The last Birmingham kids' show to get started also had probably the most unlikely choice for its host. Joe Langston was well known for his many years as a news anchor at Channel 6, having been at WBRC since October 1963. In 1967, a new responsibility was added to his regular duties. Let's see how Joe himself describes it:
"The station just had 30 minutes they needed
to fill on Saturday mornings. I remember when Keith Barrs called
me in one day and said, 'We need a children's program on Saturday,' and
I said, 'What do you want?' He said, 'It's up to you.' So for several
weeks on the official log the title was LANGSTON'S CHOICE. But we finally
named it BIRTHDAY PARTY, and in the beginning there were no children in
the studio. Just the floor guy and myself did the show, and I think pretty
soon after it started we began the arm coming out of the contest box, and
since The Addams Family was calling that character 'Thing,' we called
ours 'SomeThing.' We had the kids send in their photographs, and
we had them all pasted up on a board with their name and address on the
back of each one, and I'd throw a dart at the board. Whatever picture I
hit, we took it down and sent them a gift in the mail. It was BIRTHDAY
PARTY and there was no party!! The kids sending the pictures in were having
It might be interesting to note here that the floor manager who crawled under a table and waved his hand as SomeThing later became quite notorious in a different way. He was Jack Montgomery, who later became a judge and was well known in the 1970s and 1980s for his kill-all-prisoners approach to law and order during his appearances on Tom York's Morning Show.
However, even the presence of one of his hands was not enough to carry an entire kids' show, so let's get back to Joe:
"Finally it was decided to have a live audience, and anyone having a birthday could bring their whole birthday party to the studio. In the beginning also, I was buying the gifts out of my own pocket; I had no budget, but when we started getting kids in the studio that changed and the station started buying the gifts. I would go down to Roy Lightsey's wholesale toy center and buy gifts, and I'd buy a birthday cake for the two or three children who were having birthdays at one time.
"Because Taft Broadcasting owned WBRC, we had all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I remember going through the Hanna-Barbera studio out in L.A. when I was on a trip out there, and I still have four mattes that Bill Hanna gave us and he and Joe Barbera autographed. At one time, Taft was the largest broadcast company in the United States. They owned Hanna-Barbera, Quinn Martin Productions, a professional baseball team..."
Although Birthday Party aired on Saturday mornings, there was no need for the kids and their parents to make the trek up Red Mountain at that time of day, as Joe relates:
"We recorded the show on Thursdays and
it was played back the following Saturday morning. There were no crews
on weekends back then. Saturday was a dead day when they cleaned up the
place! We were all staff announcers, and as a staff announcer you sat in
that booth 40 hours a week making station breaks. Now everything is taped!
Also, back then you did commercials; in the early days, if you had a client
and they had a commercial on Thursday night at 8:00, if they didn't want
to pay for the production you went up there and did that thing live! So
you were going up back and forth all day long.
"One time, either Coca-Cola or Pepsi was sponsoring THE MORNING SHOW, and I was filling in for Tom York. We had some great floor men back then, and when we did the commercial, we were supposed to take a big drink at the end and say something nice. Well, they had poured out the Pepsi and poured in bourbon, and when that hit my mouth I thought I'd been poisoned. I remember getting strangled, and tears rolling down my cheeks as they came in for a close-up. Sometimes during a newscast you'd look up and see the Playboy centerfold up there on the teleprompter. I found out after a while, and I have taught this in announcing classes, that the best way to keep from breaking up is to get mad. If you get mad enough, they can do anything and you won't think it's funny... if you can get mad in time!"
When asked if people still remember Birthday Party today, Joe had this interesting observation:
"Yes, but mostly if they were on it. I don't think it was that big a deal like Bozo the Clown or Cousin Cliff or Benny Carle; they were on for years and years. I was at Home Depot the other day, and this woman came up to me and said I caused her to have a scar on her knee. I said, 'ME?' She said she was with a group of girls coming up to be on my show, and they saw me out front and she started running and fell down, and I went over and picked her up!"
Birthday Party last aired in the summer of 1969, bowing out in time for that fall's new season of Saturday morning shows. That was not the end of Joe Langston's kid show career, though:
"We did JUNIOR AUCTION for about a year after that, where I wore the straw hat and striped coat and the cane, and the kids would come up there and bid with wrappers from some bread company. They'd bid on bicycles and all that stuff. It was the worst TV show of all time, no entertainment value; it was just watching kids hold up their bread wrappers."
Quality programming or not, Joe agrees that television was much more fun in those days:
"When they said, 'No, the news anchor shouldn't do anything else but anchor the news, he'll lose his credibility,' I said that it was odd that we had our highest rating when we were doing everything else! Now it's boring. When people saw us doing something else, and they got to like us for that reason, they'd watch us on the news. I don't understand that philosophy, even at the network level. They'd have a heart attack if one of the anchors did a commercial. In fact, Walter Cronkite was thinking of doing one AFTER he retired from being an anchor, and everyone raised Cain about it."
Faced with TV's changing face, Joe Langston retired from broadcasting on December 31, 1987. He later spent more than a decade as the head of the broadcasting department at Jacksonville State University, where he also taught announcing classes and tried to leave his students with some sage advice from a veteran of the business:
"The whole idea is to learn to talk the same way on or off the air, you don't turn it on and turn it off. If you do, and get into an ad-lib situation, you revert back to your original style. Regardless of what you do, whether it's news or sports or weather or commercials or kids' shows, you're still announcing."
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOE LANGSTON
TEXT AND CAPTIONS BY TIM HOLLIS
"SomeThing" IN TITLE BANNER BY THE WEBMASTER'S LEFT ARM
Created 05/29/2005 - 110 PM EDT