Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Children’s Television

Local children’s programming in the Philadelphia area flourished during the “Golden Age of Television,” from the rise of commercial broadcasting after World War II to the early 1970s. During its heyday the hosted children’s show was a mainstay of locally produced programming. In the Philadelphia area, original children’s shows were produced by the three local broadcast affiliates – WPZT (later KYW), Channel 3 (NBC, now CBS), WFIL (later WPVI) Channel 6 (ABC), and WCAU Channel 10 (CBS, now NBC) – and reached viewers throughout Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, and even northern Maryland. The Philadelphia shows were not only financially successful, garnering large audience shares for their time slots and generating substantial advertising income for the stations, but were also critically well-received by reviewers, children, and parents.

When commercial television began, national networks typically did not begin their weekday broadcasts until after seven o’clock at night. Local stations had to fill the rest of the air time during each weekday.  Children’s shows became a popular choice for economic reasons. The local children’s programs kept their production costs very low: the sets were minimal; there were no writers (most shows were ad-libbed); and the star (the host) performed live.

From Radio to TV

An image of Bill Webber speaking in front of cameras and an audience full of sitting and standing children.

Bill Webber interacts with the “Peanut Gallery” live audience on “Wee Willie Webber’s Colorful Cartoon Club” on WPHL-TV, Channel 17. (Photograph published with permission of The Webber Family, Copyright 2012, The Webber Family.)

Most of the shows followed the same formula. The role of host was similar to the role of a disc jockey on the radio. Indeed, several of the popular children’s show hosts in the Philadelphia area were originally radio personalities. The host introduced cartoons or film shorts (such as Popeye, Little Rascals, and The Three Stooges), which program directors purchased in bundles from the controlling motion picture studios or from brokers such as King Features Syndicate. Hosts filled the time between the segments with singing, improvised “dialogue” with the child-viewer at home, and story-telling often accompanied with drawings by the host done in real time. The host also served as the spokesperson for the show’s sponsors. Inexpensive to produce and popular with the child-viewer, these shows became attractive vehicles for local businesses eager to tap into the new advertising medium of television.

Jane Norman as “Pixanne” in the Enchanted Forest. (Photograph published with the permission of Jane Norman.)

Hosts such as Sally Starr (Popeye Theater) and Bill “Wee Willie” Webber (Breakfast Time), whose personalities transcended the shows’ limited production values, attracted the children who tuned in daily.  Many program directors felt that since there was so much time to fill, they could afford to give any reasonably good idea a chance. This atmosphere fostered creativity and encouraged experimentation. Children’s entertainers had the opportunity to land their own shows if they could craft a unique concept. In addition to Starr and Webber, some of the most popular hosts—based on both the longevity of the shows and market share of viewing audiences—were Jane Norman (Pixanne), Gene London, “Uncle” Pete Boyle, Traynor Ora Halftown (Chief Halftown), and W. Carter Merbreier (Captain Noah).

By the early 1970s, the heyday of children’s programming in Philadelphia had ended. New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibited the hosts from performing commercials for the sponsor’s products, thus making them less attractive to local businesses. The rise of educational programming, UHF stations, and the introduction of the Saturday-morning cartoon block resulted in increased competition for the locally produced shows on the network affiliates. Thus increased government scrutiny and regulation in conjunction with major industry changes reduced the financial viability of these shows and helped to bring about their demise in stations across the country.

Host Bill Webber

By decade’s end, most of the local hosted children’s shows were gone. Some hosts, like Bill Webber, made a successful transition to UHF. From the mid-1960s through to the end of the 1970s, Webber hosted cartoon shows for local stations Channel 17 (WPHL) and Channel 48 (WKBS). Captain Noah and His Magical Ark (which began in the late 1960s) sailed its final voyage in 1994. Chief Halftown’s weekend show continued on the air until 1999, although the format had changed from a cartoon show to a children’s talent showcase.

Even though the hosts of the shows were no longer on television they continued to personal appearances and draw crowds of former child-viewer fans at local parades and amusement parks throughout the area. Bill Webber, Ora Halftown, and “Uncle” Pete Boyle are now deceased. Many of the remaining hosts have reinvented themselves and have had second careers. Jane Norman has had a highly successful career as an author and currently tours and records as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook and jazz standards. Sally Starr was a radio show host (WVLT Vineland, N.J.) until her retirement in 2011. Gene London became a historian and curator of movie costumes. His collection has been featured in museums nationally and internationally. Although now retired, W. Carter Merbreier continues to write for children and is active in professional organizations such as the Broadcast Pioneers. (The set of Captain Noah is on permanent display at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.)

