Tag Archives: cleveland

A Ghoul Power Journey, 20 Years On…

CAUTION: Long, drawn out personal memories forthcoming! (Also, it will probably help if you have at least some working knowledge of The Ghoul beforehand.)

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

July 10th marked the 20th anniversary of The Ghoul’s return to Cleveland airwaves, courtesy of our WBNX TV-55. (Yes, I’m well aware the majority of August is now over.) 20 years?! It’s almost shocking how quickly time has passed; it (figuratively) seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the 15th anniversary of the occurrence. I don’t know what troubles me more: the fact I’ve kept my silly blog going for five years now, or that I’ve let 20 years slip by without accomplishing anything of lasting importance.

Nevertheless, allow me now to do some reminiscin’ of Ron Sweed’s legendary late night horror host. The time is right, and besides, while I’ve related some of these tales before, it’ll be nice to present them again in an updated (i.e., better written) manner. Bear with me here group, this’ll be a long one…

Backstory:

Ron Sweed was a young associate of the legendary Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson (he of Cleveland horror hosting legend) in the 1960s, and it was by Anderson’s permission that Sweed resurrected the character in the 1970s, albeit with a change in name. Sure, with the fright wig, one-lens sunglasses, fake beard and mustache, and button-adorned lab coat, they looked the same. And yes, with declarations of “Stay Sick,” “Turn Blue” and “Ova Dey” and a similar penchant for blowing things up with firecrackers and adding various drops-in, video and audio, to the (admittedly) terrible movies he ran, they even shared some of the same traits. BUT, The Ghoul developed his own manic persona. His was wild, he was wacky, he was destructive, and his sense of humor was decidedly warped. With his declarations of “Ghoul Power!” he was hero to kids and the hip and enemy to those with supposedly “good taste.” The Ghoul was something special.

He first started hosting horror movies in Cleveland in 1971, on the independent WKBF TV-61, and through the magic of syndication also hit in other markets around the country. Indeed, he was just as big in Detroit as he was in Northeast Ohio. Thanks to viewer complaints and a station on the brink, his first run here came to an end in 1975, though he came back on 61’s successor, WCLQ, in 1982 and enjoyed a few more years in the Cleveland market. Add to that various runs outside of Ohio, and you had a host that really got around across the decades.

That was all before my time, however.

Despite having a vague knowledge of Ghoulardi, knowing of Superhost in my formative years, and having occasionally watched Big Chuck & Lil’ John prior, I was really just learning about the fine art of horror hosting in full in 1997, when I was 11 years old. It was actually a nationally broadcast show out of Minneapolis, Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the Sci-Fi Channel, that introduced me proper to the concept of bad-movie-mockin’, and which in turn led me to The Son of Ghoul Show on The CAT 29/35.

Now, the internet was around then, and we had it (ah, the days of slow, clunky, will-it-or-won’t-it-connect dial-up!), but it wasn’t nearly what it is now. As such, I was very much discovering all of this stuff for myself first-hand, as it beamed from the cathode ray tubes of our television and directly into my brain. In other words, if I didn’t see it aired, I may have had, at best, only the most passing knowledge on a given local subject. To think, there was a time when I wasn’t aware of The Ghoul!

Fast forward to the summer of 1998, when a relative passed along a newspaper clipping that she thought I might find interesting…

The Discovery:

My first glimpse, indeed my first knowledge, of The Ghoul came from an Akron Beacon Journal article covering his return to Northeast Ohio TV. This was fascinating stuff! A new (but not really) host for me to check out! As a 12 year old heavily into this sort of thing by then, this was exciting news! I was also curious; obviously I didn’t know what to expect. How could I? Like I said, this was all new to me.

The fateful newspaper article that led me to Ghoul Power…

You know, one of my favorite things in my entire horror host collection is actually that old Akron Beacon article. As you can see here, it’s yellowed a bit; that’s because it hung on the fridge for awhile. And the picture used wasn’t originally in color; I did that myself some time later prior to, obviously, having him sign it at a personal appearance somewhere (more on those later).

No, it’s not in “mint condition,” and it’s not archival quality in the slightest. I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to collecting this stuff, but here, none of that matters. Why? Because this article and the history that goes with it, that’s all part of my personal Ghoul Power story, that’s why! Today, it proudly resides in a scrapbook I have dedicated to these sorts of things, and there it shall remain.

ANYWAY, thanks to that article I now had some background knowledge on the man, but I still didn’t know how this was going to play out. I was used to a certain way of local horror hosting, so how exactly was this going to work? It was a curious anticipation, to be sure.

A still from WBNX’s original promo spotlighting The Ghoul’s return.

In the days (weeks?) leading up to the July 10 debut, WBNX began running a promo for the return, and this was my first glimpse of The Ghoul “in action.” There he was, hopping down the street on a bouncy ball, waving at cars, all while the expected “I’m back!” type voiceover gave the pertinent details. Okay, this was different!

So Friday, July 10, 11:30 PM rolls around, and I was…well, actually, I can’t remember if I was there watching it live or if, thanks to the magic of VHS, I first checked it all out the next day. Honestly, I’m remembering it both ways, and I’m not sure which scenario is the truth and which is just my mind playing tricks on itself. And I’ve got a pretty good memory, too!

The first episode was 1993’s Ghost in the Machine, not really my kinda movie but a bit of “B” movie fare typical of WBNX’s offerings at the time. The Ghoul’s segments were a mix of old and new material, mainly his new segments introducing old ones. The following week (1983’s Up From the Depths) continued the trend.

Annnnnd that’s kinda where I dropped off. Over the following months, I’d check in occasionally, but the sad fact of the matter is I wasn’t an instant fan of The Ghoul. It was more of a progressive fandom; the more I watched, the more I appreciated. The good news is, when I finally ‘got’ it, man, I really got it!

The Fandom:

It was in the waning months of 1998 that I really started finding my Ghoul Power voice (I even went as him for my grade school’s Halloween party that year), and by early ’99, I was a young-but-dedicated “Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army.”

At a time when I was still very much developing my own sense of humor, The Ghoul displayed to me a “chaotic absurdity.” The destructive tendencies, firecracker-induced or otherwise, humor that was often positively non-sequitur-ish, it was all incredibly appealing to a 12/13 year old kid. (More than a few G.I. Joes met their demise in my backyard thanks to the influence of The Ghoul, by the way.) There was a warped sense of humor running throughout the entire show; even something as simple as using a toilet as a regular seat on his set was, to me, fantastic. Still is!

The man himself, staying sick and turning blue on set!

Like Ghoulardi before him, The Ghoul would often mock fellow local television personalities. News anchorwomen Denise Dufala (and her then-recent CD) and Wilma Smith were regular targets, as were Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who were running directly against The Ghoul over on WJW TV-8 at the time. It’s important to note that this was all in good fun; there was no real animosity there.

Some of my favorite moments were the simple ones, when he was merely sitting on the set, ostensibly talking about something but really just goofing around and cracking the crew up. Like Soupy Sales used to do, when The Ghoul had the crew laughing at something he said or did, it just made things all the funnier. And add an almost “familial” touch to the proceedings, too!

Indeed, one of my absolute favorite examples of this was “egg in a bottle,” from March 1999.

Some weeks prior, The Ghoul had demonstrated a trick in which an egg was sucked into a milk bottle by lighting a piece of paper and setting the egg over the opening – and it worked! Well, a few shows later, he revisited the bit, this time with the goal of not only getting the egg in the bottle, but then getting it out as well.

The problem was that nothing went correctly that second time around. The lit paper would be dropped in, and the egg would start to ‘go’ but then stall. Multiple failed attempts soon devolved into throwing the eggs around between him and the crew and lotsa ad-libbing. After several minutes of failing to achieve the first part of the goal, The Ghoul coolly stated “I don’t care if we don’t show the rest of the movie…” which caused the crew to crack up. And when the paper wouldn’t stay lit afterwards, he wondered aloud if they had any lighter fluid, which got another boisterous response.

Finally, he just pushed the egg down into the bottle and then sucked it back out with a straw, which was the purpose of the bit in the first place. It wasn’t so much the activity itself that was funny, but the interplay and goofing around between The Ghoul and his crew that summed up exactly how much fun this show could be. Even today, the whole segment is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Froggy being bombarded with some “raven residue.”

Oh, and how could I forget The Ghoul’s nemesis, Froggy! A small frog doll with a red coat and bow tie, Froggy was originally a 1940s & 1950s children show character, and who was later appropriated by The Ghoul for any number of destructive purposes. Summoned by being implored to “plunk you magic twanger, ova dey” and continuously spouting “hiya hiya hiya,” over the years Froggy was subject to being fried, chopped, blown up, immolated, thrown, kicked, stomped, and any other number of indignities The Ghoul reveled in bestowing upon him.

(There was also a full-sized Froggy, as in costumed adult, that appeared frequently on the show.)

It’s also to The Ghoul’s credit that, in the more-jaded late-90s/early-2000s, a lot of the stuff that would have raised eyebrows in the 1970s and even 1980s but would seem tame in the 1990s (especially when compared to, say, professional wrestling or whatever was airing on MTV or Comedy Central) still managed to work. Of course, the guy had been doing this sort of thing since 1971, it was probably all second-nature by that point, and The Ghoul went about it all with such a zeal that even some bits that didn’t quite work were still worth watching.

But you know, I fully realize that The Ghoul was/is a phenomenon that not everyone would get. (Same goes for Ghoulardi, Chuck & John, etc. etc. etc.) Unless you’re from Northeast Ohio or one of those areas that ‘got’ the humor (as Detroit wisely did), there’s a chance that if I were to show you an old episode right this moment, you’d watch and then say “okay…?” The declarations of “Boffo Socko,” “Zowie Scowie,” “Turn Blue,” and constant jabs at news anchorwoman Denise Dufala (“The secret word is DUFALA!”) probably would have left most outsiders scratching their heads.

That was the beauty of regional horror hosts though; their humor was aimed at a specific target audience. Someone in L.A. most likely wouldn’t get it, but they weren’t supposed to. This type of programming instilled a connection, and dare I say local pride, with the audience that, outside of nightly newscasts, seems to be a dying art form nowadays. The Ghoul excelled at it though.

And he fit so well into the vibes of late-90s Northeast Ohio, at least from the perspective of a 12/13 year old. Ernie Anderson’s passing in 1997 and The Drew Carey Show being a comedic force on a national scale, there seemed to be a renewed local interest in all of this stuff that made us, well, us. That feeling seemed to subside as the 2000s dawned and television in general went through increasingly radical changes (even Drew, for his last two seasons, was first moved to a terrible Monday night time slot and then burned off during the summers), but it was a wonderful ride while it lasted.

Over my years with The Ghoul, there were lotsa memorable moments. Beyond the surface stuff of anticipating a new old bad movie and seeing what he had in store for a given week, there are particular high points that stick out in my mind, both from back in the day and in retrospect.

When it began, The Ghoul Show had new host bits with the main maniac, but much of the focus was on the old material from the 70s and 80s. The Ghoul would come on in newly-filmed segments, and then introduce a clip from the past. I was entranced by these moments, and my early reluctance towards the show was almost-certainly due to the fact that the new stuff didn’t look like the old stuff. The material from the 1970s and 1980s, to me, it just looked like how a horror host show should look. The new Ghoul stuff (obviously) had a more modern look, with computerized titles and graphics. These graphics have aged well for the most part, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time. Anyway, luckily, I came to my senses and realized that all Ghoul Power was good Ghoul Power. That’s why we’re here right now!

When new material took precedence, the 1970s & 1980s sketches were relegated to (usually) a single moment during the show: The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage. The Vault was a feature going back decades, and given its possibility to introduce me to old bits I wasn’t around for the first time, it quickly became one of my most-anticipated moments each week. (As the years went by, newer 1990s/2000s segments could occasionally show up in the Vault feature; that was always disappointing to me, because, hey, I was probably around for them the first time!)

The Vault, both in that early going and later when it was a separate segment, introduced me to the original usage of the “Ghoulzooka,” Chef Curdle, C. Miller, Froggy destruction, The Ghoul’s MDA telethon Jell-O jump, and other assorted bits of wackiness. I loved so much of it. But, being a Japanese giant monster movie fan, I think my favorite examples were the ones in which The Ghoul interacted with Gamera.

The Ghoul with Gamera, on two separate occasions…

Gamera movies were evidently well-known entities on The Ghoul Show in the 1970s, and The Ghoul took it upon himself to give them some extra-skewerin’ at least twice. The first known to me was the top image to your right: some fans sent in a “rocket powered” Gamera model, which The Ghoul and crew then launched across the studio. It was a very funny bit, mainly because it involved more joking around than anything, including The Ghoul losing it when Gamera’s head fell off during a demonstration of what was going to happen prior to launch.

The second occurrence known to me (but apparently happened first, given The Ghoul’s early set) was even ‘bigger’ and is what you’re seeing in the bottom-right shot: The Ghoul “interviewed” Gamera himself! Another very funny moment, mainly because The Ghoul had to tell Gamera how bad his movies were, much to Gamera’s embarrassment. The segment then ended with The Ghoul pulling Gamera around the set on a dolly, as if to mimic his flying. Simple, goofy, and irresistible. I loved (and love) stuff like that.

Ah, but probably the most memorable moment for me was a then-new one. Understandably, it was the time he opened a package I sent him on the air. I later wrote him emails that made it on, but the first was definitely the biggest and best.

The setting was July 23, 1999, the movie Bride of the Gorilla (a new one to me at the time; bonus!), and following one commercial break, I got probably the biggest thrill I ever got watching the show.

This particular life goal? ACHIEVED.

I had loaded this package up. First was what I deemed a “Parma Yo-Yo,” which was just a cut-out from a box of pierogies with a string taped to it, and which you were supposed to lamely bounce up and down. The Ghoul cracked up, seemed to get a big kick out of it (“And if it don’t do that, you got a bad one!”), but surprisingly I never saw it on the show again.

Then, there was a big “Ghoul Power” banner. I found a huge piece of paper somewhere and had decorated it with a whole bunch of phrases from the show. I think my hope was that it would make it onto the permanent set, and while The Ghoul seemed to like it too, I never saw it again, either.

BUT, the piece de resistance came at the end: I had gotten a cheap, terrible Jackie Chan movie from Best Buy’s fabled $2.99 VHS section, and despite two attempts at enjoying it, it was just too awful. So, what better way to dispose of it than by asking the main maniac to blow it up?

The Ghoul happily obliged, and in spectacular fashion.

I was positively flipping out during all of this. I was cracking up, literally jumping and down, I was so excited. (Hey, I was 13.) It, along with the time Letterman read one of my letters on the air, was probably one of my biggest “TV moments,” even if the two aren’t comparable on a viewership scale. It was, and is, certainly among my top favorites anyway.

