Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
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Memories of Analog TV Addenda 60s-80s
There were a few things that I have remembered about analog TV since the first three decades were written in the past few weeks.
In around 1978, I discovered a public access channel called Community Video Center (I think) on Mission cable 24. CVC also was seen on the Southwestern Cable system, so before Cox took its public access inhouse, both systems (maybe more?) carried the outsourced public access channel.
I never watched much of that channel, but I do vaguely remember an unusual series called "Unarius Presents", which I belive was on Saturday nights. I found more about it in Wikipedia at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unarius
According to Wikipedia, "The early eighties brought about the development of a video production studio and the marketing of UNARIUS videos through public access channels all over the nation," so in essence, this show was seen on a national level. I believe that their El Cajon headquarters was somewhere on the corner of Magnolia and Main on the south side of the intersection as there was a Unarius shop there near where I used to donate my plasma for money. The late Ruth E. Norman, who was a chief figure of the organization, seems to have the same cult status as the late Captain Sticky and the still living Famous Chicken among unusual San Diego personalities who made themselves large by doing unusual things for a living.
The other thing I remember on the CVC channel was a weird film called "Bogaton Video" which was a cross between a high school film production and Saturday Night Live. The things I remember from the film from about 1978 were a parody of Rocky that was called "Bear", and in a short spoof before that, there was a shot of a deer in a convertable, and the camera panned to the front of the car and when it stopped on the hood, we saw a hunter tied down onto the hood.
There was also a funny programming announcement about a college football game where the USC Trojans would meet the Washington State Diaphrams in an intercourse game or something like it. Wish someone would post it on Youtube. That was probably the weirdest thing I saw on early cable TV.
There once were a mess of local kid show hosts asking kids to participate in contests and showing either cartoon shorts, or in the late Johnny Downs' case, entire episodes of The Flintstones. Downs was a kid show host on KOGO 10 in the late afternoons, sometimes on along with either Bozo's Big Top or a Japanese cartoon import such as Gigantor and Prince Planet. The thing I remember from Downs' show, and I saw him during the grand opening of Toys R Us in August of 1970 as he and several channel 10 cartoon stars (humans in cartoon costumes) waved to the kids who entered the store for the first time in the store's history.
Downs had a regular feature called "The Magic Key". On the set, he had a board with ten circles arranged like a rotary dial telephone. Kids, and even parents, ask your grandpa what a rotary dial telephone is. Each circle was actually a door that not only had a card with the name of the small prize that the kid has won, there was also one of ten keys that would unlock the toy cell that stored about $100 worth of toys inside it. Downs would ask the kids to send in a postcard with a telephone on it. He dialed up the home. A kid answers. Downs greets and chats with the kid for a minute, then he asks the kid which one of ten doors (numbered 1 to 10) he wants him to open with the hope that it contains the magic key. The kid tells Downs a number. Downs opens up the door, pulls out a card, and says that the kid won a small prize. Downs takes the key and inserts it into the keyhole of the toy cell. If the key opened up the door, the kid had won everything inside it. But if it's not the key, that is, the key turns left and right but doesn't unlock the lock, Downs replaces the key back behind the circular door, then asks the kids to remember which door that didn't have the magic key. The keys are rearranged only after a kid picked the magic key.
To further explain, Downs was a former member of the Our Gang kid films from the 1920s, apparently, leaving just before the talkies became a reality. Following his stint with Our Gang, Downs stayed with the short-subject series until 1927, appearing in twenty-four two-reelers in various roles. He honed his dancing and singing skills on the vaudeville stage, working prominently on Broadway until returning to Hollywood in 1934. Downs became a fixture of the "college musical" movie cycle of the late 1930s, usually cast as a team captain or a cheerleader. His movie career declined just after he returned to Hal Roach to star in a 45-minute feature, All American Co-Ed (1941). From then on he mainly walked the boards in vaudeville, summer stock, and one solid Broadway hit (Are You With It). One of his outstanding cameo appearances is his performance in Rhapsody in Blue: The George Gershwin Story (1945) where he dances to Robert Alda's piano playing of "Swanee". Downs made a short comeback in doing bit parts in the early 1950s. Despite never making it big, he has almost 100 movie credits to his name.
In the 1950s and early 1960s he hosted a local, after-school kids' television show, The Johnny Downs Show on Channel 10 "KOGO" (call letters) in San Diego, California (KOGO was KFSD prior to 1961). The theme started out as an airport hangar with Downs playing a former World War II, "Johnny Jet". In between reruns of The Little Rascals, Downs entertained and informed his studio audiences and his viewers. After that, it was trains, and he could be seen getting off or on a locomotive at the start and end of a show. As the show changed to feature more Popeye cartoons, his theme changed from being a train engineer to being a boat captain at the San Diego harbor. Regardless of the theme, Johnny Downs was always a big star to the kids of the area and was always a draw when he appeared at contests, festivals, parades, or other events.
More about Downs at Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Downs
A few other local kid shows stood out in my memory. The old KCST 39 once had The Suzy Saturn Show and 39 Kids Corral between 5 and 7pm I believe in 1968. KFMB 8 had Shane in Wonderland. KOGO also had another local kid show host on Saturday mornings named Uncle Russ. A lot of these I don't remember much of anymore, except for Suzy where she had a feature that said a coded phrase, and kids (including I) sent in for a decoder to decode what she was printing on the screen.
Let me try one out on you. Here's a phrase I wrote in code.
17 09-26-26-22 19 12-26-22-26-03-19-16 08-19-17-16-21-14-02.
Here's the decoder. No need to e-mail me anything to get it. Here it is!
02 = t 03 = r 08 = b 09 = n 12 = f 14 = u 16 = l 17 = i 19 = a 21 = o 22 = d 26 = e
Now substitute a letter for a number and you'll decode the secret phrase.
