Tag Archives: rtv

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!)

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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.)

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Retro TV Debut This Past Weekend (Also: The Musings Of A Lifelong MSTie On His Early Fandom.)

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*Standby for shameless gushing.*

This past weekend, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its Retro TV debut. I don’t want to say that all is now right with the world, but there’s little doubt that it’s just a little bit better place to live nevertheless.

I talked about this right after the announcement that MST3K reruns would be returning to TV via the Retro TV network, which in Northeast Ohio, is WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (the station formerly known as “The Cat.”) I’ve been counting the days (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) to July 5, and now that the “big event” (as I have deemed it) has occurred, well, I’m ecstatic. Lemme ‘splain a bit…

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Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show with the robots and the theater seats and the so much ripping on the bad movies. I could go into more specific details, but for the sake of whatever, let’s condense the summation to this: A guy and his two robots are stuck in outer space and forced to watch terrible movies as part of a mind-monitoring experiment, ostensibly in the hopes of ultimately ruling the world with “the worst movie ever made.”  Their only defense? Mocking (or “riffing”) the movies mercilessly.

Of all the shows I love or have loved, of all the shows I am or was an admitted fanatic of, in my own bizarre little world of personal mythologies, MST3K is and always be the “big one.” So much of what makes me, well, me started with MST3K. If I’m being honest with myself, perhaps not so much my initial fascination with movies or my need to continuously collect more of them; that had begun about a year before I discovered MST3K. But, there is little doubt that MST3K launched that fascination into the stratosphere (figuratively speaking, I mean; using the term in a literal sense would probably mean death or at least serious maiming on my part). After MST3K had the hooks in me, I was never the same.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 first started at a local TV station in Minneapolis in 1988, went national in 1989 on what would eventually become Comedy Central, and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1997, which is where I, at 10/11 years old, came in. Since I had a growing interest in old horror and sci-fi films already, it stands to reason that I was far more familiar with the Sci-Fi Channel than I was Comedy Central. When the initial promos proclaiming the series was moving to the channel began airing, I was already tuned into Sci-Fi. Indeed, prior to those advertisements, I was wholly unfamiliar with MST3K. I may have passed it while channel surfing, but that would have been the extent of my familiarity with the show.

An added bonus following my discovery of MST3K was that I began actively searching out the oddball titles, the weird, forgotten flicks, even films that evoked a certain time period I wasn’t around for (I’m looking at you, downbeat 1970’s movies! Relay my well-wishes to Keenan Wynn!) BUT, that was just a side-effect of MST3K fandom. The real benefit of becoming a fan was that it absolutely introduced me to a world of sharper, funnier comedy. It became (and remains) my first, biggest, and longest-lasting TV obsession.

Readers of this sad blog will no doubt have seen my numerous long, blabbering soliloquies of love posts regarding our Northeast Ohio movie hosts: Ghoulardi, Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John, The Ghoul, Son Of Ghoul, Superhost, and so on and so on. The fact of the matter is that my love of them initially began with MST3K, which as previously mentioned isn’t even a local product. I remember Superhost from his waning days on WUAB TV-43, I had caught Big Chuck & Lil’ John a few times before & during 1997 (and I certainly knew them as local personalities from all their local endorsements and whatnot) and I was probably vaguely aware of Ghoulardi, But MST3K was really the genesis of my whole movie-hosting fascination (even if I don’t necessarily consider MST3K quite the same thing, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why exactly I don’t.) After MST3K, there was a new appreciation for this sort of thing, which in turn lead to fandom for, respectively, Son Of Ghoul and The Ghoul, which continues to this day (and at points has reached the same fevered heights.)

Unlike some, I didn’t quite get hooked on MST3K right away; rather, it was kind of slow burn, a gradually building fandom. Initially, I was more interested in the movies, and the running commentary courtesy of the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen was an amusing bonus. But, the more I watched the show, the more I found myself digging it for more than just the featured movie of a given episode, though in all honesty the movie still did, and does, have a lot to do with how a particular episode “strikes” me (again, figuratively speaking. I’d hate to think of an episode physically punching me in the face!) The first half of the initial Sci-Fi season (in actuality the show’s 8th season on national TV, though finer points such as that were unbeknownst to me at the time) featured black & white films from the Universal library. That was the “slow burn” period of my fandom. Some of the movies I liked (The Deadly Mantis), others left me kinda cold (The Undead).

It wasn’t until the spring/summer of 1997 that things hit the fan for me (figuratively I mean, because…aw forget it, I’m tired of that gag.) It began with the May 31st airing of The Giant Spider Invasion, which I tuned into due to my burgeoning but not-quite-solidified fanaticism. After the initial shock of discovering that they were even allowed to run color movies wore off (remember, I was 11 years old, I had no real prior knowledge of the series, and in general never really knew what the hell I was talking about anyway,) things clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I finally, completely “got it.”

