Mary Holliday put generations on radio

By: Terri Jo Ryan, Waco Tribune-Herald

Oct. 23, 2006

Decades before "American Idol" made stars out of wannabes, Waco had its own hit-maker, Mary Holliday.

Holliday (1901-1969), believed to be the first female radio announcer in Texas, broadcast a 30-minute youth talent show each Saturday for more than 30 years. She started in radio in 1925, working as a studio pianist at WJAD-AM, which became WACO-AM in 1927. The show launched shortly thereafter.

But the program — known as the "Jones' Fine Bread Kiddie Matinee Show" — proved so popular it was moved in 1932 to the Waco Theatre. It was broadcast there weekly until 1956.

One of the most famous alumni of Holliday’s show is Hank Thompson, 81, a Country Music Hall-of-Famer whose career has spanned six decades and who has sold more than 60 million records worldwide.

Jennifer Warren, historian for the Waco Hippodrome, said that in the show's heyday, Holliday would invite youngsters ages 5 to 14 who could sing, play an instrument or act to come two weeks in advance to audition for the show, "and she'd coach a good performance out of them," Warren said. "If a kid just flat out had no talent, she never told them that. She'd just suggest they go home and 'practice some more.'

The young performers got in free, but the audience paid a quarter a head to get in. The children competed for humble cash prizes of 50 cents to $2, Warren added.

Besides the variety show, Holliday was known for the talk show "What's Doing Around Waco," which began as a 15-minute filler in 1938 and had expanded to an hourlong show by 1950.

She also was much in demand as a public speaker because of her many adventures overseas.

"She took her radio audiences to France, England, Italy, Germany and other faraway places with her tape recorder," Holliday's July 7, 1969, Tribune-Herald obituary noted.

Local Hispanic leader and historian Robert Gamboa was a Sul Ross Elementary student when she came to his class to interview students with her big black box recorder. It was a thrill for many youngsters, most of whom had never heard a recording of their own voices before, he recalled.

Warren said she is always seeking photos, recordings, documents and memories about the Hippodrome's storied past. She is also searching for family members of Mary Holliday.

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