Gene Crane (raising the hat)
Contest Carnival
circa 1954

In the early to mid fifties, WCAU-TV, which was owned by the Evening Bulletin newspaper, produced as many as eleven or twelve programs that were aired on the CBS-TV network.

Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Higgins identifies those shows as being:

What in the World?
The Big Top
In the Park
Grand Chance Roundup
Action in the Afternoon
Ranger Joe
Jr. Hi-Jinx
Summer School
Kid Gloves
The Fred Waring Show
Contest Carnival
Candy Carnival

A few of these shows featured Gene Crane, a member of the Broadcast Pioneers. One was Candy Carnival (later retitled Contest Carnival) and was presented live on CBS-TV. Gene Crane seemed to remember the show for at least part of its run being aired Sundays at 11:30 am. (We cannot substantiate that the program ever aired in that time period.) However, an e-mail from Charlie Higgins (a tech for many years at WCAU) says that the time was incorrect.

Charlie said that "The Children's Hour" (sponsored by Horn & Hardarts) hosted by the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's first President, Stan Lee Broza, aired in that time period. He added that "The Children's Hour" was on during that time period, even when he was a kid. Gerry Wilkinson, a Broadcast Pioneers Board Member, agrees. Broza was on Sundays at 11:30 am for an hour. He said that he remembers because it was on against the last half of Bertie the Bunyip.

Charlie added that "The Children's Hour" was a simulcast on both TV and radio and originated from Studio 1. Bill Bode who directed Action in the Afternoon on CBS-TV from WCAU-TV mentioned that George Thomas did the H&H commercials. Charlie clarified it. They were always done by Hugh Walton on television whereas on radio they were done by George Thomas.

Originally both Candy Carnival and the Big Top (sponsored by Sealtest) originated from a Camden, New Jersey site. The Big Top aired Saturday from 12 noon until 1 pm (early on, it aired Saturdays from 6:30 to 7:30 pm) on CBS-TV, originating from WCAU-TV. Charlie Higgins sent this e-mail...

I just found a CBS Television Network "Daily Operation Sheet" for Saturday, March 31, 1956, and it states that Big Top airs from 12:00:00 pm until the System Cue (CTN) at 12:59:25 pm.

Broadcast Pioneers member Allen Murphy believed "Candy Carnival" aired Sundays at 12:30 pm or 1 pm. Maybe the program aired at different times throughout its history. By the way, several TV listings in 1952 thru 1955, all show the program airing Sundays from 12:30 pm until 1 pm.

A little publicity piece dating from the Spring of 1954 showed that Joan Coale was also on the program. She portrayed the character "Puff." She also appeared on Ed McMahon's WCAU-TV program, "Get Happy." Another character on the program was a clown whose name was "Candy." Phil Sheridan, well-known local Philadelphia broadcaster portrayed him.

There was also another clown, dressed as a hobo. His name was Carny C. Carny, or just Carny. Carny was portrayed by Harry LeVan who developed the character into a local celebrity having his own show in Philadelphia, "Carny, the Clown." Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson appeared on the local Carny show in 1956 wearing a centerpiece as an Easter hat.

The show was on the network from January 6, 1952 (date courtesy of Ted Gerike) until 1955. The first season, the broadcast originated from a remote location in Camden, NJ, the Armory. After a fire, the Crane broadcast moved into the new WCAU studios on City Line Avenue and the Big Top went to the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory at 32nd and Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia.

According to research we have done, Candy Carnival went off both the network and WCAU-TV in 1953, with the last show being on June 28th. The fire at the Camden location was about that time. Maybe it went off the air because of the fire. However, host Gene Crane said that he didn't think so. He recalled it going off because the sponsor dropped the show. When a new sponsor was located, it came back on the air. Returning in January of 1954 as the retitled "Contest Carnival," Gene said that the program was basically the same. Charlie Higgins said that the show originated from either Studio 2 or 3.

Charlie Higgins also wrote:

It required more than one crew to do Big Top. A crew consisted of 5 men, an audioman, two cameramen, a videoman, and a light and boom man or 3rd cameraman as needed. I have a Weekly Watch List for August 11th to August 17, 1956 (a Watch List is what a schedule was termed at WCAU. I suppose this harkened from the fact that Mr. Leitch was a Navy officer.) You always "stood a watch".