Lotsa Time Slots:

As noted, The Ghoul debuted on Friday, July 10, 1998 at 11:30 PM, in what was a 2 1/2 hour time slot. For a good part of that first year, that was how long he ran, and let me tell you, by the time the show ended in the wee hours, it almost felt like you had finished running a marathon or something. It was like a bit that had happened at the top of the show felt like it had taken place eons ago by the time it was all over. It was pretty great.

At some point in 1999, I want to say slightly before the 1st anniversary but maybe slightly after, the time slot was shortened to a straight 2 hours (I recall the 1st anniversary special being 2 1/2 hours and thinking that it was a nice throwback). While this sort of took away the aforementioned “marathon” aspect, the truth is it didn’t hurt the program all that much at all. The Ghoul still packed a ton into those 2 hours, and you know, probably the only real difference was more editing to the movies!

The number of running gags, recurring jokes, and general momentum was a lot of fun to watch build and grow week after week, and by September 2000, the amount of things that had been built upon, expanded, and so on was not inconsiderable. But it was all about to take a serious hit.

Announced on September 15, 2000 (the movie was Karloff’s The Ape) and commencing on September 24, WBNX moved The Ghoul to Sunday nights at 12 AM (technically Monday morning). I had lived for those Friday nights, The Ghoul was such a great way to kick off the weekend, and now, it was being taken away from me! Summer and holidays were one thing, but during the school year (when you needed that dose of Ghoul Power the most!), my staying up for the show just wasn’t feasible. I had a hard enough time getting up in the morning as it was! Still, that’s why they invented VCRs. I was unhappy with the situation, but this was livable – I guess.

Until I saw that first Sunday show, anyway. The movie was 1993’s direct-to-video comedy Remote. There were no sound effects, no drop-ins, and The Ghoul’s host segments were severely scaled back. I was crushed. All that momentum, seemingly gone in one fell swoop. I still remember the day I discovered this; I had to run out to the garage for something, and I have this memory of being in there, sun streaming through the windows, and just feeling totally deflated.

An example of The Ghoul’s changing movie fare and time slot when he was moved out of Friday nights.

If you’ve read this old article (and if you haven’t, don’t bother; it sucks), you’d recall I was pretty down on the “Sunday era.” Now of course it wasn’t like it was when The Ghoul was on at 11:30 PM Fridays, but in retrospect, it wasn’t all bad. While a wider-range of movies was the norm (cheapo action flicks, comedies, dramas, more-modern horror and sci-fi, even the occasional animated fare, most of it without his famous during-movie-drop-ins), some of these actually worked pretty well on the show, especially the “B” action flicks from the likes of PM Entertainment and such. And when The Ghoul got a healthy amount of host segments throughout, it was all the better.

And, once in awhile, he’d do an “old style” show. That is, an old cheapie ‘classic’ loaded with drop-ins and plenty of Ghoul segments. Despite the lack of this happening on a regular basis, when it did occur, The Ghoul hadn’t lost a step.

It was in the midst of that Sunday night/Monday morning era that the world forever changed. I very much tend to look at many things as pre-9/11 and post-9/11, especially things (in this case, television) from the few years both immediately preceding and immediately following the travesty. It seems that pre-9/11, there was an undefinable air of innocence, I suppose, that was taken away afterwards. It was in that darkest of times that comfort was found in those aspects of our life that had become, well, almost a part of us, I guess you could say. I wish The Ghoul hadn’t been so inaccessible to me, a freshman in high school, at the time, because it was shows like his that helped bring a temporary comfort to a world gone mad.

I actually dug out one of my old Ghoul tapes recently, and it featured the episode right before 9/11, and what appeared to be the first one after. The first one was normal enough, but then the one after, where there’s the appropriate tributes and shows of solidarity during the commercials, it was and is heartbreaking. How quickly things can change.

The Ghoul on his “Breakfast Club” set.

It was in that post-9/11 world that the “Ghoul Power Good Morning Breakfast Club” experiment began. On October 8, 2001 to be exact, when the show was moved to 1 AM Monday mornings. Technically a worse slot, though my circumstances didn’t really change one way or the other; I still couldn’t stay up to watch it. The movie was Street Crimes, a low budget action flick from PM Entertainment and starring Dennis Farina that was a good example of what made up a good chunk of The Ghoul’s fare during that time period. It actually worked pretty well with the show – though I suppose your viewpoint on that would largely depend on how tolerant you are of “B” action flicks in the first place.

The gag of the “Breakfast Club” was that at 1 AM, it was Cleveland’s earliest morning show, thus starting your day off right before anyone else. Filmed on a different set and with humorous looks at traffic and weather and guests sharing coffee (typically associates and characters that tended to be on anyway), it was an interesting idea that worked far better than it had any right to, but it only lasted for maybe 6-8 months; by the summer of ’02, the show was back to its normal set and structure.

In September of ’02, the show was finally moved out of the Sunday/Monday hole and back to Friday nights/Saturday mornings…early Saturday mornings; it was slotted at 3:30 AM! I can’t decide if this was more or less accessible than before. On one hand, it didn’t coincide with a weekday, but man, depending on the movie, you’d be finishing up at around 5:30/6:00 AM. Look, I’m a habitual night owl, but even that goes a little too far for me.

(The final “Sunday era” broadcast was on September 2, 2002 with House on Haunted Hill; one of those “old style” Ghoul shows, loaded up with drop-ins and host segments. When he resurfaced in this new, uber-late time slot, the movie was 1996’s Yesterday’s Target.)

I really have no idea why WBNX moved The Ghoul out of Friday nights 11:30 PM or why his movie choices were, to a large degree, altered. Was it a ratings-issue, an attempt at giving him the all-around of Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or…? I just don’t know.

Sadly, and I hate to admit this, it was around that time (fall 2002) that I fell away from watching. Well, taping; the sad fact of the matter was that I kept recording for years, but rarely got around to watching the shows. Heck, I rarely got around to even checking/labeling the tapes! They just kept piling up! Teenagers do dumb things, and in hindsight, I’d have stuck with the program till the end (2003 or 2004, depending on the source), but at 16 years old, I guess you’re not that forward-thinking.

I never stopped liking The Ghoul though. Some of my happiest TV-viewin’ memories are of those Friday nights at 11:30 PM, watching him fool around against that black backdrop with the hazy border or goofing off on that junk-laden set. Indeed, I still have this very clear memory: summer of ’99, relaxing to The Ghoul on a Friday night, all alone, the window behind me open, cool breeze filling my nostrils with the scent of nearby bonfires. It was such a great feeling.

I have memories of tuning in on Sunday nights as well, but they’re not as numerous or as, erm, memorable, for obvious reasons.

The Ghoul in a local Norton Furniture ad.

A fun addendum to The Ghoul’s 1990s/2000s Cleveland revival: in the mid-00s, he appeared in a few local commercials for Norton Furniture, an establishment that specialized (specializes?) in late night advertising. Often of a surreal nature anyway, the two (I think there were only two) spots featuring The Ghoul had him chasing around store owner Marc with the intent of cutting off his ponytail for a new phony beard. (The second spot featured a cameo by Froggy, too!)

Airing around 2004/2005, these Norton Furniture ads were some of the last times, to the best of my knowledge, that The Ghoul appeared on Northeast Ohio television in a regular capacity. (And lest you think commercials shouldn’t qualify as “regular capacity,” bear in mind Norton Furniture ads were all over late night TV in these parts at the time; if you liked staying up late as I did/do, you’d almost have to be trying to not see one!)

The Movies:

Because The Ghoul was on a channel that regularly picked up movie packages (and was affiliated with the WB Network to boot), his movie choices could really run the gamut. Sure, the usual public domain cheapies from the 1930s through the 1970s showed up, as is typical of horror hosted shows, but ‘real’ movies were also part of the regular rotation. A lot of newer, “B” grade flicks popped up on the station, even outside of The Ghoul. Because I was (am) a movie fan as much as I was (am) of the show itself, it was a real trip seeing so many new-to-me flicks week after week, and the announcement of the next week’s movie was a moment of high anticipation for yours truly. The possibilities were (seemingly) endless!

Of course, you didn’t really tune into this show to see a full-fledged movie; the film was just part of the experience. Because The Ghoul would pack so much material into a show, there were times when a movie would be edited beyond comprehension, and indeed, there was so much insanity going on, the movie sometimes seemed almost like an afterthought. Make no mistake though, that was all part of the fun! For 2-2 1/2 hours, it was like you were tuned into an incredibly weird televised circus – and I mean that in the best way possible.

And naturally, one of the main draws as far as the movies were concerned were the various audio and video drop-ins. Inappropriate and/or nonsensical music, sounds effects (who could forget “OW OW OW! when someone got hurt, or the loud BURP whenever a character took a drink?), silly old film clips inserted into the film, and funny “facts” that would pop-up not unlike VH1’s then-popular Pop-Up Video, all were regularly featured throughout a given movie during the earlier years of the show.

My tastes in movies were all over the place around that time. I liked the pioneering silent films in the horror and sci-fi genres (some of them, anyway), the classics and poverty row flicks of the 1930s and 1940s, and the cheesy sci-fi of the 1950s and 1960s; that’s the stuff I ‘started’ with. By the time of The Ghoul, those tastes were expanding to also include the grindhouse and Eurotrash junk of the late-1960s, 1970s and beyond, and even though it wouldn’t peak until the mid-2000s, looking back I guess I had a slight inclination towards the slashers, too. The Ghoul covered them all, in varying degrees of visibility; only one silent I can think of (Metropolis, appropriately the first show of 2000), a healthy dose of 1940s through 1960s stuff, lots of obscure 1970s garbage, and plenty of low-rent 1980s & 1990s fare.

An example of the type of film The Ghoul would show during his stay at 11:30 PM, Fridays…

Nowadays, I pretty much like what I did in the first place: some silents, the classics and the poverty row offerings of the 1930s and 1940s, cornball 1950s/1960s sci-fi and horror, the giant monster flicks out of Japan. My interests wane considerably after Night of the Living Dead, both because NOTLD is a masterpiece and legitimate contender for greatest horror film of all-time (in other words, how y’all gon’ top it?), and more importantly because later, more ‘extreme’ horror films may have been bloodier, nastier, but they didn’t have the brains or heart behind them, barring some exceptions, such as the original Dawn of the Dead (though I still prefer Night…)

Yep, The Ghoul’s movie selections of the late-90s/early-00s were certainly wide-ranging, and I have plenty of favorites from those years. The 1930s and 1940s flicks featured (alliteration), some being staples of these types of shows, are movies I particularly enjoy. Three Bela Lugosi films come to mind: The Devil Bat, Invisible Ghost, and White Zombie. Also, Boris Karloff’s The Ape (a movie I didn’t much care for at the time but have really warmed up to in recent years) and the 1941 Monogram wartime poverty row opus King of the Zombies. 1950s cornball drive-in fare like Indestructible Man, The Screaming Skull and The Giant Gila Monster and ultra-cheap trash like 1966’s Curse of the Swamp Creature also get high marks from yours truly. (And of course, Night of the Living Dead, which ran for Halloween ’98, though oddly enough, that’s the only time I recall it running…)

There weren’t many Japanese monster movies shown, and those were/are a favorite genre of mine. But, Attack of the Mushroom People made it on, and that was a big, big one (a far darker film than that American title implies). The 1956 Daiei opus Warning From Space (the second anniversary show movie) also stands out.

From later years, Best of the Best 3, Ring of Fire III, and Street Crimes stick out as favorite low budget action flicks; I genuinely enjoyed all three. And, my first full viewings of Deliverance, Cocoon and Poltergeist came via The Ghoul. Even with the appropriate editing-for-television, they made for great Ghoul Power features.

And when it came to Christmas, The Ghoul went all out, especially in 1999, when the entire month of December was dedicated to the holiday. 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is my go-to “bad Christmas movie” flick, and that’s the only time I saw him run it. Also, 1935’s Scrooge, my personal favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol.

Oh, my least favorite films featured (alliteration) on the show? Of the “classics,” try as I might, I could never really get into Gorgo, which was the subject of his first anniversary show. The special effects are terrific, granted, but as a whole it’s nowhere near as fun as a comparative Japanese release. Frankly, Gorgo bores me. Also, and this may be anathema to admit, but House on Haunted Hill (which I believe The Ghoul ran at least three times over the course of his run) is a movie that has just never done much for me. I don’t actively dislike it, but I don’t really like it, either. Even when I first saw it at 12/13 years old (after much hype from family members and when I was an easy audience for this sort of movie), I was left severely neutral on the subject. If it wasn’t for Vincent Price, well…

Nowadays, I don’t like slasher movies at all, so the Leprechaun flicks (if they’re even considered slashers; I think of them in the same territory, if nothing else) are in retrospect not to my personal tastes – though I kinda liked them back then. (The Ghoul ran several entries over the course of his run.) And a lot of the newer movies that made it onto the show such as Pumpkinhead II, Hellraiser IV, Pinocchio’s Revenge, Doppelganger, Ghoulies, the 1989 Phantom of the Opera, my views on those range from severe disinterest to outright dislike. 1985’s Eternal Evil is also a terrible, terrible movie – and not in a fun, Ghoul Power way, either.

A lot of 1970s stuff hasn’t worn well for me, though I took an interest in them then. Mainly the European films; Lots of people love ’em, but I’m not one of them, not anymore. Flicks like Lady Frankenstein were/are so covered in depressive grime, forget wanting to take a shower; I feel like I should go soak in some 91% isopropyl for 17 hours after watching that one.

Also, I know he has his fans, but from a strictly personal standpoint, I just don’t get the love for Paul Naschy movies; every one I’ve seen has been essentially unwatchable. The Ghoul ran Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, and even he couldn’t save it! And isn’t that considered a top-tier Naschy film? *shudder*

Personal Appearances:

I had the great benefit to meet The Ghoul in person not once but several times. I can tell you, each and every time, he was absolutely phenomenal with the fans. Not only was he energetic and ‘on’ the entire time, but he really spent time with his admirers; he’d talk, he’d joke, he was everything you hope for when you meet a celebrity.

There’s yours truly with the main maniac in 1999; evidently I wasn’t always the suave hepcat I like to imagine myself to be.

My first meeting with him was in 1999, at the Chapel Hill Borders Books where he and Mike Olszewski were signing copies of The Ghoul (S)crapbook, a terrific collection of old photos, information, hate mail and general wackiness. As you’d expect of The Ghoul, basically. (While very informative, it also came off as the warped counterpart to the 1997 Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride book – again, as you’d expect of The Ghoul.)

