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Al Arkus: The Music Maestro

WNYC History Notes Vol. 3, Issue 4

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 11:00 AM

Al Arkus started at WNYC by producing, directing and reading newscasts. He also directed and announced for Edward Tatnall Canby, David Randolph and Oscar Brand. Children’s programming became one of his favorite genres: he wrote, produced and narrated The Music Maestro, a weekly educational music program, and appeared regularly on The Children’s Story Fair, a show with a cast of 'kids' wandering on a magic midway to adventures in an opera house, a record room, a side show, a concert hall and similar locations. Al also wrote, directed and produced Here's Heidy, a children's program with storyteller Heidy Mayer that moved to WOR in 1949.

The November 26, 1947, edition of Variety reviewed the Sunday morning program when it was on WNYC, calling it a "slick job of yarn-spinning for wee moppets." The program typically had two stories: the first was a modern fantasy with an educational focus over a musical background with sound effects, while the second was usually a whimsical tale based on invited letters written by children about things they've lost. A classic story from the first half of one episode is Breezy the Bee and the Laws of Aerodynamics, where a B-29 bomber named 'Buzzy' tells Breezy the Bee that he can't fly according to the laws of aerodynamics since he doesn't have enough wingspan. Believing this, Breezy stops flying but finds his wings again when Buzzy crashes and needs help. Variety's reviewer said it was a tale "calculated to keep knee-high tikes...glued to the loudspeaker."

Al Arkus was best known as the namesake character in The Music Maestro: a great conductor who leads the world's largest orchestra and colorfully describes and deconstructs the various elements of symphonic works like Wagner's Grand March from the opera Tannhauser, Prokofiev's Petite Gouroute and Offenbach's Gaîté Parisienne (listen to it above). After The Music Maestro  had been on the air for 18 months, Al drafted a proposal to turn it into a television program "directed toward any age group whatsoever." The show would "present to the audience and acquaint them with classical music in a delightful manner which contains sparkle and meaning...The instruments are treated as persons, individuals who are independent...The Maestro speaks to the instruments of his orchestra and tells a story in music with their assistance." Below you will find a sampling of the radio requests made to The Music Maestro from young and not-so-young listeners. (Thanks to Deborah and Rob Arkus)

After WNYC, Al produced a number of commercial children's records and had a successful career at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where he was the Broadcast Operations Director for the New York office until 1994.  

WNYC Archive Collections
Mary Dalton - November 25, 1947 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Stanley Goldfarb - March 27, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Theodosia Gioumousis - April 11, 1950 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Francis Kenny - no date
WNYC Archive Collections
S. Thomas Jenkins - no date
WNYC Archive Collections
Audrey Bellin - July 2, 1949 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Murray Cohen - May 8, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Sara Robine - May 8, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Judy Oyler - January 8, 1950 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Yale Meltzer - March 25, 1950 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Marilyn V. Lax - December 31, 1949 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Alan Rosenbaum - November 26, 1947 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Sylvia Romm - April 12, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Gary Gittleson - May 8, 19?? (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Gloria Gerstum - April 22, 1950 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Mrs. Ernie Stern - October 16, 1949 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Mrs. S. Nauen - April 10, 1949 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
E. Siegel - February 26, 1949 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Benjy Klein - April 19, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Mrs. E. Pomerance - February 20, 1950 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Mrs. J. Macateer - April 14, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Peggy Tucker - December 18, 1948 (postmark)
WNYC Archive Collections
Carolyn Lewis - 1948 (postmark)

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Comments [1]

Thomas

There is an ALBERT ARKUS who was pianist on recordings of CABARET TAC,
circa 1940. Was he related to NYCs AL ARKUS?

Oct. 14 2012 04:25 PM

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