment of silent prayer for world peace, and asked the audience to stand up and march around the breakfast table every 15 minutes to maintain cheerfulness.
Fran Allison became a frequent guest in the guise of “Aunt Fanny”, a comic figure who consistently misunderstood and misinterpreted events around her.
The Breakfast Club became wildly popular, and the “morning show” format is still widely-copied on TV.
Don McNeil holds the record for the longest tenure as the host of a show, surpassing Johnny Carson and Bob Barker.
The audience was surprisingly broad; Justice William O. Douglas was a fan of the show.
The show did not survive the growth of television and, despite an attempt at a TV breakfast club in the early fifties, the long-running radio program went off the air in 1968.
I have vivid memories of my mother urging the children to finish breakfast so she could do the dishes and enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to Don McNeil.


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