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Where did the theme music come from?

Updated July 1! Hear Burl Ives sing the Joy Boys theme, below.

The Joy Boys theme is set to the music of the Billboard March, written 100 years ago, and the lyrics are about 50 years old. If your browser supports MIDI files, click below and play the theme as you read the rest of the story.

The Billboard March, MIDI version

Thanks to Woody Higginbotham for this arrangement; see his link below. If you prefer a full marching band, try one of the links at the bottom of this page instead.

pic of John N. Klohr John N. Klohr composed the Billboard March. Klohr was born in Cincinatti in 1869. He composed over 20 marches, including the Billboard in 1901. The Billboard March became his most recognizable piece, and has been a favorite of circus bands for nearly a century. This march was dedicated to the weekly entertainment magazine, Billboard, the same magazine which still publishes its Top 40 lists today. (Naming your music after a publication was apparently a common practice, since we also have such things as the Washington Post march by John Phillips Sousa.)

Klohr was a professional trombone player and also worked as the editor of a publishing company. Being a musician didn't pay the bills in those days either.

Where did the lyrics come from?

Some of the WRC engineers in the 1950's had attended Capitol Radio Engineering Institute, where the students would sometimes sing "we are the joy boys of radio, we chase electrons to and fro." Ed heard the engineers and recorded his own versions of the song. The song was probably a tradition in that school, so we don't know the exact origin of the lyrics. Anyone who can add to this story, please let us know.

There were two versions: the one heard during the show opening (MP3 file, 61K) had both Ed and Willard singing. The one used as the closing theme (MP3 file, 55K) had only Ed, singing four part harmony.

Burl Ives sings...

pic of Burl Ives whistling "We are the Joy Boys..." made it as far as Hollywood. In the movie Ensign Pulver (Warner Brothers Pictures, (c) 1964), the sequel to Mister Roberts, Burl Ives plays the cranky old captain. He becomes shipwrecked, needs his appendix removed, and the only anesthetic is a "native conconction." Feeling no pain, he sings and whistles the Joy Boys theme (MP3 file, 60K). Ed Walker says, We used to have a recording of that bit, and we would use it as a drop-in on the show sometimes. The movie also stars Walter Matthau, and features Jack Nicholson, Larry Hagman, James Farentino, and others before they were famous.

Listen to an excerpt of an interview with Willard and Ed (MP3 file, 163K) as they tell you more about the Joy Boys theme. This interview is part of the special WAMU CD, currently being produced for American University Radio's 2001 pledge drive. Read more about this CD here.

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