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Thu Jul 5 11:40 pm  #1


Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

They were like your favourite uncle or aunt. And they came to visit you every day.
 
“They” were the hosts of kids’ TV shows, an animal now as extinct as the dinosaur. In the early days of TV, the avuncular characters in front of the camera were as familiar as your own parents. But unlike mom and dad, these guys (mostly guys) showed cartoons!
 
Perhaps the most famous in Toronto is a man who didn’t actually do a kid show for very long – the late, great “Jungle” Jay Nelson, who worked with a giant stuffed gorilla on WKBW-TV before being recruited to become one of the most fondly remembered morning men ever on CHUM-AM.

http://i67.tinypic.com/ay672u.jpg

 
His work on CHUM was memorable, but as evidence of how much the TV exposure meant, it’s interesting to note that the “Jungle” nickname never really left him, even though it didn’t make a lot of sense on local radio.
 
CFTO was prominent, with “Uncle Bobby” Ash, a guy I never especially got into.



  
Besides, he had a real Bimbo for a birthday clown!
 
Far more popular in my house was Kiddo the Clown, played by future director Trevor Evans. He lasted on air here for four years until the show was cancelled and, in the final episode, Kiddo was evicted from his hovel, supposedly to make way for a subway!

 
http://i63.tinypic.com/2hohd3r.jpg

 
TV columnist Bill Brioux says it was all part of a dispute Evans had with the station, and wanted to make sure no one could replace him.
 
“This was Evans’ big, cranky, “G’bye, kids” As he told me years later, when he visited the Toronto Sun after I first shared this childhood memory with readers, Evans had asked for a raise and was instead fired. He had one last show to do. So he made sure nobody else could step into his slap shoes. True story.”
 
Brioux has a lot more memories of that greasy kid’s stuff here.

 
But it wasn’t just local. Everyone I knew ran home at lunch time to watch Soupy Sales on channel 9, a syndicated show out of WNEW in New York.

http://i63.tinypic.com/a1jnv7.jpg

 
I was lucky enough to see him live and get his autograph at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City way back in 1966, just after his show became huge all over again.

 http://i66.tinypic.com/i50tua.jpg


He even did “The Mouse” his famous dance and only hit record.

http://i68.tinypic.com/2a6rvit.jpg

http://i65.tinypic.com/2powj79.jpg



 
The jokes were as corny as they come, but they were still hilarious. Well, mostly.

http://i64.tinypic.com/n2izwx.jpg

  
Sadly, many of those classic tapes have been lost. Like “Rocky & Bullwinkle” it was one of the few kid shows that winked at adults with in-jokes only the parents would get. Which is why my father would often watch it with me.
 

 
Captain Kangaroo’s Bob Keeshan came by his role legitimately, starting life as the original “Clarabell the Clown” on the old Howdy Doody Show. He obviously learned enough to go out on his own and was widely successful, with the show – along with Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, the talking Grandfather Clock and the ever present Mr. Greenjeans – running for decades on CBS.
 
Oh, and he even recorded the occasional LP, too.


http://i65.tinypic.com/30w87th.jpg

 
Speaking of Howdy Doody, it was one of the original kid favourites and made NBC-TV a household name before NBC-TV was a household name. Local personality “Buffalo” Bob Smith became an international star because of that marionette.

http://i67.tinypic.com/24ywubn.jpg

 
CHCH got into the act, with Randy Dandy, Albert J. Steed (hosted by Bill Lawrence) and the infamous Cliff McKay, using a terrible German accent as Grandpa Schnitzel on “Schnitzel House.”
 
http://media.zuza.com/9/4/948ff45b-f564-4ecf-9b8c-9fa7fd874e86/B821625432Z.1_20140602192818_000_GMK18JMNI.2_Gallery.jpg
 
(Photo from The Hamilton Spectator’s article “The 60th anniversary of CHCH.”)
 
Not to mention the ubiquitous “Romper Room.”


http://i66.tinypic.com/2airk3p.jpg

 
Even a station outside Toronto, CKCO Kitchener, made a splash with Big Al.  

http://ckco-history.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/big-al-01.jpg
 
(This pic is courtesy of CKCO History, a great site about KW’s channel 13’s past.)
 