There was quite a line to meet him that night, and while it wasn’t like I had to stand in it for 8 hours or anything, there was a bit of a wait. When I finally got to meet him, it was obvious why: The Ghoul really gave you his attention, spoke with you, all while staying in character. And you know what? The saying “you can be anything you want to be” is endlessly repeated to us in grade school, but I can tell you from experience that it means so much more when it comes from The Ghoul.

Truth be told, I can’t remember how many times I met The Ghoul. It feels like more than what I’m writing about here, but that might be my memory playing tricks on me – or maybe I really am forgetting an appearance or two. Anyway, the next one that comes to mind is his appearance at B-Ware Video in Lakewood, OH, on April 14, 2000. B-Ware was run by “Sick” Eddie and his wife, both of whom worked on The Ghoul’s show. Man, in those days before anything and everything had been issued (or reissued) on DVD, B-Ware was a haven of weird, out-of-print, obscure horror and science fiction titles on VHS, some for sale, some for rent. Seriously, the only place to get some of this stuff was eBay – and certain titles were selling for mighty dollars at the time. Even though I was only there once, B-Ware was amazing.

In addition to Mike Olszewski, there were even more of The Ghoul’s crew there at this appearance. Froggy, Jungle Bob, Jeff “The Sickie,” even Dinky, the big pink flamingo mascot of Destination, the heavy metal band who did The Ghoul’s opening music at the time (he even gave me a free CD of theirs!). Aside from The Ghoul and Olszewski, it was my first time meeting all these people, and everyone was ridiculously friendly. And The Ghoul, who as I recall it had had not one, not two, but three personal appearances that day, of which this was the third, showed no signs of running out of gas.

I’ll never forget this: he didn’t know me in the least, but when they brought the camera in to film for the show, Olszewski implored me to get up front and get on. I’ll never forget how nice that was of him, and thanks to his insistence, I showed up in the crowd when the bits aired a few weeks later during Indestructible Man (and one of them repeated during the second anniversary special that summer, as well). You don’t get to see a screenshot because I was a goofy lookin’ 14 year old (even goofier than the pic you just saw of me a bit ago), but nevertheless, it was a thrill.

Next: the grand opening of High Point Furniture in the Midway Plaza in Akron, where I met him one night, and then again the next. I could be wrong, but I think it was the fall of 2000; I’m pretty sure this was where I asked him about the whole move to Sunday nights. (His suggestion was a VCR, which, you know, what else could he say?)

This isn’t a pic from that grand opening; I went and snapped it specifically for this article. This Midway Plaza location still stands, but has been closed for a number of years now.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first night, other than they had free Domino’s Pizza, pop, and a KISS tribute band in the parking lot. I sure remember the second night though, when I went back. (This wasn’t exactly a four hour round trip; Midway Plaza was pretty close by.)

I had a box of stuff for the show that would have been prohibitively expensive to ship (and I had even less money then than I do now), so I brought it all direct to The Ghoul. It really was a bunch of junk, I don’t think any of it made on the show (I wouldn’t blame him if none of it made it beyond the dumpster that night!), although methinks the replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker” mocked up to sorta look like The Ghoul was at least semi-clever.

I wasn’t expecting him to open the box there, but he did, and when he was done sifting through it, he stood up and presented me to the sizable line of people waiting to meet him. Right then and there, he declared me to the crowd as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army – and they cheered for me! It was an incredible surprise, and to me it sums up just how fantastic The Ghoul was with his fans. He didn’t have to go that extra mile, but he did, and I will always be grateful for it.

The Ghoul promoting Frightvision 2001 on his show.

Finally, there was Frightvision 2001. Now, truth be told, I don’t know if I met him there, I don’t recall doing so, but having been to the previous two Frightvision conventions held in Akron, it was still pretty cool when The Ghoul was announced as host of the third (in Cleveland). Frightvision was my first horror & sci-fi convention in 1999, and by 2001 I had long realized what a bastion of collectibles it was. If I didn’t take advantage of the numerous celebrities in attendance that year (and I didn’t; I don’t think I met any of them at the show), it’s only because I was so focused on netting me some cool winnins from the dealers there.

Speaking of cool winnins…

Memorabilia:

I’m a collector of pop culture, especially as it pertains to broadcasting, television broadcasting specifically. Mugs, glasses, shirts, keychains, assorted promotional memorabilia related to this sort of thing, I’m almost always interested in that – especially when it hails from the 1960s through the 1980s.

While I take an interest in television in general, local broadcasting is a facet that really perks up my ears. I don’t necessarily mean local to me; local TV from across the U.S. is something I find endlessly fascinating. BUT it goes without saying that the area of my greatest interest lies in Northeast Ohio’s television history. And since I’m a big fan of horror movie hosts, that’s the sort of memorabilia I’m always, always after.

That was my long-winded way of saying I’ve amassed a sizable Ghoul collection over the years, both first-hand and online. T-shirts, autographed photos promo flyers, articles, assorted things like that are littered throughout my collection. Here now are just a few of the items that help keep the Ghoul Power burnin’.

Endlessly pushed on the show for much (all?) of his WBNX run, Turn Blue Ghoul Brew was The Ghoul’s very own beverage, and it really turned you blue! Well, your tongue anyway. I got this bottle during the Borders Book appearance, and since he signed it to me, I never had the heart to open and drink it. I did try the stuff though; it was basically blue root beer. Non-alcoholic and pretty tasty, I wish they still made it. They later came out with “Froggy Squeezins,” a green lemon-lime drink. Besides personal appearances, you could only get these at select locations in Northeast Ohio.

Luckily, one of those locations was mere minutes away from me: DeVitis & Sons Italian Market. In fact, during our 8th grade fundraiser for a trip to Washington DC, one of my grade school’s stops was the Acme that was next to DeVitis at the time (it’s a Save-a-Lot now). Ostensibly we were supposed to be selling hots dogs and hamburgers, but I don’t remember really having all that much to do. At one point, I broke away to DeVitis, where I purchased my first bottle of Froggy Squeezins. It was pretty good, but I unfortunately never got another, and I stupidly didn’t keep the bottle. Mistake! I didn’t really like that trip to Washington, but at least I got a bottle of Froggy Squeezins out of the deal.

Turn Blue Ghoul Brew’s bottle went through a couple label variations. Originally it had a simpler label and was in a brown bottle (it looked like a beer), which was then switched to the variant you’re seeing here. (They occasionally sold old “brown bottle” variants, as collectors items, at personal appearances; I’m this sure I got one at Frightvision 2001, but if I did, I can’t find it. EDIT: Of course I found it after this article had been published!) The third label variant (that I know of) switched up the font and added a hypnotic swirl behind the Ghoul caricature.

I really wish they still made this stuff.

Hey, remember how I told you I loved the Vault of Golden Garbage segment on the show? Well, in the late-1990s, The Ghoul released a VHS tape that was nothing but the Vault of Golden Garbage! I had to have it, and as you can see, I did.

I haven’t watched this since probably 2000 and I can’t remember if it was all 1970s material or a mix of 1970s and 1980s, but I do remember it as being terrific. My only complaint? I don’t recall there being any Froggy skits included! I guess I could play it, but knowing my luck, that would be the exact moment my VCR decides to start eating tapes, despite having never shown an inclination for such things prior.

As you can see, I got this signed by the man himself at a personal appearance somewhere. I don’t remember which one, but I’m positive it wasn’t Borders or Frightvision. It might have been B-Ware Video, I know had some stuff with me to get signed, but I’m guessing this was the first night at High Point Furniture. (I take solace in the fact none of this really matters to anyone but me.)

Hey, dig this: an original program and wristband for Frightvision 2001! Yes, as proof that I always saved everything pertaining to this sort of thing (except that Froggy Squeezins bottle apparently), I still have the wristband from this show. Call it hoarder-ish if you like, but since there’s a real possibility that the number of people who still own these number in the single digits and I’m one of them, that means I win. Right?

I’m not going to go through it page-by-page, I don’t think anyone that has stayed with me this whole time (yeah, sure) will care, but I will say they had a pretty great line-up of guests that year. I wish I had taken advantage of that, but I didn’t, and now I have to live with it.

“Hiya gang! Hiya hiya hiya!”

This little (4 or 5 inches in height) Froggy doll isn’t an official Ghoul product, but rather something hailing from 1948! A whopping 70 years old! Yes, this is an original Froggy, made of rubber and fittingly manufactured in (where else?) Akron. Rempel put these out in conjunction with Smilin’ Ed McConnell’s Buster Brown Show, which is what Froggy is originally from. There were two versions of this doll that I know of: this smaller one, and a larger 9″ model. Both were made of rubber and squeaked when you squeezed them, though the squeaky feature of mine is long gone. Not that I really care about that; I just want my own Froggy to plunk his magic twanger whenever I come calling.

My brother actually bought this for himself years ago, and knowing what a Ghoul fan I am, gave it to me for Christmas sometime later. In the years since he first purchased it (it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t unreasonable either), these things have really gone up in price, especially if they still squeak and are in decent shape. And if you’ve got the original box, the pricey meal is on you tonight! The larger 9″ one is my new personal chaser; I could pathetically reenact Ghoul skits all by my lonesome with it if I so desired! (Minus the destruction, of course; these guys cost too much!)

This item is something I myself found in an antique store several years ago. They had gotten a load of old magazines, newspapers, and the like. Man, I cleaned up. Music mags with Springsteen on the cover, M*A*S*H final episode tributes, and the big find, this: a 1983 Scene Magazine featuring The Ghoul! This was one of those cases where you find something, and you’re so excited that you immediately become overly-protective of it, as if someone is gonna take it away from you. At least, I tend to get that way. (Is it just me?)

Oddly enough, I still haven’t read the Ghoul article in it; I’ve spent all my time finding a safe, flat place for the issue, with an eye towards getting it framed at some point in the future. Plus, with old newsprint, especially large-sized as in this case, I like to handle with the figurative kid gloves.

I have old promo cards from the WKBF days, but this artifact that popped up on eBay about two years ago is interesting enough to share here. I’ve never seen one before or since, so I had to snap it up. According to the seller, this flyer hails from the Halloween season and the gimmick was for kids to pin them to their costumes while trick-or-treating so they’d be more visible in the dark. Not a bad idea, and since it was The Ghoul, you know, it just fit with the season!

And dig that: “Courtesy of Clarkins.” Talk about a blast from Northeast Ohio’s past! I have no idea what year this flyer is from or how many times The Ghoul appeared at Clarkins (that or any other location), but the WKBF-TV notation is obvious proof it hails from somewhere in the 1970s.

And finally, a small piece of memorabilia, but one that gets more ‘use’ than anything else I’ve just shown you: a 35th anniversary Ghoul keychain, which proudly hangs with my keys. (As you’d expect of a, uh, keychain.) It’s about the size of a quarter, maybe a little larger, and man is it snazzy! (Of course, I have two of them; this one, and one still sealed brand new in its cute lil’ baggie.)

My pic makes it a little hard to see, but these were released in 2006, in conjunction with The Ghoul’s (say it with me) 35th anniversary. He was unfortunately no longer on local airwaves by that point, but nevertheless, he certainly came out with a boffo socko keepsake!

Looking Back:

The Ghoul really exemplified what I like to call “Cleveland Style Horror Hosting.” Sure, there was a general ‘spooky’ look and feel to the proceedings, but unlike many other hosts nationwide who tried to play into the vibes of their look and/or movies they were presenting, here it was all just a vehicle for wacky comedy. Not that comedy was anything new to horror hosting, it goes back to its earliest days, but just like there was a style of Polka music commonly deemed “Cleveland Style” (yes there was), around these parts there was a specific set of ingredients. Yes, there were the sets and the films presented, but underneath it all was a cacophony of (innocent) ethnic jokes, wild behavior and homemade lingo that gave our guys a specific “flavor.”

Sure, that can be leveled at other hosts outside of Ohio, but you know what? We’ve had such a preponderance of them, going back to the revolutionary Ghoulardi, that I’m calling it our own. Your mileage may vary, naturally.

Even though he’s out of Chicago, Rich Koz’s Svengoolie actually does a good job of presenting to a nationwide audience what I’m talking about. Sure, he has the look and movies down (better movies than anyone else, in fact), but comedy is the ultimate goal. It makes sense though; there’s a very real Ghoulardi/Cleveland connection with Sven. The original Svengoolie, Jerry G. Bishop, was a Cleveland disc jockey when Ghoualrdi ruled the town, and when Bishop started Svengoolie in Chicago in the early-1970s, the influence was apparent. He wasn’t a beatnik vampire, he was a hippie vampire. Instead of “Parma,” it was “Berwyn.” And so on and so forth. (I don’t mean to claim Bishop was a copy or rip-off of Ghoulardi in the least, just that Ghoulardi’s influence reached wider than the Northeast Ohio area.)

In fact, while I don’t find much of the current Svengoolie’s humor to my personal tastes, I appreciate that he keeps these ideals in play. Underneath that horrific exterior is a mostly-comedic interior. Also, the fact he keeps things relatively-light (whereas many current internet hosts go for an ‘extreme’ look and feel) recalls the “classic era” of horror hosting, of which he hails from anyway, and that I certainly like.

Anyway, The Ghoul, perhaps more than any other save for Ghoulardi, was a “Cleveland Style” host. At first glance, you’ve got this guy in an appropriately ghoulish get-up, but then you start really watching; he’s wild, he’s wacky, he’s got his own language, his own madcap style, and you realize there’s so much more to him than a “mere horror host.”

I would have loved to have grown up with him in the 1970s and 1980s, when his style of humor wasn’t only hip and dare I say subversive, but also capable of eliciting complaints from certain viewers in that more-staunch time period. When I began watching in the 1990s, no one was going to pitch a fit over blowing up a model car with a firecracker or making a gigantic mess of food as Chef Curdle.

What he instead attained was a level of, as I like to call it, “comforting mania.” It was a welcome respite from the real world, from school life, from more conventional comedy. Tuning in each week was a carnival of fireworks, wacky catchphrases, and terrible movies, and it was irresistible.

I couldn’t be there beforehand, but I’m appreciative of the years I did spend with The Ghoul. He mangled my medulla on a regular basis, and as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army, I’m grateful for that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some glass to scratch and walls to climb…

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Vintage WVIZ TV-25 Mug

I spent this past weekend dogsitting for my brother. Since I love dogs, especially these dogs, this was no inconvenience, but my wonderful generosity meant that the typical thrift store adventures weren’t going to happen. Since my main hobby is digging through stuff people couldn’t see fit to hold onto, well, let’s just say I don’t like being taken out of my comfort-zone.

