Local Children’s Shows of the Past
There was once a time when local television stations would produce shows for children.
At one point, every major city had their own local “Bozo the Clown” or “Romper Room”. Many other cities had other characters that would host children’s television shows as well.
I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the local shows produced here in West Michigan…
WOOD TV gets the prize for probably the most local children’s programming throughout the years.
I don’t remember ever seeing it, but WOOD TV used to have a character named “Fireman Freddie” who was played by Don Melvoin. This show would have run in the early 60’s.
I do remember watching Buck Barry on his show called “The Buckaroo Rodeo”. Not only was it produced locally, but it had a studio audience made up of children from the west Michigan area. I was never on “The Buckaroo Rodeo”, but many of my friends were. If I remember correctly, the show ran at 4 pm in the afternoon. The show ran for about 15 years, until Buck retired in the early 70’s and moved to El Paso, TX. He continue to perform from time to time until his death in 1997. I couldn’t find an old clip from the show, however someone did post this video of a parade featuring Buck Barry (you have to go about 2/3rds of the way into the video to see Buck). Here is Buck’s Wikipedia page.
Also on WOOD TV back in the 60’s and 70’s was “Romper Room”. This show ran earlier in the day. We were lucky to have “Miss Jean” as our host in Grand Rapids. Mick O’Brien posted on the “If You Grew Up in Grand Rapids/Kent County, Then You Remember…” Facebook page, that he recently ran in to Miss Jean in Grand Haven and she is alive and well. Mick stated that Miss Jean wanted to say “Romper Domper Stomper Doo to all her friends in GR.” (Was anyone else freaked out about the thought that she could see you through the television with her little mirror like device?) Here is the Romper Room Wikipedia page.
One of the longest running local TV’s shows for kids was probably “Bozo’s Big Top” on WZZM TV. It started back in the 60’s. The original “Bozo” locally was the late Bill Merchant. He was replaced in December of 1968 by Dick Richards, who originally started out playing “The Ringmaster” on the show. Dick is still alive and well and Bozo still makes a few appearances around town. I remember being on “Bozo’s Big Top” on at least two occasions. Who could forget their “Goodie Bag” with a loaf of Wonder Bread?! This show originally ran for an hour from 4-5 pm. It was later moved to mornings and eventually to just a Saturday show before finally being cancelled in 1999. Someone has actually posted one of the old shows on YouTube...You can watch it by clicking here. Here is more on the history of Bozo on Wikipedia.com.
Of course we can’t forget our friends in Kalamazoo, who had “Channel 3 Clubhouse” on what was then WKZO TV. Cynthia Kay hosted the program along with a couple of puppets. That show also featured a studio audience of children. Cynthia Kay is still alive and well and runs a marketing/advertising agency in Grand Rapids. There is also old video of this show on YouTube. Click here to watch it.
There was also another show on WOOD TV in the mid 70’s. It also ran at 4 pm and it was just a show to introduce cartoons and to give away a daily 5 lb. Bucket of Skippy Peanut Butter. It was a show featuring “Captain Woody” and his sea serpent “Sydney”. Under the gray wig and glasses was none other than Andy Rent, who currently does mornings on 100.5 The River. At the time, he was working at WOOD TV as a weatherman. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any old photos or video of this show. I’m sure Andy is keeping them under wraps!
I miss the local programming for kids. Now days everything is syndicated. I often wonder just how well shows like this would do in 2016. The attention spans of children today is so much different from 40 years ago. I guess we will never know as shows like that are gone for good I think.
Remember how Bozo would end his show? “Peace, Love and Kindness. And Just Keep Laughing!”