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Mel Blanc was the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, Road Runner, Barney Rubble and a host of other cartoon characters, but not too many people know that he got his start working in the early days of radio on the air in Portland at KGW and KEX.

Mel Blank was born on May 30, 1908 in San Francisco. In 1915, he moved with his family to Portland, when vaudeville was at its peak. He later changed the spelling of his name to Blanc.

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Portland’s Pantages Theatre as it looked in 1915. Vaudeville acts had been popular in Portland since the 1880s. One of Portland’s first theaters, Cordray’s Opera House opened in 1889.

Mel Blanc grew up in South Portland and after attending Lincoln High School, he began working as a musician in the orchestra at the Multnomah Hotel. While there he was invited to join the Hoot Owls program on KGW in 1927.

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The nationally famous Hoot Owls, officially known as "The Order of Hoot Owls Roosting in the Oregonian Tower" aired from 1923 to 1933 as a 2-1/2 hour variety show that was broadcast to over one million listeners.

Their slogan soon became "Keep Growing Wiser," whose initial letters represented the KGW call letters. The only other show that rivaled the Hoot Owls in popularity was Amos & Andy which first aired in Portland in 1928 on KFEC. Studios were on the fifth floor of Meier & Frank.

 

KGW Studio in the Oregonian Tower in 1922.

Nicknamed "The Grand Snicker" on the Hoot Owls, Blanc became well known for his comedy, as well as his skills as a storyteller, ad-libber, musician, vocalist, and, later, orchestra pit conductor. One of his favorite instruments was the sousaphone.

Mel Blanc left KGW in 1932 and moved to Hollywood where success eluded him. In 1933, Blanc returned to Portland to perform on KGW’s sister station KEX in the popular "Cobwebs and Nuts" program. In 1935, Blanc moved to Hollywood again to Warner Brothers’ station KFWB. Blanc did the voices for his first Warner Brothers cartoon in 1937, "Picador Porky." While working on animated cartoons at Warner Brothers studios in Southern California, he became known as the most famous voice actor in American cinema.

During his early years in Portland radio, Blanc laid the foundation for many of his later cartoon voices and comedy routines. While reflecting later in life, Mel Blanc recognized Vaudeville as a big influence in his life. He passed away in 1989.

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Portland Radio

Last updated 10-24-16

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