Also, my cellphone is apparently not right in the head; I discovered that the only way to charge it without it constantly resetting/freezing/angering me to the point of violence is to shut it down completely and charge it that way.

It was immediately following one such charge-session that my reawakened phone alerted me to a text from my good friend Jesse. Jesse knows that I collect broadcasting memorabilia, and helpfully keeps an eye for me, which I certainly appreciate – especially when other duties keep me from hitting up stores myself, as was the case in this particular instance.

And boy, he found me a doozy: a vintage plastic mug for Cleveland & Akron PBS affiliate WVIZ TV-25! Cool winnins! Thanks Jesse!

My eyes were immediately drawn to the logo used. Logopedia sez this style was used from 1978 all the way up to 2000, but the exact variation of it as seen here (solid color, font of the call letters, etc.), coupled with the styling of the mug itself, methinks it almost certainly has to come from, if not the late-1970s then at least the early-1980s.

An online search, both via Google and eBay, told me nothing. In fact, besides the logo info and gut feelings on my part, I really don’t know much more about this mug than what I’ve already shared. It doesn’t take a giant leap to assume it was part of an annual pledge drive, though. I mean, that slogan “I’m part of the picture,” how could that not be pledge-related? Since PBS is, you know, funded by the public, this mug was (presumably) proof that the one using it made up a piece of the fabric that was public television in the Cleveland / Akron market at the time. Or something like that.

When it comes to PBS in the Northeast Ohio, there were, and are, two choices: WVIZ of course, but also WNEO-45/WEAO-49, which serves Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown – and more? Go read about it yourself on that Wikipedia link.

Anyway, from where I’m situated, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t pull in both affiliates. Sure, much of the programming was identical, but just like the WEWS/WAKC ABC situation here up through the mid-1990s, we got both. I didn’t really understand it growing up, but looking back, it’s sorta neat.

Of the two, I prefer WVIZ, but that’s not an opinion being swayed by this mug; it’s just the one I’m more used to, though there are points in my history where it’s been an even-split.

Still, my fondness for 25 increased my happiness with this mug, absolutely.

Like any other Northeast Ohio kid, a good portion of my formative years were spent with PBS. Sure, every kid watched Sesame Street, but for me, there was also Bob Ross, The Frugal Gourmet, and This Old House, all of which also colored my childhood. Or course, nowadays I can’t paint to save my life, asking me to cook anything but the most basic of meals is an exercise in frustration, and attempting to build anything beyond a paper airplane is just asking for a trip to the emergency room, but still, it was nice growing up with all that.

And believe it or not, it’s all running through my mind when I look at this mug, even though it’s (probably) a bit before my time and I never actually saw an example of it until this last Saturday. Go figure!

Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promotional Flying Disc (Circa-1993)

Look chief, when I said back in February that I wanted to spotlight more Cleveland television memorabilia, I wasn’t lying. I certainly like seeing original broadcasts, or obtaining promotional photos, or finding vintage print ads, but here’s my hidden secret: one of my great passions in this hobby is collecting the, as I have deemed it, “solid memorabilia.” That is, mugs and glassware, pins, shirts, hats, or anything randomly emblazoned with the names/stations/logos of Northeast Ohio broadcasting. For whatever reason, I place these types of items in a different mental category than I do paper ware and video tape. So there.

Today’s subject fits my weird “solid memorabilia” ideal and new decree that I spotlight such on my stupid dumb blog to a tee, because this, this is legit. Dig this: it’s a vintage (from somewhere in the early-1990s) promotional flying disc for WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. Yep, the iconic late night horror hosts/comedy duo of everlasting Northeast Ohio fame had their own promotional toy. Neato! As you can see, it features their classic caricatures and the old school WJW logo, all printed on a flashy green disc. Rest assured, this is exactly the kind of memorabilia I’m always on the lookout for!

I’m not totally positive on when it’s from, mainly because I don’t know how long they were pitching these. They were definitely pushing them in 1993, and thus that’s the “circa” date I’m going with, but I’m unaware of when they were first produced for sure, nor do I know when they stopped making them. So yeah, circa-1993.

I’m also not completely sure as to how the common dude-on-da-street could obtain these. I’d imagine they were sold regularly, probably at personal appearances and maybe at stores around town, but don’t quote me on any of that; it’s merely a guess on my part. I do know that they were given out as prizes for correct trivia answers on their show. That is, to studio audience members lucky enough to be called on and lucky enough to have a satisfactory answer to a given question, not to mention lucky enough to be in attendance at a show taping in the first place. If these flying discs were uniquely given out as show prizes, well, that’s just plain cool, and not something easily obtainable, either then or now, I’d assume.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not a “Frisbee,” but a “flying disc.” Y’see, “Frisbee” is a Wham-O product and a trademarked name, but like “Band-Aid,” it’s often used to describe all similar products. But no, this is technically speaking a “flying disc.”

There were actually two of these discs out at the same time: a large (standard-size) disc, pink in color, and a smaller green one. The smaller variant is what you’re seeing above; I haven’t picked up the big one yet, mainly because I’m at the mercy of what comes up for sale and enters my line of vision. Plus, you know, there’s that whole scraping-together-enough-money thing, too.

The reason for the two different sizes? Well, obviously the big one signified Big Chuck, and the small one signified Lil’ John! That’s actually a pretty great gimmick, one that fits the duo perfectly.

So, not a long post, but then, there’s only so much I can say about a 25 (?) year old flying disc. Oh, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way; the disc is green, so it works here, right?

Vintage WJKW TV-8 Last M*A*S*H Bash Tickets (February 25, 1983)

Let’s get one thing clear: I’m a huge, huge M*A*S*H fan. From the earlier, comedy driven seasons to the later, more dramatic ones, I love the series as a whole. Of the 11 seasons the show produced, there are precious few episodes I don’t care for, and even then, I can still find at least something to like about the weaker entries.

It stands to reason I love collecting memorabilia pertaining to the show. Oh sure, the various DVD (and VHS, and Betamax) releases, yeah, I’ve got plenty of those. But, I’m speaking more about the “supplemental” materials; assorted promo items, toys, games, stuff like that. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a bit of M*A*S*H merch (M*E*R*C*H?), but our subject today is quite probably my favorite of the bunch.

Why’s that? Because it not only hits the required M*A*S*H bullet point, but also checks off being 1) fairly unique, and more importantly 2) Northeast Ohio-related. It doesn’t take much more than that to get your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter fired up somethin’ fierce!

Dig this: it’s a pair of dog tag tickets for what was dubbed “The Last M*A*S*H Bash,” held at Cleveland’s Terminal Tower Concourse on February 25th, 1983. 35 years ago this very day! Trust me, this is ridiculously awesome, and when I saw them pop up in an online sale for only a few bucks, there was no way they weren’t becoming mine. Cool winnins! (Technically, and just so we’re clear, this is really only a single ticket; both tags equaled one ticket, dig?)

I have a big interest in all facets of M*A*S*H, but a particular fascination with the series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” and the massive amount of hype that surrounded it. Make no mistake, it was an iconic, watershed moment in television (and pop culture) history, and these fake dog tags play right into that.

The actual finale aired on February 28th, 1983, so despite what you may infer from the name of the event, this wasn’t a gigantic viewing party. However, it was, from all appearances, a gigantic party, though. As you can see on the bottom tag here, it was a 6 hour event held to benefit charity, and although it’s not stated on either tag, it was limited to 5,000 persons. I’d imagine the entry fee was fairly hefty.

Top Tag: I always think of this as a WJKW TV-8 event, because they were our CBS affiliate and thus the ones to bring forth shiny new M*A*S*H episodes in Northeast Ohio, plus the ads for this event aired on the station, but in truth, they were really only co-sponsors. As you can see, Arby’s and WGAR also had a hand in making it happen.

Bottom Tag: I wonder what the stamping of “VIP” on the bottom tag entailed? Did that mean you got to sit right next to Larry Linville? Yes, even though the tickets give all the pertinent info (name, date, time, etc.), they fail to mention that Frank Burns himself was there! That’s cool, and had I not been negative 3 years old (well, negative 22 years old, since you had to be 19 to get in), I’d have so loved to meet him. I wonder if anyone asked if Frank Burns really ate worms?

(Why the less-than-stellar quality of these dog tag pictures, by the way? Shadows and flash and all that? Consider those watermarks! It’s either that or I emblazon my name all over ’em.)

Here’s the back of the second tag. Since I was obviously not at this event personally, I’m not sure how it was set up, but there was evidently a reception of sorts. (Please, anyone with further info or was even there, chime in with a comment!) As you can see, there’s the standard disclaimer on the back, and while it was totally necessary as a legal precaution, I can’t help but find it a little funny; just what was going to happen at this thing?! Would there be an reenactment of the Trapper John boxing episode? Or maybe Linville officiated a boxing match not unlike the fight between Klinger and Zale in a later episode? Would there be thefts akin to “I Hate a Mystery” present? Impromptu meatball surgery sessions? The mind reels at the possibilities! (I of course kid here.)

And so, there you have it, some info on “The Last M*A*S*H Bash,” held 35 years ago today at Cleveland’s Terminal Tower Concourse. Of all the things pertaining to the series finale, outside of the episode itself, this is probably my area of greatest interest. I mean, it’s M*A*S*H, it’s Cleveland, it’s WJKW, and Larry Linville was in attendance. That all gets a solid “neato!” from yours truly.

(I wasn’t kidding before; if you have any further info on this occasion, please share via the comments section!)

WJW-TV 10th Anniversary Commemorative Lighter (1966)

Here’s the thing: I’d like to start covering more legit Cleveland memorabilia here on the blog, especially that which pertains to its television history. Not that such things haven’t been seen before, but I take a huge interest in old local-to-me knick-knacks like this, and frankly, these types of posts have been fairly neglected. Not that I can promise articles like this will become a once-a-week feature or anything like that, I’d like to keep things video/electronic-focused, but hopefully I can start to rectify this error beginning with our subject today.

And boy, is it cool! Behold: my vintage Wind Master lighter. It’s reusable, man. Think wick and lighter fluid and all that. Now, during my travels I come across things like this frequently enough, and truth be told, I don’t pay all that much attention to them, because, I mean, I just, uh, don’t. Lighters like this are a dime-a-dozen, figuratively speaking.

So why get so fired up this time around? What, you’ve already forgotten the subject of this post, and refuse to scroll up to read the title and/or opening paragraph? You say you have thus far neglected to look at my informative provided picture? Well, let me spell it out for you here and now then, Chuckles: the aspect of this lighter that gets me so fired up is that it was given out in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Cleveland’s WJW-TV 8! See, stamped right on the front there! Cool winnins!

(You’ll notice that I used a napkin as a backdrop, because I’m talented. Actually, after a slightly longer-than-expected session of picture-taking, it became evident that getting a satisfactory photograph was going to be somewhat harder than I initially anticipated. Blame it on the shininess of the lighter, the flash on my camera, the light in room, or whatever you want, but this was the best that I could come up with. Methinks it looks okay, though.)

I’m guessing, just a bit, on the date. Wikipedia sez WJW began life as WXEL in late 1949, and eventually became WJW in 1956. I’m going to go ahead and say this lighter was produced in regards to the birth of WJW proper and not the station as a whole. It could be from 1959, but I really don’t think so. So yeah, 1966 is what I’m going with.

Pictured on the back is what I’m assuming is an illustration of the WJW station of the time. I mean, what else could it be? There’s nothing about it that particularly screams “television station!” to me, except for what appears to be the little antenna on the very top. But then, I’m no expert on the building(s) that housed the station in years past. Or present, for that matter.

It’s a pretty safe guess (and keep in mind, this is entirely a guess on my part) that these lighters were originally given out to WJW employees working there at the time of the big 10th anniversary. (“Gee, you don’t say!”) As such, it probably wasn’t something that your common man-on-the-street could have acquired. You could call it a promo item, but I think of it more as a commemorative one, which of course is what it actually was.

And (probably) being from 1966, who knows who originally owned it? Was it Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson’s personal lighter? Big Chuck Schodowski’s go-to implement for firing up the grill? The possibilities are (almost) endless!

Or maybe they just gave them out to everyone who walked in the general vicinity of the station, including the kid who delivered the sandwiches, I don’t know.

Honestly, I’d like this lighter no matter what network was showcased on it, but especially so here, because WJW 8 is one of the “big” stations that I like to collect memorabilia for. It’s one of my personal favorites, boasting an absolute wealth of local broadcasting history, both past and present.

(Along with WJW, the other local channels whose memorabilia I go ‘nanners over: WUAB-43, WKBF-61 and its successor WCLQ-61, and WOAC-67. Those are my “big five” favorites, and whenever I can add something, anything pertaining to them to my collection, it’s a cause for celebratory fist pumps and/or triumphant cheers. Not necessarily saying I do either of those things, just that they’d be appropriate.)

As I stated earlier, this is a Wind Master brand lighter. A quick Google search tells me these were popular to use for advertising purposes or as commemorative pieces like what we’re seeing right now.

Also as stated earlier, this was (obviously) a reusable lighter. Although you can’t see it in my picture here, mine still has a wick in it. It’s dry as far as fuel goes, but I’ll go ahead and guess that it would light okay if I put some fluid in. Truth be told though, whether it works or not isn’t really important to me. It’d be a nice bonus, but hardly necessary. No, for yours truly, it’s all about the neato WJW stuff stamped on the front and back.

Indeed, for that very reason this is a piece of broadcasting memorabilia directly up my alley. I really do love finding vintage local television-related items like this. If I’m being honest, I tend to prefer things that anyone back then could have theoretically had; I like to imagine myself in their shoes, if that makes any sense.

Still, there’s something to be said for relatively-exclusive pieces such as this one; it’s not like you trip over them walking down the street. Not my street, anyway. It’s obviously an item in far shorter supply, especially with it being as old as it is.

This WJW 10th anniversary-branded Wind Master lighter is not only an interesting artifact of the 1960s, but more importantly, an artifact hailing from a bygone era in television broadcasting – Cleveland television broadcasting, at that! As such, it’s a welcome part of my ever-growing collection.

(Related side note: for quite awhile, there was a WKBF-branded lighter on eBay that kept ending unsold and being relisted. As I recall, it was kinda pricey, maybe $50 or $60, don’t remember. Whether someone eventually bought it or the seller just got tired of relisting, I couldn’t say. All I know is that despite opportunity after opportunity, I never jumped on it, and now my WJW lighter is missing a companion piece. Then again, the fact that I’m almost perpetually broke didn’t really lend itself well to my dropping coin on what is, when all is said and done, basically an arbitrary purchase. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it now, though.)