Anyway, the Watch List indicates that on Saturday that two crews were working 7:00 am to 4 pm so they must be the crews for Big Top. And then there were additional Technicians assigned too to make up the complement of staff needed. Setup day for Big Top was on Fridays. I note I kept this Watch List because I was assigned from radio to Big Top that Saturday from 9am until 1pm when I would return to the radio studios for the remainder of my Watch that day.

My guess would be that another crew whose watch was 7:30 am to 4:30 pm was the studio crew that did Candy Carnival.

...(By the way) I refer to the long time Chief Engineer of WCAU, John G. Leitch. He was CE from 1928 until he retired in 1963. Under the Evening Bulletin, he was Vice President of Engineering for the WCAU Stations. He was very strict but very fair. No one ever addressed him other than Mr. Leitch with the exception of several Techs who knew him when they were shipboard radio operators and he was a Radio Inspector for the Federal Radio Commission. They were the only ones I ever heard call him Jack. Not even the Ass't. CE, George Lewis, addressed him that way.

The first year was sponsored by M & M candy (thus the name Candy Carnival). In 1954, the program changed advertisers to the Quaker Cereal Company. They sponsored the show for about a year, maybe a little longer. Then for about a half-year, it was a sustaining broadcast, picking up spot commercials where possible.

This wasn't the first kid's program that Gene Crane did for WCAU-TV. He did one in 1949 (when WCAU-TV was one year old) called "Grand Chance Roundup." He entered the studio riding a horse and that was during the days when WCAU-TV was located in Center City Philadelphia. Gene told us that Candy Carnival was nothing more than a modified version of "Grand Chance Roundup."

Charlie Higgins also wrote that WCAU-TV originated other network broadcasts from time to time including baseball, football and Person to Person with Edward R. Murrow. In the fall of 1960, Broadcast Pioneers member Herb Clarke worked on a "Face the Nation" broadcast for the network originating from WCAU-TV. The guest that week was Senator John F. Kennedy.

In 1953, TV Guide described the program as a cirus show. On Sunday, May 31, 1953, Candy Carnival had at least three acts on that particular show. They included a Juggler, a Trampoline Act and and a Horse act.

Tony Verna, a long-time producer/director at WCAU-TV, e-mailed:

John Hetherton, George Vance and I played sometime clowns on Candy Carnival helping out the regulars, Phil Sheridan and Harry (LeVan). I was the AD (Assistant Director) on the show when the name switched to Contest (Carnival), I believe, because the candy sponsor dropped out. M&Ms! Later I shot the guns (live as the AD on the floor) that boomed the Puffed Wheat and Rice commercial opening.

Ted Gerike, a visitor to our website (his wife's uncle is Les Waas, a member of the Board of Directors of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia) e-mailed:

...I did work (on) M&M's Candy Carnival at the Monument Road studio. Phil Sheridan was on the show. Dave Stevens had the band. Red Clemson was in the trumpet section.... I believe the show debuted in 1952 and it was on Sunday mornings maybe around 11:00. I worked the Friday set up for the "Big Top" and the (live) Saturday show plus the M&M's Candy Carnival on Sundays. I assisted the scenic director Chuck Wells in cutting out the presentation frames for the young performers. I remember having to work on Christmas Day to get them ready for the debut. That could have been 1951. I am currently playing Piano at the Society Hill Hotel at 3rd and Chestnut. I've been there for 21 years.

Ted also wrote:

I went to the library and traced the show listed as "Carnival" backwards from January 4, 1953 to December 7, 1952. It aired on Sundays at 12:30 PM. Now I'm sure it extended beyond those dates in both directions, I just ran out of time. It is a mystery why I worked on Christmas day to get scenery ready for the show. I knew I had worked many of those shows. I worked the "Big Top" all of 1952. I have no recollection of "Candy Carnival" originating from Camden.... Later, Ted e-mailed: I have pinned the starting date as January 6, 1952. December 30, 1951 (in the same time period) was "Wits End," a children's quiz with Donn Bennett. January 6th was listed as "Carnival Time," a circus show for the young people with Gene Crane.

Host Gene Crane e-mailed:

It (Candy Carnival) and Big Top both originated in Camden's Convention Hall, until it burned down in the early 50's (1953). Big Top then moved to the Armory and Candy Carnival to the WCAU studios.

See Candy Carnival Photos

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Mike Muderick
Text researched and compiled by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
© 2007, All Rights Reserved

The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is