Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This postcard turns out to be a fairly common one, although I had never seen it before purchasing this example. It was never mailed and nothing is written on the back. The image is a bit odd, Barty the puss peering out between the slats of this sort of picket fence effect, perhaps he is on a porch?
A handful of other capable bloggers have already done tribute to Barty and Hal who was a radio pioneer in Long Beach, California. A musician himself (a few ragtime pieces he wrote can be found on Youtube) Nicols channeled it into the early days of radio, starting in high school where he programmed a station which I assume was the school’s station. (I nosed around in the early days of radio, which are fascinating, via a series of books called The Radio Girls and that post can be found here.) Evidently it really was the medium of radio itself that he loved.
Unfortunately I could not find an example of the radio show to share and no one has really recorded what kinds of music he played on it. Therefore, I will just imagine that Hal played the jazz and dance band tunes of the 20’s and 30’s that I love since that would have been nostalgic in the 40’s and 50’s. (For a tribute to the radio persona who enlightened me on this subject you can find my post about Rich Conaty here.)
Hal purchased the KFOX-AM station (1280 on your dial) with a 20th Century Fox partner in 1924, but the partner bailed early and he became the sole proprietor. According to his obit, he was on air until his death in October of 1953 after a long illness, presumed to be cancer. I am not sure what the broader programming of the station was, but the Memory Room show was nightly at 6:30. (Today it is a Korean language station out of Torrance, California.) In addition to Barty, Hal was survived by his wife Dorothy – who doesn’t seem to get much air time in the discussion of Hal and KFOX.
Barty, who weighed in at 18.5 lbs and was described as a tortoiseshell and white cat (fluffier and more long-haired than he appears in my postcard), entered the picture as early as 1946 and I gather his contribution seemed to be purring into the microphone for listeners at home. It is said he could (would?) purr “on command” (request?), but of course exactly who was doing what over the radio waves is a bit hard to verify. Another writer suggested that maybe Barty just purred all the time – seems unlikely to me as a cat owner. One assumes there was the occasional meow, chirp or mutter as well. Regardless, Barty seemed to manage to transcend the shortcomings of this early communication medium as a cat performer and he had quite a following. His fan mail routinely exceeded that of Hal’s, especially over Valentine’s Day and over the holidays.
As one writer pointed out, being a feline radio mascot was probably a pretty good gig – lots of time with Hal, much attention from staff and I am sure lots of food and treats. I’m not sure fame interests cats much, but of course it is hard to say what their views really might be.
Hal Nichols had something of a nose for promotion and he ran with the ball on Barty. Holiday cards featuring the feline were produced annually and there were buttons which proliferated as well. This postcard is another example. These collectibles are variously available on eBay, Etsy and at auction although I didn’t see any of the cards for sale except this one I purchased. In my research, I readily came across one magazine page devoted to the duo (which can be found here) and I suspect there were others. There is no indication if Barty headed home with Hal nightly or if the station was truly his only domain.
If it were not for the proliferation of pandemic Zoom, I would not have known of my own cat Blackie’s desire for fame and interest in being a broadcast personality. His daily involvement in Zoom meetings (he prefers late afternoon, but will make an exception for especially long meetings – think Board or Committees) earlier in the day. He is charmed by my being such a captive audience for an extended period.
Although his command center is generally my lap, he does make on-air appearances and favors turning his hindquarters to the camera and I attempt to spare my colleagues that view. He also has a gift for chin and ear rubbing his farewell appreciation on the jerry-rigged set-up which frequently sends it flying to the ground, making viewers believe that I have experienced either an earthquake or, more appropriately, a mini sort of Godzilla cat intervention. All this to say as a result, I can easily imagine Barty, perched on Hal’s lap or giving the mic a few ear and chin rubs, or an errant tail knocking it over occasionally, while purring his way into the hearts of listeners across California for many years.