End of the Year Post: A Fond Final Farewell to WAOH TV-29

And so we come to the the waning hours of 2017. I know this is cliche to say, but this year really did fly by. Another 12 months where I accomplished few things of any lasting importance! These kinds of years are really starting to outnumber the ones where I do accomplish something important…

As ’17 draws to a close, I could certainly take a look at the events we’ve collectively shared as a nation, the celebrities we’ve lost, or the personal achievements I’ve, uh, achieved. On the first two points, others are better suited to that sort of thing, and on the third, I’m wise enough to know that nobody cares.

I won’t completely abandon the idea of a personally-connected post, however. There was an event that took place here in Northeast Ohio this past October that, quite frankly, was like a part of my childhood ending for good. All four of my longtime readers will recall the early, early article in which I paid tribute to WAOH TV-29 in Akron & WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, better known as “The CAT” (Cleveland-Akron Television). Despite my somewhat-erroneously referring to it as “The Cat,” rather than the more-correct “The CAT,” not to mention it being an early effort and therefore not one of my prouder works, the article has become one of the most popular on this site – probably because there’s just not a whole lot of info on the station out there in internet-land.

So, as we say goodbye to 2017, what say we also say goodbye to 29?

(Hunker down, gang; this’ll be a long article. Indeed, I’ve worked on it for much of this month, which is why there was no “Christmas post” proper, though I did get a dash-off day-after update, so you can’t be too mad at me. Or can you?)

I’m not sure when it was first announced, but I became aware that October 25 was to be WAOH TV-29’s swansong on September 9, when an almost-casual bumper stating the fact popped onscreen. It was a shock! What did this mean, exactly? I have Spectrum digital cable; would that mean they would just pick up the Cleveland feed? Or did that mean the station and programming as I/we knew it was done for good? As it turned out, the answer to both of those questions was a big fat “no.”

To be clear, the channel itself is still around, as Cleveland’s W16DO. Even though Spectrum doesn’t currently carry it on digital cable around here (for now?), it can apparently be had with an antenna, which as of yet I have not gotten because I’m almost perpetually broke.

That said, with first the network change from The CAT (largely but not exclusively an America One affiliate) to a Retro TV affiliation in 2009, and then the Cleveland WAX TV-35 affiliate becoming W16DO in 2015, and now Akron’s WAOH TV-29 leaving the air entirely, it really does feel like the last semblance of The CAT has left us; the last outward sign of The CAT anyway, that being the WAOH channel 29 part, is gone. As such, it feels like the book has closed for good on one of Northeast Ohio’s most interesting stations.

Now, don’t think I’m being weird and sulking over the loss of a television affiliate. I mean, yeah, I’m not happy that I can’t (currently) watch it, but I’ve got more important, actual problems to be depressed over. That said, I can honestly say that no local channel was quite as important in shaping my tastes in movies and television growing up as The CAT was. From 1997-2000, it yielded me an untold number of cinematic revelations, and to a somewhat lesser extent, vintage television revelations, too.

So, what I’m going to do now is go through some of my favorite moments and memories from my salad days with the channel. It might give you some insight into not only their programming but also what makes me tick, but quite frankly, this is just something I want to do. Plus, I’m really not happy with that earlier article anymore; an all-new write-up was in order, even though we’ll cover some of the same ground.

(Has my intro been long winded enough? It has? Okay, good.)


Just one of many CAT station I.D. bumpers. (Late-1990s)

I’m not quite sure when it first went on the air, Wikipedia says 1989 for Cleveland, 1995 for Akron, but my first real experience with the channel was in the summer of 1997. I had caught bits and pieces, glimpses really, prior, but on that day, as I was flipping around, I stumbled upon an airing of an ancient, subtitled movie. At 11 years old and going from 4th grade to 5th grade, it may seem weird that a kid as young as I was would care at all about a mega-old foreign flick, but even then I already had a steadily burgeoning interest in cinema. Okay, sure, my wheelhouse was more vintage sci-fi and horror, but the fact is I also took an interest in old cinema in general, and old foreign cinema? It was like I was catching something unique, something not easily accessible to the common man on the street, and while true or not in that instance, that ideal certainly applied to a number of flicks run on 29/35.

Following that fateful day, 29/35 became my go-to movie station, especially around the end of the summer, when my family dropped cable. I can’t exaggerate just how important The CAT was to me; it fostered my love of old movies, especially sci-fi and horror, and in some cases even created my love for certain genres, B-Westerns in particular. Simply put, a large portion of what I love to watch today can be directly attributed to The CAT.

It really was a constant sense of discovery; TV Guide didn’t cover the station, but the local newspapers did, and you have no idea how much I looked forward to getting the channel guide in each Sunday edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, just to see what neato stuff 29/35 had in store for that week. I lived for the days when a silent movie or cool vintage horror flick was on the schedule!

The America One logo, seen endlessly on The CAT in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

Now to be clear, most (but not all; more on that later) of the movies shown on The CAT weren’t owned by The CAT; rather, 29/35 was the local affiliate for the America One Network, and the majority of the films came from their library. As such, a large part of this nostalgia can be attributed to them as well. America One had a lot of fantastic stuff that you couldn’t see anywhere else – then or now. America One eventually morphed into Youtoo America, and up until fairly recently, you could catch a lot of these same movies in their late night slots, though that has diminished quite a bit (entirely?) as of late.

The America One “Western Theater” bumper, seen each weekday afternoon (and some weekend afternoons, too) for years. (1998)

I’m going to guess that the daily movies shown were all at the same time nationwide, time zone differences aside. Maybe not, I don’t know. Either way, here’s how our weekday line-up went: At 10 AM was a 90 minute movie, typically an older flick due to shorter run time. Then at 12:30 PM was “Western Theater,” always a B-Western, which also ran 90 minutes. Needless to say, these two movie slots were easier for me to catch during the summer months than they were during the school year, with holiday breaks being an obvious exception.

Immediately after Western Theater was the 2 PM movie, which went for two hours and ran the gamut of all genres and from all countries, and ranged from the silent era to the 1970s (and sometimes beyond; I seem to recall 1989’s My Mom’s a Werewolf airing in this slot at least once). I liked coming home from school to catch this movie in-progress, especially if it was one that struck my particular interests. Even when it didn’t though, I could be pleasantly surprised; Made For Each Other and Good News were films that I probably wouldn’t have sought out on my own but became fond of just by bumping into them during this slot.

The America One “Hollywood Classics” bumper, seen at 10 AM, 2 PM & 8 PM each weekday. (1998)

Then at 8 PM was another two hour movie, with basically the same set-up as the 2 PM one, though I don’t recall silents popping up as frequently in prime time as they did in the afternoon.

Of course between all of the movies were syndicated TV shows and local programming. The TV shows, I believe, also mainly came from A-1, though it might have been a mix of them and other distributors. For a few years 29/35 really pushed Dobie Gillis reruns with  humorous ads, and in those days of the late-1990s and early-2000s, there were also broadcasts of The Beverly Hillbillies, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Bonanza, and One Step Beyond, also all pushed fairly extensively by The CAT. It was a lot of stuff that was typical of independent stations basically, but looking back,  it would almost seem odd if they weren’t represented there.

This was also around the time that professional wrestling was monumental (again), and The CAT also had a few syndicated examples of that phenomenon. Once, there was some local wrestling out of Nashville or something that somehow got on the schedule one Friday or Saturday night. I never saw it before or since, but since I was never much of a wrestling fan, it might have run 57 years and I just wasn’t paying attention. Or I might be confusing it with something else entirely; it’s been a long time.

There were also some late morning and early afternoon television programs that probably came from A-1. I once caught an episode of the 1950s sci-fi series Captain Z-Ro either soon before or soon after the 10 AM movie, and reruns of The Cisco Kid were numerous for years, airing right before the daily western movie if I recall correctly.

But it was the local programming that really gave The CAT its flavor. Even with all of the America One content, this was such a Northeast Ohio station. When your name is an abbreviation of “Cleveland-Akron Television,” you kinda have to be!

Still from a SOG promo. (1997)

Readers taking even a cursory glance at this blog will know what an influence Son of Ghoul was on me growing up. I’ve written about him numerous times in the past, and most likely will again in the future. The Son of Ghoul Show was probably the flagship program on the station. Because he’s gotten so much spotlight time here already, I’m not going to say too much about SOG in this post. Rest assured though, he was the ‘biggie’ on the channel for me . The show aired on both Friday and Saturday, 8 PM to 10 PM, same episode both nights, and those airings absolutely colored my weekends back then. SOG, more than any other local personality, introduced me to the whole Northeast Ohio horror hosting legend. Sure, Superhost was in his waning days during my formative years (I was waaay too young to understand then), and I had watched Big Chuck & Lil’ John prior, but SOG, SOG was the big one. My love for local TV grew, and grew exponentially, from there.

Handy Randy promo still. (2008)

That was far from the only locally-produced show The CAT had though; there were plenty more. Many, but not all, of these local shows were call-in programs (a natural progression, as 29/35 was the television “arm” of Akron talk radio station WNIR 100 FM), often (always?) produced with only a desk, a host, and Cleveland/Akron phone numbers superimposed on-screen. Dining Out with Steve, in which restaurants were discussed and coupons given out, Steve French Sports Talk, which was exactly what it sounds like, and The Handy Randy Show, about cars and car maintenance, were all mainstays for years. Last I heard, Steve French was still on, and Handy Randy ran for the longest time as well, though as I recall it, the live, call-in aspect was later de-emphasized and it instead became a  prerecorded general car-related program.

Promo still for Smoochie’s program. (1998)

It was obviously a channel suited to any number of topics and shows, and in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, there were programs dedicated to urban communities (Keepin’ it Real), Kent athletics (The Kent Coaches Show), senior living (Senior Talk), even chiropractic health (Back Talk). Local radio personalities Bill “Smoochie” Gordon and Ernie Stadvec also appeared with their own programs over the years, and The CAT even did some quirky stuff,  such as The Big Al Show, which was filmed in a karaoke bar (and near as I can remember, wasn’t on very long). You never knew what you were going to get with The CAT, and because it was all produced “around here,” there seemed to be some leeway; since this wasn’t national material, issues and topics related to the area were prevalent, as you’d naturally expect.

As the 1990s progressed into the 2000s, the nationwide erosion of local TV in favor of syndicated programming and infomercials was only getting worse, and while, yes, 29/35 did have some syndicated shows (The Lighter Side of Sports was a long, long mainstay) and whatnot, the overall local vibes were too strong; you really did get the “Northeast Ohio presence” while watching the station! They absolutely lived up to their name. I wish I had been cognizant of the history behind some of these local shows/personalities back then, especially Smoochie’s program, but hindsight is 20/20. I’m certainly glad I experienced what I did, if nothing else.

When it came to movies and even just general programming on The CAT, late nights were, well, they were sort of a no man’s land. Yes, there were TV listings, but it was often a toss-up if you got what was advertised. Granted, this was sometimes an issue during the day (I remember coming home from school and being so excited to catch 1977’s Snowbeast as the listed 2-4 PM movie…only to instead be treated to 1954’s Carnival Story, which wasn’t quite the same thing), but late nights, you could just never be sure. What was listed in the channel guide might indeed air, or you might get something else entirely, and there was no (discernible) rhyme or reason to any of it.

Furthermore, there was a lot of syndicated programming, programming whose origins you couldn’t be sure of. In other words, where did it come from? Now look, the sad fact of the matter is I’ve been a night owl for years, and the other sad fact of the matter is I’ve also had spotty sleep patterns for years. (Maybe there’s a connection?) At least once that I can recall, I woke up in the middle of the night, stumbled out of bed, and turned on The CAT, only to be greeted with obscure programming produced by who knows who. Not that I ever saw anything weird or disturbing, but looking back, the same feelings that lead David Cronenberg to create Videodrome seemed to be at play with me here. Where did this stuff come from? Keep in my mind, this was all via my skewed, 11/12 year old perception. I probably wouldn’t have the same reaction nowadays.

The AIN station I.D. (1998)

In contrast to the daytime scheduling largely consisting of America One content, late nights (usually?) featured programming from the American Independent Network (AIN). AIN featured some of the same movies as A-1, though the prints themselves were different. For example, the versions of Circus of Fear and The Kansan I saw via A-1 were quite a bit scratchier than what I saw via AIN. Not that it really matters in the long run, but it was a difference I noticed.

AIN could also have some surprising movie selections. Indeed, the very first time I saw 1939’s Stagecoach was through a late night 29/35/AIN airing. I liked it a lot, though there was quite a bit of editing between commercial breaks, which obviously made the film disjointed. (I’m not sure where the editing originated from, us or them.) On the same classic movie front, AIN was the first one to present Fritz Lang’s M to me.

Host of AIN’s Family Film Festival. Anyone know his name for certain?

My first experience (that I can recall) with unique AIN programming on The CAT was a late night airing of 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, or rather, what came right before. Immediately preceding it was 1977’s Wishbone Cutter, a horror film set around the time of the Civil War and starring Joe Don Baker. Wishbone Cutter aired during something AIN had called Family Film Festival, hosted by a guy whose name I think was Tim Brown. I came in for only the last minute or two of the movie, but it was still immediately apparent that it was wildly inappropriate for a program purporting to be aimed at families – which I of course find kinda funny now. (I’ve got a weird sense of humor.)

Outside of the movies and shows featured, The CAT was also a haven for local businesses and their advertising. Because it was an indie station, there were commercials for local establishments that you just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, see on any other channel. This was immensely cool, both then and now.

These ads were, near as I can tell, all produced by 29/35 themselves. That actually ran advertisements spotlighting their free television production services; all you had to do was call. Of course, I imagine you also had to pay for something, sponsorship of a certain program I’d guess, but it seems to me that this still gave affordable commercial opportunities to local businesses that maybe wouldn’t have gone that route otherwise.

To watch The CAT was to tap directly into the atmosphere of the area at the time.


Okay, so I’ve talked a lot about 29/35 as a whole, but what about some of the specific movies and related bits that I found particularly interesting? Some of the stuff that sticks out in my memory? That’s part of my story too, after all!

A few months went by after my summer introduction to the station, and following that, the first really notable movie I caught (and taped!) off The CAT was 1922’s Nosferatu. Nosferatu hit all the bullet points I was looking for at the time: It was silent, it was foreign, and it was a horror film.

It aired at 10 AM on October 31, 1997, which I remember because that was the big Halloween party at my grade school, and we were allowed to go home at lunch time to change into our costumes. I forget what I went as that year, but I do remember eagerly checking the timer-set VHS recording from just a few hours prior; I knew immediately Nosferatu was my kind of movie. An exponentially creepy silent unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? I loved it. I still love it. Despite purchasing the later definitive tinted & restored releases by Kino, I still have love for the older, ‘regular’ public domain prints of the film thanks to what was aired on The CAT that day (a print that also boasted a fantastically “spooky” score).

