WVIZ TV-25 Auction Mug Round-Up (1983-1990)

It’s doubtful that any of my four faithful (?) readers remember the update, but this past August I shared the cool vintage Cleveland WVIZ TV-25 drinkin’ mug my friend Jesse picked up for me. It was neato, I was happy, I got a post out of it, and life went on.

But little did I realize at the time that my journey with local-PBS-affiliate-emblazoned beverage containers wasn’t over; oh no, it was just beginning. In recent weeks, that same friend has stumbled across a veritable cornucopia of WVIZ mugs, hailing from their annual fundraising auctions. All but one of them were found at the exact same time; I’ll be presenting six of them in this update, which means that it’s safe to say five probably came from the same person originally. That, or it was the most incredible coincidence ever.

(And funny enough, sometime in the middle of that first mug find and all of these, he found me another one of those mugs that I wrote about initially; go figure! Thanks for all these man!)

I’m guessing these were gifts for pledging a donation to WVIZ during that fundraising time? Or an added bonus if you won an auction? Perhaps even swag given out to people manning the phones? Specifics, anyone?

Anyway, come one, come all, come and enjoy my puke-green carpet and mug pictures this close to being inadequate!

1983

This earliest mug sets the template for the design used for the next few years. That’s not to say this was the first to use the same general look, but it’s the earliest that I currently have.

As you can see, it was for WVIZ’s May 7-15, 1983 8-day auction. The pertinent info is on one side, and the other side, obviously, features what I assume was their mascot of the era, a zebra. (Get it? It’s a WVIZebra!). Since the tagline is “THE GREATEST SHOW ON AIR,” the zebra is always airborne in some fashion; this template is used for not only this mug (duh!), but for all the mugs up through 1986; might’ve been around even longer, I dunno.

Anyway, here our zebra mascot is flying in a small airplane, because, uh, air. Of all the mugs in this ‘series’ this might be my favorite, simply because it’s the only one to present the 25 logo in some way. Look close; it’s stamped on the tail of the plane! (That is the tail, right? Look, it’s on the back of the craft, okay?)

1984

Here’s the 1984 edition. As you can see, it’s overall pretty similar-looking, and honestly would be easy for the untrained eye to overlook as a mere duplicate. But it’s not.

Held in May once again, 1984’s auction was also held over 8 days, but this time from the 5th to the 13th. On the other side, with the same slogan, our zebra friend evidently no longer needs an aircraft; he’s sprouted wings with which to soar through the clouds!

Look close, because this was something I totally missed until grabbing pics to put this article together: the zebra’s stripes spell out WVIZ! Nice touch!

1985

Evidently the auction was always held over 8 days in May, because for 1985 it ran from May 4th through the 12th. This brings up a question: does WVIZ (or any PBS affiliate) even still do auctions? Obviously they still run pledge drives where you can get tote bags or what have you, but I personally don’t recall the auctions. Obviously they existed at one point, and it’s not like I would have been paying attention to that sort of thing by the time I was old enough to watch PBS (Sesame Street and such was more my speed at the time), but still, yeah, I don’t remember these exact events. Maybe they still do ’em, I don’t know. Nevertheless, the only thing coming to mind here is that one episode of Cheers where no one wants Sam Malone’s jersey.

Uh oh, our zebra pal is still airborne in this one, but not necessarily in a good way! Dig it: he no longer has a plane, nor does he feature wings. Rather, he’s floating down to earth via parachute! Was there an equipment malfunction somewhere?!

You can just barely make out the W and the Z on his body, the rest being covered by the parachute’s harness; again, nice touch!

1986

Last of the “zebra mugs,” or at least my “zebra mugs.” You know, was the zebra their ongoing mascot in general during this era, or was he just something devised for the auction promotions? I certainly don’t remember him, but again, by the time I was old enough to pay any sort of attention to PBS, he may very well (and appears to have been) long gone.

1986 had the auction running May 3-11, and except for the differing date, yeah, there’s only so much I can think to say about it, except this was the first auction I was technically alive for. Not cognizant of, but alive for.

I might have to rectify that “favorite” statement I bandied about with the 1983 entry, because besides me officially being around for (well, during) the event, this variation features – in my opinion – the coolest “zebra action sequence” of them all: he’s flying! As in, like Superman! Dude’s even got a cape! As a lifelong Supes fan, that’s awesome, even if the relation is only of the most minimal variety. Man, you don’t even need the 25 logo stamped somewhere when you’ve got your mascot doing things like that!

Also: evidently those “WVIZ stripes” don’t extend to the opposite side of the zebra’s torso.

1987 & 1988

Sorry gang, I don’t have mugs for the 1987 and 1988 auctions, if there even were mugs for the 1987 and 1988 auctions. Maybe the original owner didn’t participate those years, or maybe someone inexplicably purchased those two but none of the others, or maybe they don’t even exist. At any rate, I don’t have ’em.

1989

’87 and ’88 may be missing from my collection (for now?), and the zebra apparently went MIA somewhere in the interim, but man, the 1989 edition was a home run, too! The one side merely states “WVIZ Auction ’89,” as you can plainly see here (no mention of the exact dates, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it was probably held in May again).

The other side though, hoo boy does it feature a cool gimmick! BP was apparently a sponsor of some sort, and that plays into the new (?) slogan: “Public Television – A Natural Resource.” Just like gas! Or something along those lines.

To go along with this, the illustration of a TV is used, with the BP logo ‘playing’ on its screen. What’s with the somewhat ‘muted’ coloring of the screen, you ask? That part of the mug is covered with some sort of material that changes colors when a hot beverage is housed within! That’s cool! This site has a page for this mug, and which showcases the hip color-changin’ abilities it holds.

