Born in November of 1921, Bill Hart was a native of California. His real name was William Von Hacht and that was the last name all his children and family used. This father of six came to Philadelphia in 1945 from Schenectady, NY, where he worked at WGY Radio.
Previous to WGY, he worked in Hartford, CT and was using his real name. It was during the Second World War and listeners and advertisers complained to the station that they had "this Nazi" on the air, solely because Bill's roots were of German origin. Management finally insisted that he use an "air" name. Bill said that he didn't know what to use. They replied, "Think about it and give us a new name tomorrow." Bill, so the story goes, thought about it and came up with two names, "Bill Hart" and "Bill Ford." The names were derived from the town he was working in, Hartford. Station management thought it might be difficult for someone named Bill Ford to do a Chevy commercial, so the name Bill Hart was selected.
WCAU aired live coverage in 1945 of President Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral train passing through 30th Street Station. It was Bill Hart that introduced the coverage. His first Channel 10 assignment, after shifting to TV in 1948, was doing man-on-the-street interviews in front of the station's old Chestnut Street studios at 1622 Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia.
The new station (WCAU-TV came on the air in March of 1948) needed programs and one easy (and cheap) idea was these Man on the Street interviews called "On Chestnut Street." In November of 1948, WCAU-TV started a new hour-long television program called "Homemakers' Matinee." It aired from 2 to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. "Homemakers' Matinee" was, in reality, three different shows. From 2 pm to 2:30 pm, it was the "Cinderella Weekend" segment. Then at 2:30, there was a 15 minute piece called "Homemakers at Home" and the last fifteen minutes was a part entitled "On Chestnut Street" with Broadcast Pioneers member Gene Crane and Hart.
The hour-long broadcast had a live studio audience (they were there for all three segments or shows) and originated from the WCAU-TV studios in center city Philadelphia at 1622 Chestnut Street. This picture is from the "On Chestnut Street" segment.
The Harts until Bill’s death in the nineties lived in Downingtown, PA in a house that had thirty acres of land surrounding it. In the early days of TV in the early fifties, Bill had trouble receiving Channel 10 in Downingtown. However, Hart came up with a wonderful idea. He put a television antenna on the top of a device that could hold helium filled balloons. When Bill wanted to watch TV, he would fill several rubber balloons with the helium gas and the antenna would rise. The extra height was usually enough to allow the Hart family to view television from "distant" Philadelphia, all of 30 miles.
During much of the show's run, Bill Hart was a very "tall clown" on the CBS-TV show, "The Big Top" which originated out of WCAU-TV. A television listing from Sunday, October 28, 1951 shows Bill hosting a 30-minute program from 10:15 am to 10:45 am. It was called "TV Spelling B" and was co-hosted by Ruth Weir Miller. It was described as "word games for youngsters."
In the early days of television, Bill co-hosted "Home Highlights" with Jean Corbett. In April of 1953, the program aired from 11 to 11:30 am. It was on against NBC's "Ding Dong School" and WFIL's "WIFFIL Schoolhouse." On Tuesday, April 7, 1953, they chatted with Mrs. Bill Sears about her recent trip to Africa. Her husband Bill did "The Bill Sears Show" on WCAU-TV daily from 8:05 am until 9:30 am. On Thursday, April 16, 1953, we found a five minute program called CASH ON THE LINE. It was described in this way: "Bill Hart calls the viewers." Preceding it was a 10 minute show which featured Steve Allison. So far, we have found no other references to this Bill Hart vehicle.
"Home Highlights" was a daily show featuring conversation and cooking, mostly aimed at women who were at home during the day. Bill Bode, director of Action in the Afternoon (a WCAU program that aired live on CBS-TV in 1953) e-mails:
"...(this) "moment" relates to Home Highlights in Bill Hart's day. They had guests on frequently--authors, movie stars, etc. One British gal told them, discussing her life in Britain, that she had a 250 Pound screw each year. "I think that's a pretty good screw," said the young lady. It took a while to find out that a "screw" in Mother England means vacation. Hart had his back to camera and almost busted a gut not laughing. Corbett held on tight and didn't laugh. Everyone else in the studio was in hysterics....."
In the summer of 1953, there were press reports that Bill had a tough time buying shoes. His size was next to impossible to find. However, responding to the story, a local Philadelphia Shoe Store in Germantown, Image Shoes at 2815 Germantown Avenue made him a special custom made pair. It was, supposedly, the best pair of footwear Hart ever had.
In 1954, Alan Scott left WCAU-TV to go to WPTZ to host Let Skinner Do It" (renamed "Let Scott Do It") with Joe Earley as Mr. Rivets. Bill Hart got the nod to take over the hugely successful "Cinderella Weekend" program that Scott had hosted since 1948.
Charlie Higgins, a long-time tech at WCAU emails:
A WCAU-TV Daily Program Sheet for Wednesday, July 4, 1956 shows that the TV version of Cinderella Weekend with Bill Hart aired from 2:00 pm until 2:29:30 pm from Studio #1, the auditorium studio.