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The next week, MST3K was absolutely appointment television for me. The movie was Parts; The Clonus Horror, and the fire from the previous week turned into a full-out inferno. There was no turning back now. I was hooked, absolutely, and I’ve remained hooked ever since. Was it The Giant Spider Invasion episode or the Parts: The Clonus Horror episode that’s really responsible for turning me into a full-blown MSTie? It could go either way, and I tend to go back and forth. Spider was first, but Clonus had the bigger effect and is the episode that I hold more memories for and really feels more like the first. Plus, I think Parts: The Clonus Horror is a genuinely interesting, though not without faults, film. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.

All throughout the rest of summer 1997, I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 every chance I got, but alas, my ability to actually view the show was temporarily halted. At the time, the Sci-Fi Channel was a premium cable channel. I guess “premium” is the right term for it. You needed the cable box to pick the channel up, anyway. At the end of summer ’97, Dad decided he no longer wanted to pay for said cable box, and considering I was only 11 years old, had little say in the matter. So, out went the cable box, and with it, access to my favorite show. I had a few episodes recorded, I was able to get a far-away Aunt with Sci-Fi-access to tape a few more for me, and several episodes had been released on VHS by Rhino by that point, so I wasn’t completely Bot-deprived, but nevertheless, I had no *ordinary* access to my show, and this, needless to say, troubled me greatly.

Over the next several years, more and more episodes were made available on VHS and later DVD, I discovered the numerous tape-trading sites out in internet land, and even Sci-Fi joined the basic cable line-up, which allowed me to walk over to a much-nearer Aunt’s house to record episodes on Saturday mornings, something I took advantage of until January 31st 2004, when the final MST3K (The Screaming Skull) aired on Sci-Fi and thus TV in general…until now.

So, maybe now you’ve got some understanding as to why I treated the show’s Retro TV debut to something akin to the Super Bowl. I’m sure many people, fellow MSTies included, probably saw it as something neat but not necessary. Not me, though. It wasn’t for lack of MST3K, either; I’ve got a lot of episodes, and I think the majority of the series has been officially released on DVD by this point. Unlike 1997 me, I really have no shortage of the show.

No, my excitement stems from the fact that, frankly, I think a show as great as Mystery Science Theater 3000 needs to be on ‘real’ TV. Pristine DVD copies are terrific, of course, but there’s just something about knowing it’s out there, being broadcast over the airwaves. Furthermore, as mentioned waaaay at the top of this post, our Retro TV affiliate is WAOH/WAX. This is the same station that Son Of Ghoul airs on! After my ability to watch MST3K ended with the summer of ’97, I desperately searched for something like it to fill the void, which eventually lead to my discovering Son Of Ghoul. It wasn’t a “well, I guess it’s good enough” replacement either; SOG provided a somewhat different but nevertheless intensely fanatical, erm, fandom in me that continues to this day. Both shows airing on the same station is something I could have only dreamt of so many years ago, and the fact that it is now happening is, I don’t know, poetic justice? That doesn’t apply here at all, does it? It’s fitting to me, is what I’m tryin’ to say.

Plus, I haven’t been able to watch MST3K over the air in “real time” since 1-31-2004, and not in my own home since that summer of 1997. So, that’s nice.

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Following the initial announcement, my fervor was further stoked with a “coming soon” promo on Retro TV, which began airing soon after. It kept me more excited than any 10-second promo that consisted of a more-or-less static image and some sound bytes has a right to. More importantly, the fact it was airing several months in advance showed (to me, at least) that Retro TV was going to go the extra mile for the show. The commercial for Rifftrax’s live Sharknado only bolstered that feeling; if it weren’t for MST3K’s impending Retro TV arrival, I just couldn’t see that promo airing on the station otherwise.

Further proof that Retro TV was going to treat MST3K as something special was the later announcement that it would be airing twice on the weekends: Saturday at 8 PM EST, with an encore on Sundays at 5 PM EST.

This, however, presented a problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: Son Of Ghoul airs every Saturday from 7 PM to 9 PM. Usually, whatever was on Retro TV at 9 PM wouldn’t be preempted by local programming, so I figured we’d get at the very least one hour of MST3K before Off Beat Cinema at 10 PM. Prior to the 8 PM announcement, I had been presuming that MST3K wouldn’t be replacing the Saturday Off Beat Cinema, which in turn had replaced Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In (the normal Sunday Off Beat Cinema has continued before and since.)

Oddly enough, for as fanatic as I can be about this sort of thing, if the last hour of MST3K following SOG was all we Northeast Ohioans were going to get, I actually could have lived with that. I wouldn’t have preferred that situation, but some is better than none. And as it turned out, the un-preempted last hour after SOG is exactly what happened. Something about it just seemed so right for me: The show that MST3K lead me to, followed by the show that lead me to it…or something like that. It’s an entertaining three hours, is what I’m getting at.

Luckily, the Sunday 5 PM encore saved things for me, as that aired complete and uninterrupted. I was seriously concerned that infomercials would take MST3K’s place, but come Sunday, all was well.