I’m not sure if I like this one more than the 1983 or 1986 editions, but I still really, really like it, and it’s easily the most “technically advanced” mug in the line. Or at least in my WVIZ mug collection as it currently stands, anyway.

(For the record, this was the one mug that was found independently, weeks after the others. Maybe it originally hailed from the same person and just didn’t get put out with the rest at the same time, or maybe it originally came from another auction participant; gotta figure there were more than a few, you know?)

1990

Last one, found at the same time as all the zebra mugs. The image is the same on both sides, and hence, only one picture is needed. (Right?) Unlike the other ones seen in this article, which are all of the ceramic-variety, this one is plastic.

No real slogan, but this one does play up the fact the station was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since WVIZ went on the air in 1965, that naturally points to this being from, uh, 1990.

Though you know, without the information stamped all over it, I really have no idea if this is technically an auction mug or something merely created to commemorate the event in general. I mean, considering the others it was found with, it’s a safe guess, and that’s the scenario I’m sticking with, but it has to be pointed out that the mug doesn’t actually state such facts. I dig the red color-scheme, which stands in stark contrast to every other example seen in this update.

***

So there you have it, six different auction mugs from Cleveland’s PBS destination, WVIZ TV-25. Given the “public participation” aspect of the channel, it stands to reason that memorabilia from it is a bit more plentiful than from a network (or even independent) station, but nevertheless, TV-related things like this don’t show up every day, so I couldn’t be happier to have them in my ever-growing mass of stuff (i.e., collection).

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RIP, Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

I was putting the finishing touches on a new update when I heard the news just a bit ago: last night, Ron Sweed aka The Ghoul passed away. As had been known, and as I mentioned in my December update, he had suffered a heart attack in recent months, and last night he succumbed. I can’t tell you how heartbroken I am right now. The Ghoul was such a huge, huge part of my growing up. So much of my sense of humor and my outlook on life was shaped by him. This is just devastating. I can only imagine this is how people felt when Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson passed away in 1997; I didn’t grow up with Ghoulardi, but I did grow up with The Ghoul. When times were tough, when school wasn’t going so great, I always had those Friday nights at 11:30 PM to look forward to. He didn’t know it, but he kept me company from the television screen, gave me a respite from real life for a few hours each weekend. And I will forever be grateful for that.

I met him several times over the years, and each and every time he was absolutely wonderful; incredibly gracious and giving of his time. I never saw him shortchange a single fan. He was, is, an icon, a Northeast Ohio television legend, and his legacy will never be forgotten.

Back in August I posted my memories of growing up with his show on WBNX TV-55; I could never do better than my recollections there, so please, let that article be an ongoing tribute to his influence and entertainment. Words are failing me right now anyway.

RIP Ron, your Ten Star Generals in the Ghoul Power army will never forget you.

The Ghoul and I at that 1999 book signing.

DVD Review – RING OF FIRE III: LION STRIKE (1995)

While in recent times the habit has reached a level that would (should) probably be cause for concern, back in the early-2000s my tendency to be a night owl was a bit more manageable, less regulated by what was on the DVR (since DVRs barely existed at the time and we didn’t have one yet besides) and driven more by what local channels burnt off in the wee hours. Don’t get me wrong, I was staying up late no matter what (particularly during the summer months), but if a new-to-me movie was running somewhere, it could very well determine whether I went to bed late or I went to bed uber-late.

Today, with a seemingly-endless stream of infomercials and/or cookie-cutter sitcom repeats, local stations seem a lot more homogenized, much more “by the numbers” to me (though the rise of the digital subchannels has been a figurative lifesaver and major contributor to my current state of night owlery). Granted, this was an issue even back in the early-2000s, but around here, even at that late date channels could still occasionally display a bout of quirkiness – something that seems utterly inconceivable nowadays. I remember WEWS channel 5 running old black & white flicks, East Side Kids and obscure 1950s dramas and stuff like that late late at night around that time on weekends (I’m pretty sure), and trust me, for a ‘big’ channel that was pretty outside the status quo at the time.

Leo Gorcey was all well and good, but you know what I really wound up enjoying during those late night sojourns? Action flicks. Some of them were ‘big’ action flicks (Big Chuck & Lil’ John ran First Blood once!), while others were more second-tier fare (Big Chuck & Lil’ John ran Iron Eagle II once!), but it didn’t really matter how ‘esteemed’ a movie technically was; I found myself becoming hooked on the genre, and watching each film for its own merits. The thrill of ‘discovering’ a new-to-me action film was enough in and of itself. The fact I was up late, all alone and watching in the dark only added to the, I guess, immersive thrill of it all. Or something like that.

Channel 5 (I think it was) would occasionally run some of the relatively-obscure stuff from the 1990s; that’s how I discovered the Brian Bosworth epic One Man’s Justice, which I loved (MC Hammer was in it, too). But, at the time, the place to go for low budget, oftentimes direct-to-video fare was WBNX TV-55. These kinds of movies, along with syndicated shows such as Viper and The Lost World, were easily found on the station for years. And, as I explained back in August, when they moved horror host The Ghoul to Sunday nights/Monday mornings and largely altered the movies featured, he became a repository for just such action movies. (And unlike many of the films foisted upon him in that era, the action flicks actually did work on the program – provided The Ghoul was allowed plenty of host segments to litter the commercial breaks, anyway.)

It was all but impossible to stay up and watch The Ghoul during the school year, those Sunday night/Monday morning shows were on a week night after all, but things obviously opened up during the summer months, and in mid-August 2001, it was his show that introduced me to our subject today: 1995’s Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s action opus Ring Of Fire III: Lion Strike. The movie stuck with me (it probably held a lower rank in my eyes than One Man’s Justice did at the time, though that has since flipped considerably), and thanks to the magic of this newfangled digital video technology (that’s DVD to you), it’s available for all to enjoy!

