This Is Your Life

29, August 2016

Soon after I started volunteering as a gallery attendant at the Missouri History Museum this past January, I learned that the Museum was looking for former St. Louis broadcasters to help the moving images and sound lab catalog 75 years’ worth of audio recordings, film, and videotape that had been donated mostly by local radio and TV stations. After spending the majority of my television career here, I was happy to volunteer, especially to archive material from my longtime employer, KMOX/KMOV-TV. Little did I know how much this volunteer opportunity would turn into a personal “walk down memory lane.”

Photo of Jim BolenKMOV weatherman Jim Bolen. Photograph by Irv Schankman, 1966. Missouri Historical Society collections.

The first five cases of Channel 4 tapes rolled into my workstation contained promotional announcements (“promos”) dating back to the early 1980s. All of the tapes—and there were dozens of them—were labeled in my own handwriting! I was in my own episode of This Is Your Life.

What a kick it is to rediscover great reporters and anchors I worked with decades ago, including St. Louis favorites like Al Wiman; Trish Brown; and, of course, Julius Hunter. Remember Pharmacist Max Leber? Steve Schiff? How about Jim “Cookie and the Captain” Bolen? We’ll never see a broadcaster the likes of Jim again: He was a news anchor and reporter, sports reporter, weatherman, and kids’ show host. He was also a master musician and a national jazz expert. Simply put, he was Channel 4’s Renaissance man!

Our work was always instigated—and inspired—by longtime general manager Allan Cohen, who ended each Promotions departmental meeting with the words “Now go play!”

Photo of the 1977 cast of The Carol Burnett ShowPublicity photo of the 1977 cast of The Carol Burnett Show, including Tim Conway (left). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Our team won tons of awards for our promos because we took risks, not only in our news spots but also in our public service announcements. We also put together offbeat spots for syndicated shows such as The Carol Burnett Show and The New Newlywed Game. I spent an entire day recording Burnett TV and radio spots with actor and voiceover artist Tim Conway. I have never laughed more!

A highlight was The Saga of Billy B, a five-part “serial” promotion featuring a young hero delivering The New Newlywed Game from California to St. Louis via his bicycle. It was goofy and offbeat, but it got the word out about our new 6:30pm show. And it won five local Emmy Awards. (Shout out to creative services director Jim Rothschild and writer/producer Paul Fey!)

Photo of Hugo Mancini characterThe fictional Hugo Mancini, "waiting for Zip." Missouri Historical Society collections.

Occasionally, though, our carefully crafted plans backfired. In 1988, when it was announced that we’d hired sportscaster Zip Rzeppa away from KTVI, we went to work. I invented a goofy character named Hugo Mancini (played by the fabulous actor Chris Limber) who vowed not to watch any other sports station because he was “Waiting for Zip.” A slew of campaign spots were in the can, so to speak, before we were slapped down by the lawyers: Zip’s noncompete clause meant we couldn’t promote him until he was officially on the air—six months later.

St. Louis TV viewers never met Hugo Mancini, but someday you’ll be able to see him as part of the Museum’s broadcast archives. Several other pieces of my video handiwork will be there as well. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I did creating them for more than 31 years!

—Dan Dillon, former KMOV producer and current MHS volunteer

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