The fact that MST3K was coming back to TV, even if only through reruns (running the gamut of the entire national run of the series, seasons 1-10,) was such a source of excitement for me that the actual episode that was premiering became sort of an afterthought…

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Retro TV kicked things off with the third episode of the first season, the 1942 PRC cheapie The Mad Monster. It’s a mega-low budget werewolf film, and needless to say, it ain’t very good (a bad movie on this show?! Go figure!) Here’s the deal with the first season: like any good show, there was a period of groove-finding. That is, it’s a hit-or-miss episode at best. I’m not a big fan of the first season anyway; I mean, sure, I generally like it, but after seeing the heights the show reached in the following seasons, it can be tough to go backwards. Add to that an installment of the Radar Men From The Moon serial they covered, which I’ve traditionally been pretty lukewarm at best on, and well, it’s a case where you’ve really got to look at the bigger picture.

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Keep in mind, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth; I understand Retro TV logically has to start at the beginning, and it’s probably better to get these weaker episodes out of the way first rather than throwing them in the middle of a run of strong episodes, and rest assured, the vast majority of the Retro TV line-up is downright killer (the list has been modified a bit since the initial announcement. You can read the current retro TV package courtesy of Satellite News here.)

It’s also easy to forget in this day and age of rampant DVD releases and/or otherwise easy access, that for years the season one episodes were scarce. At a certain point, as per request of The Brains (the affectionate MSTie name for the showrunners) the early episodes just weren’t shown on Comedy Central. Eventually some were ran again, but bottom line is that they were greatly downplayed in comparison to episodes from the rest of the series. SO, the fact that some of them (only two at the moment – The Corpse Vanishes is the next episode coming up before they head, briefly, into season two) are running at all, well, they still have that “hey these are kinda rare!” aura, even if they’re really not anymore. I wasn’t even watching the show during the Comedy Central days, and they still sort of feel that way to me.

My main concern here is that someone that has heard of MST3K and may be familiar with the Rifftrax/Cinematic Titanic projects will tune in, not be impressed, and come away thinking the show is wildly overrated. Give it a few weeks guys! Things get good with season two and great with season three on up! Don’t judge until you’ve seen Pod People!

To the episode’s credit, despite my general feelings toward the season (particularly the earlier half of the season,) I did find myself laughing or at least chuckling more than I expected to. I wouldn’t say any part of the episodes amounts to “home run” status, but if nothing else, it’s enjoyable.

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And there are a few nice bits, host segment-wise. The bit where Tom Servo hits on a food processor is particularly memorable, at least as far as the first season is concerned (it’s also a remake of a skit originally done at KTMA.) The show got much better in following seasons, but there are always moments, always the flashes of brilliance, that made MST3K so, erm, brilliant.

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From previous experience, I knew that our feed of Retro TV isn’t always the clearest. Not compared to the local broadcasting that airs on the channel, and certainly not compared to things broadcast on most other stations, and that holds true for MST3K in Northeast Ohio. It’s really my biggest and only actual complaint about being able to watch my favorite show on ‘real’ TV again. Even then, it’s a fairly minor quibble. That said, when I tuned in following SOG on Saturday night, initially I couldn’t tell if they were even playing MST3K. The quality was so dark (which wasn’t helped by the terrible print of the movie in the first place) that I wasn’t sure until I heard the riffs being thrown at the film. When things are light onscreen, it’s not so bad, but for large stretches of the episode, it was difficult, even impossible, to see the theater seats (see above.)

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Those were my observations at least, and mileage may vary in other markets or even elsewhere in Northeast Ohio. But, at the end of the day, none of that really changes the fact that it feels damn good to see images like the one above playing on my TV screen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on the air, where it should be. And for me, I can watch it on the same station as Son Of Ghoul. You have no idea how beyond cool I find that. Most of the episodes being broadcast feature movies in the public domain, so I hold no illusions of some of my all-time favorites such as Agent For H.A.R.M. or the aforementioned Parts: The Clonus Horror eventually showing up.

But that’s okay. I’ll watch this stuff endlessly no matter what they air, because I love the show just that much. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m not that far removed from my 11 year old self, watching the show all throughout that summer 17 years ago.

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Gee, that was a swell movie!” Wait, wrong show.

