A History of Local Children's TV Programs
Hi There, Boys and Girls! Chronicles Shows Gone By
Listen to Bob Edwards' report.
View a photo gallery about children's local TV shows.
"Miss Mary" Alsager of Boise's Romper Room, shown on KTVB in the 1960s.
Photo: Mary Alsager collection
Birmingham, Ala.'s "Cousin Cliff" Holman on Cartoon Clubhouse with Popeye and Wimpy, circa 1965.
Photo: Cliff Holman collection
Hi There, Boys and Girls! by Tim Hollis chronicles the history of local children's television programs.
May 22, 2002 -- Long before Sesame Street and SpongeBob SquarePants, most children's television shows were produced by local stations. An entire generation of children grew up watching shows like Romper Room and Bozo the Clown.
Those are the best known because they were nationally franchised, with local talent performing in the lead role. But many other TV markets had their own personalities, often played by local news anchors, weathermen and other station personnel. They ranged from Flippy the Clown in New Haven, Conn., to Mary Jane's Magic Castle in Houston.
Writer Tim Hollis, who celebrated several birthdays on shows as a kid in his native Birmingham, Ala., has documented about 1,400 local children's shows in a new book, Hi There, Boys and Girls!
"There were very few programs that were able to get by without using cartoons or any sort of film features," Hollis tells Morning Edition host Bob Edwards.
"They did exist, but they usually called for a lot more creativity and a lot more work. It was easier to buy a cartoon package and then dress up a station announcer as a sea captain to host Popeye or maybe a clown to host Bugs Bunny, any number of variations."
What made them special is that the shows had a local flavor, Hollis says. They "gave people something to identify with in their own city, something you couldn't do with Captain Kangaroo or Howdy Doody, as great as those programs were. Kids knew that they were never going to run into Captain Kangaroo on the street. But they might run into Joe Langston (WBRC news anchor and host of Birmingham's Birthday Party)."
The shows began going on the air in mid-to-late 1940s. By the late 1960s, stations found they could attract just as many views with syndicated programs such as I Love Lucy and Gilligan's Island, Hollis says. In addition, parents' groups pressured broadcasters to prohibit hosts from doing their own commercials for fear that they were influencing children too much.
"And when that happened, most of the sponsors dropped out because they wanted that identification with the host," Hollis says. "That's was when most of the shows died out."
Previous NPR Coverage
Listen to a Dec. 27, 2001, report on Morning Edition about the present and future of children's television.
Listen to a Nov. 26, 2000, commentary on Weekend Edition Sunday about Mister Rogers' retirement.
Listen to a July 31, 1998, Morning Edition report about the death of "Buffalo Bob" of the Howdy Doody Show.
Read a March 25, 2002, Present at the Creation report on Gumby.
Read an interview with author Tim Hollis.
See photos and hear sounds from old Washington, D.C.-based kids' shows including Sam and Friends, Cap'n Tugg and Grandpa's Place.
Remember Chicago's famous Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
Learn more about "Lost Kid Shows" from Cincinnati, Chicago and New York City and Los Angeles.
Stop by for Lunch with Casey, the long-running Minneapolis-based show with railroad engineer "Casey Jones."