Here’s the DVD itself. Well, the cover, anyway. The disc doesn’t present much in the way of extra features; no bonus kickboxing tips by Wilson, no commentaries, no trailers, no wacky behind-the-scenes bloopers. Nope, all you get is the movie – full screen and in revolutionary stereo – and scene selection. You want more than that? Well ain’t you highfalutin! I really like that tagline, at any rate.

As you may surmise through the power of deductive reasonin’, Ring of Fire III is the third in a series of movies. I have not seen the first two entries. Madacy released these films individually and together as a box set, but they’re all seemingly long out of print. Indeed, the first two films seem to have gotten less distribution over the years than the third entry has overall; even on eBay, old VHS copies of one and two are somewhat scarce whilst the third is readily found. Indeed, as of this writing III is the only one still easily available on DVD, courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment and their 2005 release, and it’s that very release we’re looking at today, right now as we speak.

If you ignore that whole third designation in the title, it works just fine as a standalone feature. I’ve only read synopsis’ of the first two movies, but I didn’t need to do even that; Ring of Fire III gets by on its own. (Actually, while I’m going by what I’ve grown up knowing it as, never mind what’s on the DVD cover, the actual on-screen title for this particular release is simply Lion Strike, which only helps matters honestly). It’s not high art, nor was it intended to be, but as a low budget action thriller – hailing from the mid-1990s direct-to-video era no less – it’s a lot of fun.

World kickboxing maestro Don “The Dragon” Wilson plays Dr. Johnny Wu, an everlastingly kind, gentle physician. In addition to that, he also has a  young son (played by Wilson’s actual son Jonathan), who is motherless; Wu is a widower, his wife having been killed by a drunk driver prior to the start of our film today. (She evidently figured into the first two films, which, as previously stated, I ain’t even seen.)

Our hero, early in the film, in mid-lightnin’ quick kick!

Oh, and Wu also happens to be a first-class kickboxer, because Don “The Dragon” Wilson. This is demonstrated aptly by, apropos of nothing, an opening sequence featuring the attempted escape of a mafia figure from the hospital in which Wu works. Wu of course puts the hurt on all perpetrators involved all by himself. This open has nothing to do with the rest of the film, except to let you, the viewer at home, know that Wu can deliver a serious beat down. This is further demonstrated by him later pummeling an entire group of uppity bikers single handed, including one who suddenly bursts through the hospital doors and down the hallway riding his motorcycle, which again, doesn’t have much to do with the story proper other than let us know Wu is a force to be reckoned with when pushed.

Look, was the big boulder that chased Indiana Jones ever referenced again after the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark? No? So why can’t you afford Don “The Dragon” Wilson the same consideration you give Harrison Ford? (Unless that big boulder was referenced again; I haven’t seen Raiders in full in a long, long time. Just go with me here, okay?)

Because constant pummelin’ has to wear on even the most hardy of heroes, Wu is offered the use of a cabin in the mountains by one of his colleagues, which he accepts. Spend some quality time with his son, catch some fish, not have to beat the daylights out of people, it seems like a well-earned vacation for Johnny Wu.

Except things don’t go as planned. We wouldn’t have much of a movie if they did! Through a series of circumstances, Wu finds himself smack dab in the middle of a nefarious plot: organized crime has gone global, with figures of an international variety (including famous character actor Robert Costanzo’s villain at the head of it all) conspiring together to sell nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union to the highest bidder. Plans detailing this dastardly scheme are housed on a floppy disk, which is fortuitously stolen from the bad guys by other, otherwise-unrelated bad guys – much to the chagrin of the original bad guys. Through a plot point worthy of The Brady Bunch, it eventually finds itself in the hands of Wu, which of course only further draws ire of the global mafia. Ah, the days when the fate of the world could hinge on a 3.5 floppy!

Eventually Wu finds himself and his son chased by legions of baddies, but he’s not alone; park ranger Kelly (Bobbie Phillips) is along for the ride. And guess what? She’s no slouch with the punchin’ and kickin’ and shootin’ either! (Wu joins her in beating the stuffing out of an entire group of poachers early in their acquaintance, and naturally the germ of a romance is planted, too.)

As I said before, Ring of Fire III isn’t high art, but again, it wasn’t intended to be. It apparently went straight-to-video back in 1995, and the easy-to-follow plot, relatively low budget, and mounds and mounds of fisticuffs totally point to this being a weekend renter back in the days of the video store. And given that criteria, it’s perfect. No joke, Ring of Fire III is a lot of fun!

Of course, it’s not a perfect movie. Some of the dialog is eye-glazing (You’ll hear the question “Where’s the disk?!” asked approximately 900,000 times over the course of the film), and there are a few moments that don’t quite make sense (when Wu and Kelly fight the poachers, a cowboy rides up and watches them intently, and it keeps cutting between the fight and the cowboy as if he was of some importance to the situation, but when it’s all over, he simply rides off and is never seen again. Say what?)

Furthermore, the acting is…well, it is what it is, okay? WIlson wasn’t hired to win awards in that area, (when he’s caught kissing Kelly by his son, he makes a face better suited to dodging a thrown pie, and later when it appears the baddies have killed said son, his reaction comes off somewhat less aggrieved than you might expect), but he projects a boyish, almost innocent charm…which is pretty funny considering the amount of pain he’s capable of doling out.

Which leads me to this: there’s no moral ambiguity in Ring of Fire III; the good guys are good, and the bad guys are really bad. There are no torn feelings on the part of the viewer; there are no antiheroes. Wu and Kelly are so utterly nice, and the bad guys so utterly ruthless, that you can’t help but root for the forces of good.