An Interview With Keven “Son Of Ghoul” Scarpino

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Having nearly 30 continuous years on the air under his belt, Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino is quite possibly the nation’s longest-running-without-a-break horror movie host, and for good reason: the man puts on a very funny, very entertaining show every week, bringing Northeast Ohioan’s (and now others!) the terrible sci-fi & horror movies and edgy attitude they’ve craved ever since Ghoulardi burst on the scene way back in 1963. From 1986 to 1995, Son Of Ghoul ran on WOAC TV-67, and when the station was sold, without missing a beat he jumped to WAOH TV-29 in Akron / WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, where he remains to this day. At one point, he even hosted a live local call-in game show, titled Son Of Ghoul’s House Of Fun And Games!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 may have introduced me to the movie-mocking world first, and I was casually familiar with Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time, but the guy more responsible than anyone else for introducing me not only to the legacy of our Northeast Ohio horror movie hosts but to horror movie hosts in general is without a doubt Son Of Ghoul. I discovered his show during a Halloween, 1997 broadcast of Night Of The Living Dead, and I became a huge fan instantly. That image above is all too familiar to me: Son Of Ghoul in the dungeon, introducing us to that week’s terrible movie, it’s something that kicked off countless weekends for me. And you know what? 16 years later, I’m still a huge fan. I still get a charge finding out what each episode’s terrible movie is going to be. A lot of local TV has come and gone over the years, but Son Of Ghoul is still on and plugging away, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

So, when I had the opportunity to interview the man himself, it was incredible to realize that I was conversing with the guy largely responsible for not only shaping my hobby, but even my sense of humor. I’ve met SOG many times over the years, and he’s never been anything but generous to his fans. It’s one thing I really admire about our local celebrities, the fact that I’ve never seen an air of superiority or “I’m doing you a favor by talking to you” attitude when you speak with them. I remember the first time I met SOG: It was shortly after discovering the show in ’97, and he was making an appearance at a local comic book store. I was clearly nervous talking to him (hey, I was 11 years old), but he was completely personable and friendly. Heck, he even checked out a comic book I was buying with me! There aren’t many celebrities, local or otherwise, that would go that extra mile for their fans.

So, all that said, without further ado here is my interview with Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino, horror movie host and badass extraordinaire.

*****

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Me: Thanks again for doing this!

Son Of Ghoul: Oh, no problem!

Me: I really appreciate it! It’s blowing my mind right now!

SOG: Don’t blow your mind out! You still gotta ask questions!

Me: Okay! Well, first off, 27 years as a horror host, continuous, is pretty impressive. I don’t think there’s too many that managed to hang in there that long without taking a break or anything.

SOG: Well, there were a lot of guys, plenty of ‘em, that started before me, such as Svengoolie from Chicago, I believe he started a few years before I did. But, I think he had a 10 year absence, he was gone from the air. Now, I believe I might be, now I’m not sure about this, but I might be the longest continuous-running costumed horror host in the country at this point.

Me: Yep, I think you’re right!

SOG: Now, [Big] Chuck’s been on definitely longer than me, but he doesn’t wear a costume. Or maybe that face of his is a costume, I don’t know! [Laughs]

Me: Yeah, I guess technically they were horror hosts [Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John], but they didn’t really do the scary thing. It’s a little bit different.

SOG: Yeah, they kinda moved into just regular movies hosts, and now, their show’s cut down to just skits, which is cool, I’m glad they’re still on. Very cool.

Me: But how’s that feel to basically be the longest one?

SOG: Well, you know, it’s cool. I’m pretty proud of it. You know, it’s no big deal, nobody really cares. [Laughs] It’s one of those non-celebrated factors. And here in Ohio, I think they have a Broadcaster’s Hall Of Fame, and I think one of the thing’s is you have to be on 20 years, 25 years something like that. They will NEVER recognize my existence in the Broadcasters Hall of Fame! Which, I think’s kinda funny, but that’s okay.

Me: Well, you never know.

SOG: No, I don’t believe that’ll ever happen! [Laughs] I think I’m well beyond qualifications! Maybe I just don’t look the part!

Me: Well, sort of going back, there’s a lot of guys that would be on and then sort of, you know, drop out for a few years, come back, drop out, that sort of thing, and you’ve just been going steadily the entire time. Was there ever a point, either at [WOAC] channel 67 or now on WAOH where you thought the show might end or they might cancel you, or…?

SOG: Well, I think that every day!

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: That’s true, I do think that every day. I do, at least. You never know. I’ve learned one thing: Nobody is, NOBODY is sacred to the screen. I feel very privileged to have been on this long. I know one day it’ll be over, I don’t know when that’ll be. One of the things everybody keeps on telling me when I go out doing appearances, they all say “Please don’t stop.” So, as long as I get a good timeslot, I guess I’ll stick around for awhile! I’m not really in a hurry to go anywhere any time soon.

Me: Well Saturday at 7’s not bad.

SOG: For the first 9 years I was on at a typical 11:30, 11 o’clock timeslot, and I didn’t know if it would work primetime. But, I found that I prefer to be on early. A lot of people my age can’t stay up that late anymore! [Laughs]

Son Of Ghoul during his 25th Anniversary show in the summer of 2011.

Son Of Ghoul during his 25th Anniversary show in the summer of 2011.

Me: I wish that WAOH, I still call it “The Cat”, I know it’s not technically The Cat anymore but I still call it that, I wish that they would still air you two nights in a row like they used to.

SOG: Well, everybody used to say “I watched it the first night and if I didn’t like it I’d think why catch the movie the next night?!” Well, it was fun being on two nights, and for awhile there I was on three days in a row.

