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.)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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…
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.
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.)
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:
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!)