Despite the presence of a little kid, the overarching “good always triumphs over evil” theme, and some violent bad guys who are also presented in a loud, stereotypical, scenery-chewing manner that often comes off pretty funny (I assume intentionally), Ring of Fire III ain’t exactly for the children. As you may expect, it’s pretty violent, with lots and lots of punching, kicking, and shooting. The bad guys aren’t adverse to killing innocent people to get what they want (except when sparing them advances the plot, of course).

And there’s lotsa ‘splosions too. Helicopters blowing up, cabins blowing up, cars blowing up, cars flying through the air and then blowing up. Ring of Fire III may not tax your mental capabilities with complex character studies, but it’s certainly never boring!

Funny enough, compared to the action movies of today, or even just prime time television, it’s actually a somewhat tame movie. There’s a little bit of gore but it’s not particularly graphic in that regard. There’s no sex, no nudity, and except for some unsavory language, I really don’t think anything was edited at all when I first caught this on The Ghoul so many years ago. Indeed, bleep the salty talk and this could easily run on prime time network TV today. (Hey NBC, how about bringing back the movie of the week…with Ring of Fire III as the inaugural revival feature? Please?)

In the end, this is a pretty meat-and-potatoes action flick. The plot is simple, the kickboxing is plentiful, you know who to root for, you know who to root against, and it’s often even a little funny. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore, but then, I’m not sure they were still making ’em like this even when I first saw it in 2001. It’s a real artifact of not only the mid-1990s video store era but also a (seemingly) bygone era in late night television broadcasting, when stuff like this could actually show up on the schedule; hard to imagine nowadays. And yet, even though it’s a throwback, it’s one that still holds up – maybe I’m just easily pleased, but no joke, I’m continuously entertained by this one. It’s a breezy 90 minutes, it won’t tax the synapses, and it features Don “The Dragon” Wilson as a kickboxing physician. Sounds like a fun night at the movies to me!

(And yes, I totally stayed up late just last night and watched this; just felt right that way. )

Vintage KSTP-TV 5 DIALING FOR DOLLARS Promotional Token

Do you remember back in June when I showcased a vintage Dialing For Dollars keychain from the Duluth and Superior areas of Minnesota? Of course you don’t.

Anyway, we’re taking another trip back to “The Gopher State” (unknown to me beforehand, but that’s apparently one of its nicknames; Wikipedia sez so) for this update, because I’ve obtained another vintage piece of Dialing For Dollars memorabilia from Minnesota, this time from the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. KSTP-TV 5 had their own version of the franchise, and I’ve got the promotional token to prove it.

Like the above-linked keychain, this was an eBay find. (What, you think I’m likely to come across stuff like this locally?) Unlike the above-linked keychain, this was an auction, rather than a buy it now. This meant I had to bide my time and hope no competitors had their eyes on the same prize. I waited, they didn’t, and so here we are. I’m the champ?

Here’s the ‘face’ of the token, presenting what I presume was “the count and amount” system that viewers needed to know in order to win the big, big bucks. (In other words, when  the host came a-callin’, y’all best know it was “15 DOWN” or “1 UP” or however they went about playing the game.) I’m a little confused as to why it’s labeled “LETTER GAME,” when it seems to me that numbers are much more the focal point here, but then, I wasn’t there and I wasn’t watching, so I’ll just guess that whoever struck the coin knew better than I.

One thing about Dialing For Dollars in general that I talked about in the earlier article: because it was such a 1960s & 1970s phenomenon, much of it aired in the pre-home video-era (in a widely commercial sense anyway), and as such, learning about the finer details of some iterations can be difficult. For example, the host(s) and/or exact format for a particular market isn’t always immediately certain. At least not from what I can discern through online research; respective television historians from wherever probably know all this stuff automatically, but for those of us ‘on the outside’ and learning about things waaaay after the fact and waaaay outside of the original area, well, sometimes it can be tough.

Also, some local versions of the franchise were movie showcases, with a daily flick interrupted by the, say it with me, dialing for dollars segments during the breaks. But for other versions, it was all dialin’ for dinero, all the time. (As in, that was the whole show.)

My issue here: I couldn’t figure out which ‘type’ KSTP’s version was. I don’t know how long it ran, I don’t know who hosted it, and I don’t know how it was exactly played. I’d certainly prefer that it was of the movie-hosted variety, but either way, it represents a live, call-in aspect of television history that just can’t happen anymore. (At least not on a regular basis.)

Never mind, I found some solid info: this site has an advertisement for the show. KSTP’s Dialing For Dollars was evidently not a movie showcase, but rather a standalone program, albeit one with interviews, cooking segments, and other things you’d expect of a typical daytime program. Interestingly, the ad makes a loud and specific declaration that this wasn’t just a woman’s show, despite the fairer sex making up 63% of its audience (which makes sense; more women stayed at home back then, after all).

The host, or hostess rather, was Jane Johnston, who sadly passed away in 2007.

Here’s the back of the coin, with more pertinent identification information. After all, what good is an advertising token if you don’t let the people know where they can tune in? You’ve got the station call sign, the viewing area the station served, and who the owner was. And look, color television! I love that they call specific attention to the fact it was a color station; it’s just so evocative of that era of television broadcasting.

While I don’t have an exact date for this coin, I do, hopefully, have a time frame: according to Logopedia, the style of logo seen on this token was only in usage from 1968 to 1969.

HOWEVER, that above-linked advertisement claims to be from 1966, and the logo seen in it is identical to the one here, so I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Johnston’s obit says she came to KSTP in 1963 and hosted the show in the 1960s and 1970s, so…? Did she immediately start this show in ’63, or did it take a few years? It had apparently been on the air for some time before that ad came about.

Another question remains: how would someone go about obtaining one of these back in the day? Was it a prize for contestants? Something given away during personal appearances by Johnston? A promotional item passed out during industry events? Unfortunately, these are things I just don’t know. (Also, I wonder what that “8101” stamped into the back designates? Does it refer to the number of coins struck? Are there possibly 8,100 more of these out there?!)