Me: Oh yeah?

SOG: When I was doing the game show.

Me: Right, right.

SOG: We did a live game show Wednesday night, and Thursday they would show the movie show, and repeat it again of Friday. Now since they’ve hooked-up with RTV, now it’s Saturdays at 7, so you know that’s not too bad, that’s okay.

The quality is terrible, but this is and promo for Son Of Ghoul's run at WOAC TV-67. With him is "Zippy."

The quality is terrible, but this is a 1987 promo from Son Of Ghoul’s run at WOAC TV-67. With him is “Zippy.”

Me: Going back to the channel 67 stuff, I know a lot of guys even as late as the 1980’s, other horror hosts, the stations they were on would wipe their shows, record over them, things like that. Do you still have everything you did from both channels?

SOG: Yeah, I have all my shows.

Me: So there’s no worry about something ever becoming “lost”?

SOG: Well, yeah there is: Deterioration from poor storage. All of my shows were produced, back in those days, on U-Matic ¾” videotape, which was a giant cartridge with wider tape. That was 67’s major broadcast output, ¾” tape. All of my shows were produced on that. The trouble with those tapes is they don’t store very well over the years, and we’re talking now 27 years later of poor storage, and they’d really have to be in an air-controlled climate all year round. And, just like any videotape, if it sits on the shelf, it doesn’t move, it deteriorates. Tapes are meant to play. Everybody should fast forward their tapes  and rewind them every once in awhile if they want to keep them longer. The trouble is, some of the oxide has fallen off some of my early shows, like my 1st Christmas show, the New Years show, those are trashed, they won’t even play. You put the tapes in the player, it clogs the heads in about 30 seconds. So, I lost a number of shows through deterioration. I’m in the very, very slow process of transferring the old shows. The old shows, all I have is my segments, I don’t have the movies that go along with them because in those days we actually paid for movie packages and we only had so many runs on each title. That’s the way it worked back then. Unlike now, where I can dip into the public domain library, which is free gratis, and which is “What you see is what you get!” [Laughs]

Me: Were you allowed to do sound effects and things during the channel 67 shows?

SOG: Yeah, we did. And I actually did them live, as the movie was running over the air, for awhile. Then we had about 5 or 6 people that complained to the general manager of the station, who was kind of a panty-waist…

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: …So he stopped me from having sound effects because he didn’t want to have anybody complain. Then, it ended up to be that I’d be able to do it once in awhile, which, I didn’t care, because it was a lot less work for me. Back in those days of 67, I also worked a 40-hour week at the station doing other jobs.

Me: I’m surprised people would complain about it, because anyone watching you would know you were doing the Ghoulardi thing, Ernie Anderson used to do that.

SOG: Well, everybody had something to say about it. “Too much sound effects!” “Not enough sound effects!” “You ruin the movies!”. So, what I do is put sound effects in the movies we’ve seen a thousand times, most of the horror classics. If I run a comedy classic like the East Side Kids or even a thriller classic or suspense like Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone, I’ll leave those movies alone as-is, because I figure they’re pretty good.

Me: I think that’s great you do the East Side Kids, the Bowery Boys, because there’s really nowhere else to see them. I don’t think anyone plays them.

SOG: It’s funny, because people complain about that, “You’re running East Side Kids? I don’t even watch those!” and then other people tell me, just like you, they tell me they like the East Side Kids. So, I learned over 27 years that it’s impossible to please everybody, so what I ended up doing was doing what *I* wanted to do!

Me: [Laughs] That’s the way to do it!

SOG: It saves a lot of headache!

Son Of Ghoul in Stow's 1991 4th of July parade.

Son Of Ghoul in Stow’s 1991 4th of July parade.

Me: How about when you were working with The Cool Ghoul, George Cavender? What was that like?

SOG: When I came in, I was an outsider, George had his production crew in place, and he had his little clique of people that kinda hung around and he did his skits with them. I was an  outsider and kinda came in the side-door. And, slowly, kinda weaseled my way in. I can’t even say that I was part of the crew, I was in a way, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t an official crew member, but I would do different jobs. If one week the camera guy didn’t show, then I might be a camera guy. And another week I might be the hand coming out of the box, or just standing off to the side, or doing a bit part in a skit or something like that. And, then I landed a job at the station as a board-operator, and when Cavender quit, I just slid into place. The thing about having a horror movie package was that they obviously had an audience watching the show. And I went in the office, said “What are you gonna do?” And, a couple other people were up for the job, they inquired about it. This one comedy troupe, they wanted to do skits, and this one person who made a lot of costumes wanted to do some skits. Fortunately for me, I was already an employee at the station, so I kind of had the little bit of the edge on the rest of them as far as that goes. And, my general manager was a native Northeastern Ohioan who grew up and remembered the days of Ghoulardi and The Ghoul and Superhost. Chuck & John and Hoolihan and all that. He was way hip to it. So, that helped, too.

