8B. BAVARIAN'S TV & RADIO SHOWS
& Early Cincinnati Area TV & Broadcasters
EARLY CINCINNATI TELEVISION
TV broadcasting began in Cincinnati in the late 1940s with a total of three stations. All three were developed from companies that had radio stations with the same call letters. (For those that might be thinking this, the answer is no; there was no WKRP in Cincinnati, except as a TV series.)
WLW-T was the city's first station (and the second in Ohio) to begin commercial broadcasts on February 9, 1948; it became an NBC affiliate. The station got its start in 1946, conducting experimental broadcasts as W8XCT. In 1947, there were only 100 televisions in all of Cincinnati on a closed circuit. WLW-T first operated on Channel 4 before moving to Channel 5, where it was later referred to as WLW-TV. It was owned by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, which later became a subsidiary of the Aviation Corporation, or Avco.
(For a history of WLW and its parent company, see Crosley.)
WKRC-TV signed on the air April 4, 1949, originally as a CBS affiliate on channel 11, but later became channel 12 in 1952. It was owned by the Taft family, who owned the radio station with the same call numbers, and became part of Taft Broadcasting in 1958.
WCPO-TV first signed on the air on July 26, 1949, as an ABC affiliate. It was originally broadcast on Channel 7, but later changed to Channel 9. Secondarily, it was part of the DuMont Television Network until 1956 and became owned by Scripps-Howard Newspapers. The WCPO call letters came from its ownership of the Cincinnati Post and Times Star newspapers, after they acquired the station WFBE. Notably, WFBE had been owned by the Schott Brothers in the 1920s, who became owners of the Bavarian Brewing Company in 1938.
In the beginning, television shows were live and mostly impromptu. There were local hosts and talents that performed on Cincinnati television, with some shows airing for more than three decades straight. The shows depended upon local advertisers for funding. The Bavarian Brewing Co. was one of these early sponsors, supporting such programs as Midwestern Hayride and The Paul Dixon Show, as discussed in periods 8. Post WWII and 9. Turnaround Efforts. Before TV, radio had been the only available medium for live broadcasts from 1920s through the 1940s; radio continued to be a popular medium in the mid-century even after TV took the stage. Bavarian sponsored both radio and TV programs through the 1950s, and also syndicated multiple series. The personalities who hosted these shows would often promote sponsored products on air, including Bavarian's Old Style Beer - as exemplified by the background page, featuring Paul Dixon, Wanda Lewis and Dotty Mack, as well as other talents shown below.
Originally called Boone County Jamboree (named for the county adjacent to where the Bavarian Brewery was located), Midwestern Hayride was a country music show that began appearing on radio in the mid-1930s on Saturday evenings. It was carried on WLW radio, on one of the most powerful transmitters in the world, which was able to reach Europe. The program debuted on television in April of 1948 on WLW-T, just a couple of months after the station started airing; it was hosted in the same location that transmitted WLW radio. The program was simulcasted on radio and TV into the 1960s, enjoying a prime-time hour slot that began at 8pm. Bavarian sponsored Midwestern Hayride (MH) as soon as it began and continued to do so for about six years, until December, 1954.
Midwestern Hayride became a big success, extending its reach far beyond Cincinnati. In 1951, the show was picked up for the summer on NBC-TV and, except for 1953, aired on that channel for each summer until 1956; it was then carried by ABC-TV from 1957 until 1959. In its early years, MH was always performed in front of a live audience of 100. In its heyday, it would take more than a year for a hopeful audience member to get a ticket to the weekly show. MH continued through the 1960s as well, featuring many famous country performers, including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Tex Ritter, to name just a few.
A local regular on MH was Bonnie Lou, who would later become a cohost on The Paul Dixon Show - another popular program that Bavarian sponsored. In its early years, MH’s emcee was Bill Thall, who also appeared in the Corner Store with Bob Shreve. (See below.) Some artists shown in the Bavarian Brewing Co. ads above were Charlie Gore, Lee Jones, Zeke Turner, Ernie Lee, Jerry Byrd, Neal Burris and Bill Nimmo. In addition to songs by country artists, MH featured square dancing, as shown in this video. Towards the end of the 1960s the name of MH was changed to just Hayride, and it finally ended in 1972, after a nearly 25-year run on the air. However, a MW veteran for 16 years, Kenny Price, went on to host a similar but more contemporary country show that was based in Nashville and called "Hee Haw.” Price’s program began airing around 1976 and ran until his death in 1987.
c. 1950. This performer is practically jumping out of his boots. He's performing on the Midwestern Hayride. The man in the checked shirt on the left is the show's emcee, Bill Thall. Shown in the background is a prop for the show's sponsor, Bavarian's Old Style Beer.
PAUL DIXON: AN EARLY PIONEER OF TELEVISION & TALK SHOWS
Dixon began his career with radio in New York City and Chicago in the 1940s. In 1945 he moved to WCPO radio in Cincinnati as a news reporter and announcer. Dixon excelled as a reporter, but he was more interested in becoming an entertainer.