At any rate, I love pieces of promotional material like this, because there’s only so much pertaining to the source material (seemingly) still floating around nowadays. I mean, maybe KSTP has footage of the actual show in their archives, and if it ran into the 1970s, it did crossover into the commercial home video-era (technically 1972 with Cartrivision, but more likely 1975/1976 with Betamax if it made it to the middle of the decade), but in regards to what can fall into my paws, I imagine I’m limited to the smaller accoutrements such at this. Maybe some press photos, potentially some appropriately-branded mugs or glasses, probably print ads from old TV listings (TV Guide or otherwise), but realistically I can’t think of a whole lot else.

That’s okay though, because even on its own, this token is suitably neat; I wouldn’t wait for an auction to end for anything less! As it stands, it now proudly resides right by the Duluth/Superior keychain I linked to at the start of this update. They belong together because they is cousins.

EPISODE REVIEW: The Ghoul’s airing of 1935’s SCROOGE (December 17, 1999)

I have no idea what’s happening the rest of the month, so consider this your de facto Christmas and New Year post.  I suppose I could wait till Monday and post this on the 19th anniversary of the original air date, but I’m, uh, not.

But hey, if I’m gonna jump the gun, what a way to do it!

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t do another “Ghoul post” so soon after the last one, even if the last one was in actuality back in August. Not that I couldn’t babble about Ghoul Power every single day if I wanted to; it’s just that I worry about over-saturating all four of my regular readers or something like that.

At any rate, in the months since that August update, some sad and shocking news dropped: Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed suffered a massive heart attack. I don’t know all of the details, other than it happened and that triple-bypass surgery was needed. As far as I know, and hope, he’s had the surgery and is recovering now. Scary, scary stuff; I sincerely pray he makes it through with flying colors and comes out stronger than ever.

Well before that news (and also well before that August post), and certainly continuing afterwards, I had made a habit of revisiting a lot of the old Ghoul shows I recorded off WBNX TV-55 in the late-1990s and early-2000s. For the most part they don’t feel that old to me, and yet it’s been so long since I had watched some of them (or in some cases, taped but never watched at all), that they’ve essentially become ‘new’ to me all over again. I have greatly enjoyed having a regular (sometimes every single night) dose of Ghoul Power!

So, to talk about a horror host in December, it may seem a little strange, until you realize (or at least read the title of this update) that every Christmas season, The Ghoul went all-out in celebration, and he perhaps never went more all-out than he did in December of 1999, when the entire month was dedicated to Christmas-appropriate films. Not only was it intensely festive, but The Ghoul was probably at his peak in both material and visibility on the station.

Over the course of the month, not one but two films that would become personal Christmastime favorites of mine were presented: 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (for me it has become a tradition to watch this movie at some point in December each year), and our subject today, 1935’s Scrooge, which also happens to be my go-to film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Ghoul tackled it on December 17, 1999, one whole week before Christmas Eve! The anticipation was running high, and Santa Ghoul was running rampant!

The episode opens with a really cool intro: old footage of “Santa Ghoul” from the WKBF TV-61 days (i.e., the 1970s) being pulled by a reindeer, and then transitioning to the modern day Santa Ghoul on his set, before transitioning back to the old footage to close the intro out. Neato!

During the ‘current’ portion of his intro, The Ghoul promises not just a movie, but all kinds of “eclectic Christmas vignettes,” and boy, he wasn’t lying! During the Friday 11:30 PM era of his WBNX run, man, there would be a ton material packed into any given show, and this installment was no exception. Some vintage bits, some trips around Cleveland (including visits to the WOIO and WNCX studios), some ice skating, all in addition to his on-set antics and a genuinely good Christmas movie! When it comes to local holiday celebrations, this was a terrific, jam packed example – and there was still a week to go before his actual Christmas special!

Before we get to all of The Ghoul stuff though, let’s look at Scrooge. Look, I wanted to do some kind of tribute to The Ghoul before the year was out, but I also really, really wanted to talk about this movie. I love this movie; not that I’m terribly familiar with the others, but it’s still my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol. Some of that’s nostalgia; for years, WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35 (“The CAT”) annually ran a commercial-free presentation of it each Christmas Eve (I talked about it before, though don’t bother visiting that link; the article is old and terrible). But even beyond the fond memories, I just think it’s a genuinely good film.

Released in 1935, this is not only one of the more underrated adaptations of the story, it’s also one of the more obscure. Both the 1938 and 1951 versions tend to eclipse it, though I admittedly have no real experience with those (they may very well be, and apparently are, better movies).

Still, when you’ve got the foundation of stellar source material, it’s probably all relative (to a point, anyway). The classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, miserly and anti-Christmas-lovin’, getting a verbal beat-down by the tortured spirit of former business partner Jacob Marley and then put in check by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in order to make him not only get Christmas but get Christmas all year long, hey, it’s legendary stuff. No joke, calling it “legendary” actually seems to downplay the whole thing; A Christmas Carol has become one of the most recognizable, enduring ‘extras’ associated with Christmas.

(In other words, do I really need to explain any more of the plot? Doesn’t everyone know it by now? I’m pretty sure there are kids that are born automatically knowing this story.)

Great source material or not, I’d imagine any filmed version of A Christmas Carol ultimately hinges on the guy in the lead role, and let me tell you, Sir Seymour Hicks makes for an excellent Scrooge. From the onset, he’s not just cranky; he’s downright unpleasant. You’re not supposed to initially like Scrooge of course, and Hick’s rendition is so filled with vitriol, so angry at anything approaching cheer, that you really don’t.