Me: That’s very cool. I mean, 27 years later, he made the right choice.

SOG: It’s a labor of love. And now, the show’s basically into reruns. I’ll shoot something new occasionally and put something new together. I’m not saying we’re as regular as we used to, but, we still do. I’m just keeping the show on the air, and now, I’m on in Lake Tahoe, and also on at The University Of Tennessee.

Me: Well, I think even if a lot of it’s old stuff, it’s still better than not being on at all.

SOG: For new eyes, you never know who’s watching it. People come up to me all the time and say “I’d seen this skit you did!” and I’ll say “Oh yeah, that’s an old skit” and they’ll say “Well I never seen that one before” so you never know who’s watching on what night. I mean, look, Chuck & John have been running these old skits for 50 years.

Me: Yep. And you’ve got such a wealth of material that you could probably do that for quite awhile and still not get to everything you have.

SOG: Oh yeah, there’s stuff I’ve probably never shown. Like I said, I’m slowly transferring the old 67 shows, and a lot of them didn’t have run sheets to them, or it was lost over the years, so I’m always finding new little things.

Me: Are you the only one that has any copies? Like those ones you said deteriorated, unless someone finds a VHS tape somewhere, that’s it, or…?

SOG: The early stuff, who knows who has that. I’ve had tapes sent to me over the years, people say to me “Hey, I bought one of your tapes at a convention!” and the quality looks like 120th generation, just really looked bad. I don’t know, as far as I know, I’m the only one that has the old stuff. Unless, like you people out there with a collection of old VHS, if you have any old stuff, come through! Let me know! I’ll take it!

Me: Between WOAC and WAOH, which one do you think has “run the smoothest”? Do you have any preferences? I’m sure there’s good and bad with both. Obvously with WAOH you’ve been on so long that something’s working.

SOG: WOAC was a whole different gig. We were an active TV station with a news department, a sports department. There were salesmen and secretaries and engineers on the ground. It was an everyday thing. All cable systems had saturation at the time. I don’t know, it just seemed like it was a little bit more busy, a bit more exciting. To me, at least. By the time I got to 29/35, I didn’t produce the show any longer, at 67 I produced the show on the property, in their studios, with their equipment. So, that was kinda cool too. Once I moved to 29, then I started producing the show away from the station in different production facilities. That alone was a major, major headache. I went from a manageable catastrophe to broken down equipment, to broken down cables, to moving a number of times. From having to buy all of the equipment myself to completely taking over the production myself. Which probably actually saved the show the last almost 15 years. I bought all the equipment and did everything myself. I still have a small crew, like I said, we’re not getting together like we used to. So basically, these movies, I do all of the sound effects, all the edits. Put the show together. It keeps me kinda busy!

Me: So it was much more expensive for you when you moved to WAOH? You had to take care of a lot of stuff that channel 67 provided?

SOG: Exactly. Everything that I thought was a hassle at channel 67, I wish I had that again, I didn’t know how good I had it till it was gone. There, if a camera broke down or someone snapped a microphone cord or something broke, you just wrote up a repair slip and the engineer fixed it the next day. And now, if I broke a mic cord, then I’d fix it myself, or go buy a new mic. If a tape machine goes down, you have to take it into a repair shop, which is $150 before the repairman turns the first screw. So, it was quite costly.

Me: Was it a shock when channel 67 closed down? What were they, sold to some infomercial thing in ‘95?

SOG: They were sold, they had always been for sale, they were sold to a commercial company and ended up, I think, selling out to a religion company.

Me: Was it surprising when it happened, or were you always kind of expecting it, or…?

SOG: The station was always for sale the whole time I worked there. We were told that the new owners were gonna dump a bunch of money into it and everybody’s jobs were gonna be secure. And it was absolutely the opposite of that. They came in one day and fired the entire station, except for the board operators and a few people in the offices! I had a contract that stated that I had three weeks in writing, and they said “Okay, you got three weeks.” So, in those three weeks, I made the deal with 29, and so I made the transition without missing a week.

Me: So you were never actually off-the-air.

SOG: No, I did that last show on channel 67 on a Saturday, and then the following Friday night, I was on at 29.

Son Of Ghoul with sidekick Fidge during a promo

Son Of Ghoul with sidekick Ron “Fidge” Huffman during a promo.

Me: Of your 27 years, what would say was the roughest time period?

SOG: A couple different things. That was definitely rough, that was real rough. When that transition took place, I felt that the production quality of the show was just horrible. The cameras were not even a step above home equipment. Yeah, that was tough, that was real tough. And of course when Fidge passed away.

Me: That was ridiculously surprising.

SOG: The people he was with didn’t look after him real well that night I suspect, so, what can I tell you.

Me: I met him at a Frightvision once, and he was just the nicest guy, he was such a cool guy. I got his autograph and everything And then, just a couple years later, he passed, and I just could not believe it. It just came out of nowhere.

