Ken Niles’ "Theater of the Mind" in the 1920s was among the first of radio's original live dramas. He was a pioneer announcer whose voice became familiar to millions on "The Abbott and Costello Show" and "Take It or Leave It."
Niles was studying at the University of Washington, while playing his saxophone and working on Seattle radio stations, when he accepted an offer from Don Lee in Los Angeles. Lee had started one of the first radio networks on the West Coast that was eventually to become part of CBS.
Niles came to Los Angeles with $19 in his pocket and for three years, desperate for work in the post-Wall Street crash of 1929, worked without a day off.
In addition to announcing, he created a series of original dramas he called "Theater of the Mind."
Such dramas as "Witches' Tales" and "Catherine the Great" went on the air over Lee's objections, said his brother Wendell Niles, because the owner-producer could not fathom why anyone would listen to a drama when he or she could not see the performers.
Ken Niles also was the producer and host, with Louella Parsons, of "Hollywood Hotel," which featured interviews with film stars and highlights from selected movies. The show was the first to feature filmland's unofficial anthem, "Hooray for Hollywood."
Over the years, Niles was heard weekly on "Beulah," "The Camel Caravan," "The Danny Kaye Show," "Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge," "Big Town," "The Life of Riley" and "Take It or Leave It," with its $64 question that became the forerunner of television's "The $64,000 Question."
Niles gradually retired from radio as television became popular and concentrated much of his efforts on a marina complex he owned on Balboa Island.