Thursday, March 7, 2019

Si Westbrook, KOA Denver's Strolling Songster

 A dear friend clued me in to an online auction, featuring a massive stash of old KOA Radio, Denver pictures. I was beyond shocked I was the only bidder. That said, shocked doesn't begin to express my reaction to actually opening the mailed package, and seeing this cache of incredible early Denver radio and music history memorabilia.

Too many fantastic photos to share, in this post, so I'll start with the ones featuring KOA radio announcer and cowboy singer, Si Westbrook. The first online reference I was able to find on him was dated 1934, from a California newspaper.

(All pictures are watermarked)

According to sleuthing, from music historian Kevin Coffey, "Si was born Simon Steven Westbrook, in March 6, 1910, and died in Denver, in July, 1974."

Interesting to note the date of this blog post, is the day after his birthday. Happy accident.

Madera (CA) Tribune - March 3, 1934: "Sunday and Monday the Madera Theatre will present an all star cast of radio stars on the stage. Headed by Harry Fletcher, the organizer and manager of the Arizona Wranglers and the Purple Sage Riders, and include stars from KNX, KMPC, KFWB, KELW, and the supreme cowboy master of ceremonies, Si Westbrook of KOA, Denver. The Riders present the most unique act ever offered to the public" (NOTE: This amazing cache of pictures also including some incredible photos of the western band, Purple Sage Riders! Will be sharing those, in a later blog post. Stay tuned!).

I then found a newspaper article, from June 24, 1934, from a Great Falls, MT newspaper, indicating that he was "formerly" with KOA.

Around this same time, Westbrook was also a local radio actor. I did find several mentions of his role as "Sheriff Si," along with Jim Herrick's character Lem Simpkins, on the Opery House program, which was broadcast every Saturday night, on KOA. The stack of pictures also contained photos of the two men, in character!

 Broadcast of the Opery House program, performed at KOA studios, in front of a live audience.

In a May 1937 issue of Radio Daily, Si was dubbed the "Strolling Songster" who "warbled old time ballads, five days a week, on KOA."

 Si Westbrook (left) with unidentified KOA announcer

 In the massive stack of memorabilia, I also obtained two 1939 KOA commercial rate cards, which noted the various performers, on the air, including, "Si Westbrook, the KOA Strolling Songster, has his own 15 minute program, twice a week. His friendly personality and fine singing of the old cowboy songs and ballads have made him one of the most popular radio artists in the Rocky Mountains."

A 1940 census report showed that Si Westbrook, of Denver Colorado, listed his profession as "radio entertainer."It also noted, that his residence on April 1, 1935 (the last census), was Los Angeles, CA. So my hunch is he worked at KOA, then left the station to tour with the band, then came back to KOA.

It also appears that Si was part of the Coors Songs of the Saddle Band, as one of the photos shows him, on stage, as part of the regular Tuesday night KOA radio show, which aired in the early 1940s.

Si Westbrook (with guitar) at right center of stage

In a 1943 issue of Radio Showmanship I found this notation: SUNSHINE BOYS  - "When The Sunshine Boys took their accordion-guitar duo to the air, they got reel cooperation from sponsor Vick Chemical Co., and KOA, Denver, Col. Some 180,000 weekly movie- goers witnessed screen trailers in the 12 Denver Fox International Theatres. Si Westbrook sings, plays the guitar, and Zeke Beckman puts the accordion through its paces. Nearly every number is vocalized. Patter between numbers is ad libbed. Commercials plugging Vick's cold remedies V apo-Rub and Vick's Va-tro-nol are handled by commercial announcer Steve Robertson. First Broadcast: September, 1942."

 Of note: Zeke Beckman was part of the Channel 9 (KBTV, later KUSA) Ozie Waters, Colorado Rangers House Party (with Bill Butterfield at the piano, Zeke Beckman on the accordion, Onard "Spike" Gibson on bass fiddle, Ozie Waters on the guitar, and Jerry Osburn on the steel guitar).

Si Westbrook (left) and Zeke Beckman (right). Unknown KOA announcer (center)

In the stack was a 1946 picture of Si with Earle "Casey" Shaw, performing a salute to the Cheyenne Frontier Days, dated July 18.

Earle "Case" Shaw (left) and Si Westbrook (right)

In 1947, I found a notation that the Sunshine Boys played for a Denver American Legion dinner.

UPDATE: Kevin Coffey shared with me that, according to the 1948 Denver city directory, Si Westbrook listed his profession as a patrolman, with the Colorado Highway Patrol. A 1953 directory listed his profession as a court officer.

Unfortunately, the trail goes cold on additional information. If you can share anything, regarding Mr. Si Westbrook, drop me a line!

1 comment:

  1. Can you please tell me where you got the picture of Shorty Wells? He is my Great-Grandfather and we have never seen that photo of him, was lovely to see it here. Thank you!