Of course, that just makes his eventual redemption all the more joyful, and Hicks is terrific in demonstrating the transition. He really comes off as a changed man! And his looks of sadness at what he has and is missing out on, as well as his fear at what will be, are all nicely portrayed as well.

1935’s Scrooge also has something going for it that I find continuously appealing: a feeling of authenticity. Sure, the movie is old (duh!), black and white (duh duh!) and a little creaky (duh duh duh!). But it somehow feels like Britain in 1843, as if it was really filmed back then. Sure, there’s probably some time period inconsistencies, but for your average fella such as myself, the vibes are overwhelmingly old fashioned, I guess you could say. It feels like you’re there during an old timey English Christmas, or at least it feels that way to me.

The movie also does a good job of presenting the deeper aspects of Christmas, as you’d expect. Sure there’s the parties and merriment and so on, but ultimately it’s about a generosity and happiness of spirit, with obviously the birth of Christ at the center of it all, even if only by implication. (I should mention now I haven’t actually read the original book, unless you count the mega-abridged and rewritten edition I read when I was in like 3rd grade – which I don’t.)

In its original British incarnation, Scrooge was 70+ minutes long, but for the U.S. it was edited down to around an hour, and it’s those truncated prints that made the rounds on American television and home video for decades. (And the fact that it’s apparently public domain in the U.S. only exacerbated matters.) Obviously it was a common hour-long version that The Ghoul was running, but unlike a good many flicks featured on the show, it wasn’t chopped to ribbons. The only bit I really noticed missing was the “Lord mayor of London celebration” scene, but its exclusion didn’t hurt the plot any. Indeed, by and large, the ‘meat’ of the story is here and is completely coherent.

And of course, since this was The Ghoul after all, there was a bevy of sound effects, music and what have you dropped into the film, including the humorous “fact bubbles” that were a staple of the show at the time, as you can see here to your right.

So, when you’ve got a movie that’s not only fitting for the season but also actually good and whose plot you can easily follow, hey, that’s always something that can get you in the holiday mood. But of course, being only an hour long originally, even after commercials were taken into consideration, there was plenty of time for wacky Ghoul material, and that’s just what viewers got that night of December 17, 1999…

(Indeed, there was so much material, I’m only going to focus on a few of the personal highlights here.)

The Ghoul liked to take little digs at Big Chuck & Lil’ John, albeit digs that were always good-natured in spirit. Given the shared Northeast Ohio-history between the two shows, never mind that both aired at the same time on Friday nights back then, it was only natural. Here, because it was in the thick of the Christmas season, The Ghoul wanted to wish good will to men, all men, even Chuck & John…which was demonstrated by him holding up a Big (wood) Chuck and a Lil’ John (toilet)! This was followed by a “call” to Chuck in which The Ghoul had to remind him not only who he was (“Not Ghoulardi; The Ghoul!”), but also who Lil’ John was!

Immediately following that little bit was footage of The Ghoul, in full Santa regalia, and Froggy visiting the offices of WOIO/WUAB, traipsing around the lobby, talking to some of the staff, and culminating in The Ghoul pulling his beard and mustache off and putting them on a hanging portrait of Denise Dufala, and then making a hasty exit!

Dufala was another local personality that The Ghoul had a good-natured “feud” going with at the time, and the shot of her picture with the beard and mustache on it was repeated for the longest time afterwards, with the declaration that she was a “bad mamma jamma” later grafted on.

Ahh, a blow up! What would The Ghoul Show be without a little juvenile destruction? It was a tradition going all the way back to the Ghoulardi days of the 1960s, and a show never quite felt complete without one ‘splosion to set the mood.

This time around, it was a model car that got the explosive nod, and it did indeed blow up real nice! Quick, silly, simple, and a lot of fun.

You know, it’s amazing how big of a destructive influence The Ghoul had on both me and my brother. We never really had legit fireworks in which to destroy things, but fire, smashing, what have you, that sort of stuff was within our reach. In fact, I have two related stories that can be directly attributed to the influence of The Ghoul…

1) Once, at a computer swap meet-type convention (of all places), my brother bought a box of already-assembled model cars from a guy. They weren’t particularly old, nor were they particularly intricate pieces (snap-on plastic, maybe some glue, decal stickers), but the dude had obviously spent some time putting them together. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Over time, all of those cars met destructive ends, mostly by crushing/smashing, I’d imagine. I almost feel bad about it now, because I can just imagine the guy feeling like he was passing these cars, cars he spent time with and enjoyed assembling, on to someone who would (supposedly) appreciate them, and that was the end they met instead. Actually, it’s kinda (darkly?) funny when you think about it.

2) At one point, again in lieu of fireworks, I combined by Ghoul-fueled destructive tendencies with my love of Japanese giant monster movies and created a game imaginatively titled “Gamera.” “Gamera” took place in our backyard, in the circular dirt “arena” in which our old pool once stood, and involved a thick plastic sea turtle I got at SeaWorld or some place being tied to a rope and swung around in the air before attempting to slam it down upon G.I. Joe figures that weren’t deemed important enough to keep. (Since I collect that early-1980s to mid-1990s G.I. Joe line nowadays, this decision was eventually revealed to be a mistake.)

Obviously it wasn’t a very precise game, so a (relatively rare) direct hit was certainly cause for celebration. Since the toy turtle wasn’t exactly indestructible, his limbs began to wear down and break off from the abuse after awhile, plus I got a nasty blister on the inside of my thumb from the constant swinging of the rope. (Those Joes were pretty durable and put up a good fight, too!)

Look, my brother and I were young enough to be amused by things like this, and it was pretty much all thanks to The Ghoul. Anyway…

A short, funny bit in which The Ghoul greets carolers at (ostensibly) his front door, only to then be regaled with loud, out-of-tune, and mismatched Christmas carols. Eventually, he just goes back inside, only to have the carolers continue singing (and even peeking in his windows)!

