Wirth Watchng – The History of Kids’ TV on Channel 4

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – I bet you or maybe your parents or grandparents started the day watching kid’s shows on TV such as, Utah favorite, ‘Fireman Frank’. Or, maybe you ran home from school to see the likes of ‘Hotel Balderdash’. It has been years since sheriffs, astronauts, fire fighters, boat captains and others ruled morning and afternoon TV. But that is I come in. I worked on the ‘Fireman Frank’ show. And here I give you this nostalgic look at Kids TV in Utah. It, truly, is ‘Wirth Watching’.

When we start the video time machine of Utah’s first TV station and zoom back even further than the 1970’s and the 1960’s and go clear back to 1948, we find one format that lasted for nearly 50 years. That’s kids’ TV shows.

Fireman Frank was one of the early heroes of kids TV in Utah. Everyone knew Fireman Frank. But few kids knew his real name was Ron Ross. Ross told me in a 2008 interview, “I was on the Empire State building once and a little girl ran up to me and said, Hi, Fireman Frank.” And of course, ‘Fireman Frank’ had a message for each kid, “don’t play with matches”.

I started my Channel 4 career on the ‘Fireman Frank’ show when the station was located on Social Hall Avenue. And there were kids all over here trying to get into the station and on to the show. My job was to ring the fire bell to start the show.

‘Captain KC’ also commanded the kid’s at Channel 4. You joined his club promising to be truthful, and to share with your sister and help mom. You wrote the Captain who displayed your letters on the deck of the SS KC-PIX.

Oh, then there was ‘Captain Scotty’ He was an astronaut who visited Martians in space and kids at the earthly supermarket. Captain Scotty’s widow told me, “Children lined up for hours and hours to be there to get a chance to see him. No matter how long it took, he made sure he saw all of the children there.”

And finally, 2 BYU students checked in to ‘Hotel Balderdash’. A generation of kids’ knew ‘Cannonball’, ‘Harvey’ and their sidekick ‘Raymond’. They did 480 shows a year over 240 mornings and afternoons. How did they do it? Harvey, whose real is Randy Lovoi, says Raymond was a good source of material, “He would chew Bazooka bubble gum and he would bring in the wrappers and we would do bits off the Bazooka bubble gum wrappers.”

‘Hotel Balderdash’ taped 5 days of shows, one night a week with 100 kids crammed into the studio.

It’s hard to imagine that these shows disappeared. And because video tape was so expensive, few actual shows survive. Besides, who thought it would ever end?

Utah’s first TV station will show more of the memories of our life in front of the TV. We are starting a year-long celebration leading to our 70th year as one of America’s oldest TV stations. And actually the first station between St. Louis and the west coast. After all, TV is the electronic mirror we all grew up with… and we will have lots of fun sharing what’s in our archives.

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