Pining for Ranger Andy

When I was six years old, I really wanted to be Susie Skripol’s friend. This wasn’t because I liked her all that much – in fact, I have a hazy recollection she beat me up when we were five.

Nor was it because she was my next-door neighbor. It wasn’t even because her father was a policeman.

It was because Susie’s birthday was coming up and she was taking her five favorite friends to be with her on the Ranger Andy show.

If you grew up around Hartford in the 50's and 60's, this was your chance for that brief, shining moment of glory – you got your face on TV long enough to say your name. I wanted it bad.

Susie lorded it over me that the last spot was going to me or George Feltman from across the street. Somehow I won out. Maybe she couldn’t beat up George.

I had a great time. Ranger Andy was beloved by almost every kid around. He played the banjo and sang songs about the great outdoors and then ran some good cartoons.

Connecticut had quite a few local TV shows for kids in those days. In addition to Ranger Andy, Channel 3 had Hap Richards – a 15 minute daily show that had puppet acts and short films about nature. With Hap (and his alter-ego Uncle Floyd), kids could get their name read on TV by becoming a "citizen of Joyville." The qualification was you had to write a letter to Hap and tell him about a good thing you did without being asked.

I don’t think I ever became a citizen of Joyville.

There were many others. I remember the artist Ralph Kanna and his drawings of Mud Poodle, Colonel Clown was around forever and on Channel 8 out of New Haven we got Admiral Jack and Mr. Goober.

Of course, these types of shows weren’t just in Connecticut. In, "Hi There Boys and Girls – Children’s TV Programs," author Tim Hollis offers up descriptions of local kids’‘ programming on virtually every television station from sea to shining sea.

My mother-in-law recently cleaned out some of her papers and entrusted me with my wife Liz’ membership card showing her to be an honorary crew member of Captain Noah’s ark. I think it was some kind of Pennsylvania version of being a citizen of Joyville. I mention it because I like to see Liz blush.

All the good local shows for kids are gone now. Partly it’s economics. It’s cheaper for a station in Des Moines to buy the same prepackaged stuff they run in Duluth than it is to produce their own.

Another reason is legislation pushed through in the late 1960's by a pressure group called Action for Children’s Television. Founded by Boston housewife Peggy Charren, they got a lot of rules and regulations enacted. It was an attempt to improve the programming for children. An attempt.

One of the changes they pushed through was a rule which prohibited local kiddie TV hosts from mentioning their sponsor’s product. This pretty much eliminated the sponsors and rang a death knell for the genre.

Theoretically, it sounds like a good idea not to have a local Captain Adventure extolling the virtues of eating Ring Dings, but you have to wonder how much good it did. More kids than ever before look like midget sumo wrestlers.

There are a lot more channels these days, and probably a lot more children’s programs. More may not be better, though.

Adult role models for kids seem to have disappeared. Now that Mister Rogers has hung up his sweater, who is out there for kids to look up to?

Sesame Street has a few grown-ups, but they all play second banana to those ubiquitous puppets. The few adults for kids who do appear on the tube are more like role models for New Age parents who, in the words of my friend Keith, are there to be "butlers for their children."

For people of my generation, there were scores of adults on TV we could say we wanted to "be like." There were not only the locals, but Captain Kangaroo, Sky King, the Lone Ranger, Steve and Venus from Fireball XL5, Superman – the list goes on and on.

Now, I don’t want to be one of those guys who says everything was better in the old days. It wasn’t. But the free TV we had with 3 or 4 channels (which we had to change by hand!) created a lot more fond memories than today’s eighty channels for which parents pay $400 a year ever will.

And if you’re out there Susie, thank for taking me to the Ranger Andy show. It was worth getting beat up for.


July 14, 2002