Indy TV Memories
Forty years after the original late-night commercials, Richard Bennett customers were still receiving complimentary coffee cups inscribed with the words “Mother, put the coffee pot on.” Younger furniture buyers were probably a bit puzzled about the message. We TV kids, of course, understood completely. And smiled.
Some years ago, the closing of the Richard Bennett furniture stores in Indianapolis brought back many pleasant memories. No, I had not been waxing nostalgic about chrome dinette sets or blond bedroom furniture. I was remembering the early days of television in central Indiana.
The Richard Bennett store sponsored programs on TV back in the 1950s. It was back in those pioneering days of black-and-white TV. Store owners often did their own commercials live in the studio. This meant that Mr. Bennett was at the station late at night to make his two or three appearances in front of the cameras. On the final “spot,” he would sign off with, “Mother, put the coffee pot on.”
I remember it well. I guess I was one of the world’s original “TV kids.” The first station in Indianapolis, WFBM, went on the air in 1949. Shortly thereafter, I was flipping the tuner on our 17-inch Crosley. Of course, not much tuning was required. There were only two stations. By the time we got our set, WTTV had begun broadcasting on Channel 10 (moving later to Channel 4.) Later the city was blessed with WISH on channel 8 and WLW-I on channel 13. Those were the four choices for a good many years.
I was smitten by the tube from day one. It didn’t matter what was on. If I got up early, I would watch the test pattern, waiting for the station to sign on with the National Anthem. The on-air staff were soon very much like neighbors to me. Carolyn Churchman and Ann Wagner hosted interview and variety shows, some featuring Tommy Moriarity’s band. Dick Pittinger, Larry Richardson, Frank Forest, Dick Lingle, and Lyle Ludwig were staff announcers. Tom Carnegie was on hand for sports, and Harry Martin did the farm news. There were twin sisters in my class and one day Martin asked them appear on his noontime show. Their purpose on the program is now long forgotten, but how we envied those girls. They got to leave school in the middle of the morning to go downtown to be on television! We watched the show in our classroom. When the girls returned, they were the celebrities of our elementary school.
One of the most popular people at Channel 6 was the weatherman, Bill Crawford. He had no radar or satellites. His weather set consisted of a map and some magnets. But his enthusiasm and folksy attitude brought him many fans. To this day, veteran viewers claim that Crawford’s forecasts were more accurate than any that have been made since. And most of us can still remember his sponsor, the Omar Bakery (“Hey, Mom, here comes the Omar man!”)
The newsman of that era was already a legend when he moved from WFBM radio to television. He was Gilbert Forbes, whose mellifluous voice and somber tone made a fender bender on Delaware Street sound like an epochal event. Those were the days before sound bites and video cuts. There were some photographs and clips of film, but mainly it was Gilbert, hunched over the desk microphone proclaiming the news of the day.
Television was truly a “magic box” to me. Miss Frances of the “Ding Dong School” became a teacher almost as real as Miss Himes and Mrs. Dill at my actual school. It wasn’t all passive learning, either. The “Winky Dink” show required our participation. Using a transparent plastic cover for the TV screen, we could help Winky in his daring adventures by drawing bridges to cross and places to hide.
All of us “TV kids” have grown up now, but we remember our roots. They go back to Howdy Doody, Sky King, Hopalong Cassidy, the Omar man, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and, yes, Richard Bennett. They were all a part of one big magic world which existed inside the captivating television cabinet.