The Paul Dixon Song Shop. In 1949, as television broadcasting was gaining a foothold in Cincinnati, Paul Dixon established his own show with Wanda Lewis and Dotty Mack, known as the Paul Dixon (Song Shop) Show on WCPO-TV. They would pantomime to hit songs of the day. For an excerpt of one of his shows, click here. In addition, please see information about Dotty and Wanda below. Due to the popularity of the show, Dixon was lured to New York City to have his shown on Dumont Television in 1954. However, Dixon missed Cincinnati, staying in New York for just a year and returning in April, 1955.
The Paul Dixon Show. Avco Broadcasting provided Dixon with his own shown on their WLW-T network, which appealed to housewives. The show featured Bonnie Lou and Colleen Sharp. It quickly expanded from 30-minutes to 90-minutes in length and became syndicated in the Dayton, Columbus, and Indianapolis markets. Dixon became known as "Paul Babby" on his show. One of his most popular shows was the chicken wedding episode. Sadly, Dixon had difficulties coping with his son's death in 1970 and developed some health issues shortly thereafter. His last show aired in 1974, 20 years after it began. In total, Dixon had hosted his own television shows for 25 years. All of Dixon's co-hosts also enjoyed long television careers, and most were highly accomplished.
Former late night TV host David Letterman, who grew up in Indianapolis where the Paul Dixon show was syndicated, cited Dixon's comedic talent as inspiration for his own career. Letterman was also a big fan of Dixon's co-host and singer, Bonnie Lou, and of the Ruth Lyon show.
Dotty Mack. Dotty was particularly gifted in pantomiming, earning her the nickname “the Queen of Pantomime.” She also was given her own show in June, 1953, which ran until 1956. Dotty Mack dated various celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Dick Van Dyke; she socialized for many years with Rosemary Clooney (also from Cincinnati), Dorris Day, Eydie Gorme, Steve Lawrence and other burgeoning stars. She moved to Florida when her husband died in 1986, and passed away on November 11, 2019.
Wanda Lewis. Wanda was artistic, and she would sometimes design stage sets and draw figures live on the Paul Dixon Show. A couple years after she left that show, she joined her husband on his Uncle Al Show in 1956, which was oriented to children. A video of one of her appearances on this show can be viewed here. She was known as “Captain Windy” on the show, and a song in tribute to her character went something like this: "We love little Windy we do, we do. We love little Windy, we do. And if you knew Windy like we all do, you would love little Windy too."
On The Paul Dixon Show (1954 - 1974)
Bonnie Lou. Before co-hosting with Paul Dixon for two decades beginning in 1955, Bonnie Lou had found success as a recording artist. Bonnie was a true cross-over artist. She launched her career as a country singer, was skilled at yodeling, and is considered to be the first female rock and roll singer. In 1952, Bonnie made her first appearance on the Bavarian-sponsored show Midwestern Hayride.
Colleen Sharp. Colleen was part of the Paul Dixon show for two decades.
OTHER RADIO & TV TALENTS ASSOCIATED WITH BAVARIAN'S
Below are some hosts of the TV shows sponsored by Bavarian, encompassing news, sports, music and more. Hosts included: Lloyd Baldwin (WCKY, News/Sports); Dick Bray (WCKY, News/Sports); Adolph Menjou (see below); Bill Dawes (WCPO, M-A-D), John Daly (WCPO, News); Don Webb (WKRC, News); Jack Remington (WKRC, At Random); Cecil Hale (WSAI, Music); Phil Howard (WCPO-TV, Monday Night Fights); Rex Dale (WCKY, Hits); and Paul Dixon (WLW-T).
SYNDICATED SHOWS BAVARIAN SPONSORED
Besides hosting mostly local shows and local talent, Bavarian would occasionally sponsor syndicated shows. A couple of these are mentioned below.
The Abbott & Costello Show
Featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, this show was syndicated on 40 local stations from the fall of 1952 to the spring of 1954. Bavarian sponsored this program during that time. Abbott and Costello were the most popular comedy duo of the 1940s and early 1950s. They also performed on Broadway in the late 1930s and had their own radio show in the 1940s. They appeared in numerous films beginning in the early 1940s until 1955 and also began acting on television in 1951. They are best known for one of the most famous comedy routines of all time, "Who's on First?" It was first performed in vaudeville and then on radio on the Kate Smith show, in 1938.
My Favorite Story with Adolphe Menjou
(a/k/a Your Favorite Story & Your Favorite Playhouse)
Bavarian sponsored this syndicated program on WCPO-TV hosted by Adolphe Menjou. It consisted of 25 episodes that was broadcasted between 1953 and 1955. Menjou was originally from Pittsburgh, but had a long and accomplished acting career, which began with talkies. He appeared in such films as Charlie Chaplin's A Woman of Paris, where he played the lead role; Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory with Kirk Douglas; Ernst Lubitsch's The Marriage Circle; The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino; Morocco with Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper; and A Star Is Born with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and was nominated for an Academy Award for The Front Page in 1931. He is shown in a photo with Bavarian executives in the mid 1950s in Turnaround Efforts.