(I also remember the afternoon B-Western playing when I got home to change into my costume / check the tape that day; it was the Buster Crabbe oater Devil Riders.)

As I mentioned before, The CAT was one of my main outlets for new old horror and sci-fi, and as such it was responsible for introducing me to far more than just Nosferatu; there was also a lot of the later, more-cornball stuff that crossed my eyes for the first time thanks to them. 1950s science fiction was a particular favorite of mine then, and while I tend to lean towards 1930s & 1940s horror now, I still like 50s sci-fi. Plenty of both showed up on 29/35. Some I loved instantly, some I didn’t, and some I only appreciated years after the fact.

He’s indestructible, and a man, hence…

When it comes to the latter: 1956’s Indestructible Man. The 10 AM CAT showing of the movie back in, I’m pretty sure, late-1997, was my first exposure to it. Oddly enough, neither that viewing nor subsequent viewings did much for me; I found it a dull, slow moving film. Even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 take left me cold.

And yet, a re-watch this past October on TCM found yours truly actually, finally getting into the film. I enjoyed the faux-Dragnet vibes, and at only 70+ minutes, it’s really not that slow moving. Didn’t hurt that TCM ran one of the best prints of the film I’ve ever seen, either. (I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess that The CAT introduced me to Indestructible Man, but it took me almost exactly 20 years to ‘get’ it?)

In retrospect, quite a few of the horror & sci-fi movies I grew up with came via the 10 AM CAT movie. King of the Zombies? It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but check. The Little Shop of Horrors? Check, and I loved it from the start (the print aired on The CAT was one of the few I’ve seen that actually included the end credits, too – even the beautiful copy aired on TCM this past October omitted them). And Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster? Aside from Lugosi, it’s terrible and not in a good way, but check that one, as well.

Two final points regarding the 10 AM movie: 1) Hillbilly Blitzkrieg once ran on it. A wartime Barney Google cheapie, I came into it already in-progress, and it was just wacky enough to make me wish I was taping. Of course I never saw it run again. 2) Something titled Mountain Lady. I briefly flipped to it, saw an outdoor setting and some big, ugly yellow film scratches, but recall little else about the film. I think it was listed as being from 1968. I didn’t watch very long, though maybe I should have. What was this movie? Where did it come from? Like Hillbilly Blitzkrieg, I never saw it on the schedule, 10 AM or otherwise, again.


The 12:30 PM Western Theater was a big one for me, and quite unexpectedly, too. Obviously I liked the horror and science fiction stuff, and the old imported features, and silent movies, but westerns? I don’t think I had paid much attention to westerns beforehand! Especially B-Westerns! It started off with my just being enamored by them; the obscure creakiness, the thought that I was seeing something not everyone else had. But then, the more I watched, the more I fell in love with the genre.

Of course I knew who he was prior, but I was actually properly introduced to John Wayne through these broadcasts. All it took was one airing of Blue Steel to hook me; it was so different from the stereotypical John Wayne image that comes to mind, him being in a 1930s cheapie. And the hype that was the “Lone Star Productions” intro (which really did stand out from other B-Western productions of the time) made the whole thing feel all the more special.

(Some time afterwards, the famed Best Buy $2.99 VHS section yielded me a copy of Blue Steel; I couldn’t have been happier to own the flick! I eagerly threw it in the VCR when I got home and watched the whole thing – an experience that was dampened by the tape being defective and refusing to exit the machine once the film was over. The VCR got through it unscathed, but of course the tape had to be returned, much to my disappointment. ‘Course, since these Wayne Lone Stars are public domain and have his name attached to them, they’ve been released numerous times on home video, so my disappointment wasn’t permanent.)

But by far the most enduring star to be introduced to me by the 12:30 PM western presentations was Ken Maynard. I had no idea who Ken Maynard was prior; what 11/12 year old in the late-1990s would? And yet, through these daily western broadcasts, I became a fan – a fandom which continues to this very day. Maynard was one of the top B-Western stars of the 1930s, and while you don’t hear his name mentioned very often outside of fan circles nowadays, he made some terrifically entertaining films. Fightin’ Thru, Drum Taps, Come On, Tarzan, all were introduced to me via these afternoon showings.

Come ON, Tarzan! Stop foolin’ around!

1932’s Come On, Tarzan became a particular favorite. I’m not sure if it’s my top Ken Maynard western, but it’s dangerously close; in the top five, if nothing else. I remember seeing it listed in the local guide, and wondering what a Tarzan movie was doing placed in the western time slot. Were they trying something new? I soon learned the truth; Tarzan was the name of Ken’s super-smart horse, who appeared in a large number of his pictures. Come On, Tarzan was terrific – I loved it then, and I love it now. It is very possibly one of Ken’s very best films – in my opinion, anyway.

The aforementioned Fightin’ Thru was another big one. I never once saw a silent or 1920s-era talkie in the 12:30 PM slot, so I took a particular interest in the earliest films possible there, which meant 1930. Near the Rainbow’s End, The Apache Kid’s Escape, and most notably, Ken Maynard’s Fightin’ Thru. I haven’t seen it in nearly 20 years now, but it probably holds up for me; even today I find many of Maynard’s westerns to be really, really good. Indeed, 1944’s Harmony Trail was his last starring picture, and while I had heard bad things about it, when I finally saw it many years later, I enjoyed it immensely – somewhat unexpectedly on my part, to be honest.

At the time, many of these westerns, Ken Maynard or otherwise, were unavailable to the general public, which only added to their allure. The only normative way to watch them (that I knew of) was through an America One affiliate. And if you wanted an “official” copy, you had to seek out specialty, mail-order dealers, because 99% of these weren’t gonna show up on brick-and-mortar shelves, not even my beloved $2.99 section at Best Buy. In more recent years, I have been extremely pleased to discover Alpha Video has released many of these on DVD and at really great prices, too.

1934’s The Tonto Kid, a Rex Bell feature, is another B-Western title that particularly stands out in my mind, but I’ll return to that subject a little later in this article.


That brings us to the 2-4 PM movies. As I said, these were the ones I came home to after school. I became acquainted with so, so many other new-to-me movies here. Hitchcock’s early talkie Blackmail? Yep. The silent Sparrows? Uh huh. The dubbed version of France’s Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe? Yessir. Circus of Fear? Right on, mama. The Grand Duel? I dug it! Good News? Yes, and unexpectedly, I liked it! The Curse of Bigfoot? I kinda wish I hadn’t seen it, but yeah, that popped up at 2 PM, too. And although I was already well-familiar with it, even Godzilla vs. Megalon ran in this slot at least once, as well.

Like the western showcase, the afternoon slot was responsible for making me a fan of a genre that previously I had paid little attention to: Sword & Sandal films. You know, Hercules and the various imitators he spawned; Colossus, Goliath and the like. I wound up becoming a huge fan of these movies! Hercules, Hercules Unchained, Hercules Against the Mongols, David & Goliath, The Avenger, all stuff I became fascinated with.

‘Course, it was the entries that featured horror & sci-fi elements that really intrigued me. Many of them didn’t, and that was okay, but the ones that did, those instantly became preferred features in the genre. Hercules in the Haunted World and the ones like that were especially awesome to yours truly.

A movie so cool, it deserves two screencaps! The title, and the titular monster!

One of my top favorites was an entry in the Sons of Hercules series, a U.S. repackaging of various Sword & Sandal flicks that went straight to television in the 1960s. (Most, if not all, probably had nothing to do with Herc in their homeland, but it was standard practice at the time for U.S. distributors to “link them” nevertheless.)

This particular entry was titled Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules, and with a name like that, well, was there any way it wouldn’t be cool? Herc’s ostensible son “Maxus” did indeed fight some monsters in the film, including one near the very start (right). The title was somewhat misleading in that the main plot didn’t really concern them, but hey, it drew me in, and probably 1960s audiences, too.

(The Sons of Hercules films also had a catchy theme song that had, and has, the ability to get stuck in your head for 97 years at a stretch.)


The hours between the 2 PM movie and the 8 PM movie were filled with various programming, syndicated and local. Then at 8 came another “Hollywood Classics” feature from America One. (It should be noted that many of these films were neither from Hollywood nor would they generally be considered classics, but the bumpers surrounding them still made them feel special nevertheless.)

As I said earlier, the 8 PM movie was much like the 2 PM movie; same gamut of genres, though with (as I recall it) far fewer silents. Material better suited to prime time, basically. Some movies ran in both slots, while others, like Winners of the West, I only saw at 8. (Winners of the West was the feature version of a 1940s western serial, and while on the surface that may seem like something better suited to 12:30 PM, its length precluded it from being in that 90 minute time slot.)

Lotsa neat stuff ran at 8. I had a burgeoning interest in “Spaghetti Westerns” in the late-1990s, an extension of both my love of westerns and interest in foreign films I’m sure, and a few still stick with me. For a Few Bullets More (which featured a great theme song and starred Edd “Kookie” Byrnes and Gilbert “Cisco Kid” Roland) and It Can Be Done Amigo especially. There are times even nowadays where when something is asked of me, I’ll answer with an affirmative “It can be done, amigo.” I don’t do it often, and it’s a reference absolutely  nobody gets, but it amuses me, and that’s what counts.

Of course there was the horror & sci-fi that was my bread-and-butter. Monster From Green Hell first became known to me there, as did The Creeping Terror. Also, one of the worst movies I have ever seen, 1970’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein (aka Assignment: Terror). This wasn’t the Al Adamson film of the same name, but rather the Paul Naschy opus, and to this day I find it utterly terrible. (While on the subject, I know he has his fans, so I don’t want to rag on him too much, but I just don’t get the love some have for Paul Naschy’s films. Every single one I’ve seen has been essentially unwatchable.)

At this point I would like to relate my most memorable tale of the 8 PM movie on The CAT, because it’s the very definition of the kind of films they (or rather, America One) could run. Stuff that was incredibly unknown, you had never heard of prior, and was in all likelihood not commercially available. This next story is, to me, the ultimate example of that phenomenon.

One summer night in 1998 (I think it was a Wednesday; I recall Whose Line is it Anyway? was airing on ABC), I stumbled upon such a flick. I had noticed that the 29/35 movie listed for that particular night was titled Mark of the Beast, but there was no date, synopsis, stars or rating given for it in the local channel guide. Okay, evidently the film was mega obscure!

Well, I was hanging out at my aunt’s house that evening, and must have forgotten or was otherwise busy to tune in at the start, but eventually I flipped to 29/35 (side note: The CAT was on channel 14 via Time-Warner basic cable then) to see what exactly this film was. I was greeted with a movie that was in blurry, somewhat-faded color and in which fast-moving and/or bright objects and titles left streaks/imprints across the screen, there was a lot of buzzing/clicking on the soundtrack, and there was odd narration of some sort. I wasn’t able to catch the whole thing that night, but I was severely intrigued; it all seemed so mysterious! Like Mountain Lady, what was this film? Where did it come from?! In retrospect (because there was no way I could have found the appropriate words back then), it almost seemed otherworldly, as if the images on the screen weren’t really supposed to be there. Such were the qualities of the film (or rather, the print of the film), that it actually came off dreamlike; streaky and fleeting.

America One, according to their online schedules back then, would run some movies twice-per-day, and Mark of the Beast was set to repeat during the overnight hours. I set my VCR timer in the hopes that this would be one of those times where what was listed locally wouldn’t match up with what was actually run. Unfortunately, the listing was correct, and I instead got the as-promised 1933 Philo Vance mystery The Kennel Murder Case. Not a bad consolation, as I watched the recording and thought it was a pretty good movie, but nevertheless, my curiosity was only further piqued by the denial of whatever I had seen the evening prior.

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever (a still-continuing movie guide book that, while not as famous as Leonard Maltin’s previously-annual tomes, had much more extensive listings despite specifically being limited to films released on home video formats) told me Mark of the Beast was a mid-1980s flick about an assassination caught on tape. Okay, maybe that’s the movie I saw; I mean, it didn’t sound like what I saw, but I didn’t catch enough of the plot to make any real judgements there. As for the date, what I glimpsed seemed far older than the 1980s; I was figuring mid-to-late-1960s! (Considering I was only 12, I actually wasn’t too far off, though nowadays I’ve become better at sight-dating and would most likely conclude it came from some point in the 1970s.) Could it be that this was one of those rare times where VideoHound didn’t have a certain movie listed?

For whatever reason, I couldn’t deduce what the actual title here was, and actually emailed the question to America One direct. The guy that responded shared my fascination with the movie – as well as the answer I somehow couldn’t come up with myself.

As it turned out, yes. Eventually the movie reran, 8 PM again, in March of 1999 (and in following years late at night, as well – albeit infrequently). The reality of the film was this: A science fiction-tinged Evangelical Christian production about Armageddon, set in a high-tech underground bunker and starring Joe “Guy from Blade Runner” Turkel. And the title wasn’t Mark of the Beast, but rather, a severely-cropped Six-Hundred & Sixty Six (left). Same difference.

And yes, the movie was intensely obscure. For the longest time, there was NO IMDb listing for it at all, which left me to only guess as to its release date or origin. As per IMDb, it was released in 1972 and shown at churches, as you’d expect of an Evangelical Christian production.

Obviously, there’s a strong focus on Biblical prophesy in the movie, and there seems to be a few aspects taken from Orwell’s 1984 as well, mainly in the Big Brother-like portraits of “The Man” (a leader who has organized much of the world into a single entity) hanging all over the compound. Set at some point in the future, the U.S.A. is now the “United States of Europe,” the new Roman Empire. (We all know how the old one turned out, right?) A single world religion and complete obedience is professed by “The Man,” and there’s a war with China going on. The complex where the film takes place is situated under a mountain, the purpose of which is to house all of mankind’s art and achievements on computers in the event of massive warfare, which seems to be at hand. Indeed, nuclear destruction takes place above ground, seemingly leaving only the small group of survivors in the complex, with limited air and not much to do. To pass the time until the inevitable occurs, they begin studying Biblical prophesy and correlating it with major events in world history, from the past to the present day.

Now look, I’m super Catholic, and initially I was worried that with this being an Evangelical production, there’d be some raggin’ on us. Early in the film, when warfare that had taken place at some point beforehand is described, it’s mentioned that many great artistic works were lost, including what was in the Vatican when it was destroyed. Upon hearing that, I was like “aw, here we go…” But, as the film played on, it seemed that that brief instance was meant solely to describe the loss of art and without any ulterior motive. Indeed, late in the movie the Sacré-Cœur in Paris and its parishioners are described in a positive light. So, even though this was an Evangelical production, it doesn’t seem to focus on any single group of Christians, but rather on where Christianity as a whole fits in with regards to the events taking place.

