On Sept. 9, 1962, the ABC-TV affiliate WNYS-Channel 9 made its debut on the Central New York dial, and nothing has ever been quite the same. Not only did WNYS’ premiere force a shift in the alignment of one local station, with then-WHEN having to relocate from Channel 8 to 5, the upstarts at Channel 9 also gave viewers more programming choices. Sure, most of ABC’s series at the time weren’t exactly ratings bonanza (Ben Casey and The Flintstones were among the few bona fide smashes of the 1962-1963 season), yet Channel 9’s personalities such as Mike Price, a.k.a. horror movie host Baron Daemon, and Phil Markert carved their own audience niches on the local-TV landscape.
Price, Markert and other grads from “the class of 1962” were top among the honored guests at an open party held by Channel 9 at Onondaga Community College’s cavernous SRC Arena and Event Center on Sept. 27. Channel 9 also brought along the video cameras to capture the event, which will be broadcast under the title NewsChannel 9: 50 Colorful Years on Friday, Oct. 19, 7 to 9 p.m.
The ceremony itself ran more than two hours, but the TV edition will likely offer the best bits from the SRC show, augmented by more memories and clips. Expect references to the late, great Nancy Duffy, still best remembered for her organization of and participation in the annual St. Patrick’s Parade, plus archival footage from a mid-1960s New Year’s Day touch football game known as the Bud Ballou Bowl, named after the popular local deejay and played at the Shoppingtown Mall parking lot. Channel 9’s children’s shows, such as Ladybug’s Garden and Charlie’s Place, the latter hosted by the mustachioed Charlie Featherstone, may likely be mentioned, too.
TV monitors were stationed at various SRC locations that showcased various decades in Channel 9’s existence, with the 1960s era getting the most attention. One hilarious clip had Markert and sports anchor Carl Eilenberg on the receiving end of pie-in-the-face slapstick, while the most fascinating moment took place during the station’s official debut festivities, as Hawaiian Eye star Robert Conrad warbled a song at the old Shoppingtown movie theater. (One clip from the 1990s that won’t likely be used, because of political equal-time restrictions, offered a frizzy-haired Dan Maffei reporting about a hellacious snowstorm.)
Longtime news anchors Rod Wood and Carrie Lazarus served as the co-hosts at SRC, yet much like the Oscars, they often disappeared from the center stage and let others take over the spotlight. Sports director Steve Infanti, for instance, tossed questions to Syracuse University gridiron great Floyd Little, while Christie Casciano elicited fun recollections from long-ago Open Line host Karin Franklin-King, a barrier-breaking budding newshound from Brooklyn who wondered where the Syracuse subway system was hidden. Another segment featured Dan Cummings interviewing newsmakers such as Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh and former Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro.
More memories were jogged by ivory-tickler Markert, who is no Robert Conrad, yet heartily led the audience in a piano-fueled sing-along. Price, accompanied on stage by art director Dennis Calkins, Baron Daemon’s Very Hairy sidekick, offered a long (and he made it short!) tale about a publicity jaunt to Old Forge. It seems that the Baron and Channel 9 cohort Bill Eady went on a bar-hopping evening prior to the next day’s personal appearances, with a little kid’s subsequent reaction to the disheveled ghoul providing the punch line. (By the way, Channel 9 will again air the annual Baron Daemon’s Fright Fest special on Saturday, Oct. 27, 11:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.)
Several alums sent in videotaped appreciations, such as sports guru Dave Cohen’s recollection that WSYR-Channel 9’s current call letters once belonged to Channel 3. Now ensconced in Orlando, Fla., as a radio host, a videotaped Bud Hedinger dished plenty about his weatherman days at Channel 3, until then-Channel 9 honcho Larry Israel made Hedinger “a classic offer I couldn’t refuse,” which led to a then-radical station-hopping move that many local broadcasters have since emulated.
Hedinger, the creator of weather sidekicks such as Walter Windchill and Ebenezer Sneezer, noted that his Channel 9 experience gave him “the most exciting, memorable years in my career.” Hedinger also offered a playful warning: “Better tell Rod Wood to watch it. I might be back!”