On May 8, 1948, the first children’s television show in the Twin Cities aired on KSTP-TV, Channel 5. It was a quiz show for kids that had originated on radio called Riddle Griddle, emceed by KSTP announcer Jimmy Valentine. In an early version of the show, a panel of three children would try to answer riddles posed by the audience. The format didn’t work terribly well because the proceedings were essentially turned over to the kids, and at times things could degenerate into a chaotic mess.
Voiceman Valentine changed the set-up, appointing himself “The Riddle Master.” He studied a book of riddles and got good enough to respond correctly about half the time. Occasionally, though, kids posed questions that he was afraid to answer: “What’s about six inches long, has a head on it, and women love it?” (The solution? A dollar bill!) It didn’t happen often, but dirty jokes occasionally made it onto the air until the station ruled that the riddle had to be taken from a book, magazine, or newspaper.
Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree, another Channel 5 offering, followed in September 1949. When someone in station management suggested the new kids’ show, the conversation went something like this:
Jimmy asked, “What day of the week will the show run?”
The reply was, “Monday through Friday.”
“How long a show?”
“Half an hour.”
“When do you want it to start?”
“How about a week from Monday?”
“I had to put together a five-day-a-week kids’ show, when you’re reading about Milton Berle having a nervous breakdown ’cause he’s doing one hour a week,” Jimmy laments, “and he had a staff of God knows how many people! And at KSTP, the announcers did their own production. You wrote, did everything but direct it — which you couldn’t do, physically.”
Nevertheless, Jimmy got a show together, although originally it had no name. A contest was held to give it a title, and more than 2,000 suggestions poured in. Minnesota-born actress Linda Kelsey (Billie Newman on CBS-TV’s Lou Grant) claims that it was her brother who came up with the name Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree, and won a bicycle. Television was still in its infancy in those days, and anything that could go wrong usually did. Once, just before he went on the air, Jimmy was informed that technical problems had squelched the show’s audio. He had to pantomime the entire program.
The format of Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree was similar to The Mickey Mouse Club. Each day’s program was composed of three different ten-minute segments. On Mondays and Fridays, for example, they presented “Talented Tots and Teens,” a variety show featuring local youngsters. Another regular installment was “Kartoon Komics.” The animated cartoons that were shown were atrocious silents, but in those ancient days of TV, it hardly mattered what was on — as long as it moved.
One Thursday segment was called “Pooch Parade.” (They were quite fond of alliteration on Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree.) Kids brought their pets onto the show in an effort to win various contests: the prettiest dog, the dog with the longest ears, the dog that could bark the loudest, et cetera. For “Pooch Parade,” a canvas flat weighted with sandbags was painted to look like the front of a doghouse, with the door cut out. Children would lead their dogs through this opening onto the set, where Jimmy would interview the boy or girl and look over the hound. Then he would thank them, they’d go back through the doghouse door, and the next pair would come out.
One memorable incident occurred during a contest to find the biggest dog. Among the contestants were two small youngsters who brought huge canines that took an instant dislike to each other. Jimmy took pains to keep the belligerent mongrels separated, and before the show, he instructed one of the dog owners to exit the stage by walking straight off camera instead of going back into the doghouse. When the “Pooch Parade” segment began, the first of the two children came out with her gargantuan dog. Jimmy talked to her for a bit, then thanked her and turned to begin a commercial. Forgetting Jimmy’s instructions, the girl and her pet walked back through the doghouse door, smack into the other hostile mutt. A terrible fight broke out behind the stage flat, with animals growling and barking and biting and kids screaming and crying. Without so much as an “Excuse me!,” Jimmy dove through the door, and he managed to get one dog off the other’s throat by pulling on its leash until it was forced to stand on its hind legs. Just at that moment, he realized that the doghouse set was falling toward the cameras.
Jimmy desperately grabbed for the canvas through the door opening, while at the same time he stomped on its wooden base. He succeeded – barely – in stopping the flat’s fall, but the heavy backdrop was left teetering precariously at a forty-five degree angle. There he stood, the dog’s leash in one hand, the flat in the other, his foot propped against the base — and dead silence, except for a whimper here and there. The technicians had been trained never to get in front of the camera, so no one moved a muscle until Jimmy finally begged, “Would somebody please come in here and help me?”
KSTP-TV’s pioneer program Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree was an early casualty of the fierce competition for kiddie viewers in the 1950s. It had garnered good ratings at first, despite the abysmal quality of their cartoon library, but then Warner Brothers offered hundreds of their classic cartoons to television. WTCN-TV acquired the package for their new J.P. Patches show, and — armed with superior film product — the clown’s ratings rose while JJJ’s numbers steadily declined. The trend proved to be irreversible, and not even a children’s show could be sustained by sentiment. Jimmy’s Junior Jamboree was cancelled around October 1954.
Jimmy Valentine then saddled up for the Western program Boots and Saddles, an hour-long program. For the first 15 minutes they showed part of an old Western movie, then Jimmy (attired in a cowboy outfit) did half an hour with the kids in the studio, and the show concluded with 15 more minutes of the movie. The movie was then continued on succeeding days until it reached the finish.
In April 1955 KSTP-TV hired Daryl Laub away from WTCN-TV, where in 1953 he had created what’s claimed to be the first costumed children’s television character in the Twin Cities, Skipper Darl. Later that same year, Daryl had also debuted as a raggedy clown called J.P. Patches. Daryl brought the characters to KSTP-TV, more or less — his nautical alter ego Skipper Darl was promoted to Captain Daryl and J. P. Patches metamorphosed into T. N. Tatters. (Back at WTCN-TV, Chris Wedes — who played Casey Jones’ original sidekick Joe the Cook — assumed the role of J. P. Patches. In 1958, he took the clown to Seattle where he appeared on KIRO-TV until 1981.)
KSTP-TV evidently felt that two new kiddie characters were more than enough, because with Daryl Laub’s arrival, Jimmy Valentine’s tenure as a kids’ show host came to an abrupt end. Ironically, T. N. Tatters never got particularly good ratings at KSTP-TV, most likely because he didn’t have those terrific Warner Brothers cartoons to bolster his program there.