OTHER CINCINNATI AREA TV BROADCASTERS & TALENTS
Cincinnati was a cradle for television talent: in addition to those previously mentioned, notable actors, actresses, and personalities involved in TV (and movies), who were inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame. A couple of these celebrities, (Bob Braun and Bob Shreve) were also once associated with programs sponsored by the Bavarian Brewing Co.
Ruth Lyons launched her career in broadcasting in the 1930s and became a very successful radio host in the 1940s. She started a talk show called the 50 club (because the audience was limited to 50 people) in February 1946 on WLW radio. In May 1949, she transitioned the program to television on WLW-T and became the program director of the station in September, 1949. The program was changed to the 50-50 Club (when the audience expanded to 100) in 1953. Her show was the top-rated daytime television program in the US from 1952 to 1964. Lyons is credited as the Woman Who Invented Talk TV - before Oprah. She was the only woman to serve on the Crosley Board of Directors. Lyons retired in January 1967.
Bob Braun took over the 50-50 Club when Ruth Lyons retired. Braun frequently appeared on that show, and earlier in his career, Braun worked on the Paul Dixon Show. By 1969, the show was called the Bob Braun's 50-50 Club, and was later changed to the Bob Braun Show and Braun and Company. He left his show and Cincinnati in 1984 for California to do commercials, talk shows and small movie roles. Braun returned to Cincinnati and hosted a program on WSAI Radio in 1994, retiring in November 1999. He was replaced by Nick Clooney.
Bob Shreve was an on-air announcer, a mellow singing voice, a movie host, a soft-shoe dancer and a comedian. In the early 1950s, he appeared on a comedy show known as The General Store on WLW-T with Bill Thall, playing the characters Elmer Diffledorfer and Willie, respectively. They made numerous appearances as their comic characters on the Midwestern Hayride. Shreve also co-hosted an afternoon show with Wanda Lewis (previously mentioned) and Colin Male, and was a frequent performer on the 50/50 Show with Ruth Lyons. He played a clown and robot on The Uncle Al Show. Around 1960, Shreve hosted The Three Stooges shorts, inviting such surprise guests as The Three Stooges themselves and Jerry Lewis. Shreve went on to have several of his own shows, and was a pioneer of all-night broadcasting (1:30am to 6am on weekends) from 1963 until 1970 on WCPO-TV. After his WCPO show was cancelled, it was picked up by WLW-TV for a couple of years, before moving to WKRC-TV as the Past Prime Playhouse (PPP) until 1985.
Al Lewis, best known as Uncle Al, started out on WCPO-TV as an art director and then became host of an hour-long show called Al's Corner Drugstore. He played a soda jerk who would take phone-in requests for songs that he would play on his accordion. The show was filmed on a set where people could walk in from the street to watch, and it became popular for neighborhood children. They started calling him Uncle Al. In June, 1950, that became the name of his show, which was oriented specifically to children. Wanda Lewis joined her husband on The Uncle Al Show in 1956. At first called Captain Windy, she dressed like a superhero while Lewis continued to play his accordion on the show at times. The Uncle Al Show holds the unofficial record for the longest-running regularly scheduled TV series, with the same host for the show's entire run of 35 years. It briefly aired on a national scale for one year, running on ABC and starting in the fall of 1958. Three years before then, CBS had wanted to launch a similar show on their national network, but the ABC network refused to release Lewis from his contract. Instead, CBS settled on a show called Captain Kangaroo hosted by Howdy Doody alum Bob Keeshan.
Nick Clooney, shown on the chair below, was the brother of Rosemary Clooney. He was the father of the actor George Clooney, making Rosemary George's aunt. Nick began his television career with an eight-year stint at WKYT in Lexington, KY. In 1968, he held his own talk show in Columbus, OH, on WLWC; the show ran for one year before Clooney moved to Cincinnati to host a local morning talk program, The Nick Clooney Show, first on WCPO-TV and then on WKRC-TV about a year later. In 1975, he became news director and lead anchor for WKRC-TV, and was probably best remembered at that time for his thorough coverage of the tragic 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, where 165 lives were lost. In 1984, Clooney left Cincinnati to become a co-anchor at KNBC in Los Angeles, but returned to WKRC-TV in the late 1980s for a short time. Afterwards, he hosted an evening news program in Salt Lake City for KSTU for several years. Clooney was a host on American Movie Classics, and then returned to Cincinnati in 1999, to replace Bob Braun. He also dabbled in politics, running an unsuccessful campaign for Northern Kentucky's 4th Congressional District in 2004. (Of note, this was the same seat first occupied by General Sandford who owned the land where the Bavarian Brewery was built – see 1. Background and the Brewery Beginnings.) In 2008, Clooney was named a Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence at American University (in Washington, D.C.) and taught a course on his book, The Movies That Changed Us. Clooney was the commencement speaker for the University of Cincinnati in June, 2012, and appeared in The Monuments Men, directed by his son, George, in 2014.
For more information about these hosts, please click on the links below.
Newspapers.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer, Dayton News & Herald Journal
The background photo was taken on the floor of the Paul Dixon Song Show in 1952.
The show featured Wanda Lewis (on the left) and Dotty Mack (on the right.)