HOW TO GET YOUR OWN NATIONAL TV SHOW
In Chapter one I told you how blown away I was by the new console radio my sister bought just as TV was coming on the horizon (Scroll down if you missed it). It had neat little push buttons on the front for tuning in radio stations. But, the most fascinating thing about it was that weird push-button labeled “TV.” The company wanted to give the impression that when TV arrived, this console could be converted. Sure fooled me. As I told you earlier, as a kid I used to sit in front of this console imagining that a screen was on the front and I could actually see singers and dancers in our own living room (lip-synchers?).
Of course the console was never converted. However, something better happened. In 1948, my sister Betty did it again. She got one of the first TV’s on the market, a Hallicrafter model 505.
The whole family went crazy. But that tiny 5-inch screen sure posed a problem, not unique in the 40s. How do mom, dad, two sisters, two brother-in -laws, three nieces and nephews and I all watch TV at the same time? Well, you see there was this magnifying bubble you could put in front of the screen and it made the picture larger. However, it also distorted the picture unless you were looking straight on to it. I wish I had pictures of all of us sitting on dining room chairs all one behind the other, a real comedy routine with heads bobbing back and forth to see over the shoulder of the person in front. With today’s huge flat screens, it almost seems impossible that we could actually enjoy watching TV at all. But we gathered every night, lined up the chairs, and had the time of our lives. My eyes were on the future. It made me even more determined to be a part of this exciting new media.
Ok, back to “How To Get Your Own National TV Show.” After my daring exploits in the U.S. Navy keeping the enemy out of the Great Lakes at Chicago, I headed for Northwestern University (1946-1950). The above picture is living proof of how hard I studied.
That’s me on the far right with my SAE fraternity brothers entertaining at a party. On my left is David Barnhizer. He was also a communications student. David and I became the party entertainment gurus. We, along with our other talented brothers, built Northwestern’s first radio station in the basement of the fraternity house. The signal reached the entire campus through, first the electrical system and, when that didn’t reach enough students, we used the central heating system as our antenna. We named it WSAE.
In those days, if a radio signal reached more than 100 feet from an antenna, you had to have a license to operate the radio station. Because the student’s radios were always closer than 100-feet to our heating system antenna, we got away with operating without a license. What fun. I did a nightly show with David Barnhizer called, “The Plumber’s Friends.” I have no remembrance of why we picked that name. Maybe it had something to do with the heating system sometimes failing us.
The best part of my relationship with David is that he has remained a best friend all of these years. He produced and directed many great shows on the Chicago NBC station and in 1965, came to Hollywood and joined me to co-produce The Lloyd Thaxton Show. It was like old times. When the LT show went off the air, David went to New York to direct The Dick Cavett Show. He is now retired and living in a beautiful 200-year old house in Connecticut and we email everyday.
I made every effort to be a part of the university’s radio, television and theater offerings. And, I looked for every other area that I could find, learn and showcase my desires.
Another source of learning one’s trade at Northwestern was the annual musical, “The WaaMu Show.” Many Hollywood stars came out of this student written show and I was thrilled when I passed my first audition to become a member of the sketch comic group. Paul Lynd was the star of the first show I appeared in, and we also became friends. He was a regular star on a game show “Funny You Should Ask,” that I hosted in the 70s.
Here is a picture of me with another campus friend, Claude Akins. It is from one of the sketches we did together on the WaaMu Show. Claude went on to Hollywood to appear in nearly 100 films and 180+ TV episodes in a career spanning over 40 years.
So, what’s the botton line here? Have loving parents? Imagine yourself on TV. Join the Navy. Go to college? Have Talent? Persistence? Luck?
Chapter 4 coming up.
Stay cool. Stay tuned.