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Steve Allen Goes National On Radio

October 15, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Earlier this year, Steve Allen and jazz musician Jack Sheldon, one of Hollywood's leading free spirits, teamed up for a trumpet duet, accompanied by a pianist. It was remarkable in two regards: The brass section was at Allen's home in Los Angeles; the pianist was in New York.

This live bicoastal musicale, possibly the first of its kind on radio, was heard on Allen's show on WNEW-AM here. Such events may henceforth have a wider audience, however.

Allen this week began doing a national edition of his daily "Steve Allen Show" on the NBC Radio Network--a grab bag of persiflage, listener call-ins, celebrity chat, a "Vent Your Spleen" segment and even some music.

Intended for afternoons, it's done live from 2-5 p.m. EDT, with stations allowed to carry it live or to tape it for delayed broadcast, provided that the show doesn't start locally after 7 p.m.

NBC Radio, recently bought by Westwood One of Los Angeles, has found no home for the show in that city yet, but says it is negotiating with several stations there to carry the program.

A bit of irony there. Although well-known as the original star of NBC's "Tonight Show" in the mid-1950s and of his own zany NBC comedy-variety series, Allen actually got his major-league broadcasting start on radio in Los Angeles.

It was there, 41 years ago, that he did his first radio comedy show, working with a sidekick, Wendell Noble, for the Mutual network.

Their show got axed after two years, leaving the two down but not out in Tinseltown. Allen landed a solo job at CBS-owned KNX. The idea was for him to joke a bit and play records a lot.

"Within a year--to shorten a dull story--there were no more records and it had become a comedy program, and that's exactly happened in this case," said Allen, referring to his signing by WNEW here last January.

Under a unique agreement that let him host the show most of the time from his Los Angeles home, Allen was hired to succeed the late William B. Williams as host of WNEW's long-running "Make-Believe Ballroom," with a co-host, Mark Simone, bantering with him from WNEW studios in New York.

"Ballroom" had a tradition of airing records by such singers as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee, and Allen premiered with a four-hour salute to Jerome Kern. In time, though, Allen's ad libs, crazy bits and general lunacy started getting more air time and, as he explained it, "comedy pushed music out of the way. . . . It was never planned that way, though."

After three months of this, Allen said, "the station said, 'It doesn't make any sense to call this "The Make-Believe Ballroom" anymore.' Then the network came along, and here we are today."

He said he'll continue doing the show from his home "about 60% of the time." He talked about these and other matters at an informal buffet lunch at NBC Radio headquarters in midtown Manhattan this week.

His network show premiered Monday, even as NBC Radio still was seeking clearances from stations for it. A spokesman said he didn't know how many of the network's 400 affiliates had signed up yet for the show. However, he said it is expected that from 50 to 100 stations will air it.

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