I recognize some of the Ghoul crew as the carolers; I’m guessing the rest were family members? Oh to be one of those lucky few in a Ghoul skit!

In addition to the opening WKBF material, there was another nice holiday-themed surprise from the past presented on the show, this one from his WCLQ TV-61 run in the 1980s. Here, The Ghoul narrates some of the annual traditions that take place during the Christmas season, including an unlucky-in-love couple but mostly focusing on a big giant brawl (“What Christmas is complete without the traditional holiday fistucuffs?”), which The Ghoul passes through without trying to stop. (This piece appeared to be part of a larger bit that was truncated somewhat for this particular broadcast.)

Now this is really cool: during one host segment, The Ghoul holds up a shirt for the then-new Ghoulardi’s Bar & Grille, a local establishment named (obviously) after the Cleveland horror host who set all this in motion so many years prior. The Ghoul promises to visit there sometime in the “very near future.

That would turn out to be true, as there were multiple instances of footage from Ghoul appearances there run in the following years. And why not? The two were a natural fit!

I never had the chance to visit Ghoulardi’s, and the place has evidently since closed, so that’s something I’m just going to have to live with. (Also, with all of the old local restaurant glassware and such that I come across during my travels, I have yet to stumble upon some Ghoulardi’s memorabilia in-person, and that’s something else I’m just going to have to live with, apparently.)

Ah, my buddy, Jungle Bob! Yep, JB was a regular guest on The Ghoul Show at the time, for awhile there having a weekly segment.

This time around, he had some parrots with him, including “Booger,” the green one from the Amazon, and “Orion,” the African grey parrot. Both were only a few years old at the time, which means it’s a safe guess that they’re still alive. (Parrots, as JB points out in the segment, are pretty long-lived creatures!)

That’s the recently-retired (*sniff*) Mr. Classic of WNCX holding “Orion.” At the time, The Ghoul would join him during his weekly Saturday night request show on the station.

As I said earlier, there was a lot packed into this show, and more than what I’ve described happened during it. Other shenanigans included some ice skating, visits around Cleveland, chats with citizens, and even an interview with Michael Stanley during a trip to the WNCX studios. And through it all, The Ghoul was in his Santa suit, keeping things in the Christmas spirit.

But, I’m going to close out this article with the image above: Santa Ghoul, hopping out on his bouncy ball as the show drew to a close, Ghoul Power just about done for the night. It was one week till Christmas Eve, or, if y’all wanna get technical, a week till Christmas proper, since it was well after midnight by that point.

(A funny email moment before The Ghoul exited: someone wrote in asking if he was interested in getting some audio copies of his late-1970s WXON TV-20 shows from Detroit. The Ghoul declined, because as he himself bluntly put it, those shows “sucked.“)

So, like The Ghoul, I’m gonna hop on out of here (figuratively), because that just about wraps up the big Christmas update; a more fitting post I could not think of. A terrific Christmas movie, a generous helping of Christmas cheer throughout the skits and host segments, and what I hope is a fitting tribute to Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed as he faces his health crisis. My prayers, thoughts and best wishes are with him, and I’m sure it’s the same for countless other 10 Star Generals in the Ghoul Power Army.

I truly hope you all have a blessed Christmas and a happy, safe new year. Ignore the constant drive for more and more gifts and instead remember the true meaning of the holiday, what it’s all about and what’s really important. That is my hope for you all.

Vintage WUAB-TV 43 & WAKR TV-23 Golf Ball Markers (Circa 1984)

I went Christmas shopping this past Saturday. Well, ostensibly; I did find one thing to check off my list, but came up empty for everyone else. Well, except for me. I did find a few things for me.

I wasn’t trying to – really! This was a mission to get Christmas shopping done, and since I don’t have that many people to buy for, theoretically it could have been completed during this one outing. Several locations were visited over the course of several hours, and where I myself was concerned, I dutifully passed up on some things I considered merely “neato,” because unless something practically jumped out and punched me in the face with awesomeness, I wasn’t going to get anything for my personal collection. It wasn’t an issue of cost either; this was about principle. I was on a specific mission, man!

I made it safely through the day – until the last place I visited. There, as I perused small display boxes made up of compartments filled with various knick knacks, my eyes fell upon the baggie you’re seeing right here. This was one of those cases where I got so immediately excited, so incredibly stoked, that I dropped what I was doing and instantly began extricating it. I knew, I knew, that as long as the price wasn’t prohibitive (and it wasn’t in the slightest), it was coming home with me. And so it did.

I hadn’t been to this antique store in several months (as it has been operating on reduced hours lately), so this must have been a fairly new addition to their wares, because I’d really hate to think my normally-fairly-astute eyes passed over this time and time again. Dig this: two pairs of vintage Northeast Ohio television-branded golf markers, WUAB-43 and WAKR TV-23! Cool winnins!

And Golf markers! If there’s one thing my collection lacks, it’s golf stuff. Not that I have anything against the sport; it’s just that aside from some old school video games and Happy Gilmore, I have little experience with it. Heck, I wouldn’t have even known what these markers were if not for the handy sticker affixed to the baggie notating the contents. This was an entirely unexpected find, but this was also exactly the sort of random TV-related thing I’m always hoping to come across.

(Also picked up for myself at the same time? I rarely drink alcohol, but a vintage Bud Man patch for only a buck was just too cool to pass up.)

It was the old WUAB logo here that first caught my eye, and because I have such an ongoing-affinity for the station, those markers were the ‘biggies’ for me. As you can see, one is pink and one is white, but otherwise they’re identical with the black “half-moon” 43 logo. (“Half-moon” is how *I* refer to this particular iteration of the station I.D., but as far as I know, I’m the only one to do so. Maybe that is the ‘official’ term for it though, I dunno.)

