The Breakfast Club was a long-run morning variety show on NBC Blue Network/ABC radio (and briefly on television) originating in Chicago, Illinois. Hosted by Don McNeill, the radio program ran from June 23, 1933 through December 27, 1968. McNeil's 35-and-a-half-year run as host remains the longest tenure for an emcee of a network entertainment program, surpassing Johnny Carson (29½ years) on The Tonight Show and Bob Barker (34⅔ years) on The Price is Right.
In Chicago during the early 1930s, McNeill was assigned to take over an unsponsored early morning variety show, The Pepper Pot, with an 8am timeslot on the NBC Blue Network. McNeill re-organized the hour as The Breakfast Club, dividing it into four segments which McNeill labeled "the Four Calls to Breakfast."
McNeill's revamped show premiered in 1933, combining music with informal talk and jokes often based on topical events, initially scripted by McNeill but later ad-libbed. In addition to recurring comedy performers, various vocal groups and soloists, listeners heard sentimental verse, conversations with members of the studio audience and a silent moment of prayer. The series eventually gained a sponsor, Swift and Company. McNeill is credited as the first performer to make morning talk and variety a viable radio format.
The program featured Fran Allison (also of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame) as "Aunt Fanny", plus Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers and various comedy bits. Every quarter-hour came the "Call to Breakfast" -- a march around the breakfast table. A featured vocalist on the show, under her professional name of Annette King, was Charlotte Thompson Reid, who later became an Illinois congresswoman for five terms (1962-71).
Broadcast venues and networks
The Breakfast Club was first broadcast from NBC's studios in the Merchandise Mart. In 1948, after 4500 broadcasts from the Merchandise Mart, the program moved to the new ABC Civic Studio. It was also heard from other Chicago venues: the Terrace Casino (at the Morrison Hotel), the College Inn Porterhouse (at the Sherman House) and "the Tiptop Room of the Allerton Hotel on Chicago's Magnificent Mile," as well as tour broadcasts from other locations in the U.S. It remained a fixture on the ABC radio network (formerly the NBC Blue Network; it became known as ABC in 1945), maintaining its popularity for years and counting among its fans Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas.
After ABC Radio was split into four networks in 1968, The Breakfast Club was moved to the new American Entertainment network, and was known for its last months on the air as The Don McNeill Show.
As TV Club (aka Don McNeill's TV Club) in a 1950-51 prime-time edition, it failed to make a successful transition to television. For one year, beginning on February 22, 1954, The Breakfast Club was simulcast on ABC radio and television, ending on February 25, 1955. In 1948, the program was shown on the DuMont television station WABD in New York -- "simulcast" with the ABC radio show, as an experiment -- and at least two kinescope recordings survive of these telecasts- including a February 17, 1954 "test kinescope", produced a week before the regular simulcasts began.