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Roger Bower Papers


Roger Bower Papers
Bower, Roger
Collection number:
7.50 linear feet
Bulk dates:
circa 1940-1960
Inclusive dates:
1927-1979 and undated
Collection Area:
Library of American Broadcasting
Library of American Broadcasting, 3210 Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9160, Fax: 301-314-2634, Email:

Roger Bower worked in broadcasting from 1925 to 1974 as a writer, actor, announcer, director, producer and station manager. His titles included announcer for WMCA (New York, NY) (1927), producer, director, actor, and sound effects engineer for WOR (1928-1970). He directed many prominent programs including Main Street Sketches, It Pays to be Ignorant, and Can You Top This? In later years, his focus turned international as he assisted the State Department, NBC International, and the International Executive Service Corporation of New York City in developing television and radio networks in Cairo, Damascus, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Iran. This collection primarily documents Bower's career at radio station WOR (New York, NY)

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Preferred citation:

Roger Bower Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Historical Note

Roger Bower was born on January 8, 1903, in New York City. He attended the City Collge of New York and New York University. But he was more interested in entertainment than education; he aspired to be an actor, performing in vaudeville, minstrel and road shows. Bower first became associated with radio in 1927, when he was hired as an announcer for radio station WMCA in New York. After WMCA, he worked briefly as the station manager for an independent station in Newark, New Jersey, which was actually an elaborate front for a bootlegger.

Bower joined radio station WOR in New York in 1928, and worked there for 24 years; during that time, he also produced and directed programs for other stations, including CBS and NBC. WOR is known in the broadcasting industry as a "heritage" station, or a pioneer in the development of American broadcasting. WOR was first heard from Bamberger's Department Store in 1922. The WOR Network served more than 350 stations in the United States and Canada with programming produced by WOR in New York City; its programs featured such famous personalities as Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway and Henry Morgan. WOR was also one of the original member stations in the Mutual Broadcasting System.

At WOR Bower produced, directed, acted, and created sound effects. Periodically, he took his programs out of the studio to live audiences, playing to full theaters at Asbury Park, New Jersey and elsewhere. During his years at WOR, Bower directed several thousand radio and television programs, including: You Can't Take It With You, The Treasure Hour of Song, Famous First Facts, Name Your Poison, Say It With Words, Mystery Sketches, Music Pastels, and Court of Literary Justice.

Bower's range of programs was practically unlimited. He did sports casting, including the Army-Navy games and the Rose Bowl; through this, he met Knute Rockney, and sports announcer Ted Husing. He directed quiz shows, both comedic and straight, including Twenty Questions. Mystery/detective programs were also among his credits, including The Crime Club. Bower directed The Witch's Tale, first heard in 1928, one of the earliest radio horror programs; he also provided sound effects and the "voice� of Satan, the black cat. His Bamberger Symphony was one of the first symphony programs on the radio. He also directed operas and popular music programs, working with Rudy Vallee, the Dorsey brothers, and Benny Goodman, among others.

Bower's first major program was Main Street Sketches, first heard circa 1925. It was a weekly, hour-long drama of small town life set in "Titusville�; Bower produced and directed, and also played the character Fleck Murphy. Around the same time, he served as the director, emcee and sound effects man for the popular Market and Halsey Street Playhouse, a variety theatre show of the 1920s.

He directed It Pays To Be Ignorant, a comedy panel program first heard in 1942, which parodied the popular quiz programs of the time. Another famous comedy of Bower's was Stop Me If You've Heard This One, with Cal Tinney, Lew Lehr, and Morey Amsterdam, first heard in 1947. He directed, and also served as emcee, reading listeners' jokes.

Bower's most famous credit was the comedy panel program Can You Top This?, with "Senator� Ed Ford, Joe Laurie, Jr., Harry Hershfield and Peter Donald, first heard in 1940. Bower directed and produced this program, and also served as moderator and scorekeeper for five years. Listeners submitted jokes to the show, and the best ones were read to the panel by Donald. The panelists then tried to" top" the joke, with one of their own on the same subject. A "laugh meter" hooked to a microphone gauged audience response to the jokes, determining the winners.

