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The Electronic Nipple

CKLW soon became a leader in children’s programming – not just in the local market – but in North America. The networks weren’t providing any children’s programming – it all had to be done locally. Again products were being sold to kids in a very blatant manner – regulations and rules on what could be marketed and sold to children had yet to be developed.

Children’s shows produced in Windsor included Bozo the Clown, Romper Room, Mr. Houdini, Jerry Booth’s Club House, Captain Jolly and Poopdeck Paul.

Bozo, portrayed by Bob McNea, competed against Clare Cummings as Milky the Clown on Channel 7. Milky worked in a plug for his sponsor every time he did a magic trick and said the magic words “Twin Pines.” Bozo the Clown’s famous Treasure Chest of Toys would roll across the studio floor and was eagerly sought by kids who tuned in or participated in the live studio broadcasts.

Romper Room featured Miss Flora and live piano playing by Wally. The show was a huge hit with the younger kids.

And Toby David as Captain Jolly.

David, who died at age 80 in 1994, started in New York radio in the 1930s. He had parts in several NBC radio shows including Bob Hope, Garry Moore, Jackie Gleason and the children’s show “Let’s Pretend.” He came to Detroit in 1940s, where his radio work included reading Detroit Times comics on the air.

But David is most remembered for hosting the “Popeye and His Pals” cartoon show during the 1950s and 1960s, which was among the top-rated kids’ shows in the nation. His pals included Whitey the Mouse, Sylvester the Seal, puppets Cecil and Stanley and an off-camera Wihelmina the Whale who plotted constantly to get Captain Jolly into the water.

“Poopdeck Paul” worked alongside Captain Jolly on Popeye and Pals between 1956 and 1966, first as a weekend host and eventually as a seven-day-a-week personality. But he became a local cultural icon for something other than Popeye cartoons – the limbo!

Between cartoons, he hosted limbo contests on the show, when limbo (with a hit record by Chubby Checker) was the rage among grade-schoolers. After the Beatles became big in 1964, he hosted a game in which contestants were judged by their ability to lip-sync Beatles records. He hosted miniature golf, football throwing, bowling and table tennis competitions, as well. All of it was a hit with youngsters.

Robin Seymour: Hot commodity

Going to a Dance Party

According to Percy Hatfield, a reporter with CBC TV since 1978 and CBC radio since 1975, “CKLW programming hooked you as a child, kept you as an adolescent and then kept you coming back for more as an adult.”

Local radio disc jockeys were keen to show teens the latest dances on TV. Ed Mackenzie, Robin Seymour and Bud Davies offered programs featuring local kids dancing the “Chicken,” the “Stroll,” the “Swim” and a whole lot more. Bud Davies “Top Ten Dance Party” was the first to launch a format that would eventually morph into music videos and MTV.

Seymour’s “Swinging Time,” a dance party that was a hot commodity on CKLW until 1968, predated the MTV era by almost 20 years. Entertainers performed “live,” including the popular “Motown Sound” artists including as Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, and hot artists of the day, who “lip synched” their hit songs, often to comical effect as their timing could be slightly off.

Seymour’s career spanned everything from the big band era to the British invasion. But he missed a beat somewhere when he predicted that Elvis Presley was a sure loser, who “wouldn’t last more than a year.” Seymour’s television show featured 50 to 75 local kids dancing six days a week. Two were chosen for each show to give “yea” or “boo” opinions on new records.

Tom Shannon, a popular DJ on the BIG 8 CKLW, tweaked the format with a Johnny Carson-style teen talk show, but the kids just wanted to dance and the show was a flop. The program is famous for an interview with Alice Cooper, who pioneered “shock rock” with his elaborate stage shows including snakes, guillotines and pyrotechnics.

Cooper decided in the middle of an interview that he wanted to rip apart Bill Kennedy’s famous interview chair – live on the air! He had to be restrained but had the stunt occurred, it would surely have gone down in TV folklore.


