Wednesday, February 27, 2008
A few memories about children's television shows
(The following is my column is my column in this week's Newton County News.)
I can't recall the name of the show, but Ozarks Public Television recently had a program which recalled The Children's Hour, not the adult Lillian Hellman play, but the children's program which ruled southwest Missouri for three decades on KYTV in Springfield.
Aunt Norma Champion, who spent 13 years as the program's host (and who is now a state senator) was interviewed, as was the man who voiced the programs two puppets, Skinny and Rusty.
That brought back plenty of memories, especially of the daily squawking of Rusty (a chicken) to "blow out the candles" when it was time to wish happy birthday to Springfield-area youngsters.
The early 1960s, when I was in the single digits agewise was the time when every local television station had a children's program, with a host, perhaps some puppets, and definitely cartoons.
On KOAM-TV, Channel 7, in Pittsburg, Kan., it was The Fun Club with host Roger Neer and his cohort Slim Andrews, the 49er, who somehow came to Pittsburg from Hollywood where he had appeared in several Westerns in the '40s. I know others were hosts of the show besides Neer, including Andrews himself for a time, but it was the Neer program that I first watched.
The show I remember most, however, was on KODE-TV, Channel 12- The Bar 12 Ranger with Ranger Ed. For a time, I watched the program every day, but that ended when I was about eight years old.
At the time, my dad, Bill Turner, was working for Neosho Nurseries and was doing some landscaping work at KODE, along with my mom's brother, Bob Clark. I wasn't much help to the two of them, so I was pretty much wandering about outside and I even managed to wander away from Dad and slip into the station.
One of the first people I ran into was Jim Lobbey, later the Jasper County Clerk, but at that time an on-air personality at KODE. The only thing I could think of was to say was "You're Jim Lobbey."
Apparently, he already knew that, and walked right on past me without saying anything. I was somewhat disillusioned by my first meeting with a star, but I plowed on ahead. I did not run into any more celebrities so I returned to the Neosho Nurseries truck and was reading when I spotted my hero. Ranger Ed (Ed Wilson) walking out of the station. I was surprised to see him without his cowboy hat and outfit, but I couldn't wait to see him hop on his horse and ride away from the station. Imagine my surprise (and further disillusionment) when he climbed into a little red sports car and sped away from the station.
By this time, I was fed up with all of the fakes in the world of television so I remained in the truck waiting for Dad and my Uncle Bob to finish. A few moments later, I looked up from my book and staring me and smiling through the window was a man I recognized immediately. I didn't have a chance to say anything before he introduced himself. "I'm Gerry Henson," he said. "Would you like to take a look at the station?"
I did and I followed him back in for a brief, but memorable look at what at the time seemed quite glamorous. Gerry Henson, the host of the popular Teen Hop program at the time, talked to me almost as if I was an equal and answered every question I asked (and I had a lot of them).
I don't remember much about Ranger Ed or The Fun Club, or even The Children's Hour, but I do remember that trip to KODE and Gerry Henson. That was the day I learned that the magic of television had nothing to do with cheap, interchangeable programs, but with those TV personalities who remembered the eight-year-olds who watched them from afar.