In 1936, Bower married Jean Stewart, who was also active in radio. She worked for station WINS in New York, was Vice President of the Sutton News Service, and was also a correspondent for various newspapers, including the Boston Globe, the Boston Transcript and the Lakeville (CT) Journal. The couple later had three children: Roger, Wendy and Nancy.

In the early 1930s, Bower announced the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he continued to describe for many years. He gave the first (closed circuit) television demonstration of station WOR in 1933, in a Macy's department store window. He also directed the musical entertainment feature during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday celebrations at the Waldorf-Astoria from 1941 to 1944.

After leaving WOR, Bower served as operations director for station WROW in Albany, New York, in 1954. He moved to station WKIX in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1956, as general manager. Later, he worked for Welch, Mott and Morgan, broadcast attorneys based in Washington, D.C. He wrote chapters on radio and television for textbooks and encyclopedias, including The Children's Encyclopedia (New York: A. Barnes). He also co-wrote a joke book with Lew Lehr and Cal Tinney, Stop Me If You've Heard This One, based on their radio program.

In 1960, the State Department sent Bower to the United Arab Republic for a year, to set up television stations in Cairo, Egypt, and Damascus, Syria. While overseas, Bower was an intermittent correspondent for Variety magazine, a position he also held during his subsequent trips abroad.

Shortly after his return from this mission in 1961, NBC International asked him to assist in the development of Nigerian television and radio. Bower agreed, and he and his wife stayed in Lagos, Nigeria for six years. Bower served as Managing Director of the Nigerian Television Service from 1962 until he left the country in 1967. While in Nigeria, Bower received the Pope's Medal of Honor for his work, and was also made the Vice President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Immediately after the end of this assignment in 1967, NBC International sent Bower to Saigon, Vietnam, where he stayed for two years, working with the television and radio services. His wife lived in Bangkok, Thailand, because of safety concerns, visiting him periodically. While he was there, Bower received the Psychological Warfare Medal of Honor from the South Vietnamese government.

In 1974, the International Executive Service Corporation of New York City arranged for Bower to help the Iranian government evaluate its television and radio programming. He spent approximately three months assessing the National Iranian Radio-Television System.

During his career, Bower received many accolades. New York radio columnists voted him Best Announcer for two years (1930-1932). He was made an honorary member of Rho Tau Sigma, a professional fraternity, for his work in collegiate broadcasting. He was a member of the Lamb's Club, one of the oldest theatrical clubs in the world, and contributor to their newsletter, The Lamb's Script. Bower was also the first president of the American Guild of Radio Announcers and Producers, and a past director of the Radio and Television Director's Guild.

Roger Bower died on May 17, 1979, in Sharon, Connecticut.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Roger Bower Papers contains materials from 1927 through 1979. The bulk dates of the materials are from the 1940s and 1960s. The collection consists of correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, programs and invitations, photographs, books, audio recordings, scrapbooks, promotional material, a musical script and score and a certificate in Vietnamese.

Materials in this collection are particularly strong in material pertaining to Station WOR. The clippings reveal the wide number and variety of programs Bower was involved with. Can You Top This? is especially well documented, with clippings of cast interviews, photographs, audio recordings, and even a cartoon. The collection also documents Bower�s overseas work, containing many of his Variety articles, and photographs and newspaper clippings from Nigeria.

Because Bower traveled constantly, especially in later years, little of his correspondence was saved. The collection also lacks materials documenting his early life, before his association with station WMCA in 1927.

Several books on the radio and television industry accompanied the Bower collection. They have been housed with the Library of American Broadcasting's main book collection, and are being catalogued in the University of Maryland's library system. Annotations found throughout the collection were largely made by Jean Stewart Bower; her initials, J.S.B., may sometimes be found on items.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Roger Bower Papers was donated to the Library of American Broadcasting, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, in May 1981, by Jean Stewart Bower, wife of the late Roger Bower.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by Deborah Tomaras, March 2000.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Lara Cuellar - Amrod.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence, 1941-1979 and undated (4 folders)

This series consists of letters and cards, including one fan letter with poem and illustrations. The egalitarian breadth of Bower's work and associations can be seen in correspondence from both the Catholic Charities Office and the American Jewish Committee. Well-known correspondents include Mary Margaret McBride, Variety editor Abel Green, Joe Laurie, Jr., Cal Tinney and Jane Cowl. The documents are arranged in chronological order.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence, 1941-1948 series 1box 1folder 1
Correspondence, 1950-1958 series 1box 1folder 2
Correspondence, 1962-1969 series 1box 1folder 3
Correspondence, 1970-1979 series 1box 1folder 4

