Smilin? Ed McConnell was a radio personality best known as the host of the children’s radio and television series, Smilin’ Ed’s Gang, closely identified with its sponsor, Buster Brown shoes.
The son of a minister, McConnell began to sing at the age of three and soon learned how to play both drums and piano. He was athletic as a teenager, and after attending William Jewell College, he went into prize fighting. During World War I, he was briefly thought to be dead, as noted in an NBC press release: “A troop train on which he was traveling was wrecked in Arkansas by a German sympathizer and Ed wound up in a river. When he was pulled out, an Army surgeon pronounced him dead, but a buddy finally revived Ed with artificial respiration.”
After his Army service, McConnell was a gospel vocalist with various evangelists. He entered radio in Atlanta in 1922 as a hasty substitute when a scheduled performer failed to arrive. Married in 1928, McConnell joined the CBS network in 1932, and five years later, he went to NBC as their “Sunshine Melody Man,” offering hymns and uplifting messages. McDonnell?s blend of “songs, humor and philosophy” was aired over network affiliates at 5:30pm. Guests included the Doring Trio, The Four Grenadiers, The Campus Choir and the Rhythmaires.
He became known in New York City when he was heard over WJZ, even though the show was from Chicago and he was living in Elk Rapids, Michigan. McConnell?s timeslots and sponsors also changed. At one point, he was heard at 10:30am doing a 15-minute program sponsored by the Air Conditioning Training Corporation of Youngstown, Ohio. Variety noted that aside from such hymns as “God Understands,” he “unloads a hokey hodge-podge of songs and you-know-me-I wouldn’t-steer-you-wrong-blather.”