Throwback Thursday: When Channel 8 Was Known as "Crazy TV"

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Today television stations use all sorts of tools including including music packages and flashy computer generated graphics to build their image. Things were a little different in the early 1950's.

If you were tuning in to Reno's Channel 8 back then. You were watching northern Nevada's first television station and you might have seen and heard a trio singing in harmony a jingle that began with."Channel 8! Reception's great! Local shows and education....

The guy in the middle pounding a stand up bass would have been Don Thompson who 60 years later can still finish the jingle.

"KZTV is the station with the best affiliation. CBS for Reno and vicinity. Oh that crazy TV. It went on like that."

Thompson now mostly retired after a long career in local advertising and sports promotion headed up the trio in those days, appearing in local lounges and, in it's early days on Channel 8, then operating as KZTV.

The station had access to programming from all four networks, but shows like 'You Bet Your Life" with Groucho Marx weren't delivered by satellite or even microwave over the Sierra. They arrived on film days or weeks after appearing elsewhere and once here they saw frequent use.

"We'd get reruns" says longtime local columnist and historial Karl Breckenridge.. "We'd see Groucho Marx say the magic word the duck will drop down. We knew when the duck was coming. because we'd seen the episode five times. We knew all the answers because we'd heard the questions before."

Everything else, programming and commercials was generated locally in Channel 8's 5th street studio by a small staff with one video camera.

"They had all kinds of stuff," remembers local historian Neal Cobb. "They had kids come in with their animals. All kinds of stuff."

That would be Pet Pals, one of Durward Yasmer's inventions. Originally hired as a film editor, he would eventually wear many hats and create a lot of local programming.

"I thought it was amazing," says Yasmer. "You could put things together and show them on a screen all over town. We put shows on just to fill the air time in those days."

And he had a hand in a lot of them. A sometimes magician, he and local lounge entertainer Jan Savage melded their talents in something called "Magic and Music.".

It was all live and sometimes produced some unexpected, memorable moments including one Pet Pal episode when a carnival elephant with a full bladder relieved himself on the air.

"It flooded the studio," Yasmer remembers with a chuckle. "It washed a bunch of merchandise out of the prop room into the alley through the back door. I got a commendation from all my friends that I didn't even crack a smile.

This was live TV. You have to stand there. I was wet up to my knees."

There's an echo of one of Yasmer's creations on KOLO8's schedule today. Decades before late night viewers were laughing and cringing at "Zomboo's House of Horrors," a creepy gentleman named Baron Von Brenner was lurking around a dungeon set doing the same thing.

When Yasmer met Von Brenner he was selling vacuums. Soon a new Channel 8 personality was born.

There were many others. Local talent shows and interview shows with acts appearing in local show rooms, cooking shows, the Mighty Mites boxers squaring off in the ring and kids shows.

Russ Shelton, once a bell captain at the Mapes was reborn as a sportscaster, then Uncle Happy.

In fact in the years that followed there was a succession of children's shows like the KOLO Kid and, if you looked close today you might recognize CNN's Jack Cafferty beginning his career as Ranger Jack.

Programming and commercials. All local and usually live with predictable results.

"It was funny it was exciting," says Thompson. "People nowadays have it easy because we couldn't make a mistake. If we did everybody knew about it."

In the telling it all sounds chaotic, but back then was new and exciting and the town quickly gave it a name.

"They called it Crazy TV," remembers Dick Colon, the station's first sales manager.

"It was a nickname, says Yasmer. "Well, K-Z-T-V, Crazy TV."

"Once they called it Crazy TV I don't think anyone ever called it KZTV again," adds Breckenridge.

But the station would soon have a new name and would move to expand its reach. That story next week.