60th: Joyce Livingston, Cowboy Frank and Ch. 12 shows remembered

Rebecca White, Web Content Producer , rwhite@kwch.com
POSTED: 02:26 PM CDT Sep 24, 2013    UPDATED: 03:05 PM CDT Sep 24, 2013 
Old shows on KWCH

"I just can't believe it after all these years," said Joyce Livingston as she reflects over her years hosting local programs at Channel 12. "I don't think there's a time I go into a restaurant or a store where somebody doesn't stop me and tell me how much they enjoyed it."

Livingston was one of many Kansans whose lives changed when the station hired them to host live local programs during the early decades of television.

In 1965, Livingston was a stay at home mom who always was looking for odd jobs to help support her family. After helping a television executive with a few small projects, he called Livingston when he started working at Channel 12. He asked her to audition for a 15 minute show called Women's World that aired as part of the noon newscast. The show had recently lost its host, Lou Grant, and the station was desperately searching for a replacement.   

"When I first started, I'd never done anything quite like that before,” said Livingston.  "To me, that camera was one person. I couldn't visualize that there were thousands and thousands of people out there watching."

Livingston was so successful, that a year later she was given a second daily program called The Joyce Livingston Show.  It ran for the next 17 years. It became one of the most well-known women’s shows produced by the station in addition to Women's World and Kansas Kitchen with Charlotte Briscoe.

Livingston thinks the show was so successful because it was live and it was personal. Viewers laughed at the mistakes people made on live TV, like getting a spatula and icing stuck in their hair during a cooking segment.  But she also shared her family life. 

She became pregnant with her sixth child at age 37 and after he was born, Livingston did many shows with her baby Luke on her lap. The station even built a cabinet for his toys in her office.

"I think that's one of the reasons so many people remember the show," said Livingston.  "It was so uncommon for a woman to be pregnant on air and for Luke to go to work with me like that. The viewers all knew every one of my kids."

The General Manager at the time, Dale Larson, joked that having Luke on the show was the best single promotion for the station and it didn't cost him a penny. 

Children's Programs & Game Shows

Many viewers grew up watching the children's shows the station produced in the 1960's and '70's. Cowboy Frank, Sammy the Scarecrow, Fifo the Clown, Uncle Willowby, Freddy's Place, Junior Auction, and Space Station 12 to name a few. 

One of the most popular children's programs was the Cowboy Frank show that ran from 1960-1962. Franklin Noel, who was known as Cowboy Frank, entertained an audience of "small fries" with a chimpanzee named Debbie, a Shetland pony named Moth Ball, a deer named Ruby and a troupe of other trained animals.  

Noel learned to train animals when he ran away from home as a boy, joined the circus and became an elephant trainer. He said after years of working with animals, he simply pitched the idea of the show to people at Channel 12 and they picked it up. Now, at 92, he says he's amazed that people still recognize him.

"Cowboy Frank, the name, kinda went all the way through life with me," said Noel. "I enjoyed life with it. It was just part of me." 

Other shows included Junior Auction, where children were awarded points for bringing in used bags of Kitty Clover Potato Chips. The kids used the points to bid on toys. Faye Graves, a director of many of the old programs, remembers "cleaning up all those greasy bags was a mess." Naturally, he said, Kitty Clover was the sponsor for the show.

In addition to entertaining thousands of kids, the programs showcased the talents of local performers.

Graves remembers Ernie Dade, who played Sammy the Scarecrow and Uncle Willowby, was normally quiet and reserved. "But as Sammy Scarecrow, Ernie would dance and sing. He did all kinds of crazy things to keep the kids entertained."

Eva Stern, who played Ms. Eve remembers Fifo the Clown, or Herb Lacey, as a joker. "I once had a bird on the show and it kept pecking my finger so hard it started to bleed," Stern said. Lacey saw the blood and then teasingly asked if the bird could bite.

Television producers soon discovered viewer’s love of game shows. Channel 12 produced Quizzo, a question and answer show with a live audience hosted by Ollie Henry, Take Your Pick and Dialing for Dollars with Bill Brooks who was better known for his teen hit dance show Hi Fi Hop

All of the programs aired live in the early decades as recording shows with Kinescope used costly film.

"The TV shows were real fun back then," said Graves. "It's exciting when the show is actually going out live to hundreds of thousands of homes."

Local Programs Today

In addition to 45 hours of local newscasts, Sunflower Broadcasting, the parent company of KWCH and KSCW, produces three local shows that air on KWCH and KSCW, Cable 33 Cable 5. The Weekend Crew show airs Saturday at 10:30 p.m. on KWCH and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on KSCW; The Catch It Kansas Show at 11 p.m. on Friday on KSCW and and It's All Good with Sierra Scott on Sundays at 7:30 p.m. on KSCW.

The station is set to launch a new program called The Brett and Sierra Show on September 16th. The show will feature Sierra Scott and Brett Harris. It will focus on local events, entertainment, shopping, dining, arts and family fun activities across Kansas. The show will air at Monday through Friday at 4:30 p.m. on KSCW.