Title: The heyday of local TV: Columnist recalls Louisville's earliest brushes with television
Author: Ken Neuhauser
In his new book "Louisville Television," David Inman longingly and lovingly looks back at local TV at a time when those lucky enough to have TVs took great delight in such locally produced shows as "Hayloft Hoedown," "Funny Flickers," "T-Bar-V Ranch," "Small Talk," "Omelet," "Teen Beat" and "Hi Varieties."
Many of the hosts and cast members of these and other shows became local celebrities and household names.
Just mention WAVE's Ed Kallay and Ryan Halloran or WHAS's Randy Atcher, "Cactus" Tom Brooks, Milton Metz and Phyllis Knight or WLKY's Diane Sawyer and Ken Roland or WDRB's Presto the Clown, and memories of television as it used to be become clear in local TV fans' minds and on the pages of Inman's 128-page photographic tribute.
"Louisville Television" ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing) features 200-plus black-and-white photos, posters, publicity shots, billboards, and ads from TV Guide that take readers on a nostalgic journey through the book's four chapters: "1948-1961: On the Air," "1961-1971: Boom and Bust," "1971-1985: Talk Shows and Live Shots" and "1985-Today: All in the Name of News."
Flip through the pages and you'll see vintage images of Livingston Gilbert, Rodney Ford, Bob Kay, Foster Brooks, Pee Wee King, Shorty Chesser, Tiny Thomale, Julie Shaw, Fred Wiche, Judy Marshall, Faith Lyles and Barney Arnold.
Inman, 53, who grew up in Jeffersonville, Ind., is the one and only Incredible Inman to fans of his syndicated TV-and-movie trivia column that has appeared in The Louisville Times and The Courier-Journal since 1981. He has written five other books about TV history, including "Randy, Cactus, Uncle Ed and the Golden Age of Louisville Television."
"I think that having grown up in the Louisville area and watching too much TV has stayed with me for some reason. I have a special spot for the people who worked in TV here, especially in the '50s and '60s, because to me they were so versatile. You had to do so many different things," Inman said.
"You had somebody like Ed Kallay who hosted a kids' show, was a sportscaster who called football and basketball games, and even had an exercise show on TV.
"I also admire the musicians who were able to make a living on TV, like Randy Atcher and the 'Hayloft Hoedown' people, who became local icons."
Unlike today, when local programming is extremely scaled down and homogenized, local TV in the '50s and '60s reflected the flavor of the community, said Inman, explaining that every city had different programs with their own versions of "T-Bar-V Ranch" or "Hayloft Hoedown."
The variations on the local TV programming theme have always intrigued Inman, even as a child.
"When I was a kid we'd go on vacations and my family would go out sightseeing. I would want to stay in the motel room and watch the local TV to see how it was different than what we had," recalled Inman, whose personal TV treasure trove includes 50 years' worth of TV Guide magazines.
The self-confessed TV junkie obviously knows his topic well and can offer fascinating insights about every photo published in his illustrated retrospective, which culminates with a final broadcast photo of WAVE meteorologist Tom Wills.
A 1959 photo with WHAS Crusade for Children emcee Jim Walton and actor Lee Marvin both soaking their feet in buckets appears on page 51.
At that point in the actor's career, Inman said, Marvin was on the TV show "M Squad" and hadn't really hit it big at the movies yet.
Inman was tickled by a photo of young WHAS announcer Ray Shelton hawking Folger's Coffee:
"There he is sitting in front of three gigantic Folger's coffee cans. That, to me, is the essence of '50s TV. The commercial was very blatant, nothing fancy: 'Here's what we're selling. Look at it.' "
The caption under the photo of WLKY "weather maid" Diane Sawyer doesn't tell the whole story. "She didn't want to be a weather girl. She did it at first but then was promoted to reporter," said Inman. "Ken Rowland basically gave her her first job as a reporter. She still talks about him as her mentor in the business."
Inman had initially proposed the Sawyer photograph for the book's cover, but the publisher preferred a crowd shot and selected one of Randy Atcher strumming his guitar beneath a dangling microphone with more than two dozen young fans on stage during a 1957 broadcast of "Hayloft Hoedown."
Again, TV historian Inman shares an anecdote about his childhood idol, whom he had met several times before Atcher died in 2002.
As the story goes, said Inman, a young girl in a foster home had written to be on Atcher's "T-Bar-V" show and subsequently received a card indicating the date she was to be on. However, she never appeared on the show because she was transferred to another foster home.
Sometime in the 1980s the woman's family called Atcher and asked if he would sing the show's signature theme song at a surprise birthday party for the now-adult foster child.
"Randy was the kind of guy who would do that. He showed up and sang the song. There wasn't a dry eye in the house," said Inman.
