Buster Brown Goes to the White House
It was his first day on the job as the voice of Buster Brown on KMOX in 1926. No one, not even Bryson Rash himself, envisioned that day as the beginning of a career that would lead him to the job of network White House correspondent.
Rash was 12 years old when he made his debut as the child spokesman for Buster Brown Shoes. He’d won the audition held by the company and thus earned the chance to work on the fledgling station, in which Brown Shoe had ownership interest. He told St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter Vicki Ostrolenk: “I was on the air Monday and Friday evenings telling tall stories to kiddies, and giving little talks on safety, being neat and clean – the regular Boy Scout routine.”
The job, he said, required him to dress the part, complete with short pants and a bowl-type haircut, which led the kids at school to taunt him as a big, fat sissy. The next year his voice began to change and the radio job quickly ended.
Several years later Rash heard of an opening at KWK and he got the job. Within a year he was back at KMOX, this time as a news reader and commentator. But by then he had accumulated plenty of seasoning from the loose atmosphere at KWK.
That station’s studios were on the ninth floor of the Chase Hotel . Owner/manager Thomas Patrick Convey was a showman and promoter whose wife helped run the station and whose son was one of the main on-air personalities.
Rash was profiled in the Washington Post July 16, 1950, where reporter Sonia Stein wrote of his KWK experience: “He had news scripts set on fire by playful colleagues while he read them, and has had to light matches to read scripts by when some playful character doused the lights.”
The article also told how he gained experience as a sports broadcaster: “He announced…his first wrestling match the night he saw his first wrestling match. Comfortably ensconced behind the station’s sports announcer in a free seat, Bryson was drafted into service by the sports man who was suddenly taken ill. ‘Put the show on for me, will you? I’ll be right back,’ he said. Bryson put it on and kept it on (since the man never came back) with the help of the engineer who kept hissing, ‘That’s a Nelson. That’s a flying mare.’”
In 1936 Bryson Rash left St. Louis to take an offer at WLW in Cincinnati , but within a month CBS had moved him to WJSV in Washington , DC . A year later NBC hired him and gave him some high-visibility jobs. Then the Federal Communications Commission told NBC it couldn’t run two separate networks, so the company spun off the network Rash worked for, making him an ABC employee.
From that point, the star of Bryson Rash seemed to rise quickly. He became a network commentator, chairman of the President’s Birthday Ball in Washington , head of the national fund drive for Infantile Paralysis, P.R. chair for the American Cancer Society and the announcer who introduced the president on ABC broadcasts. In December of 1949, ABC sent Rash to Key West to cover President Truman’s visit. Within months, Rash was named ABC’s White House correspondent. Another up-and-comer, Walter Cronkite, was his counterpart at CBS.
Rash also migrated to television. He was the only broadcaster to cover the test explosion of the hydrogen bomb in 1956. He is a member of the National Press Club Hall of Fame, and became known as one of the capital’s characters, proudly wearing a bowtie on every telecast. He once told a columnist he owned over 100 of them. He also bragged that his “first job was with KMOX.” The original “big, fat sissy” had the last laugh.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 10/06)