The Following highlights were “transcrammed” from the 2019 Flashback Weekend panel celebrating 40 years of Rich Koz’s Svengoolie. The event began with a video presentation narrated by the original Svengoolie – the late Jerry G. Bishop. The panel was moderated by WGN Radio’s Nick Digilio and proved an entertaining 90 minutes – with a few surprises!
Do you remember what you were doing on the night of Saturday, June 16, 1979? I sure do. Here in Chicagoland there was a bit of fanfare regarding a new horror host hitting the airwaves via our favorite UHF station, WFLD Channel 32. For a young monster movie fan like myself, the idea of watching them on prime time was a gift in and of itself. Having them presented along with hilarious parody songs, skits, and sound effects took it to an even higher level. Even before the big night, I recall my parents discussing the new talent at the dinner table. “Oh, you’ll probably love this Son of Svengoolie,” my mom said, looking up from the Chicago Tribune’s entertainment section. “Your father used to watch his dad back when he was on TV.”
We’d no sooner taken our seats in a special area located on the second floor of The Museum of Broadcast Communication, when we were back up on our feet cheering the arrival of Svengoolie. The man of the hour, Rich Koz, was celebrating his 35th anniversary as Chicago’s (and now the majority of this country’s) TV horror host and the room was chock full of devout fans and prominent citizens eager to participate in this one of a kind event. It was a serious affair that might otherwise seem in direct contrast to a career built on never taking himself too seriously though, in this case, well-deserved.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications lies near the foot of Chicago’s Marina Towers which, so far as this night was concerned, was not without its irony. Back when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, it was home to our favored UHF station, WFLD Channel 32. Whenever I was home sick from school it provided a welcome alternative to the soap opera-soaked major networks by offering much more satisfying shows such as Tennessee Tuxedo, The Munsters, and Banana Splits.
Of course those programs would only tie me over until the weekend when Channel 32 would unleash its REAL entertainment. On Saturday nights I’d drop a blanket in front of the family television set and prepare for two hours of monsters, air-popped popcorn, and guaranteed laughs via my favorite horror host, Son of Svengoolie. Yes, despite the constant struggle with our TV antennae in an effort to minimize the often snowy reception, my memories of those nights remain crystal clear.
The seeds of this event were actually sewn during Svengoolie’s appearance at “The Squared Circle” (covered HERE). I mentioned in that post meeting a couple of zoo keepers from The Lincoln Park Zoo; one of whom, Marisa, had arrived with local Chicago Red-eye writer, Elliott Serano. Elliott’s a fellow Svengoolie fan and had just written a big story on the host. He’d brought Marisa along that night so she could sign folks up for her zoo’s AAZK Chapter’s (American Association of Zoo Keepers) “Bowling for Rhinos” with Sven as one of their celebrity guests. Svengoolie has graciously assisted my own Brookfield Zoo AAZK chapter with our annual Vital Grounds fundraiser (providing opportunities for the New England Terror Dave, David Albaugh, to meet him as covered HERE and HERE) and accepted her invitation…even if appearing only as his mild-mannered alter ego, Rich Koz.
By now most of us have had a chance to see national commercial TV horror host, Svengoolie’s, new coffin which debuted last Saturday on MeTV. My kids and I actually turned it into an event as we prepared snacks and camped out in front of the television set…not unlike when I was a kid and my mother brought my brother and I our glasses for his “Son of” 3D airing of Revenge of the Creature. My fellow Goolies and I kept in touch via Facebook; enjoying a cyber huddle before (and after) the big moment arrived. Indeed, the show had barely begun before Social media became flooded with viewer feedback and public reaction to the new coffin created by Acme Design.