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.
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.
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.
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.
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