Way Back When... 1980
In February 1980 G. Emerson Cole began his epic series of radio broadcasts, “The Big Bands Are Back,” on WIOZ and WIOZ-FM in Pinehurst, N.C., which he continued weekly for almost 33 years until his death in 2012.
Cole, born Jan. 5, 1919, was an American radio, television, and special events producer/announcer pioneer. The program is said to be the longest-running big-band radio program in history.
For 35 years Cole lived in Darien. While serving as president of the YMCA, which had no building, Cole found an opportunity to acquire 7.5 acres of property on Long Island Sound from an estate sale, and with community donations, spearheaded the remodeling of existing structures into a state-of-the-art Darien Community YMCA facility.
Cole moved his family from Darien to Pinehurst in 1979, and on Feb. 24, 1980, began his epic series of broadcasts.
After graduation from high school with honors in Peoria, Ill., in 1936 Cole entered Cornell University, where he began his career in broadcasting by building and operating a wired college network station, which became the Cornell FM radio station. He was involved in the creation of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System to help other universities build similar stations.
Cole graduated from Cornell in 1941 with bachelor’s degrees In mechanical engineering and business administration. He joined the U.S. Navy on Dec. 8, 1941.
He joined the Navy the day after the Pearl Harbor invasion on Dec. 8, 1941, and was sent to General Electric to work with its radar development programs until he was called up for active duty in 1944.
After Communication School at Harvard, Cole was sent to Melville, R.I., to train for PT boat duty. He sailed from San Francisco to the Philippines in 1944 to join the Pacific Task Force.
On the way to Balikpapan, Borneo, the last invasion of World War II, Cole joined Squadron 10, the remainder of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat squadron, on PT-171.
On one of his 13 patrols, the boat’s radar malfunctioned and the operator was unable to get it back on the air. By coincidence it was the same General Electric model SO-2 Cole had helped to develop at General Electric and he was able to restore it in less than a minute.
During his tenure in the Navy, Cole took many historic photographs and sketches of the people and places in Pacific wartime and some have found their way into private and public collections as valuable relics of life in the wartime Navy in the South Pacific.
At the end of the war, PT-171 with Lt. Emerson Cole as skipper patrolled the coast for holdouts, with a Japanese prisoner on the bow of the boat who called out to the shoreline over a speaker saying, “It is over, don’t shoot!”
Surrender terms for the Dutch West Indies were signed on an Australian cruiser and then skipper Lt. Cole sailed PT-171 back to the Philippines, where the boats were burned to the waterline while their crews awaited the trip home.
After the war, Cole became a television commercial writer, director, and producer at Benton & Bowles Advertising Agency working directly under Shepherd Mead, author of the best-selling book, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Cole claims he was featured in chapter 7, which did not appear in the movie that was made from the book.
In those days television shows were produced live, and some of the programs he worked on included “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Life Begins At 80,” “Ford Star Time,” “Omnibus,” “Captain Video” and “The Gale Storm Show.”
Cole produced a four-hour radio documentary about the Pearl Harbor invasion which has been required listening for some Moore County, N.C., schoolchildren.
The Pearl Harbor special includes original recordings of famous speeches, and eclectic sketches such as a rare Armed Forces Network recording of Glenn Miller broadcasting to the German troops in what Cole called “terrible” German.