This is not a bad movie. In fact, it’s really, really good. As it plays out, there’s a stronger and stronger emphasis on Christianity, but it never comes across heavy-handed or overly preachy, which is quite an achievement given the subject matter. Obviously it’s not a happy good time flick, but it’s consistently interesting, and the ultra-modern design of the underground complex lends the film a neat sci-fi flair. Terrific acting by all involved as well, and with some pretty famous names attached to the production; Turkel of course, and the frequent voiceovers by “The Man” were provided by none other than Malachi Throne!


Okay, that story told, back to our regularly-scheduled program…

In contrast to the structured weekday movie scheduling, the weekends were a bit of a toss-up on 29/35. For awhile, you could count on one or two B-Westerns on Saturday afternoon, and I remember three airing in a row once. Same basic stuff that aired at 12:30 PM throughout the week. I still recall anticipating an airing of 1934’s Lightning Range one Saturday afternoon, wasting away the hours until it was finally airtime. I really did look forward to constantly “discovering” these flicks!

Sundays were more up in the air though. Oftentimes, there was nothing that stuck out to me, which means that it was probably a wasteland of syndicated shows and infomercials, though don’t quote me on that. There were surprises, however. I remember once catching part of an episode of Lucan, the super-short-lived series from the late-1970s. I never saw the show before or since, and how it wound up airing then and there I couldn’t say. I didn’t catch the end of it, as we had to leave for 4:30 PM Mass, but it was a random occurrence for sure.

Somehow I think this is actually a cooler title than the promised Goliath and the Vampires…

And, movies could show up on Sunday afternoons, as well. I don’t recall them being a regular feature, but they did happen from time to time. Maybe it was every Sunday after all, I don’t remember. I *do* remember that Monster From a Prehistoric Planet first crossed me eyes this way. I didn’t, and don’t, really like the film, but if nothing else, kaiju was/is kaiju. The Sunday afternoon movie that really stands out to me though played into my affection for Sword & Sandal films: Goliath and the Vampires (right). Yep, one of those with horror elements in the plot! Cool winnins!

Oh did I look forward to this one, and despite the on-screen title simply reading The Vampires, this was the type of Sword & Sandal flick that was directly up my alley. And, that Sunday afternoon was the only time I saw it broadcast on 29/35.

(Oddly enough, for having grown up catching movies in the afternoon during those years, nowadays I can’t stand the thought of watching a film during the daytime. To me, movies are nighttime endeavors; the daylight hours should be reserved for TV shows, or, you know, doing something productive.)


Now is a good time to point out that the old feature films weren’t the only thing that kept me coming back again and again. It was actually what could come after said films. You see, the movie time slots were standard 90 minutes, 120 minutes, that sort of thing. BUT, even with commercials, often the films didn’t fill those entire slots. So, The CAT (or more likely America One) would play some unscheduled filler. These could be silent or sound short comedies, old cartoons like Popeye and the like, and once in awhile, even some weird foreign import cartoons. (Rapirea, animated fare ostensibly of Romanian origin and concerning a detective protecting a new invention from marauding thieves, was particularly bizarre, despite supposedly being intended for kids.) You just never knew what you’d get, if you got anything at all; the shorts weren’t a given.

Furthermore, you weren’t always guaranteed a whole short; the end could very well be cut off so that the next, scheduled program could start on time.

My favorites were the silent comedies. It’s thanks to these filler bits that I became a Charlie Chaplin fan. Chaplin’s Mutual Films output was commonly found in these “slots,” and thanks to subjects like The Pawnshop and The Rink, it became sort of a game for me to deduce if a movie looked like it was nearing its end early and a short was likely coming. Even better was when the selections got even older, such as Chaplin’s Face on the Bar Room Floor or His Prehistoric Past; I wasn’t cognizant of where they fell in the time line of his filmography then, and while in retrospect they were nowhere near as good as the polished Mutuals, but at the time I was just happy to see more new old Charlie Chaplin.

(Once again, Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section came to the rescue, as I happily snapped up the few Chaplin tapes they had there.)

Is that Chaplin’s Tramp? Guess again! It’s Billy West as “The Hobo.”

Some really unexpected shorts could show up as filler, and one particularly stands out to me because it wasn’t Chaplin, but it wanted to be. Billy West’s The Hobo was a Chaplin knock-off, featuring a titular character that really, really looked like Charlie’s Tramp. There were times when I wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a Chaplin feature, renamed for whatever reason. But no, it was a legit rip-off; an entertaining rip-off, but a rip-off nonetheless. (Furthermore, the print utilized featured narration added in the talkie era, with a voiceover that was the very definition of “jolly.”)

Offbeat stuff like that absolutely sums up my fascination with the potential post-movie short subjects.


So far, most, if not all, of the movies I’ve talked about were America One sourced, and merely being syndicated on The CAT. There were exceptions though, and they came during the holidays. I’ve talked about these instances before, here and here. For the sake of completeness, we kinda sorta have to hit these points again, however. That’s okay though, cause they mean a lot to me.

You’ve probably heard of this movie, right?

Every Halloween, unless it was Son of Ghoul night, The CAT would cut into whatever America One had scheduled at 8 PM and instead run what, near as I could tell, was one of their own films. Yep, it appeared 29/35 had their very own copy of Night of the Living Dead.

You have no idea (well actually, you probably do) how perfect this was come Halloween time. The print of Night that 29/35 was pretty worn, lotsa scratches and whatnot. I’ve described this before on the blog; a well-used copy of Night of the Living Dead can be just as effective, if not more so, than a pristine one. To me, it feels more nightmarish that way. It fit so nicely with the local vibes the channel projected year-round anyway; truth be told, when it comes to “Halloween movie” memories, catching Night this way on The CAT is one of my favorites. They weren’t unique in this area, just about everyone plays this movie come October, but to have one of the Halloween movies played annually on our channel, you just couldn’t beat it.

Same feelings come December too, though of course modified for the season (duh!). This was an even bigger deal to me than Halloween, and the source of some of my favorite Christmas memories growing up.

Every Christmas Eve, The CAT went all out: 1935’s Scrooge, followed by 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. Not only was it an appropriate double-feature, but the movies were commercial-free, too. This was not something usually done on the station, so it felt all the more special. (Funny thing is this would have worked even with commercials.)

You’ve probably heard of this guy, right?

I never paid much attention to Beyond Tomorrow, but I was all about Scrooge. This was the ’35 British production starring Seymour Hicks, and while most critics wouldn’t list it as the best film version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it has always been my go-to adaption. Almost certainly because The CAT played it every year, but for me, that’s all it takes. (Like Night of the Living Dead, the print of Scrooge utilized by The CAT was pretty worn, pretty scratchy, but in my opinion that just added to the “old timey Christmas” feeling the film projected.)

Let me see if I can paint an accurate picture of this. I have this memory of Christmas Eve, the living room dark except for the illumination given off by the lights on the tree, a gentle feeling abounding, and Scrooge playing on the TV in the background. The hustle of Christmas shopping was done, it had all come down to this night, I was still young enough to be jazzed for Christmas morning. A lot has (needless to say) changed since then, but I still carry those mental images with me. I hope I always will.


If you were watching The CAT and/or America One in the late-90s/early-2000s, you knew who Alan Stone was.

We’re, or rather I’m, nearing the end of the journey here, but I can’t finish up my look at The CAT without mentioning the host that was seen so often on the channel: America One’s movie host, Alan Stone. (Allan? Allen? His name was never superimposed on screen!)

Alan was cool, man; not only did he host the 12:30 PM western and 2 & 8 PM movies, but he also gave out some great info regarding a feature. He could also be really funny. America One had a film library you could purchase from direct, and occasionally the service would be pitched at the end of a broadcast. I remember once they ran some terrible vampire film, and at the end, Alan point-blank stated something along the lines of “You probably didn’t enjoy this film, but here’s how you can order movies you will enjoy…” In his Texas drawl and with perfect delivery, it was hilarious!

Speaking of that film library, I did once send away for A-1’s free catalog. I unfortunately never bought anything from them (I now wish I had), but in retrospect, I’m glad I got the catalog.

As you can see to your left here, I recently dug it out – just to take a picture for this post. It’s pretty neat to thumb through, though it appears that it only includes their (not inconsiderable) collection of western titles. Probably because that stuff is pretty much all public domain; most of it was B-Western, though I did spot 1949’s Tulsa included (which is PD, as well). I didn’t notice anything non-western listed, though I guess I could’ve missed it – there was a lot in there!

I actually can’t believe this thing survived all these years. For awhile there, I figured it was long gone, until a relatively-recent dig through my “comic box” turned it up. (The “comic box” is a big huge plastic container I’ve had for decades that became the receptacle for my comic book collection and assorted pieces of memorabilia; lobby cards, autographed photos, and other miscellaneous items…stuff not unlike the A-1 catalog.)

I like my America One catalog, but there was one other catalog from a program on the channel (and thus, 29/35) that, in hindsight, I wish I would have mailed away for…

The classic Enigma Theater set and host… (1999?)

Enigma Theater with Edward St. Pe’ was A-1’s horror host showcase. I’m not sure if the time slot it aired in varied from location to location, but here in Northeast Ohio, it ran late, late Saturday nights – technically Sunday mornings. I can’t recall how long it was on around here; I want to say 1998 to 2000, but I could be all sorts of wrong there.

In sharp contrast to the local horror host offerings I was used to, Enigma Theater was much more straightforward; no wacky skits or the like. St. Pe’ would come out, introduce the film, give some info about it, maybe show a few clips, and then he’d just have brief segments throughout afterwards, sometimes pitching the Enigma Theater catalog and related videos for sale. I don’t know exactly what the catalog contained, because I didn’t have the foresight to get one, but today it sounds like something I’d absolutely love to have in my collection.

Enigma Theater had a pretty far-reaching range of films, too. There was the obvious stuff, like The Corpse Vanishes, but also some real surprises, like The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, Circus of Fear, and The Vampire People. Movies that didn’t always pop up on these types of shows. And at the time, it was one of the few nationally-televised horror hosted programs left. That number has since gone back up some, but still, it was relatively unique in that era. I wonder when it started and how long it ran?

I don’t know when Enigma Theater ended, but I know when my first association with The CAT did…


Everything I’ve talked about so far has been from my preferred era of The CAT, 1997-2000. Of course it’s my preferred era though; that’s when I grew up watching it! Unfortunately, that era ended for me at a later point in 2000. You see, to satisfactorily get the channel around here, you had to pay for basic channels. Not even specifically cable, just the ‘regular’ channels. After awhile, that gets pricey, especially since it wasn’t really necessary; all the local channels were free over-the-air. Eventually that was the route dad decided to take, the rabbit ears route. This was all well and good; we still got most of the stations I watched, and while the reception varied, most of it was watchable…

…Except The CAT. The sad fact of the matter was that 29/35 barely came through with rabbit ears. It was a sea of static, with only the vaguest of images in the background and no sound beyond said static. In other words, unwatchable in my neck of the woods via rabbit ear antennas. I was not particularly happy with this situation, but having even less money than I do now (and that’s really saying something), I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

All of sudden, The Son of Ghoul Show, the B-Westerns, and all of the old movies that had made up a large, large chunk of my entertainment at the time were barred to me, and that wasn’t good. On the bright side, this did give me a chance to further explore the other channels available to me, and thus over the following years I was able to more-fully appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live. I even discovered M*A*S*H in this era, which in very short order became one of my absolute top favorite shows of all-time.

Still, I obviously missed, and missed out on, a lot of what was happening on The CAT. Son of Ghoul got his own live call-in game show that ran for several years – and which I missed almost entirely. In fact, I saw little more than scattered glimpses and a promo. How’d I even see that promo? It’s a tale that actually goes back to around 1998…

One weekend afternoon, 29/35/America One ran the 1934 B-Western The Tonto Kid. I caught the film then, and kept waiting for it to show back up afterwards, but it never did – until late 2001.

I must have still kept regular tabs on what was running locally then, because when I saw The Tonto Kid finally pop back up on the schedule, I had to see it. It wasn’t a hand I wanted to play too often, but this was a (personal) big one, so on a weekday afternoon, I went to grandma’s house to catch it. The reception was still pretty fuzzy, but unlike home, the channel was watchable.

First off, The Tonto Kid is a great B-Western, a Rex Bell vehicle that is pretty unknown but a lot of fun. And, it’s lapsed into the public domain, which means that copies nowadays are fairly easy to find. But back then, for 99% of people, the rare television airing was the only viable option to see it.

All was not perfect with the occasion however, and I’m not just talkin’ about the reception, either. In the year or so since I had last watched The CAT, a lot had changed. The Tonto Kid was part of some new western theater presentation – gone was Alan Stone from at least this program, and maybe altogether. In his place was Red Steagall. Even all of the America One graphics and bumpers were new compared to what I had last seen. It was all just such a gearshift. None of it was bad at all, it’s just that I’ve never liked being taken out of my comfort zone, and for me, this was all so sudden.


Over the next few years, I caught other scattered bits of the channel, usually at grandma’s after school, and then in 2006 we finally took the cable plunge again. Son of Ghoul’s time had been shifted around some, at one point airing on Thursday afternoons (in addition to the normal Friday evening broadcast), which was a shocker, though it was alleviated somewhat by a selection of old television programs that were new to me; Meet Corliss Archer and Love That Bob were, are, awesome, shows.

Yes, Magnum was part of RTV’s line-up, and it was AWESOME, especially when we got local ads for it featuring the modified 29/35 logo! (2011)

And then, things really got shaken up, when “The CAT” became “RTV.” That is, Retro Television, a national channel specializing in classic TV. 29/35 became our local affiliate, and while a lot of the local flavor of the station ended with the switch, I gotta say, it was pretty cool. Magnum, P.I., Quincy, M.E., Knight Rider, Airwolf, The Incredible Hulk, Emergency!, and even horror hosting via Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In and Off Beat Cinema got airtime on RTV. And as we saw a few years ago, RTV became the-then sole place to catch reruns of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on real television. So, it wasn’t The CAT anymore, but RTV was pretty derned good to viewers, too. I just wish I could still watch it, man! (No joke; I’m missing the 1970s Soupy Sales Show they were rerunning when they left local airwaves.)


Goofball (me) on the left, the famous Brett Van Wagner on the right.