Series 2: Written Matter, 1927-1979 and undated (0.75 linear foot)

The bulk of this series is newspaper and magazine clippings of articles by and about Bower. These are particularly strong in the 1940s WOR period, and Bower�s 1960s Variety correspondence. It also contains scrapbooks, and programs and invitations to events with which Bower was involved. The series is arranged in chronological order.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Program and Invitations, 1929-1943 series 2box 1folder 5
Program and Invitations, 1944-1961 and undated series 2box 1folder 6
Articles by Bower -- Syria, 1960-1961 series 2box 1folder 7
Articles by Bower -- Nigeria, 1962-1968 series 2box 1folder 8
Articles by Bower -- Vietnam, plus miscellaneous, 1968-1972 series 2box 1folder 9
Artcies by Bower, 1927-1929 series 2box 1folder 10
Articles by Bower, 1930-1938 series 2box 1folder 11
Articles by Bower, 1941-1942 series 2box 1folder 12
Articles about Bower, 1943-1944 series 2box 2folder 1
Articles about Bower, 1945-1947 series 2box 2folder 2
Articles about Bower, 1948-1949 series 2box 2folder 3
Articles about Bower, 1950-1957 series 2box 2folder 4
Articles about Bower, 1960-1968 series 2box 2folder 5
Articles about Bower, 1972-1979 series 2box 2folder 6
Articles about Bower, undated series 2box 2folder 7
Articles about Bower, in Scrapbook, 1927-1950 series 2box 2folder 8
Articles about Bower, In Scrapbook (originals), undated series 2box 2folder 9

Series 3: Miscellaneous Items, 1938-1968 and undated (4 folders)

This series contains a script and score for a high school musical with annotations by Bower, a scrapbook of photographs and news clippings, cards and invitations, promotional material, a certificate for Bower in Vietnamese, a resume, and a possibly unrelated magazine clipping. The items are arranged in chronological order.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Miscellaneous Items, 1941-1968 and undated series 3box 2folder 10
The Gaslight Theatre, undated series 3box 2folder 11
The Gaslight Theatre (Originals), undated series 3box 2folder 12
The Second Hurricane, 1938 series 3box 2folder 13

Series 4: Photographs, undated (46 photographs)

The series contains 46 black-and-white photographs. These include 36-8x10", 4-7x9" and 6-6x8". Most document Bower�s time with station WOR--his programs and colleagues. There are also several pictures from his stay in Nigeria, and some miscellaneous photographs. The photographs document Bower's association with such well-known personalities as Milton Berle, Richard Wright, W.C. Handy, Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, Bill Robinson and Erskine Butterfield. This series is arranged in topical order, and is housed with the Library of American Broadcasting's Photograph Collection.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
It Pays to be Ignorant, undated series 4box 3folder 1
You Can't Take it With You, undated series 4box 3folder 2
Stop Me If You've Heard This, undated series 4box 3folder 3
Can You Top This, undated series 4box 3folder 4
Nigeria, undated series 4box 3folder 5
Macy's, undated series 4box 3folder 6
Miscellaneous, undated series 4box 3folder 7

Series 5: Audio, null (8 audio tapes)

This series contains eight audio reels and cassettes. It consists mainly of oral history interviews with Bower and other figures, including Col. Jacob Ruppert (owner of the New York Yankees), and John Bagwell, a colleague of Bower's in Saigon. It also features a documentary on the history of the Nigerian Television Service, and excerpts from some of Bower's WOR programs, especially Can You Top This? This series is housed with the Library of American Broadcasting's general audio collection.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
WOR Programs, undated series 5box 3folder 8
WOR Programs, undated series 5box 3folder 9
WOR Miscellaneous, undated series 5box 3folder 10
WOR Miscellaneous, undated series 5box 3folder 11

Series 6: Oversized Clippings and Magazines, 1934-1979 and undated (6.00 linear feet)