SOG: Yeah, it was a tough transition. But, personally, I went 9 ½ years without him, and I had to become the buffoon again. Now the joke’s on me! [Laughs]

Me: How about Zippy? What happened to Zippy?

SOG: Zippy was a guy that worked at channel 67 and had that mask. He was really tall and when he put that mask on he looked crazy. His name was Terry Zimmerman, and now he lives in Oregon, I think Portland. He was a board operator for awhile and an old friend of mine actually. For a couple years there, he’d put on that Zippy mask once in awhile and did a number of stunts on the show, which was always kinda cool, it’s always fun to see those old bits.

Me: The first time I saw Zippy, it kinda weirded me out. I mean, that’s a crazy mask.

SOG: I don’t know where he got it, and I don’t know if he even has it anymore. I don’t know if it got lost, or actually, it was just real thin rubber, so it might have just kinda disintegrated. Not sure.

Son Of Ghoul and Fidge during a promo for the game show.

Son Of Ghoul and Fidge during a promo for the game show.

Me: What did you think about doing that game show? Was it your idea? Did the station manager’s bring it up?

SOG: The game show came about because at the time Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was the hot new game show and the whole country was crazy about game shows. And [station managers] the Klauses’ thought “Hey, let’s get on the bandwagon” so that was their idea to do the game show. We tried three trial nights of it, and on the 3rd night, I just took Fidge with me just for the heck of it, and everybody liked me beating him up! So, he became the score keeper.

Me: Would you do the live call-in game show again?

SOG: Yeah, it was fun. But, it was fun until they put a time delay on the game. All of a sudden, Janet Jackson exposed herself on national television, and the whole country was now freaked out and afraid to do anything that crossed the line. They even gave me a bunch of rules, “Don’t do this anymore, don’t say that anymore.” And, I just sort of ignored all of them…

Me: [Laughs] Did anything ever happen before the delay came in, where someone said something on the air?

SOG: Oh absolutely! People would curse and stuff all the time, and all I could do was just, I’d just look at the camera and cut everybody off. I’d have to hang up on everybody! Sometimes it would be right down to the last minute of the game and people who actually played the game, did it correctly, they’d get cut off and lost being a winner because somebody would say something foul. We’d go to commercial and just die laughing! Once the delay happened it just took away the spontaneity of the game, because the people that were on, it was no longer fun for them at all. If you’ve ever called a radio show and you have to turn down your radio and all that, it just wasn’t fun for the people at home, I think.

Me: What was the reason for the game show ending? Budgetary reasons?

SOG: The reason was the station took a big hit and lost some money, and they just couldn’t afford to produce it anymore, to pay camera people to come in. They lost a few of their big informercial buyers who bought from them on a yearly basis. And they also lost some overnight home shopping that went on off a satellite, and those big buyers didn’t re-up. That was a big revenue loss for them, and at that point, they just pulled the plug. And in reality, the game show wasn’t pulling in money, we weren’t sold-out, we didn’t have sponsors for it. So that’s really the reason they cancelled that.

Me: It’s probably pretty hard to do pretty much anything without sponsors. That’s pretty much what drives the whole thing.

SOG: Yeah, and I always had to go out and be the salesman, be the sales guy, on-air talent, get all that stuff together at the same, and it was tough, really tough.

Me: When the channel switched over to an RTV affiliate in the summer of 2009, what were your thoughts on that? Were you ever worried about that? A lot of the local shows The Cat had on didn’t make the switch. I think it was basically you, Handy Randy and Steve French. Were you ever worried about not making the switch?

SOG: I didn’t even know they were gonna do it until they already did it. Like I say, every week I expect to hear a phone call, “Well thanks a lot, it’s been a nice long time.” But, I don’t know what’s next around the corner. Nobody’s sacred to the screen. Nobody.

Son Of Ghoul "dropping in" during a movie.

Son Of Ghoul “dropping in” during a movie.

Me: You were mentioning how you like to switch back-and-forth between old horror & sci-fi films and East Side Kids & Sherlock Holmes, which I think is great. I know a lot of horror hosts, they really only have access to the public domain stuff, and they sort of stick to the same couple of horror & sci-fi films. You’ve kinda realized that you don’t have to do just that.

SOG: Well, it’s my show. For me being a horror host, I’m pretty non-scary. I mean, I’ve got skulls laying around and stuff, but I really don’t go for the Dracula-type. My whole thing was always comedy. I was a big fan of The Stooges, Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers and all that. So, I just throw on what I like. Like I said, I do what I wanna do! It’s my show!

Me: Isn’t that basically what Ernie Anderson did? I mean, he had ‘the look‘, but he was basically just going out there and doing whatever he wanted.

SOG: He wasn’t a very scary guy. He didn’t come off like a, a lot of these horror hosts try to be a Dracula-character or whatever, and I just didn’t find that to be believable.

Me: I know you’ve got a lot of movies from different genres, what is your favorite to show?