By Wednesday, August 26, 1959, Cinderella Weekend had moved its time to 1:05 pm until 1:28:55 pm. And by Friday, April 15, 1966, TV10 Around Town was in that slot…. (hosted by Bill Hart)
The radio version (of Cinderella Weekend) aired from 9:30:30 am until 9:55 am on Monday, June 4, 1956. It was recorded from Studio #1 from 10:15 am until 11:30 am. The extra time allowed for setup, etc.
…Obviously they kept changing its time but I guess it never registered on me, you just followed the daily schedule.
During the fifties, while the Evening Bulletin still owned the station, Bill had several opportunities to go to New York and join the network. They offered him his own game show on CBS-TV. (Bill had been filling in on "Beat the Clock" while regular host Bud Collyer was on summer vacation for 13 weeks in 1951). However, his wife simply refused to move out of the area. Bill turned the job down.
In June of 1959 (while also hosting "Cinderella Weekend"), he did a daily kiddie show from 7:15 to 8 am. It was called "Shorty's Cartoon Theater," and again Bill Hart played a clown. In the summer of 1960, Bill Hart replaced Bob Collier on "The Morning News" at 7 am on Channel 10. His co-anchor was Broadcast Pioneers member Gene Crane.
For many years in the sixties, Hart hosted WCAU-TV’s weekday afternoon (1 to 1:30 pm) "TV10 Around Town," revived as a Saturday night show in the early eighties sans Harts. Every week, there was a different co-host. One was President Harry Truman's daughter, Margaret, a singer. The Channel 10 program originated live from their City Line Studios with an occasional remote. Jim Rogers did the news on the show.
In 1970, Bill shifted from Channel 10 to WCAU Radio after being on TV for 22 years. In 1979, Hart's “mellow but booming voice” was buried on the overnight shift doing news from midnight to 5:30 am. Then in 1981, “his concise and intelligently written news reports” aired from 4 pm until midnight.
In a 1974 newspaper column, Dominic Quinn, later to be a radio talk show host, complained that veteran Station management who often replaced them “when newer models came along” often ignored broadcasters, like Hart. Dominic referred to Bill as "good men taken for granted. One of the last of a vanishing breed of staff announcers who can handle any assignment, from a sportscast to a church service to a weather show to a political show." He described Hart as "urbane, sharp, with the sardonic humor of a generalist caught in an age of the specialist… He's always full throttle, straight ahead, day after day." Bill had a certain charm and a distinctive laugh.
In August of that year, Hart was host and producer of (NJN) New Jersey Public Television's "Garden State Tonight." The magazine-type show was seen at 7 pm daily. Hart took a six-month leave of absence from WCAU to work on the live show that was based in Trenton. Bill had one of those “lifetime” contracts with WCAU and the station not recognizing Bill’s ability felt they were “stuck” with him. He was “the forgotten man” at the station. In July of 1986, at age 65, he retired.
In the early nineties, Bill's wife passed away. A little while later, he met Chelsa through his son, Mark. She would eventually become his second wife. However, she told us how they met. Bill was living alone in his house in Downingtown with his dog. Mark knew Chelsa and asked about "borrowing" her cleaning lady to assist his dad. Finally, Chelsa agreed. Upon returning from a trip (she breeds show dogs), she called Bill to see how everything went. All was well. They talked for about 30 minutes and agreed to meet (they never had seen each other before). There was an upcoming area dog show (outdoors) and that's where they would meet. Bill said that he would be the "tall one" and Chelsa said she would be the blonde lady with a specific dog. After the appointed hour, there was no Bill Hart. She decided that she would walk around a little to see if she saw a tall man. When she strolled passed this guy sitting on the grass, he said, "Chelsa?" She said that he was sitting on the lawn checking her out before saying anything.
On September 25, 1986, the Clover Club, a local organization that pre-dates radio by almost a half-century, honored Bill Hart naming him, Man of the Year at an event at the Union League. This gathering was also a "roast" of Bill. A couple of the roasters were then City Councilman Thatcher Longstreth and WCAU Newsman Jack Reilly. The gala was hosted by Ray Green, who was General Manager and owner of WFLN Radio. Green was our organization's second president.
Standing 6 feet, 9 inches tall, he was a giant. However, in the broadcast industry, even if Bill was several feet shorter, he still would have been a giant, rising above the rest. Bill Hart passed away on Friday, December 4, 1998. He was 77. On Friday, November 17, 2006, Bill Hart was inducted into "The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's Hall of Fame."
Kevin Doherty, a visitor to our website e-mailed: "Bill Hart, ...his last shift at WCAU-AM, 1210 was as co-anchor of the Morning Show with Steve Highsmith, where his combination of straightforward reporting and whimsical humor made getting up in the morning enjoyable."
From the archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Gene Crane
Text written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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