There was no more popular radio team heard over Detroit’s airwaves than Joe Gentile and Ralph Binge.  For more than two decades the zany duo kept humor hungry Detroiters laughing on both radio and television. At its peak the Happy Joe and Ralph program was heard by an incredible 80 percent of the listening audience. In addition to his radio work Ralph Binge portrayed TV kids show host Pirate Pete, and was CKLW-TV’s first choice to play Popeye cartoon host Captain Jolly.

  Before finding his voice in broadcasting, Ralph Binge worked as a plumber, gas station attendant, door-to-door salesman and boxer. His childhood friend Joe Gentile, along with sidekick Toby David, was heard on CKLW with the Happy Joe and the Early Morning Frolic program. Ralph often hung out at the station with his buddy Joe, and would occasionally contribute gags and voices to the show. In 1940 Toby David left the station for a radio job in Washington, D.C., making Binge the new second banana.

  The show’s formula was simple- kid the pants off the advertisers with crazy skits, characters and stories that revolved around the sponsor’s product. With the flimsiest outline of a script they worked out their routines while the records were spinning. No writers, producers or directors- most everything was improvised on the spot! The radio listeners ate it up and so did the show’s sponsors, especially when one of their 60 second commercials wound on for three minutes or more. A typical three and a half hour show contained about fifty commercials for Joe and Ralph to lampoon, with a list of over fifty would-be sponsors waiting in the wings.   Parodies of current movies, radio programs and commercials for imaginary products  were also a regular part of the festivities.

 One imaginary product involved an overweight woman stuck in a phone booth. The woman was fed thru a straw for three days before she could be extracted from the booth.  Dr. Quack's Slim Jim Reducing Pills were introduced as an antidote, with a trial offer for one dollar. Legend has it  that the station received over three thousand dollars, and a special clerk had to be hired to return the money for the faux pills.

 For a popular local jewelry store the boys came up with the following spot. "Is your girl the chubby type? Are her little hands fat and pudgy? Or is she the picturesque, stately type with the long, tapering fingers of a pickpocket? No matter what type she is, you can be sure that Miller's Jewelry Shop has the ring for her."

 Occasionally angry advertisers would call in to complain about the shoddy treatment of their product. Gentile and Binge would take the calls in the studio and let the listeners hear the argument. 

  The boys made WJBK their radio home in 1948, where they continued performing their patented Gentile and Binge brand of comedy. Joe and Ralph made the transition to television in 1951 with WJBK-TV’s The Laughing Academy, a mid-morning comedy show that was basically a video version of their radio program. 

 In addition to his Laughing Academy duties Binge also hosted The Headless Horseman, a humorous radio program aimed at Detroit's teenagers. The popular platters of the day were played, but the main attraction was the show's host The Headless Horseman, along  with his cohorts Uncle Frank and "The friendly philosopher and poet laureate of Michigan Avenue,  Beautiful Carl," all voiced by Binge.

  In 1954 Binge created the character of Pirate Pete for WJBK-TV. He described the character as “a friendly pirate with no murder in his heart, to set a good example for the small fry audience.”  The show took place on a ship’s deck, with Binge dressed to the hilt in Pirate garb, complete with pantaloons, high boots, handlebar moustache, jaunty Jolly Roger hat and flintlock pistol. He sported an eye patch only occasionally because “it gets in the way of clowning.”  Mr. Bones, a live talking parrot, was his sidekick. In addition to Pirate Pete’s tales of the sea, the show also featured movie serials and Crusader Rabbit cartoons.

   Binge’s clever writing style found it’s way into every episode. One story line had Pirate Pete fishing a message from a bottle in the sea. The note read, “Please excuse this letter’s wetness.” Another episode involved Pete’s discovery of a map that revealed the location of an invisible island in the middle of Lake St. Clair.

   Gentile and Binge ended their radio partnership in 1956 after WJBK decided to move their program to the evening hours; a decision the duo weren’t very pleased with. The new time slot also interfered with Binge’s announcing job with the Detroit Tigers. Gentile returned to CKLW, while Binge stayed at WJBK, where he worked in the radio sales department.

  Binge was CKLW's original choice to portray Captain Jolly. A 1957 TV Guide stated “Ralph Binge, slated to appear as Captain Jolly on Ch. 9’s Popeye, has been unable to appear on the show thus far due to illness. (Poopdeck) Paul Allen is substituting until Ralph’s return.” Toby David ultimately took over the role as the beloved Captain.

  In 1959 WQTE was looking for veteran radio personalities to staff their new station so they hired Binge, CKLW’s afternoon man Eddie Chase and the original Jack the Bellboy, Ed McKenzie. Unfortunately the overall ratings were poor, so the station’s “Target 560” pop format was changed to Rock and Roll, new talent was hired and the radio legends were released from their contracts.

  The team of Gentile and Binge was silenced forever when Ralph Binge died of a heart attack in 1963. Joe Gentile died in 1995 of complications from pneumonia.

  The manic comedy of Happy Joe and Ralph was just the tonic that WWII weary Detroiters needed to take their minds off of the country’s problems. Their wild “in your face” brand of humor appealed to both the assembly line worker and the harried housewife. Radio personalities come and go, but no one has ever been as crazy or as fun as Gentile and Binge when they ruled the airwaves.