SOG: I don’t know, something like, there’s so many of them, like House On Haunted Hill, that’s pretty classic. I like doing Plan 9, that’s always funny. Some of those classics are really good. I really don’t have a favorite. My favorite’s the Universal classics that Svengoolie shows. I wish I could show Bride Of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and stuff like that. I’d love to be able to show that. If I had that package, I wouldn’t put sound effects in those classics.

Me: So those would probably be your “most wanted” ones to show, if you could?

SOG: Oh sure! I think every horror host dreams of showing those classics. You get these new guys, they show these new movies with a bunch of gore, blood & guts, and it’s just a little bit over the edge, they don’t leave anything to the imagination.

Son Of Ghoul with a custom album cover, sent in by yours truly!

Son Of Ghoul with a custom album cover, sent in by yours truly!

Me: After 27 years, what is your biggest thrill as a host? Is there a particular moment that stands out?

SOG: Wow. Different things at different times. It was a great honor to be a co-host of the Jerry Lewis telethon back in the say, for 9 years I was a local co-host, that was an honor. It was an honor to do interviews and get backstage to meet people like Paul McCartney and Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was a big honor over the years. I was really knocked out to be able to do that. And it was an honor to be featured in a Hollywood movie, it was honor to be flown out to the West Coast to do appearances. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs, it’s been one big roller coaster ride. “Big tall ups, big bad downs!” A lot of big ups, a lot of big downs.

Me: Now, after all that, all the things you’ve done, I know there’s the Ghoulardi book, Big Chuck has done a book, would you ever do a book?

SOG: I don’t think anybody would be interested!

Me: [Laughs] I would read a Son Of Ghoul book!

SOG: I’d sell one! I’d sell about one, you’d be the only one to get it!

Me: [Laughs] You think?

SOG: I don’t know, I’ve toyed with idea, I thought about it, and I don’t know. The stories I’d like to put in the book, I couldn’t tell, because I’d get too many people in trouble!

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: Those are all the good stories!

Me: So you’d have to sanitize it a bit?

SOG: Oh, that would be no fun! I’m not candy-assing the book if I do one! I mean, if I put this out, people’d be getting divorced, all kinds of trouble!

Me: [Laughs] But you know what, I think there’d be a market for it! I’ve seen the people at Ghoulardifest! You sell some stuff at Ghoulardifest!

SOG: You know what? I’ve never seen a larger gathering of homeless people in all my life!

A promo featuring Son Of Ghoul's channel & current timeslot in Northeast Ohio.

A promo featuring Son Of Ghoul’s channel & current timeslot in Northeast Ohio.

Me: [Laughs] Alright, where to see your show. Some of the people reading this, I know they’re not from around here.

SOG: Channel 29/35 in Northeastern Ohio, and then you can see it on TNTV, Lake Tahoe, California, and they stream on the internet if you’ve got Firefox. I don’t know what they’re doing out there, you can get it over the internet.

Me: But it’s an actual channel out there besides the internet thing?

SOG: Yeah, it’s an actual channel and they also stream over the internet. That’s one of the reasons I did it, kind of like a webcast. If you’ve got Firefox, you can get that over the internet every week for free. And they show, also, my cartoon show. I produced 14 hours of me hosting classic old cartoons. Also, if you’re down along the University Of Tennessee, you can us on a volunteer channel down there, it’s an on-campus, closed-circuit TV channel, Plus, I believe, it’s on the cable system that surrounds the University. So, Tennessee, Lake Tahoe, and here in Northeastern Ohio!

 

Son Of Ghoul with a "custom bar sign," sent in by yours truly!

Son Of Ghoul with a “custom bar sign,” sent in by yours truly!

Me: Alright, one more: After 27 years, is there anyone you would like to work with again? Whether it was a celebrity or a special crew member? Is there anyone you got along so well with you’d like to get in touch with them again?

SOG: I’m pretty much in touch with practically everybody I’ve worked with. There was a director in the early days, his name was John Case. If I had to work with somebody, I’d work with John Case, because he was probably the single most talented person that ever worked on the show.

Me: That is very cool! That is great! I can’t thank you enough for talking with me. My mind is blown!

SOG: [Singing] My mind is blown!

Me: [Laughs] This is just terrific, I can’t thank you enough for talking to me!

SOG: Anytime!

*****

How do you describe a conversation with a guy you’re a huge, huge fan of? I think “awesome” works pretty well. During the entire (roughly 49 minute) interview, SOG was never anything but completely friendly and generous with his answers. And what an absolute wealth of information! I don’t know gang, I don’t think it gets much cooler than this!

Once again I’d like to extend my thanks to Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino for his generosity in granting me this interview and his time. The man is a legit badass.

Your NEO Video Hunter with the man himself at Ghoulardifest 2011. Sorry the picture's a little blurry, blame my brother's camera.

Your NEO Video Hunter with the man himself at Ghoulardifest 2011. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry, blame my brother’s camera.