Los Angeles TV had a bunch of local kid show hosts. Sheriff John used to be on noontime on KTTV 11. KTTV used to have Billy Barty's Big Show, Paul Winchell's Winchell and Mahoney Time, and Wonderama hosted by Bob McAllister. Barty was a short time member of one of Spike Jones' bands. Winchell was a big cartoon voicist on the Hanna-Barbera shows from Dick Dasturdly to Gargamel rivaling only Mel Blanc. There was also Pixanne, but I'm not sure which channel it was on.
Romper Room, Skip and Woofer, Mickey Mudturtle, Jack and Phyllis, and Hobo Kelly were on KCOP 13. KHJ 9 had Engineer Bill and Shrimpenstein. KTLA had Mr. Wishbone and Tom Hatten. KNBC 4 had That's Cat on the weekends. KNXT 2 had Dusty's Treehouse Saturdays at 2pm, which I believe was syndicated, in fact, reruns were once shown on Nickelodeon in the 80s. Baby Daphne was on either KTLA or KCOP, Bozo's Big Top was on KTTV.
The 1970s saw a decline in the number of local kid show hosted vehicles, disappearring in 1975 when Skip and Woofer last aired on KCOP in Los Angeles.
I forget when Downs hosted his last show on KOGO or KGTV, but in 1974, another local kid show started up in 1974 and lasted for five years. "Shotgun Tom" Kelly's show "Words-A-Poppin'" was a kids game show that was on KGTV. Filmed in front of a studio audience, Words-A-Poppin' featured a panel of six kids attempting to unscramble words grouped in a category (like kinds of birds or foods), racking up points and prizes for correct answers. See more about it here: http://www.tvparty.com/lostlashotgun.html
During the late 70s, Kelly also hosted another local show aimed at teenagers called "Disco 10". You can guess what the title was a play on.
In about 1974, KFMB had a Saturday morning show called "Chester the Jester." I'm not sure how long it lasted, but it was on around 9:30, pre-empting two of CBS's cartoon shows such as "Jeannie."
Kelly was also a kid show host on KUSI for 12 years from 1982-1994 or so.
Network TV had some live kid show hosts, but don't confuse it with the live action kid shows such as "H.R. Pufinstuf" and "Space Academy." NBC had "The Banana Splits Hour" from Hanna-Barbera (rhymes with Hannah Montana, eh?) featuring four costumed animals hosting live (taped) segments between cartoons.
In 1971-73, ABC had The Curiosity Shop, which was a show produced by Chuck Jones. It featured three inquisitive children (two boys and a girl) who each week visited a shop populated with various puppets and gadgets, discovering interesting things about science, nature, and history.
In 1975, ABC tried "Uncle Croc's Bloc" with Charles Nelson Reilly. The show was supposed to be a parody of the live kid show hosts, but by then, most of TV didn't have any live kid show hosts, and the jokes were flat and dull, as well as the ratings. The ratings were so bad that ABC shrunk it to half-an-hour a few months later and spun-off most of the cartoons into its own half-hour, then just gave up on it in February and replaced it with something else.
In the fall of 1976, ABC tried again with another live kid show hosted vehicle called "The Krofft Supershow" hosted by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, hosting live segments between live action adventures such as Wonderbug, Dr. Shrinker, The Lost Saucer (which was part of it for a short time in 1976), Magic Mongo, Bigfoot and Wildboy, and probably the one teenage boys like me back then were hooked on the show for at the time: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Dyna was seen a year later on an episode of Eight is Enough, then vanished, but Electra fared better as Marlena (one of the twins) on Days of Our Lives for 31 years until last year.
In 1978, it moved to NBC under a different title as "The Krofft Superstar Hour" hosted by the then-popular Bay City Rollers (who peaked in 1976 so they were passe by then). It featured new episodes of H.R. Pufinstuf, but the show bombed so bad that it was gone by 1979.
As the 80s and 90s came and went, local kid show hosts seemed to be sparse and nonexistant, except for Bozo the Clown on WGN, which lasted well into the early 2000s decade.
A few live kid show hosts were on network television, but they were not local. Pee Wee's Playhouse was on CBS for five years. There was also Riders in the Sky also on CBS. In 1997, the government passed a rule regulating a minimum of three hours of educational and informational programming, so the stations had to come up with three hours a week of such programming. That year, CBS tried one more time with a live kid show host, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Weird Al Show". The networks and syndicators had to come up with whatever meets the E/I requirements since then in a dried-up broadcast children's TV market that for the most part is owned by cable. KNSD, KGTV, KFMB, and XETV have their networks supply the E/I programming on Saturday mornings today. Fox got out of the children's programming business late last year, so Fox affilliates such as KSWB have to depend on syndicated programming. XHDTV's network doesn't carry E/I programs, and KUSI is independent, so they're on syndication for meeting the E/I mandates.
In a time like today, the economics of broadcasting a local kid show host just doesn't add up in a universe of 1,000 channels and the targeted audience is already weened on cable television. The kids never think about the local stations for programming aimed at them, except for stuff such as Hannah Montana and something NBC and ION carry called "Qubo". There's no market for local kid show hosts anymore, and to the younger generations, it's a sad thing that they'll never have any local kid show hosts to idolize and to have as the next best thing to a mentor.
More like this:
- VH1 Celebrity Brittany Skipper Knows How To Get It Right! — Jan. 28, 2013
- The Unarius Movement, then and now — Dec. 12, 2012
- Memories of Analog TV: The 90s and 00s — April 22, 2009
- Memories of Analog TV: The 1980s — April 4, 2009
- Memories of Analog TV: The 70s — March 9, 2009