Big Time Wrestling

Border City wrestling fans watched the televised antics of local stars like “Dick the Bruiser,” “Bobo Brazil” and “The Sheik” on “Big Time Wresting.” This live broadcast was hosted by the charismatic Lord Layton, who often jumped into the ring and mauled wrestlers, a format that has been perfected to mass success by the World Wrestling Entertainment and Vince McMahon.

The Sheik kept his real identity secret, claiming at various times to have been born in Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Traverse City. He also claimed he made $10 million by making the fans love to hate him. Wrestling fans ate it up and CKLW-TV’s ratings soared.

Dick the Bruiser


TV Grows Up

A new technology was rapidly moving TV into a new era. Colour TV sets emerged as the “new wave.” Programming became more sophisticated as the networks developed elaborate sets in giant studios or in exotic locations. Local stations found it harder to produce local shows and began to rely on network shows. The development of the videotape meant that shows could be taped and replayed later with greater control than film.

CKLW tried to keep up to the changing times. Despite the fact that the station didn’t own a mobile production facility, creative TV engineers and technicians were able to produce programming on-location, including “The Bill Anderson Show” live from Cleary Auditorium, and commercials shot live on location.


Shifting to CBC

By 1974, the governing body of TV programming, the CRTC, ruled that Canadians must own Canadian stations. RKO General sold the station to Baton Broadcasting, which soon partnered with CBC.

Over the summer of 1975, the CBC acquired 100% of the station and the call letters changed to CBET-TV.

CBC promised more local programming. Due to a quirk in the CRTC rules, a “border protection rule” meant that any program aired by the CBC that was also broadcast by a U.S. competitor had to be blocked in Windsor. If the CBC was airing “Golden Girls” then the local Windsor had to substitute it with another program so as not to compete with the Detroit affiliate that was running the same show.

Local programming at CBET continued to flourish. “Reach for the Top,” “Agriscope,” “Sun Parlour Country,” “Around Town,” “Bob Monks/ Inside Outside,” on-site concerts and sporting events were produced by a talented technical crew. Windsor CBC-TV earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best production facilities in the country.

The station also focused its energy on news programming, as a complement to world-class journalism from Toronto with newly revamped The National and The Journal. Local documentaries became a staple of the expanded 90-minute news coverage – often airing nationally – up from only five minutes of news when the station began to air in 1953. Anchors Sue Presteidge and David Compton provided the station with sky-high local ratings, and the news crew was considered one of the finest in the country.


57 Channels and Nothing On

In 1984, the Federal government, under the newly elected PM Brian Mulroney, drastically cut the CBC’s operating budget. In a massive blow to local programming, 63 jobs were eliminated. Year by year, the station held on with limited resources, but local programming diminished except for news.

Soon, local weekend news was eliminated and replaced with a regional report fed from Toronto. Then the 11 o’clock newscast was cut. Local CBC Radio and TV were consolidated under one roof at the Riverside location.

Today the current local TV landscape continues to evolve. Moses Znaimer of CITY-TV Toronto fame launched a satellite station in Windsor in the 1990s – the “New WI” – to compete with the local CBC news, although the New WI newscast is disingenuously broadcast out of London (unknown to most viewers who think it is a “local” newscast).

Cable TV has unleashed more channels, as has satellite and digital TV. VCRs and DVDs have allowed for program shifting (pay-per-view, if you will).

But for a shining moment, at the dawn of television, local programming ruled our TV sets, or as an old station jingle used to pronounce, “The Best View in Town.”

Tune into a special broadcast of the history of CKLW-TV and CBET-TV on September 20 at 7 pm on CBET-TV Windsor 9, cable 10.

Sources:

CBC-TV 9 Archives
History of Broadcasting in Michigan
WXYZ TV History: Detroitnow.com
The Detroit News: Rearview Mirror
(www.detnews.com/history)
CBC Television: Celebration 50 years

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