Though their reign over the “Golden Age of Television” was brief, children’s television show hosts in the Delaware Valley left an indelible mark on the children of the era who were comforted by the hosts’ warmth and charm. Television stations produced inexpensive yet high-quality programming, and Baby Boomer children in the Philadelphia region reaped the benefits.

Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic is a reference librarian at the Paul Robeson Library of Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey. Brandi Scardilli graduated from Rutgers University–Camden with an M.A. in history.

Copyright 2012, Rutgers University

Related Reading

Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. Accessed February 18, 2012. 

Hollis, Tim. Hi There, Boys and Girls!: America’s Local Children’s TV Programs. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.

Philly’s Favorite Kids Show Hosts. Produced by Ed Cunningham. 2007. Philadelphia: WHYY-TV.


The “National Public Broadcasting Archives” and the “Library of American Broadcasting,” Hornbake Library North, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

The Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

Places to Visit

Please Touch Museum, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia.

22 Comments Comments

  1. People…

    I am disappointed you missed Stanley Brozia—host of a Sunday AM kids talent show. Any information on it.

    Elliot Lawrence, well-known band leader, arranger, was Stanley’s son.

    John Renner
    Camden NJ
    Sax with Beach Boys, Aretha, Bobby Darin, etc.

    John Renner Posted April 16, 2016 at 6:41 pm
  2. I remember a Peter Boyle, who was the father of the actor son, Peter Boyle, of “Raymond ” fame.
    Do you have a picture of him; what was the name of the children’s show, how long was it on in Philadelphia,? He entertained my children for a few years. I am 88.
    Is he from Philadelphia?

    Mary Brickman Posted April 20, 2016 at 6:30 pm
  3. Mary, yes, we have a picture of Peter Boyle. Go to the image gallery on the top right of the page and click on the photo to learn more about him. Thanks for visiting!

    curator Posted April 20, 2016 at 11:34 pm
  4. I was born in Philadelphia and lived there in the Upper Darby area until we moved to Collingswood, NJ, then Haddonfield, NJ and now Tennessee. I remember Happy the Clown. Two of my children had tickets for the show. I remember Happy just walked off the set and never spoke to the children. I also watched with my daughters a show called Exercise with Gloria I believe it was. She wore a black leotard and several of her little daughters did the show with her. I still do her upper arm exercise because they work. Don’t do them often enough though. I still love the Philly area and was there 3 years ago researching our family ancestry. It will always be home to me. Thanks for all the great memories.

    Anne Donovan Posted June 2, 2016 at 10:31 pm
  5. Anne Donovan, I was born & raised in Philadelphia, Lawncrest section for my first 10 years. Years later, I now live in Collingswood.

    Donna Wissinger Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:31 pm
  6. I remember being on Happy the Clown Show sometime between 1957-1960, a group of children walking around in a circle banging 2 sticks together making music. How do I go about locating footage if any of the show. How nice it would be to see my younger self


    Golden Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm
  7. Does anyone remember the children’s game show The World Around Us. WFIL, mid to late 60’s? I really would like to find some information on it. My youngest brother was a contestant, and won. Any information will be appreciated.

    Kenneth Mallory Posted May 2, 2017 at 2:04 am
  8. I too am seeking footage.

    Kenneth Mallory Posted May 2, 2017 at 2:05 am
  9. I am looking for a picture or footage of a game show for kids called”Challenge” hosted by Anita Kleever on channel 3 in the 1970s.?

    Woody Woodin Posted May 14, 2017 at 1:35 pm
  10. I grew up in S.Jersey. I can remember my father bringing home our first television, 1947 – first show ‘The Lone Ranger’. Good memories!
    However, I am looking for the name of a children’s show that my brother and I would watch Saturday mornings back then 1947 – 1950, I’d say. It had a brother and sister who would often be running in secret passageways of a large home, being chased by a man wearing a cloak which he would have over his arm shielding his face.
    I would truly appreciate anyone’s help in getting the name of this show. Thank you in advance.

