Tag Archives: wclq

A Ghoul Power Journey, 20 Years On…

APRIL 2, 2019 EDIT: It is with a heavy heart that I must report Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed passed away last night, following a massive heart attack he suffered several months ago. Let this article be an enduring tribute to the man that shaped so much of my sense of humor and outlook on life. I could never thank him enough for the many nights he kept me company, even if it was just from the television screen. RIP, Ron; your Ten Star Ghoul Power Generals will never forget you.

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

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

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

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

Backstory:

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

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

That was all before my time, however.

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

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

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

The Discovery:

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

The fateful newspaper article that led me to Ghoul Power…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fandom:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Froggy being bombarded with some “raven residue.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghoul with Gamera, on two separate occasions…

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

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

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

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

This particular life goal? ACHIEVED.

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

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

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

The Ghoul happily obliged, and in spectacular fashion.

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

Lotsa Time Slots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghoul on his “Breakfast Club” set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghoul in a local Norton Furniture ad.

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

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

The Movies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Appearances:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[EDIT: This appearance was apparently in the fall of 1999, not 2000, which means I couldn’t have asked him about the Sunday move, as it hadn’t happened yet. I definitely did ask him about it once, and I sure *remember* it as being inside High Point, but unless it was at the appearance you’ll read about after this one, there was another time I met The Ghoul that is otherwise totally slipping my mind.]

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

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

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

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

The Ghoul promoting Frightvision 2001 on his show.

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

Speaking of cool winnins…

Memorabilia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really wish they still made this stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hiya gang! Hiya hiya hiya!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghoul’s WBNX TV-55 Debut 15 Years Ago Today.

I haven’t talked a whole lot about The Ghoul up to this point, mainly because I’ve been waiting for this July 10th anniversary of his 1998 debut on WBNX TV-55. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years already; it really does seem like just yesterday The Ghoul ruled my Friday nights. The Ghoul had been on and off Cleveland TV since 1971, when he debuted on WKBF TV-61. He had last been on TV in our area in 1985, when he ended a three year run on WKBF’s successor, WCLQ TV-61 (he was also pretty popular in Detroit). As of today, his WBNX run has thus far been his latest on Northeast Ohio TV (ending in, I believe, 2003). While WBNX later messed with his timeslot, movie selections, and what he could and couldn’t do on-the-air, for his first two years on Friday nights at 11:30 PM, he was the best thing on. I suppose it’s a good thing I hadn’t yet discovered David Letterman and was at the time only a very casual fan of Big Chuck & Lil’ John, because then I would have had some serious viewing conflicts (ah, the days before DVR). Something tells me The Ghoul would have won out anyway.

Truth be told, in those pre-internet days, and me being only 12 years old, I didn’t really know about The Ghoul beforehand. I was vaguely aware of Ghoulardi, though he was obviously waaaay before my time, and I had become a fan of Son Of Ghoul that previous Halloween, but I had always assumed Son Of Ghoul was short for “Son Of Ghoulardi”. It wasn’t until my aunt gave me a newspaper clipping  announcing The Ghoul’s return that I was able to piece it all together (I’ve still got that clipping, which The Ghoul himself later autographed for me). For the record, there were some legal problems between The Ghoul and Son Of Ghoul in the late-80’s, and they’re apparently not exactly friends nowadays, but to the best of my recollection, I had no real knowledge of all that until much later on. For some it may be a one-or-the-other deal, but I grew up as a fan of both, I’m still a fan of both, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

It all started with this promo, which ran in the, I guess, weeks prior to that July 10 debut. I recall seeing it at least once, but this particular copy comes from that July 10 night, when it aired during the last commercial break of whatever was on before The Ghoul started at 11:30 PM. Good thing I usually started recording several minutes before the scheduled start time of whatever it was I was taping. Actually, WBNX was pretty good at usually running one last Ghoul promo during the last commercial break of shows that were on before, and as a result I’ve got a lot of Ghoul promos.

wbnx wbnx1

Most Ghoul promos followed a set pattern of The Ghoul on his set, acting wacky and giving the title of that week’s movie. I mean, what else could they really be? For his debut, however, the promo has The Ghoul bouncing down the the street while his voiceover gives us the lowdown. In classic Ghoul Power style, The Ghoul lets us know that he’s arriving at WBNX on July 10th, and that our Friday nights will never be the same. Boy, was he right about that.

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Interestingly, the first movie is never mentioned. Maybe that’s appropriate since the promo’s more about letting us know “The Ghoul is here!” rather than that week’s feature. It’s kinda fitting because The Ghoul would pack so much into his show (especially that first year to year and a half, when it ran 2 1/2 hours) that the movie was almost an afterthought. It was usually cut to ribbons so that The Ghoul could fit all of his bits in, so much so that following the plot was more or less impossible. And you know what? it didn’t matter, because the show was a blast.

Anyway, the promo doesn’t mention it, but that first movie was Ghost In The Machine, which always seemed like such an odd choice to me. I mean, yeah, it was a bad horror film, but it never seemed like a fitting “first show” kinda film. It was very emblematic of the kind of film WBNX showed regularly back then, however, so I guess that’s why it was chosen. The next week, the film was Up From The Depths, a waaay better choice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a promo for that one.

So, there’s my little tribute to The Ghoul on this 15th anniversary of his WBNX debut. I’ve still got many, many episodes recorded, and they’re some of my most treasured recordings. Obviously, I’ll always be a big fan. It goes without saying I’m a “Ten Star General In The Ghoul Power Army!”

WAOH TV-29 in Akron / WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (“The Cat”) stuff.

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[UPDATE: This article has turned out to be one of the most popular on this site. As such, I feel it’s worth mentioning that WAOH TV-29 ended its life on October 25, 2017. So, as ’17 drew to a close, I felt the need to not only recognize once again the station that was so, so important to me over the years, but to also take an updated and expanded – not to mention better written – overall look at it. You can see that article right here, and believe me, I think it’s FAR superior to the early effort you’re currently looking at.]

In the late-90’s and early-2000’s, one of the most important channels for me was WAOH TV-29 in Akron / WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, better known as “The Cat” (Cleveland-Akron Television, dig?). Both 29 and 35 were the exact same channel, so I’ll simply identify it as The Cat or WAOH. There’s surprisingly little info about the station on the internet, and someone I was talking to once exhibited some interest at the fact I had recorded a number of programs off the station (believe me when I say I taped a lot of stuff).

What made the channel so special to me was the sheer number of ancient movies, old TV shows and local content they played. Granted, the majority of the movies and TV shows weren’t actually owned by WAOH, but was rather syndicated content from the America One Network, but the fact remains that The Cat ran things you weren’t going to find on ANY other channel. And all of the local programming (which naturally had nothing to do with America One) gave The Cat a terrific Northeast Ohio flavor.

Furthermore, despite the A1 affiliation, this was really an honest-to-goodness independent station, something that (unknown to me at the time) was becoming increasingly rare around the U.S., and while there were still some old and/or local programming on other channels (for example, WJW had Big Chuck & Lil’ John, and WBNX brought The Ghoul back in 1998), none reveled in it like WAOH.

I discovered the station in the summer of 1997. It was nothing earth-shaking, I was just flipping channels, when I came across an airing of a hugely battered old print of the original 1930 version of The Blue Angel. No one else was running things like that, not on local TV at least, and from then on, I was hooked.

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Of course, probably the most popular show then (and now) , and certainly my favorite on the channel, was The Son Of Ghoul Show. Like Ghoulardi and The Ghoul before him, Son Of Ghoul ran old movies, inserted humorous sound effects/drop-ins, performed comedy skits, and read viewer mail. As I’ve mentioned before, SOG started on WOAC TV-67 in 1986, and in 1995 he moved to The Cat.

Those screencaps above are from my two earliest SOG Cat promos. The one on the left is a silent still-card promo that ran for 10 seconds, so what you see is what it was. The one on the right features the standard SOG-pitch: He mentions the show and  the awful movies they run. It’s an all-around promo, and SOG did more than a few for The Cat over the years. Most of them say basically the same thing, but I mean, they’re supposed to.

I actually didn’t discover SOG right away. I mean, I saw the promos, sure (The Cat tended to run the same promos a LOT), and I had seen bits and pieces of the show here and there, mostly in passing, but it was Halloween 1997 that I actually sat down and watched the show. I stumbled across an airing of the original Night Of The Living Dead, which I had never seen before. Even with all of the sound effects and jokes (it took me a minute to realize what they were doing, but I immediately loved it), I seriously dug the movie, and I became an instant SOG fan. I even wrote him a bunch of letters, and his reading them on the air was always a thing of great excitement. Of course, I was only like 11/12 years old, so I never had much to actually say (and watching my old tapes, I can’t help but cringe a bit).

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Today, Son Of Ghoul is still running, and I’m still watching. That screencap above is from the latest promo for the show that I’ve seen. I captured it in 2011, but I think it’s been running since 2009, and I know it’s ran several times since 2011. The reason I say 2009 is because that’s when The Cat became an RTV affiliate, and SOG’s timeslot switched to Saturday evenings at 7:00 PM. The promo is, like the one above, a standard SOG pitch: talking about the awful movies, humorous sound clips, and comedy skits, with the exception that SOG mentions the new timeslot “starting in June,” which was when The Cat became RTV (though I still continue to call it The Cat, and always will). Despite the June mention, this is the only promo I’ve seen the station run for SOG relatively lately. Probably because most of the vast majority of content is RTV’s, and they have their own promos and whatnot. But, you do catch some locally-produced promos here and there. I don’t think they run quite as much as they used to, but there were some WAOH-produced spots for RTV shows, which I’ll get to in a bit.

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Speaking of local promos for syndicated content, that sort of thing isn’t new to the station. The screencap on the left is from 1997, the one on the right from 1999. Both are for the western movies that the channel ran every weekday afternoon (and on Saturday afternoons for awhile, and if I recall correctly, occasionally on Sundays, too). Both promos are more or less the same: various scenes from old westerns, while appropriate music plays.

The afternoon Western flick was actually America One’s “Western Theater,” and I loved it. It’s thanks to these films that I became a fan of  westerns. You didn’t tune into this program to see The Shootist, though; these were all old rickety “B-Westerns”, mostly from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Probably all of them were/are in the public domain. You saw the standards like Roy Rogers, John Wayne’s poverty row films, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, Rex Bell, etc. etc.

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Speaking of films, through America One, The Cat ran a lot of them. This promo is from 1999, and spotlights just how many they play a week. Even back then, the claim of “over 40 films a week” seemed just a bit high to me, but they did play a lot. There was a morning movie that began at 10 or 11 AM, and ran for an hour and a half, the western at 12:30 PM, which also ran for an hour and a half, then the noon movie at 2 PM, which ran for 2 hours. At 8 PM, there was another 2-hour movie. The overnight hours generally featured content from the American Independent Network (AIN), and, if I recall correctly, was two 2-hour films in a row. The weekends were a wildcard. I have a recording of three consecutive westerns from a Saturday afternoon in the late-90’s, but that wasn’t always the case. There could be one, maybe two, or maybe none. Sundays generally had less than that or none altogether, and didn’t necessarily have to be a western (I once taped The Tonto Kid, obviously a western, on a Sunday, but my copies of Goliath And The Vampires and Monster From A Prehistoric Planet, clearly not westerns, also came from Sunday airings).

I don’t know, maybe over 40 films a weeks wasn’t so far off after all.

Most of the films were from America One, but there were a few that the station itself seemed to own itself. Every Halloween, they’d run Night Of The Living Dead, the most scratched up and battered print you’ve ever seen. Since none of the A1 branding was present during these annual airings, I’m guessing the station owned it’s own print. For Christmas Eve, they’d run the 1935 Scrooge and then Beyond Tomorrow back-to-back, commercial-free. I still have a recording of Scrooge, but not Beyond Tomorrow.

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A movie that received some actual promotion was their 1999 airing of the infamous Reefer Madness. I taped it, but later taped over it. I don’t recall if it was an A1 presentation or not. A1 films generally weren’t singled out for promos like this, but I don’t know, maybe they thought there was a specific audience for this? They had various clips on-hand for the promo, and the local announcer that did all of The Cat’s promos did the voiceover here, too. or maybe the clips were provided by A1? Either way, I may not have the actual airing, but at least I managed to capture the original promo.

Sprinkled throughout all of these movies were lots of old TV programs. The early mornings typically had old black and white sitcoms before the morning movie, The Cisco Kid once ran before the afternoon western, and Dobie Gillis followed the 2 PM afternoon movie.

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At one point, there was a fairly big push for the Dobie Gillis reruns (big for The Cat at least). They were all humorous, such as the one above. There were a couple “Dear Maynard” spots, always featuring someone writing in to Maynard ala Dear Abby, and then Maynard’s “advice” (a clip from the show taken out of context, which was really pretty funny since it was essentially a non-sequitur moment). There were also promos playing up Bob Denver’s then-recent arrest for marijuana, Dobie’s father’s strictness, and Dobie’s falling for every girl under the sun.

Dobie ran until about 1999, and since I had grown accustomed to watching the 4:00 PM weekday airings after school, I found myself missing it once it was gone. TV Land ran episodes now and then, and nowadays you can catch it on MeTV, but those old Cat airings probably mean the most to me. Even today, I still really like the show.

Other shows that appeared on The Cat over the years courtesy of America One or other networks:

 

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One Step Beyond I watched a few times, but it never really grabbed me. Sort of a lower-rent version of The Twilight Zone.

While I like old sitcoms, The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet was never one of my favorites. WAOH’s promo for it, though, was awesome. This was when V-Chips were first being widely introduced, and the gag was that Ozzie was V-Chip-free TV, but all of the clips had words bleeped out as if there was constant swearing in the show. It was a riot. As you can see from that and the Dobie promos, The Cat often put a lot of humor into their spots.

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Two more I never liked. Bonanza, I know it’s considered a classic, but I’ve always been a Gunsmoke man. Also, The Beverly Hillbillies has always left me cold.

Still, The Cat did a great job of selling these promos, mostly through humor, and if I already didn’t like them, I probably would have tuned in to check them out.

And of course, Enigma Theater With Edward St. Pe’, which I’ve already written about, aired very late Saturday nights/Sunday mornings on WAOH, though it seems very, very few people remember it nowadays.

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I mentioned above the overnight airings being from the American Independent Network. A lot of the same movies as America One were shown, but the print’s weren’t the same. AIN even ran some of genuine “big time” movies once in awhile. Once, they played the original 1939 Stagecoach, which I taped. Despite having never seen the film prior, I could tell huge chunks of the movie were cut out; Stagecoach was just way too disjointed, way more than any film widely considered an American classic would be. I later taped over that airing with a unedited version from AMC, and I kinda wish I hadn’t done that, because in retrospect, film’s of that caliber (i.e. big-time, never-gonna-be-public-domain) weren’t usually shown on The Cat.

This was a fairly minor problem with the daytime programming, but the overnight schedule was notorious (to me, at least) for rarely being correct. It was often a crapshoot whether a scheduled movie would actually be run, or an entirely different film instead. Many times, there was a movie listed that I was seriously stoked for, and I’d set the VCR timer, only to be crushed come the morning when I found out something I had zero interest in was played instead.

Rather, a lot of WAOH’s late night programming was often made up of content from who-knows-where. I mean, nothing ever adult, or actually disturbing, but still, waaaay obscure stuff from the far reaches of the U.S. I haven’t always had the greatest sleep patterns, and I recall sometimes stumbling out of bed and watching The Cat when I couldn’t sleep, and wondering “Where did this come from?” Have you ever heard David Cronenberg’s inspiration for Videodrome? When he was a kid living in Canada, late at night his TV could pick up signals from Buffalo, NY, and he’d worry he’d be able to see something he wasn’t meant to. It was the same sort of thing with late night WAOH.