But without question the most famous and influential station in Toronto wasn’t from here. It was Channel 7, which began the day with Dave Thomas on “Rocketship 7” and later in the afternoon, featured Tom Jolls as “Commander Tom.” Everyone I knew watched them before and after school.

 
http://i67.tinypic.com/aviflk.jpg

 
WBEN tried several shows, most hosted by Mike Mearian, who went on to great fame as a commercial actor and pitchman. And then there was WGR. They never really had a show that stuck and there’s a mystery about it I’ve never been able to solve. Here’s a 1960 ad for a live action kids’ show called “Checkers and Can Can.” It appears to have featured a clown and a robot. But there’s very little information about it anywhere. Does anyone remember this?
 
http://i64.tinypic.com/2hqgwih.jpg

 
Still, they tried to serve their tiny viewers as this 1956 ad attests.

http://i65.tinypic.com/257zoyx.jpg

 
Kukla, Fran & Ollie weren’t local, per se, but they were one of the first kids’ shows to become famous and it made them a household name on network TV.

http://i64.tinypic.com/ae8brt.jpg

 
So what happened to all the “Uncles,” “Captains” and “Commanders?”
 
In a word, money. They simply became too expensive to produce and in a new world where cable channels were showing the same kind of cartoons 24-hours-a-day (and you can also find them on the Internet) their time was up.
 
I remember once hearing that City TV was planning to try a morning kid show. But it never came to pass. And given the current financial hit traditional broadcasters are taking, it’s a sure thing it never will.

 
http://i63.tinypic.com/jf8dxv.jpg

 
As Clarabell the Clown (who never spoke) said on the final seconds of the Hoody Dowdy show in September 1960, with a tear running down his cheek, “Goodbye kids!”

 

Fri Jul 6 5:36 am  #2


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Fantastic read - thanks RA for the memories!

One program of note that might deserve a passing mention - Professor's Hideaway on CFTO

Featuring the late Stan Francis it was enjoyed by some members here including yours truly.

The death of Mr. Francis opened the door wide for Uncle Bobby


"I'll kick your ass down Yonge Street"... CFTR's Robert Holiday circa 1979...
 

Fri Jul 6 7:53 am  #3


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Thanks, Unc. I had fun putting it together. I had completely forgotten about "Professor's Hideaway" and that may be because it was just before my time. But it's a great memory. 

By the way, the reason there's not a lot of CBC shows mentioned (well actually, none) is because I didn't have any material and frankly, I rarely watched it. (Even back then, I wasn't a fan of The Corp.) I do remember Chez Helene, Razzle Dazzle and that they attempted their own lame version of Howdy Doody, with "Timber Tom" in place of "Buffalo Bob." But why watch that when you could get the original?

CBC also had a very early kid show called "Uncle Chicimus" but it was way before I was around. 

One of the best sites for nostalgia about television is a place called TV Party. They have an entire section devoted to old hosted kid shows and while it's not about Toronto, it's a wonderful time waster. 

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Fri Jul 6 10:41 am  #4


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

These Friday Flashbacks are fabulous...thanks for another good one RA...

What a great weekly feature...

Have a great weekend!



 


The world would be so good if it weren't for some people...
 

Fri Jul 6 11:07 am  #5


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Uncle Bobby gave me the creeps when I was a kid. But, not as much as Fergie Oliver on Just Like Mom.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiA5Z0czjyI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26fNmNrxf24

 

Fri Jul 6 12:36 pm  #6


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Another fabulous post, RA.  I had no idea that CHCH had the Romper Room franchise before CKCO.  

Growing up in K-W, I was exposed as a kid to children's fare from a rather wide area.

I'm barely old enough to remember CHCH's Grandpa Schnitzel in the "Inky Dinky Schnitzel Haus" but I have vivid memories of "Uncle Bill" Lawrence and a show called "A Special Place".

Of Course, Rocketship 7 and Commander Tom were mainstays on WKBW.

Getting back to CKCO, the version of Romper Room I remember most was with the legendary and beloved "Miss Betty" Thompson.  "Big Al" Jones was also very popular.  The suit you see him wearing in the above picture is a genuine Nudie Suit made for him.  (He actually had a couple made)  His Sidekick, "Uncle Larry" McIntyre always got a chuckle when his radio broadcasting students (myself included) would share their childhood memories of watching their professor on TV.  Few of those kids remember his work in the newsroom. 

I guess what I find most fascinating about the whole era is that it was a time when everyone just pitched in and did what they needed to do to make it happen.  You may recall the stories of John Banaszak having to change out of his robot suit from Rocketship 7 to put on a proper suit and strap on his accordion for his part in dialing for dollars.  Back then, you did everything, and most importantly, you liked it. 
 

 

Fri Jul 6 4:12 pm  #7


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

The idea of weathermen and announcers such as Tom Jolls and Jay Nelson doing kids shows was definitely the source of satire for SCTV.  The ensemble embellished the idea by having news anchor Floyd Robertson host the movie show Monster Chiller Horror Theatre while dressing up as Count Floyd.

