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In early 1969, the idea of Captain 20 (as an astronaut) was born. Station General Manager, Milt Grant wanted to have a local character to host the morning and afternoon cartoon shows on WDCA. In addition this character would also run a telephone contest. Since the moon landings were big news and WDCA-TV had purchased a futuristic set that had been used by RCA at the National Association of Broadcaster convention in April, it was determined that the character would be an astronaut! That summer auditions were held and the winner was John Kallimonis.
The first contest was The Gerbil Race! Viewers were asked to send in a post card with their name, address and phone number. Several times each morning and after noon, Captain 20 would select a post card and call that child. The viewer would be asked to pick one of three gerbils, each bearing the name of a Channel 20 program. The gerbils were released and if the selected gerbil won, so did the viewer!
This was a hugely popular contest for both kids and adults. There were rumors that adults in bars were actually betting on the gerbils! But that aside, the contest helped establish Channel 20 as an alternative to the kid's programming on WTTG.
In 1970 John Kallimonis left the station and was replaced by Tony Alexis. The set was repainted, Captain 20 got a new uniform and the gerbil races continued. Tony expanded the hosting concept by adding a sidekick that he also played. The audience appeal continued to grow!
In 1971, Tony also took on the role of Bozo the Clown. This was Washington's second Bozo (aside for those on Capital Hill). The first was Willard Scott who played the role several years earlier on WRC.
On June 10, 1972, I was hired to replace Tony on the Bozo Circus. I was hired as a staff announcer, as were John and Tony, which meant we were required to do any on-air task the station wanted. After a month of reformatting, the new Bozo Circus went on the air.
As Fall approached I was asked to take on the role of Captain 20 number 3! Frankly I was not excited by the prospect. It was a full time job producing and hosting five "taped as live" shows each week. However, I really had no choice, so we went to work on the new Captain. The space program was losing steam, so I decided to make Captain 20 an alien. Since I was a Star Trek fan, I gave him purple hair, pointed ears and he greeted people with the Vulcan split finger sign. This worked out well in that M&M Mars came on board as a primary sponsor, so Captain 20 became the man from Mars.
For a few weeks in September 1973, I actually did run gerbil races, but Milt Gant had a new idea: Monkey Races! He hired a chimpanzee trainer and we taped three monkeys doing a variety of different races, but like the gerbils, each had the name of a Channel 20 program.
The monkey races were followed in 1974 with the Disney Races. Our promotion manager had worked a deal with Disney World where we got a variety of Disney costumed characters to run a variety of race, but this time only with numbers. This was a real coup in that the Disney characters were rarely used for outside promotions.
The big change came in 1975 with the introduction of the Channel 20 Club Card. Kids could become a member of the club by sending in a stamped self addressed stamped envelop. They then received a numbered club card with the matching numbered stub being deposited in a giant drum. Several times a day, Captain 20 would appear between programs, pull and announce a winning number. If a child had the matching number he had 10 days to mail it to a special address and claim his/her prize. To kick off the contest we had a huge prize: Christmas in Walt Disney World for your entire family! We even filmed the promo spots in Disney World!
Over the next several years, The Channel 20 Club grew, sending out a reported 250,000 club cards. The contest prizes would change from more Disney vacation, to "Love Bug" go-carts, to bikes and a number of other prizes. At the same time Captain 20 was changing. About every year we got a new set and the Captain became a bit more human. He lost the purple hair, the ears kept getting smaller. In 1977, Captain 20 grew a mustache and at the same time Bozo left the air. Frankly it was a pain trying to cover the mustache and I was getting tired of the makeup. The problem was the 2.5 year waiting list for Bozo tickets. To solve this problem Captain 20 got his first real daily half hour program, "The Channel 20 Club."