Of course, at the heart of The Cat was the local programming. Son Of Ghoul, sure, but also a lot of stuff that’s been more or less lost to time. A lot of The Cat’s local programming was simple, live call-in shows, with the host or hosts seated in front of a plain black screen and taking phonecalls. Today, the only show from the old days left besides Son of Ghoul is Steve French Sportstalk and Handy Randy.

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Of boy, two of the dullest shows you could imagine. Back Talk was exactly that, chiropractic talk. And Senior Talk? Well, that was what it sounds like, too. Back Talk I don’t recall running very long, but Senior Talk ran for a number of years, at least until 2006. It may have been a casualty of the 2009 switch to RTV, I don’t know.

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Dining Out With Steve ran for a looong time. I believe it did last until the 2009 switch. Basically, you could call in, talk about local restaurants, and even get gift certificates.

The Hunting And Fishing Show ran for a number of years, and in the summer of 2011 they even tried bringing it back, but it didn’t last very long.

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Big Al was very short-lived. It was essentially people performing in a karaoke bar, and hosted by the show’s namesake. I only caught one episode, which featured a bizarre Elvis impersonator that admittedly did sound a lot like The King, but didn’t look much like him at all (despite Al’s constant insisting the guy was “so real it’s scary!” or something to that effect).

I don’t know when Steve French started hosting his WAOH show, but it’s still on, and apparently still pretty popular. I even tried calling in a few weeks back, but I didn’t get through, which is probably a good thing, since I’m by no means a sports expert and the last thing I need is to make an idiot of myself on local TV.

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While on the subject of the local call-in shows, SOG hosted a live game show from about 2001 to 2004 or so. Unfortunately, this promo is all I have as far as original recordings go (I did buy some DVDs from SOG himself at the last Ghoulardifest convention). Son of Ghoul’s House Of Fun & Games ran at a time when I actually couldn’t watch The Cat. Y’see, the station was so low power that we couldn’t pick it up with the rabbit ears dad decided to use to save money. I wouldn’t even have this promo except I went to grandma’s house one afternoon to tape a movie I particularly wanted back in 2001.

So, that’s my “golden age” of WAOH/WAX, roughly 1997-2001. Like I’ve mentioned, they became an RTV (Retro Television) affiliate in the summer of 2009. Since Son Of Ghoul survived the switch, I was generally okay with it, though I missed some of the old movies or other assorted America One content. Still, RTV was pretty cool. A lot like old school TV Land. A line-up shift in the summer of 2011 took away most of my favorite programs, though there are still a few shows I like, and Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In on Saturday nights and Off Beat Cinema on Sunday nights is pretty awesome.

To end this post (aka massive article), here’s a few screencaps from locally produced promos for RTV content, which harkens back to the late-90’s era I so findly recall. All of the modern promos are simply scenes/music taken from the opening credits of the respective series, with appropriate logos and voiceover. Unfortunately, no promos for Airwolf or Quincy, M.E. were ever made, and RTV no longer runs them, much to my chagrin.

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Neither of these are run anymore. Knight Rider is legit awesome, and I don’t mind The A-Team in small doses. Knight Rider in particular I really miss.

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You’d better believe Magnum, P.I. gets two screencaps. Of all the shows that left the RTV schedule in the summer of 2011, this is the one I miss most. I’ve mentioned before what I big fan of the show I am, and while I’ve got the DVDs, it’s still nice to see Magnum being actually aired on TV, even if the broadcasts were a loooong way from DVD quality. As of this writing, no one, at least not in my area, is playing the show, and THAT, my friends, is major uncool.

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Highway To Heaven is still being aired on RTV, but Starsky & Hutch is not. I don’t like either show. Starsky & Hutch, in particular, is a show I want to like, I should like, but I really, really don’t like. It’s just never done anything for me.

So, there’s my long, long overview of WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35. There’s more I could talk about, but man, this post is a beast as it is. It’s not what it used to be, but I’m glad the station is still around, and that they’re still supporting Son of Ghoul. As of this writing, I’m not too big on RTV’s programming line-up (aside from Wolfman Mac & Off Beat Cinema), but if RTV keeps WAOH/WAX alive, I’m all for it.

Better to have some semblance of The Cat than none at all, right?