At this point, I’d like to turn things over to our good friend Brett Van Wagner, who helped out enormously with his contribution to the big Son of Ghoul 30th anniversary post. Just like me, Brett grew up with all this stuff – one of the few people I know who did! We didn’t know each other back then, but we had similar childhoods, and believe it or not, we were born only two days apart! A few years ago, we met entirely through the blog here, and quickly became friends. Brett doesn’t live in Ohio anymore, but he makes occasional trips back, and on his latest visit, we finally met up in person; we chatted so often, it almost felt like a formality! Brett is indeed a cool cat, and it’s an honor and a privilege to let him tell his story now:

My memories of THE CAT stretch back to 1997. That was the year I discovered Son of Ghoul, as well as this little local TV station that I quickly discovered was owned by the same folks that owned local talk radio station WNIR. Looking back, it is so cool that we had such a gem of a local television station on two different frequencies to cover so much of Northeast Ohio. It was definitely low power and low budget, but it featured a great mix of local content and some cool retro stuff that you couldn’t really find anywhere else.
I remember the bumpers between shows… the still shot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I remember seeing the ads for “Beats 2 The Rhyme,” which would air “Friday nights at 12:30,” and the literal side of my brain always wanted to correct it to “Saturday mornings at 12:30”
Of course, huge props to THE CAT for giving Son of Ghoul a home for more than half of his career, as well as trying new stuff like the Son of Ghoul’s House of Fun and Games. Without SOG, I would never have followed such a cool and unique local TV station. I know it’s still around as a Retro TV affiliate these days, but where else could you find shows such as Dining Out With Steve programmed alongside Dobie Gillis reruns, a knockoff of Baywatch, a local horror host, and plenty of classic movies. It is always nice to share memories of THE CAT with my friend the Video Hunter – and to know I wasn’t the only one that followed the station so closely!

And with that, our big huge retrospective on WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland nears an end. What a long journey it has been, and not just in the length of this monster article, either. Few channels and their content have been as important to me. Even though the station still exists in an altered form, the last piece The CAT has exited the arena. TV-29 has split, and with it, an indelible piece of my childhood.

I certainly hope one day Spectrum adds W16DO to their Akron line-up. For some time after 29 left, the screen you’re seeing right here is all I got when I flipped to the channel. Seems like wasted space to me, but then, I have no say or knowledge of the inner workings of cable line-ups; maybe it’s not an easy thing to make happen, I don’t know.

But then, even if it did come back around here, it still wouldn’t be The CAT of my youth. The CAT as I knew it, The CAT that fanned the flames of my cinematic fascination, The CAT that truly lead me to a genuine understanding and appreciation of local broadcasting, that CAT was basically gone in 2009 when it became RTV.

But then, things change. Heck, I’ve obviously changed over the years, too. That’s just the way it goes. Maybe some kid that discovered the station in 2002 or whenever holds the same nostalgic memories as I do for 1997-2000; I know this article is heavily based on my perception, but then, I don’t have a whole lot else to go on.

But it’s those memories, I think more than anything else, that’s so important here. If nothing else, I’ve got those.

Fare thee well, WAOH TV-29!

(Have a happy and safe New Year, gang! See you in 2018!)

Episode Recap: The Son of Ghoul Show “Mr. Wise Guy” (March 6, 1999)

With Son of Ghoul’s big 31st anniversary show this weekend, and indeed, his actual 31st anniversary today right now yo, what say we take a look back at a vintage episode? I always like doing these. (My wi-fi currently hates me and wants me dead, so if I blaze through this, particularly in the second-half, that’s why.)

31 years is unbelievable for any television personality, but especially so when it’s the endangered-species known as “horror host.” Ironically, 31 almost seems a little, I don’t know, anti-climatic, I guess, after the massive hype that surrounded his big 30th last year. I certainly covered it, and was even present when SOG was fittingly honored at Monsterfestmania.

I thought of a couple different topics to post in honor of his 31st continuous year on Northeast Ohio television. I could’ve covered the earliest episode I taped (The Vampire Bat, in 1997), or his 12th anniversary show, or even the episode featuring the first piece of mail I ever sent in to him. I even briefly considered an article detailing a lot of the SOG memorabilia I’ve amassed over the years. I decided against each one of those, however, for a variety of reasons: I’ll save my earliest taped episode for the 20th anniversary of the broadcast this fall, I didn’t feel like covering Frankenstein’s Daughter during his 12th anniversary, and I’m not ready to detail my cringe worthy (yet nostalgic) first letter to him. As for an article focused on SOG memorabilia, I just couldn’t muster up the moxy to drag all that stuff out for a picture-taking session.

Nope, I decided on our subject today for one very simple reason: I just plain like the movie, 1942’s Mr. Wise Guy. Heck, I just plain like the episode in general, and to me that speaks more about my Son of Ghoul fandom than any ‘special’ occurrence I could dig up. After all, this was how the show usually was (is) to me each weekend: A fun, kick-back-and-chill movie showcase.

So, join me now as I detail The Son of Ghoul Show, as aired on WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (“The Cat”) and taped by yours truly waaaay back on March 6, 1999…

(Also, I’ve been on a real kick for The Cat lately, even more so than usual. This comes from that late-90s sweet-spot of the channel, so I’m happy with the choice. And, if that kick keeps up, I may dig something else out from the station to cover. You keep pushing me and I just might, pal.)

I vividly recall this being a surprise episode. Y’see, SOG was on twice-a-week at that point: 8-10 PM, Fridays and Saturdays, same episode. This was handy, because you could sample on Friday, and tape-as-needed on Saturday. But, for whatever reason, he was only on Saturday that week, a fact he briefly mentions in his intro (above).

I think (think) he was preempted totally the night before due to some women’s college basketball tournament The Cat was broadcasting/simulcasting/whatevercasting. So because he was only on Saturday that week, I couldn’t risk missing a must-have episode, especially with no knowledge of what the movie would be. Because said basketball tournament was concluding that Saturday, there was no telling when SOG’s show would actually begin; I had to start the VCR recording waaaaay ahead of time, which was why I wound up with like an hour of that stupid basketball game on the tape before the episode started.

This obsessiveness proved fortuitous. That night, we were at my aunt’s house for some party I was quite probably miserable at, and I flipped to The Cat to see what episode I was capturing. When it finally started and Mr. Wise Guy was revealed, I was pleased as punch. SOG had ran this film, I don’t know, a year or so prior, and I had regretted not capturing it then. I actually liked the movie!

And I wasn’t the only one; SOG himself mentions that he likes it as well during his intro. How often did (does) that happen?!

The reason I initially liked this film so much largely had to do with what it represented: A trip back to a more innocent time in cinema. This is pure, early-1940s matinee entertainment. It’s an East Side Kids (you know, the Bowery Boys, except not) film, so there’s some light hooliganism about, but even with that, an escaped convict, a murder, a death-row sentence, and a real-life war going on, it’s all so light and breezy that it never seems too heavy. I’m hesitant to ascribe the term “innocence” to a film that contains all that, but like I said, this is matinee entertainment; it’s not exactly a weighty, socially-conscious drama.

The idea of an East Side Kids film showing up on a horror hosted program may seem odd, but as SOG states during his intro, Ghoulardi himself used to run these (and fittingly, on Saturdays!). If these were good enough for Ghoulardi, they should be good enough for any other host, too. And somehow, to me they seem to ‘fit’ just fine. Maybe that’s because I grew up with SOG showing them occasionally (still does, in fact), but looked at objectively, they still work. It’s not like a b-western, which unless it shared some horror influence or other odd quirk (Terror of Tiny Town, anyone?), just wouldn’t seem to fit. Look, I can’t really adequately explain why it works so well, it just does.

And, in a trend that continues to this day, SOG doesn’t tamper with these kinds of films; no drop-ins, no sound effects. Just the movie straight. Evidently he has some real appreciation for these flicks, and we’re all the better for it. Even when missing those elements so well-known to SOG fans, it flows perfectly.

The title of the film comes from a moniker given to (and approved by) Leo Gorcey’s character “Muggs” McGinnis (first name: Ethelbert), who is deemed so several times throughout the picture.

The simple synopsis of the plot: The East Side Kids are sent to reform school. There’s a bit more to it than that, though. Unjustly accused of stealing a truck (a truck that, unbeknownst to them, houses an escaped convict), they’re sent to a reformatory run by a kind warden, a cruel guard, and a couple of troublesome inmates that are secretly in cahoots with aforementioned cruel guard. Also on the docket: Bill Collins, older brother of cast member Bobby Jordan’s Danny Collins, is accused of murder and sentenced to death row. Eventually these plotlines unbelievably though perhaps predictably, collide. And since this is from 1942, it all ends on a relatively happy note. ‘Cept for the dude who died, anyway.

Needless to say, much of this is played for laughs. Even while incarcerated, Gorcey’s gang never seems too concerned with their situation. Even as Danny frets over his brother’s predicament back in the real world, the other guys just sort of blow it off – which admittedly does play out a little strange. I can’t imagine that being realistic even back in ’42.

Still, as a whole, the movie is entertaining. Indeed, I wasn’t sure if I’d still get a kick out of it when I sat down to convert my VHS to DVD for this review, but it greatly held my attention throughout. I was even genuinely amused by certain moments, which can’t always be said of semi-comedies of this vintage.

Look, the movie is in the public domain, so don’t just take my word for it; check it out for yourself. Since SOG didn’t add any sound effects, you’ll see it (almost) as it aired here!

(Fun Fact: Some years ago at a thrift store, I stumbled upon a 3-VHS boxset of East Side Kids films. Included were both of their Bela Lugosi collaborations, Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, as well as the title that really spurred the eventual purchase: Mr. Wise Guy. I never watched any of them, don’t think I even played any of the tapes, and subsequently the set became buried in my mound of crap videos. It should still be around here, somewhere, which is good, because unknown to me at the time was that the company who put it out, Passport Productions, was spawned from the ashes of Amvest Video, who we’ve seen here before. Cool winnins!)

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have much to do with plot, but rather stereotypes that were prevalent at the time. Ernest Morrison, often known as “Sunshine Sammy,” is the victim of some unfortunate racial jokes, as his character “Scruno” is the outlet for some now-wildly-inappropriate stereotyping. Look, I don’t claim to be a super-PC-advocate, but man, even I was uncomfortable with some of the gags at his expense.

That said, I am an advocate of not editing things of this nature to reflect current social attitudes. Yes, some of the jokes have aged terribly, but they reflect the time in which the film was made; you can’t rewrite history, only learn from it. And besides, the jokes are incredibly dated, but never really mean-spirited, if that counts for anything.

And with all that said, we now come to the rest of the show…

The first skit proper is actually an old bit from the WOAC TV-67 days, and I love it because it perfectly sums up SOG’s sense of humor, which very often syncs up with mine.

In a parody of the whole “carrying the Olympic torch” thing, here SOG dutifully marches with a plunger triumphantly raised, only to enter the studio bathroom and begin plunging! That’s all there is to it, and it’s great!

Truth be told, SOG doesn’t feature heavily heavily into this episode. I mean, he does, he shows up after each commercial-break, but it’s not new bit after new bit after new bit. His hosting duties, while prominent, maybe aren’t quite as prominent as they usually were, and I think that has much to do with this spot right here.

In a segment that takes up a healthy chunk of running time, SOG and guest Carl Thompson speak extensively on the Frightvision convention, coming later that month. Yes, Frightivision, the SOG-hosted horror convention; we’ve talked about it before! Here, SOG and Thompson thoroughly go over the list of guests and events coming to the show, and it goes on for around 8 minutes, which is pretty much a lifetime in horror-show-time.

That’s not a complaint on my part, though; I could not be happier this segment is present! I talked more extensively on the convention in the piece I just linked to (another SOG episode, Plan 9 From Outer Space, which aired later that same month), but Frightvision was a BIG deal. It was also my very first horror convention of any kind. Long story short: I positively loved it. I got to meet Ben “Gill Man” Chapman, Mark “Lost in Space Guy” Goddard, SOG’s own Fidge (who was great), saw Tom Savini (but didn’t meet him until the following year), and came home with some very cool loot (including a vintage SOG TV-67 promo card, which I still have to this day). All of the fanaticism that manifests itself in me for each and every Ghoulardifest began at the very first Frightvision, and for that I hold the fondest of memories.

So yes, seeing the segment that so aptly demonstrates the swirling hype surrounding Frightvision in the weeks leading up to it, that’s the sort of thing that can take me directly back in time. And movie aside, to me this is the defining moment of this particular episode.

An email segment. More (!) information on Frightvision is presented, and a spider glove that apparently belonged to Fidge is shown. Unless y’all want me to go email by email, there’s not much more I can say about it.

I would love to show the old school, wildly obsolete SOG email address, back when having an email address was still semi-innovative, but in the interest of avoiding confusion, I’ll refrain.

In the second mail segment, the reading of letters devolves into a long, drawn out explosion of fake fart noises, which has SOG and his crew dying with laughter. SOG: “Can you tell we’re so easily amused here?” Like the toilet torch earlier in the show, it’s a juvenile, and therefore riotous, moment. This is the stuff that helped cement my sense of humor, gang. You want someone to blame? Blame SOG.

Because my wi-fi is in a seemingly-perpetual state of precariousness, there were two other bits amidst all this insanity that I’m choosing to skip. One, a “Captain Kanga-Ghoul,” and the other, an on-location interview at a liquor store that happened to be one of Frightvision’s sponsors, were fun, sorta-filler bits, but frankly, I don’t have all that much to say about them. Also, I’d like to punch my wi-fi in the face.

Also, here is the point where I’d usually look at interesting (or so I think) commercials that aired during an original broadcast. I’m going to skip that feature this time around. Why? Because basically all of the ones I would have chosen were already covered in that previously-linked Plan 9 From Outer Space SOG episode recap. And the other, a goofy homegrown promo for a showing of Reefer Madness, was briefly looked at in the The Cat article I linked to way at the start of this post. I love it when I do my own work for me!

It all works out though, because I can end this article in accordance with the way this show itself ends: As the outro opens, SOG is seen jokingly patting his phony beard back into place, along with a “We’re not done yet!”

But, it’s what he says right after that that sums up not only the conclusion to this particular episode, but also the continuing 31 year odyssey his show has been on: “They say you’re not done till the show’s over! Or until you’re out of toilet paper; then you’re done!” I think I can speak on the behalf of SOG’s many fans when I say I hope SOG never runs out of toilet paper.

Boy, that sounded so much more philosophical in my head.

Happy 31st anniversary, Son of Ghoul!

(PS – I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my legendary, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, trendsetting interview with the man himself!)

(PPS – They may not have been able to repeat this year, but man, I still love the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll stick with you guys win or lose! Just thought I should mention that somewhere, since the loss is naturally still on the mind of so many Northeast Ohioans right now.)