Arthur Godfrey was born on August 31, 1903 in New York City. Godfrey is considered one of the most influential on-air personalities of the first decade of television. Godfrey began his career as “Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist,” on a radio debut in 1929 in Baltimore. Godfrey was a radio personality for almost 20 years and gained notoriety as a fun loving and easy going host. People related to him well and in no time at all Godfrey were well known.
Godfrey later moved into the realm of reporting and became an announcer at Washington D.C.’s NBC affiliate. He was said to have spoken to listeners as though he was engaged in a one-on-one conversation. This put listeners as well as those he was reporting on or interviewing at ease. It is suggested that Godfrey was the first announcer to try this style and it is the one that today’s announcer try to copy. Many of today’s broadcasters attribute their start with watching Godfrey.
After a short time with NBC Godfrey moved on to CBS affiliate WJSV in Washington, D.C. Both networks were said to have wanted him however CBS won out. His red hair and friendly face gave him the all American look people related to. Advertisers liked Godfrey as well. He often teased with them but then stepped up to give them the very best attention when it came to sponsorship. Advertisers reportedly flocked to Godfrey’s show because of the special attention that he gave them.
Godfrey moved up even further on the ladder of news reporting success when in April 1945, he reported on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral for CBS. Reaction to him was so successful that he was given a national daily morning show two weeks later. The show was entitled Arthur Godfrey Time. Godfrey’s deep voice delivery earned him a million dollars a year. At that point in time he was one of the highest paid people in the United States although he still appeared to maintain his likeable persona.
Many say that when it came to advertising Godfrey knew what he was doing. When he promoted plastic Islander ukuleles, their sales exploded. Before anyone knew it, millions of plastic ukuleles were sold. The sales of traditional wooden-bodied ukuleles also greatly increased during this period. It was reported at the time that advertising researchers agreed hat Godfrey’s personality was what sold the ukuleles.
Godfrey was also a successful ukulele player himself who won international attention for love of the instrument. He learned to play ukulele while in the Navy. Godfrey is credited with single-handedly creating the success of ukulele popularity early 1950’s. Godfrey asked Eddie Connors to design what would become the first baritone ukulele, once again adding to ukulele history. His showcasing his own talent and the instrument caused wide spread interest in the small guitar like instrument. Godfrey hosted a short-lived television show called Arthur Godfrey and His Ukulele, where he taught viewers how to play the ukulele. It was popular however the networks thought the numbers fell short.
Godfrey was said to have wielded a lot of influence throughout his career and helped many talents to fame such as Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, and Patsy Cline. In December of 1948 Godfrey’s Talent Scouts made its television debut. Here Godfrey used a resident cast who became familiar faces on television. Godfrey played host sometimes singing off key and strumming his ukulele.
Arthur Godfrey was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988, six years after his death. Arthur Godfrey died on March 16, 1983.