This series contains various newsprint clippings and magazines. Some titles include Tune In and Swing. These materials are in an oversized box.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Tune In [2 copies], November 1944 series 6box 4folder 1
Cue, October 28, 1944 series 6box 4folder 2
Go, July 1946 series 6box 4folder 3
Tune In, May 1943 series 6box 4folder 4
Parade Magazine, July 25, 1942 series 6box 4folder 5
Tune In, November 1945 series 6box 4folder 6
Daily Mirror, April 12, 1943 series 6box 4folder 7
WOR News, June 1, 1942 series 6box 4folder 8
Click Magazine, June 1941 series 6box 4folder 9
PM, May 11, 1941 series 6box 4folder 10
Radio Daily, August 16, 1937 series 6box 4folder 11
Commericial Radio, October 1934 series 6box 4folder 12
Radio Daily, August 27, 1943 series 6box 4folder 13
Hearn's Flash, August 12 and August 18 1934 series 6box 4folder 14
Sunday News, April 29, 1945 series 6box 4folder 15
Certificate for Bower from Vietnam, 1968 series 6box 4folder 16
Newark Sunday Call, March 23, 1930 series 6box 4folder 17
Sunday Call, November, 12 1933 series 6box 4folder 18
Sunday Call, Feburary 17, 1935 series 6box 4folder 19
Lane Reporter, March 31, 1942 series 6box 4folder 20
St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, October 17, 1942 series 6box 4folder 21
Sunday Post, October 21, 1979 series 6box 4folder 22
Joplin Globe, June 17, 1979 series 6box 4folder 23
Sunday Mirror, Feburary 7, 1943 series 6box 4folder 24
Can You Top This? (cartoon source unknown), 1940's series 6box 4folder 25
1000 Jokes, Spring 1943 series 6box 4folder 26
Big Town, November 1936 series 6box 4folder 27
Coronet, September 1943 series 6box 4folder 28
Charley Jones' Famous Laugh Book Magazine, May 1948 series 6box 4folder 29
Swing, June 1948 series 6box 4folder 30
Building America, Feburary 1941 series 6box 4folder 31
Radio Parade, April 1941 series 6box 4folder 32
WOR News, July 1, 1943 series 6box 4folder 33
It Pays to Be Ignorant (cartoon source unknown), 1940's series 6box 4folder 34
New York Herald Tribune, Feburary 22, 1947 series 6box 4folder 35
Seen Behind the Scenes (source unknown), undated series 6box 4folder 36
Hartford Courant, June 15, 1975 series 6box 4folder 37
Sunday Republican Magazine, August 6, 1972 series 6box 4folder 38
Billboard, September 11, 1943 series 6box 4folder 39
Time, October 11, 1943 series 6box 4folder 40
Television World, May 24, 1948 series 6box 4folder 41
Radio-TV Times, October 12-18 1964 series 6box 4folder 42
WOR News, June 1, 1942 series 6box 4folder 43
Le Vie parc Vendome, Spring 1941 series 6box 4folder 44

Related Material

The Library of American Broadcasting owns several audio reels of Can You Top This? (au rl orig 1102-1192), which may be of interest to researchers. It also possesses an interview with Bower by Phil Callen on "Talk of the Towns," January 22, 1974, on WMMW Meriden, CT (au rl orig 1482).

Several books on the radio and television industry accompanied the Bower collection. They have been housed with the Library of American Broadcasting's main book collection, and are catalogued in the University of Maryland's library sytem. They are: Adams, Samuel Hopkins. A. Woolcott: His Life and His World (PS3445.07726) Australian Broadcasting Commission and Hippon Hoso Kyokai, pub. Educational television in Developing Countries: A report of an On-the -Spot Survey. Bretz, Rudy. Techniques of Television Production (PN1992.75.B73). Bretz, Rudy and Edward Stasheff. Television Scripts for Stage and Study: With a Guide to Creative Camerawork (PN6072.B7). Hubbell, Richard. Television Programming and Production. (TK6630.H7). Kehoe, Vincent. The Technique of Film and Television Make-up. (PN2068.K4 1957). Iran Nationa Iranian Radio-Television. Shayon, Robert Lewis. Interaction: Television Public Affairs Programming�at the Community Level. Wade, Robert J. Deisgning for TV: The Arts and Crafts in Television Production.

Annotations found throughout the collection were largely made by Jean Stewart Bower; her initials, J.S. B. may sometimes be found on items.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.