Dave Richardson, Jean Mcclain, Los Angeles discussed on Seattle's Morning News
Welcome to our Happy birthday party, our 20th year on the air and welcome to the last show for some kids Summer vacation used to mean sitting around and watching a whole lot of TV and one of the things that kids around here used to watch was the brakeman Bill Show on Channel 11. Our resident historian Felix but now caught up with Bregman Bill who is still chugging along in his nineties. Felix is brought to us by Lake Washington windows and doors. Good morning, Felix. Morning Dew. Yeah, you know, I heard my brother yesterday morning There was a rumor spreading on social media. I'm not going to repeat it, but it inspired me right away to reach out to Bill McLean. Is better known to at least some portion of the Cairo audience as brakeman Bill, host of the Reagan Bill Show on Channel 11 for 20 years from 1955 to 1975, that audio we heard at the top was from the very last show the only one that was recorded, of course. On that show, he played cartoons. He drew funny sketches. He engaged in witty repartee with a certain black sock puppet named Crazy Donkey, who was voiced and operated by the energetic and imaginative warn Read. Now Bill's doing well, he'll be turning 94 in a few weeks. He's still married to Jean, his high school sweetheart. They met at Lincoln High School in Tacoma many years ago. Now breaking bill were overalls and a striped railroad hat on the set of the show, and he ran a model train called The Cartoon Special. Bill says he had very devoted fans and even in his street clothes, he'd get recognized. I still do. Everybody was, I'll get a double take or triple taken. It is familiar. Once the grave of his, aren't you? Paper bill. Yes. No one thing. My audience. A great deal of were, uh, let's keep kids came home from school, and there was nobody there. So they went through the TV on and there I was. Had the afternoon show the shape he had. The morning show, and I was Their surrogate parent. Yeah, You heard break when Bill mentioned JP patches who hosted a kids show on Cairo TV for 23 years Now that surrogate parent effect that bill described as something JP had experienced, too. There's something special about watching someone on local TV and then being able to see him in real life, too. I remember that in the seventies, it was very strange. It means a lot of love between the local host. And local fans. I was at the barbershop. Yeah. The yellow came between started crying. You don't realize how much you bet to be. Kids like me. We're so alone and all we had was you She bought by hair coat will have to pay for it. Uh, that was not unusual. I'll tell people you give big hugs it on and One of my, uh fans, ecological A bunch of loggers up inboard figured that one out frat houses at the universities had Brinkman build fancy clubs. Different era. When I spoke with Bill Yesterday, we had a wide ranging conversation about growing up in Tacoma during the Depression. You know, he had a train set on his TV show, but he was as a kid he was his family couldn't afford a train set as a kid. We talked about the history, the show the thousands of personal appearances he made over the years doing fundraisers for local Pittas and the live as he did for stuff like Bosco chocolate syrup or treetop apple juice. Also learned. Bill McLean did morning drive radio and sports casting in Ellensburg and then Yakima in the late forties and early fifties before moving back home to Tacoma to work in radio and TV at Channel 11 and Channel eleven's radio station. K T. N T. That's where he was working as a camera operator when he got the nod to take over the TV show after the original host, Guy named engineer Walt, played by Dave Richardson came down with polio. This was the mid 19 fifties after all. Now. The show with the railroad theme in the model trains was based on a similar show in Los Angeles. Now that led me to a specific question about the wardrobe. Do you still have the overalls and the hat somewhere? I do. When's the last time you put them on? I couldn't remember He was been So many years. I think the last one dedicated a locomotive five. Sure that was the last far off. You know, the last year off the T V shows more than 46 years ago, April 1st 1975 brakeman Bill blames that At least partially on someone You wouldn't suspect. Mr Rogers. I hate to say this. I thought Mr Rogers as a whip. He just came across the so soft. Not to knock him, but he was one of the guys that took me off the air. The imperious people decided that live entertainers like me, like most kids shows. We're selling bicycles. On the air of the kids that couldn't afford to buy. And they were selling breakfast cereals have brought their teeth on. And A toys, commercials that poor kids could afford. The butcher. Who is so they You pass an X four rule of the broadcasters. I could no longer do live commercials. That was the end of my show. Yeah, the thought was that guys like rape and Bill and JP patches. Anyone who had that kind of relationship with viewers had too much influence over young minds. You know when the When the surrogate parent promoted some toy or food product on your show, the kids in the audience just took it as a command to buy. So when those commercials went away because of changes not to the law, but to the National Association of Broadcasters Code, which was very powerful in 1973, and that was a change of people like Mr Rogers and Action for Children's television had called for since the early seventies that revenue that support the programs went away too. So breaking Bill hung on for a few more years. JP hang hung on for a few more years beyond that, so so he's still going strong at 93 brakeman Bill is no wimp, that's for sure. But his wife Jean McClain, did let me in. Little secret. You know, you're lucky that you called him because I had him out in the yard working and he hates yard work. I I had to do the yard work and he got away with not doing it so So I mean, they're both in their nineties. They both sound really vigorously live on their own. They're you know, they're doing their yard work outside. These are people who have somehow found the secret of the magical secret of of long term health. So, um Warren read a voice in the arm or crazy Donkey passed away. Back in 1986. He was really sort of the the wacky, crazy center of the show. The energy between those two guys is what made the show work. You know, we're not likely to see local kids shows on TV ever against because of those rules because of just the dynamics, the economics of it. The most recent attempt was in the early nineties, when Bill McLean was promotions director channel 11 Help to show on the air called Ranger Charlie and Roscoe, Um, that did last A few years in the final co host was M. J. McDermott, who does the weather on Channel 13 these days, So I thought, Dave, you could do a kid show host, maybe on C Span like, Hey, kids. It's time to watch the select Committee on Benghazi again. And so it could be dressed up as chokepoint. The clown kind of providing that kind of antique comic relief. That's true, we could. We could turn this into a Children's show. We really good, I think. I mean, that's how I became. My my unhealthy obsession with local media began with shows like Brakeman Bill, and that's where you Got to get You Get them early, right, You get them. Hooked early, and then they viewers for life so well, I'll tell you my upset. I mean, I didn't grow up here with Bosco was the big thing on Children's shows. And I still have a jar of Moscow and my pantry. Wow. Is it vintage Bosco or recent Bosco? Oh, I I don't think my 1954 jar of Bosco would be, uh, wow, safe to eat now, but I do have a recent Moscow The form is not quite the same. But it is there any time I feel I need the Indulgence, and it was all because of the Children show I grew up with that's that's great that he's doing so well at the age of 94. I think I don't think it's any secret. I think yard work does keep you alive. I think you're right. And I hate yard work. So anyway, it's been nice knowing you, Dave. Now I'm always trying to help our promotions. People out, you know, trying to get them to embrace the whole history thing here in Seattle..