If pressed to pick a Louisville show that had the biggest impact on the community, Inman would select "T-Bar-V Ranch," which ran more than 20 years and allowed thousands of local children to appear on it at a time when Louisville was still segregated.
"T-Bar-V in those years really was colorblind in a way that our society wasn't. In other words, if you were a kid who had a birthday, you could be on 'T-Bar-V.' It didn't matter what part of town you lived in or what your socio-economic status was. It was free. You wrote in and then got a little card that told you when to come in. Black, white, whatever, you could be on 'T-Bar-V,' " said Inman, who appeared on the show in 1962 when he was 5.
For Inman, the day local TV died was in June 1970, when "T-Bar-V Ranch" was abruptly canceled and went off the air. Seven months later, "Hayloft Hoedown" was canceled.
"At that point, I was 14 years old and pretty much evolving into a TV freak, and I knew what was happening around the country. But it was so abrupt that it added insult to injury. I remember thinking that this kind of local TV is going away. Oddly enough, that same year Presto the Clown came on channel 41, so it hadn't totally gone away."
Although "T-Bar-V Ranch" is long gone, "Louisville Television" will trigger and preserve many fond recollections among baby boomers who grew up watching Randy and Cactus and even appearing on their show. And if anyone's memory is a little fuzzy recalling the words to the theme song, don't worry, they're printed in the book.
Among the cherished words:
"Brush your teeth each morning,
Get lots of sleep at night
Mind your mom and daddy,
'Cause they know what is right."
Reporter Ken Neuhauser can be reached at (502) 582-4204.
Title: History lesson
Author: Elizabeth Skrapits
Publisher: Citizens Voice
A new local history book goes from bloody battles to brand-new breakers and everything in between.
Harrison Wick's latest book, "Luzerne County," coming out in January, is a pictorial history of the county from its 18th century founding to the present.
"The cover is the Wyoming Monument. I wanted to find something that (symbolized) one of the most significant events in the Valley," Wick said, referring to the Battle of Wyoming.
Wick is the author of two other local history books, "Pennsylvania's Back Mountain" and "Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys," also through Arcadia Publishing. With the latest, he gets to expand to highlights of the entire area.
"This book is just a glimpse into the heyday of Luzerne County, with the transportation and the building and the coal," Wick said.
Wick didn't just focus on the Valley: he said he tried to incorporate other parts, including the Hazleton area, Bear Creek and the Back Mountain.
The material in the book ranges from 1769 to 1990. Much of it is from the Luzerne County Historical Society - Wick is grateful to its Executive Director Anthony Brooks and researcher Amanda Fontenova for their help - and many of the photographs came from private collections, including that of the late Ed S. Miller, who was famous regionally for his train and trolley shots.
Wick promises "unusual stuff" in the new book, including historical pictures never before published.
For example, there's a photograph of the county's last veteran of the Battle of Wyoming and the Revolutionary War, Elijah Blackman, who died in 1845.
Subjects include natural disasters such as the tornado of 1890, floods and mine subsidence. There is a lot about coal mining, Wick said.
"It was a big part of our culture and our economics for a long time. There were so many breakers - they just dotted the landscape," he said.
One of the photographs shows the new, state-of-the-art Huber Breaker with the old breaker behind it being dismantled in the late 1930s, Wick said.
There are photos of long-gone buildings, such as the old GAR Fraternity on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, and others that are still around, like Boscov's Department Store. That building, once home to Fowler Dick and Walker's Boston Store, has been around since the 1860s, Wick said.
There are photos of people, such as Boy Scout Troop 2 in Edwardsville from the 1920s, of civic and service organizations, and lots of churches of various denominations.
The last section of "Luzerne County" focuses on transportation on both land and water. Wick said there was an elaborate canal system that existed in Wilkes-Barre from the 1830s through 1881; steamboats sailed the Susquehanna River until the last one was scuttled in 1902. By then the railroads and trolleys had taken over.
Wick said he even found some "great photos" taken by people watching the Giants' Despair Hill Climb in 1907, the second year of the automobile race's existence.
On the subject of automobiles, Wick pointed out there was a brand headquartered in Wilkes-Barre with a factory in Forty Fort: the Matheson Automobile Co.
Wick was born in Seattle but grew up in northeast Maryland. He said he hails from "a little of everywhere."
He has been in Pennsylvania for six years. He spent time as Misericordia University's archivist and is now at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. But this region continues to hold his interest.
"I definitely fell in love with Luzerne County," he said. "People have been very friendly. The area just reminds me of home."
Wick said he didn't even mind traveling back and forth between Northeastern and Western Pennsylvania to compile material.
Now that "Luzerne County" is about to come out, is Wick thinking about another local history book?
"Oh, yeah. I'm always looking for more photographs," he said. "I'm always looking for new information."