In 1979, Channel 20's license renewal was challenged because of the violent, non-educational programming we targeted at children. At the same time, the station was put up for sale. It was decided that Captain 20 needed to have more educational content in his program. I spent a lot of time working with educators from the DC school system learning about early childhood education. It was a real experience. We had several shows during that period using several different formats. By the time the sale to Taft Broadcasting was finally approved, We had evolved the concept in a show that taught critical television viewing skills and it was called W.O.W.!
This show usually had four kids as guests. They would slide into the set, introduce themselves and then make a nutritious snack with Captain 20, who had normal ears, normal hair and wore a hat that was left over from a fast food commercial that had been taped in the studio a few weeks before! The snack was followed up by showing drawing that the viewers had sent to the station, a popular left over from the Bozo Art Gallery.
After the Space Gallery, the kids in the studio along with the kids at home watched a short animated feature. After it was over, Captain 20 would lead a discussion as to what the feature was about and what the kids got from it. The final segment of the show had Captain 20 leading a simple craft project that tied into the theme of the feature. The show received a national "Iris" nomination and several "People's Choice Awards."
Once W.O.W.! was successfully launched, I was asked to produce a second daily half hour program called Kids' Break! While Captain 20 would be a guest on the show, the host was a big shaggy green puppet by the name of Howard Huge! I had actually met Howard back in 1971 when I was at Bozo training in Dallas. He was a proto-type for a family of puppets that didn't sell, so, since he was unemployed I put him to work.
The show consisted of lots of short educational segments that tried to be as interactive as the medium would permit. Each of these segments had their own personality. Some were puppets like Milton M. Milton, Manners the Butler, and Chef Combo. Others were animated paintings like Timmy Time and Madame Memory and there was one live character, whose face we never saw, by the name of Nick Numbers! While I did all the voices, I did have help from interns, such as Randy Querry, who made and operated Manners!
Howard would be the MC, starting every show with a few jokes followed by the Word of the Day, which would be repeated at the end. Each show also had a locally produced feature piece. Sometimes an interview, a visit to the Zoo, a park, a restaurant or even an animation studio. This last feature was actually produced by another intern, Nancy Norman, and was part of the show that won a local Emmy Award in 1984!
Captain 20 was also involved with a series of prime time specials that were produced and promoted in cooperation with various school districts. These included: Neighborhood People, Monsters, Magic and Make Believe, TV Behind the Screen and Have I got a Deal for You!
During this time The good Captain was also still running contests such as Spin 'n Win where we gave away the hot new Atari video game system and TV Pass!, an interactive game where kids at home played an actual video football game on TV by saying "PASS" on the telephone to throw the football!
Captain 20 also did a series of education Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Some were with Chef Combo but the one that ran the most and longest of "The Flying Spot" where Captain 20 demonstrated how you could fly using special effects. It ran for more than 5 years and even for a short time after the Captain was fired!
Speaking of that, in 1986, WDCA was bought by TVX Broadcast Group and they made the decision to end all local production, expect of an adult public service show. For several months we kept waiting for the ax to fall and it did in May of 1987. The last W.O.W! and Kids' Break shows ran the Friday before Memorial day of 1987.
Film Maker C. W. Prather has done a documentary about Dick Dyszel's TV career called "Every Other Day Is Halloween." It get's is world premiere June 27 at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD!
You can watch the official trailer below:
You can get full details HERE!
Captain 20 did many promos and PSA's (public service announcements) but none ran longer or was seen by more people than the "Stunts" or "Flying" PSA.
You can get the story behind this spot and watch it by going the Screening Room!
While Captain 20 was not the host of Kids' Break, he did help out all of the puppet characters by being their hands and voices. This was also the only children's program in the history of the station to win an Emmy! To watch the program and learn a little more about it, just go to "Kids' Break!"
But in the meantime please visit the Creature Feature The Weekly Web Program.
It's the home of my friend Count Gore De Vol!
You can see what Dick Dyszel does for a living at Sounds Fabulous and DickIsHyp.com
Visit his profession voiceover and narration website, complete with Demos!
You can Email Dick Here!