Saturday, July 2, 2011

TV Stuck in My Brain

The vast maj0rity of my recent posts have covered history of the architectural kind. Today, I’m taking a look at how local TV operated in the Dark Ages, a.k.a. my youth.

While suffering through a mostly sleepless night, I decided to surf’ the ’Net and ended up on YouTube. I stumbled across the following videos, some of which I remember, and it gave me the idea to tack them up here.

You, dear visitor, probably won’t remember any of them if you are under 40 or didn’t grow up within the range of Cleveland TV signals or both. I have included a golden oldie from the ‘Burgh, however.

Regardless, these clips should spark nostalgia for your own local TV personalities and shows, as well as engender a wistful feeling for a simpler time in those who share my advanced age bracket.

Younger visitors should get a chuckle watching these crude forms of entertainment and communication.

Back in ancient TV times, local stations didn’t broadcast 24/7 by filling the extra time with program-length ads. Instead, on Sundays through Fridays, at least, they would shut down at 1 or 2 a.m.

Before doing so, they would offer a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, a prayer, and/or an editorial. After that, viewers sometimes were hit with a load of legal boilerplate like WKYC in Cleveland ended its broadcasting day with in 1976.

Other broadcasters wanted to have a little fun and skipped the fine print. KMJ, a Fresno, CA, TV station that was owned by McClatchy Newspapers – yes, it’s the same family as former Pirates head honcho Kevin McClatchy -- went that route.

Three of the company’s newspapers are named Bee, so this goofy sign off shows the mascot busily preparing for bed.

Another local TV staple was the late night movie host. Stations bought cheap movie packages containing mostly Grade Z films and found a host or hosts to introduce them on Friday and Saturday nights, and to provide entertainment at commercial breaks. They all had a gimmick, some more creative than others, and they often performed skits or humorous monologues.

The above clip features a short skit and show intro for the “Big Chuck and Little John Show” that appeared on WJW in Cleveland from 1979 to 2007.

As the skit illustrates, Big Chuck and Little John leaned on visual humor that was heavy on puns.

For my native Pittsburgh visitors, I found this show-opening skit for Chilly Billy Cardille’s “Chiller Theater” on Channel 11 that was a big hit among the region’s insomniacs and connoisseurs of a more sophisticated brand of silly humor.

Chilly Billy was so popular with the two films he hosted each Saturday night that he kept “Saturday Night Live” off the NBC affiliate for four years until the station bowed to network pressure and cut him to one movie that started at 1 a.m. When the station pushed the show an hour later for “Entertainment Tonight,” it spelled the end for “Chiller Theater,” which ran from 1963 to 1984.

In the above clip from 1966, Pittsburgh-area native and Carnegie Tech grad Barbara Feldon appeared as her Agent 99 character from the hit TV show “Get Smart.”

This news promo for Cleveland’s WEWS will give my younger visitors a taste of the swinging Seventies.

I can’t give a better description of this than the person who posted it on YouTube:

“Between the psychedelic animation, goofy photo-flipbook effect, saccharine-sweet music, and the all-around goofy news team, this local news promo is everything the movie ‘Anchorman’ should have been.”

The crazy thing is that I often can’t recall what I did the day before, but I REMEMBERED THIS THROWAWAY from 40 years ago!

The final clip is another WEWS promo that I have a good reason for remembering. This lovely lady with the wonderful voice and totally Eighties hair and leather pants is Florence Warner, and I would have paid to watch her sing the telephone book.

I first learned her name when I found this clip last night. She did make some records and was featured on a disc that came with the first Philips CD players. But she spent most of her career singing in ads like this one and as a backup singer.

Thanks for joining me on this somewhat self-indulgent journey through time. I say “somewhat” self-indulgent because my hope is that those of you who grew up with three networks and PBS connected with your own TV legacy and memories of that time.

For everyone else, I hope you found it at least a little informative and fun.


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