This week we’re looking at some of the great kids shows we grew up with in Buffalo, and two great ones from Channel 7.
When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.
Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.
And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.
Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.
Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.
He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.
Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.
“A lot of friendliness and little schmaltz seem to work just fine for ‘Dialing for Dollars’,” wrote News Critic Gary Deeb in 1971, by which time, the show had already been a midmorning mainstay on Channel 7 for seven years.
Nolan Johannes came to WKBW-TV in May 1964 — and by the end of the year, was the permanent host of the brand new “Dialing for Dollars.” His first co-host was Liz Dribben, who left Channel 7 to eventually join CBS in New York as a writer for such luminaries as Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace.
The half-hour show grew to 90 minutes, and in 1969, weatherman and “Rocketship 7” host Dave Thomas joined Johannes as co-host.
Aside from phone calls trying to give away money, the show was filled with interviews of the everyday women in the audience, twice-weekly exercise tips from UB’s Dr. Len Serfustini, syndicated features from “The Galloping Gourmet” Graham Kerr and “Fashions in Sewing” with Lucille Rivers.
And even nearly 40 years after the show went off the air, most Buffalonians of a certain age will be able to recall without hesitation the names of the guys in the “Dialing for Dollars” band — Jimmy and Johnny.
In 1978, Thomas left Channel 7 for Philadelphia, and “Dialing for Dollars” was reformatted to become “AM Buffalo.” Johannes left Channel 7 in 1983 to become a news anchor in Scranton, Pa. Johannes died in 2015 at the age of 81.
In September, 2016, Thomas returned to his hometown for Johannes’ posthumous induction in to the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Thomas was inducted in 2001.