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Major Bowes' Amateur Hour


In 1935, Major Edward Bowes began airing a radio show with that would make history. The Major Bowes' Amateur Hour was a popular talent contest. In its first year, more than thirty thousand acts auditioned. One of the successful acts was the "Hoboken Four." The act was made up of Fred Tamburro, Jimmy Petro, Patty Prince, and Frank Sinatra. The act won that year, and went on a vaudeville tour. Frank Sinatra later left to make it on his own.

On this date, in the radio program's second year, North Dakotans were preparing for "Bismarck Night" on the Major Bowes' Amateur Hour. That is, Bismarck 8000 was the phone number used for registering votes for the listeners’ favorite act. Area residents and non-residents alike could vote by phoning the Bismarck number, or by wiring or mailing their votes to KFYR. All calls and messages had to be prepaid. The Bismarck telephone exchange planned to have "a full crew" on duty for half an hour after the program ended. All of these votes would be compiled and sent on to New York and Major Bowes.

The Egeland Enterprise newspaper encouraged area residents to vote, "so that Bismarck and the KFYR listeners will register their interest in these programs." The paper also helped pique interest when it was noted that a sousaphone-playing youth from Bismarck High, Chester Johnson, might appear on the show that night – he had won a contest conducted in Bismarck and was given money to travel to New York City.

Although Major Bowes died in 1946, at age 72, the program he developed continued on radio, and eventually, television. The Amateur Hour program ran until 1970. The Library of Congress holds almost every radio and television network broadcast of the Amateur Hour program. The show provided a starting point for many other stars: such as actor/singer Robert Merrill, operatic singers Regina Resnik and Beverly Sills, Gladys Knight, Pat Boone, Jack Carter, Dorothy Collins, and Ann-Margret.

So the next time you watch American Idol, America's Got Talent, or one of numerous other talent-type shows, remember that it all started with Major Bowes, a broadcasting pioneer.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


"" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 1946)

Egeland Enterprise, April 2, 1936