The WAKR markers are less logos and more mere station identifications. Unlike the two WUAB markers, they’re both completely identical to each other. Besides WAKR, WAEZ is also featured; I can only guess that this refers to what later became WONE 97.5 FM, which was WAEZ prior and WAKR-FM before that. There was some kind of connection there, is what I’m sayin’.

I have no idea what the actual age of these markers are. I’m assuming both pair hail from the same general era, but they could have just as easily been, erm, paired up later. WUAB only used that style of logo from, roughly, 1980 to 1986, before going to a full-circular version. WAKR TV-23 became WAKC TV-23 in 1986, and WAEZ became WONE on January 1, 1985. So yeah, I’m sticking with what I used in the title of this update: “circa 1984.” That seems to be a safe guess. At any rate, the WUAB ones have to hail from 1986 or earlier, and the WAKR/WAEZ ones from before January 1, 1985.

Regardless of the actual date(s) that brought these markers forth, they both demonstrate a terrific time in Northeast Ohio television, when quirky local programming and an eclectic line-up of movies and shows was the order of the day. I love that!

Hey, know what I discovered when it came time for a picture-taking session of these earlier today? Golf ball markers aren’t the easiest things in the world to photograph! Not these ones, anyway. Because they’re rounded, they tend to roll ll over when I don’t want them to. Indeed, I had to poke them through a disposable styrofoam plate for the main shots, and to your left here is the best I could come up with as far as a side-view goes. See, they done got lil’ pegs, perfect for plunkin’ down into the ground! These aren’t especially big markers, they’re all the same size, which is roughly that of a regular shirt button (a bit bigger actually, but not by much). They seem to be bright enough to show up on the ground during a golf outing, but I’d have thought they’d be a bit bigger for easier visibility. But then, I’m not a golfer; far be it for me to go tellin’ ’em their business.

The last remaining question for me is: how did someone go about acquiring these originally? They almost seem too niche to be widely-spread promotional items. I have seen golf balls with station logos/I.D, emblazoned on them, so this sort of thing was (is?) not unheard of. Perhaps they were from some industry event? A friendly game between the staffs of 43 and 23? These are things I do not know, and perhaps the finer details of which have become lost to time. (If you’ve got some additional information on them, by all means share it in the comments!)

So, as it stands right now, I’ve still got some Christmas shopping to do, but when I come home with cool promo items such as these to add to the ever-growing collection, well, how can that ever be considered a wasted trip? Like I said earlier, TV-related things like this are what I always hope to come across during my travels; sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough for my liking, but when it does, it’s usually worth the dry spells. Given the last update, I seem to be on some kind of streak right now – hopefully it lasts a bit longer!

Vintage WKBN-TV 27-Branded Mad Dasher Rain Poncho

Look, I don’t know where you reside, but here in Northeast Ohio, it’s pretty cold right now. I can (sorta) live with that, but when it’s snowing, well, it gets real irritating, real fast. I am not a fan of snow, especially when it’s mushy and relentless.

So, in the spirit of the season (ha!), here’s an appropriate update, not only because it was meant to aid us in our never ending battle against unpleasant weather, but also because it features an aspect directly up the alley of the blog you’re perusing right now this very moment.

This is a new acquisition of mine, found a few nights ago during a thrift trip for only – get this – 14 cents. 14 big cents! Now under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t purchase an item such as a poncho for even that low, low price. I don’t wear ponchos, I don’t collect ponchos, and had it not looked somewhat vintage, I probably wouldn’t have even picked it up in the first place.

I take no issue with ponchos, mind you; they’re handy enhancements to any wardrobe that you don’t wish to become damp. It’s just that I personally don’t typically like wearing ‘extra’ things over my clothing. I almost rather get all wet, even at the risk of not being able to pretend I’m Luke Skywalker on Endor.

Anyway, the side of the packaging you’re seeing here was what I myself first saw. It’s a “Mad Dasher” brand poncho, and it’s got an adjustable hood. It’s also reusable, recyclable, and it’s touted as being of the “Dura-Tuff” design, which I assume means the wearer is essentially invulnerable whilst wearing it. (Seriously, when the weather is poundin’, y’all want these things to hold steady, which is what I’m guessing “Dura-Tuff” refers to.)

Mad Dasher is known for producing these ponchos with promotional logos of whoever, and while I don’t know when this particular one was released (I estimate it as hailing from the mid-1980s to the early-1990s), I do know that, man, it’s a home run cool winnin for sure. Dig this…

Look at that!

When I turned the package over and saw the logo of Youngstown, Ohio’s CBS affiliate, WKBN-TV 27, emblazoned in bright red lettering on the other side, this poncho went from something I was just kind of absentmindedly scanning to something that was absolutely coming home with me.

Longtime readers will know that I collect promotional memorabilia related to broadcasting, especially television broadcasting, and when it’s of vintage age (though indeterminate in this case), I have no problem telling you I get unacceptably giddy. Such was the case here, cause no joke, I love this thing.

Since Youngstown isn’t my hometown, and we (or at least *I*) couldn’t/can’t normally pull in the station around these parts, the only way things could be cooler here is if this was branded with one of ‘my’ Cleveland and/or Akron stations. But then, for all I know, there’s one of those ponchos waiting out there somewhere for me, too.

This poncho is still sealed and unused in its baggy, and I just don’t have the heart to open it. Theoretically I could find another at some point, new or used, but as of now, I can’t take the plunge and crack the seal. Still, if you scroll back up to that first pic and look close, you can see the 27 printing peaking through from the inside, which means the wearer would be a walking billboard for WKBN. Neato!

So, not a big huge update this time around, but an update nonetheless, and regarding something too cool not to spotlight here.

Until the next time, stay warm and dry (if applicable).