The CKCO logo from that era was very cool with the chuck wagon in the top left hand corner.  The E in the bottom right corner stood for Electrohome, which owned the station at the time.

 

Fri Jul 6 4:37 pm  #8


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright


 

Fri Jul 6 5:02 pm  #9


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Chuck99 wrote:

The CKCO logo from that era was very cool with the chuck wagon in the top left hand corner.  The E in the bottom right corner stood for Electrohome, which owned the station at the time.

Not meaning to be picky, but that's a Conestoga Wagon, a totally different vehicle.  they were an integral part of the Mennonite settling in what would become the Waterloo Region.  But yes, it was a very cool logo.  CKKW and CFCA radio (owned by the same folks)  also had similar logos at one time.
 

 

Fri Jul 6 5:55 pm  #10


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Peter the K wrote:

CKKW and CFCA radio (owned by the same folks)  also had similar logos at one time.
 

This one's from March, 1969.

http://i67.tinypic.com/2ur18qf.jpg

     Thread Starter
 

Fri Jul 6 10:13 pm  #11


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

The TV Guide listing for Howdy Doody is quite interesting.  It is definitely an NBC special since it was the only network broadcasting in color in 1960.  The black 2 was WGR Buffalo, the black 12 WICU Erie, PA.  The black 5 was WROC-TV in Rochester, which moved to channel 8 in 1962.

 

Fri Jul 6 11:24 pm  #12


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

I should add Milt Conway as another "uncle Milty" from CKVR barrie.  I worked with him later at CHAY, and he went on to CFMZ after that.  Great guy with a legacy in simcoe county.  Know both his daughters well. 

https://www.barrietoday.com/columns/remember-this/remember-this-fads-came-and-went-technology-changed-but-milt-conway-was-a-constant-for-barrie-6-photos-535028

 

Thu Jul 26 11:50 am  #13


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

RA. If you are looking for history of Canadian television programs, may I suggest a book published in 2001 and researched by Peter Kentner called "TV North:Everything You Wanted To Know About Canadian Television"  ISBN 1-55285-146-X. Plot descriptions, cast members, years in production and time slot are indicated when known. Here is probably all you will ever find out about Professor's Hideaway. It ran on CFTO from Jan 2, 1961-1964 in 60 and 90 minute versions. "Adventures from the Professor's [Stan Francis] hilltop laboratory, with Sampson, the cowardly dog, X and Y, the undercover raccoons, the Raven, and a couple of pixies who dance to Percy Faith's Swedish Rhapsody. In a typical episode, the Prof makes plans to visit the moon, catches an episode of the Three Stooges, then tells kids how to grow sprouts from half a sweet potato."

 

Thu Jul 26 12:00 pm  #14


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

Re: Howdy Doody final episode. It only aired on Saturday mornings from June 1956-Sept 1960 and was broadcast in colour only in its last season.

 

Sun Jul 29 4:26 pm  #15


Re: Friday Flashback: The Kids (Hosts) Are Alright

mace wrote:

RA. If you are looking for history of Canadian television programs, may I suggest a book published in 2001 and researched by Peter Kentner called "TV North:Everything You Wanted To Know About Canadian Television"  ISBN 1-55285-146-X. Plot descriptions, cast members, years in production and time slot are indicated when known. Here is probably all you will ever find out about Professor's Hideaway. It ran on CFTO from Jan 2, 1961-1964 in 60 and 90 minute versions. "Adventures from the Professor's [Stan Francis] hilltop laboratory, with Sampson, the cowardly dog, X and Y, the undercover raccoons, the Raven, and a couple of pixies who dance to Percy Faith's Swedish Rhapsody. In a typical episode, the Prof makes plans to visit the moon, catches an episode of the Three Stooges, then tells kids how to grow sprouts from half a sweet potato."

You're right about the book - I've had it for several years. Didn't even think to look up that show in there. I don't know if it's still in print, but there's a great tome about U.S. Saturday morning TV called, oddly enough, "Saturday Morning TV" by Gary H. Grossman.

It's a brilliant examination of the shows that used to air on American TV before they got way too expensive and/or there were so many speciality channels for kids on cable that the networks don't even bother anymore. Divided into sections about "uncle" hosts, cartoons, live action series, superheros and more.

It's a great trip down memory lane if you can ever find it and still care about this stuff.

Or, if you'd prefer to stay free and online, TVparty.com has a ton of great material about old TV - including those wonderful kid shows from the past. But beware - this is one of the most addictive sites I've ever come across. 

Last edited by RadioActive (Sun Jul 29 4:30 pm)

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