    Annette Posted September 16, 2017 at 8:48 pm
  11. Here In New York City I remember a show on Channel 13 which , according to my best possible guess, aired from the late 1960’s to early 1970’s or at least aired within that time frame. I don’t recall the name but I will try to describe it as I recalled it. The show was one in which a woman who could have been in her mid 20’s to early 30’s was the host and was usually shown from he neck up facing the camera and talking to the viewing children. She was a white woman with short blondish (if not blond) hair cut “Buster Brown” like but much shorter. She wore no lipstick or earrings from what I recall.
    She would often explain a lot of different things about science, biology, music, what to expect in school, or just about life in general before some footage would be shown of something relevant to what she was talking about. For example if she was explaining how animals live in the wild, there would be a short film showing how birds build nests and bring food to their young. ( The host seemed to be a teacher just like the ladies who hosted “Romper Room.”). I recall once when she narrated a short educational film about a boy who broke his leg and had to go to the hospital. The host explained how the boy was feeling nervous but he was given something to make him fall asleep and before he knew it he was awake again and his leg was in a cast and his parents visited him and the boy felt “proud” to show his parents his cast.
    It is a very long-ago and forgotten kid’s TV program that was obscure compared to others but I remember watching it regularly. I must have been from 8 to 10 years old. Anyone also have memories of this. Can anyone tell me the name of the show and the host.

    L Posted October 13, 2017 at 2:16 pm
  12. Woody Woodin, I remember that show “Challenge”. I actually had a neighbor who was contestant. What I remember most distinctively about the program was during the “championship round” (for lack of a better term) the show played the opening to The Who Song “Baba O’Reilly” and for I believe just the closing credits, they played a portion of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Footstompin’ Music”.

    Jay Seravalli Posted May 4, 2019 at 11:39 am
  13. I was a contestant on Challenge back in the day!
    I remember the vibrant colors of the set, since we still had only a black and white TV at the time! (Btw, I didn’t win, but I did receive a $25 passbook savings account for participating. Big money back in the day… )
    I, too, would love any images from the show.

    David Horowitz Posted June 3, 2019 at 9:34 pm
  14. My brother watched a TV show starring a little girl named Little Ms.Terri in 1953/4.
    Any information would be helpful.
    Thank you.

    Yvonne Spector Posted September 15, 2020 at 9:37 pm
  15. I was a contestant on Challenge sometime around 1971. I was winning going into the final round. The final category was “Customs and traditions of Christmas”. I’m Jewish. Needless to say, this wasn’t my strongest topic. The question that sunk me was when they named a bunch of reindeer, and said who did we leave out? I said Rudolph. They said Rudolph wasn’t a real reindeer. I argued that none of them were real reindeers, but they wouldn’t listen. Sheesh. But I did get a social security number and $25 to start a bank account with!

    Dan Anonymous Posted September 16, 2020 at 7:43 pm
  16. My Uncle was on Challenge. I too, am looking for footage. Perhaps it exists in some old archive in Philly?

    Ethan M Parmet Posted November 27, 2020 at 1:45 pm
  17. I too was a contestant on Challenge back in 1979/1980? I won one game and earned a clock radio, then lost and got a pocket camera. And yes, Baba O’Reilly played during the wait period. I would love to see footage!

    Barbara Posted December 20, 2020 at 8:07 pm
  18. When I was about 10 or 11, I was on the Gene London show (so circa 1965-66). We were a group of girls who were supposed to be swooning about something Gene was doing. Funny! That would be some footage to see. I have no idea how we got on.

    Polly Posted January 5, 2021 at 11:48 am
  19. Looking for old (1960’s) Christian show “Oh Come Little Children”, shot in Philadelphia. Any archives? Anyone remember?

    Brian Shumway Posted February 16, 2021 at 8:44 am
  20. I was a contestant on Challenge sometime in the mid 70s. I really don’t remember much about it, but would love to see footage of the show.

    Pat Posted March 23, 2021 at 11:44 pm
  21. Growing up in Delaware in the 70’s, I watched a lot of Philadelphia TV. My best memories were The Space Giants, Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and Dr. Shock. Of course I remember Capt. Noah, Sally Star Chief Halftown and Wee Willie Webber.

    Marshall Gillespie Posted March 28, 2021 at 10:51 am
  22. I was on the show, “The World Around Us” with Anita Klever. I was on the show with my hamster. They used to have a segment with hamster races. I had to be between 10 to 12 years old. I would love to find and see recordings of the show, especially the one I was on. Does anyone have any information on the show recordings?

    Terence J Edwards Posted September 27, 2021 at 6:31 pm

Logged in as . Log out? Add a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Share This Page: