a candid conversation with Don Sandburg
Well I didn't find a job there. I waited and waited but they hadn't
even start construction yet. You know when you're young you don't
analyze anything. You just take off. Anyway it didn't turn
out. So instead of broadcasting I went to work at United Airlines as
a passenger agent.
VV: So you left the business?
DS: Oh yeah. I also worked at the race track as a cashier. I sold television sets and installed master antennas on tops of roofs for apartment buildings. I finally left for El Paso. Never been in town before. Ended up driving a cab. I came back in the early part of 1953 for WLW, part time and sold encyclopedias door to door to augment my income.
VV: This is back in Cincinnati?
DS: Yes. I started out as a floor director. What you'd call an assistant director today. You were both floor director and set-up man. There were no stage hands. And then I started designing. I have an art background. So I painted sets for a show called The Al Morgan Show. He was a top recording star at the time. He did things like Jealous Heart. A million record seller. Because I was doing the scenery my boss made me a director. .
It was at WLW in 1954 that Sandburg first met Bob Bell and Wally Phillips where they put together one of the highest rated and most innovative comedy programs ever to come out of Cincinnati. Sandburg tells how it all came about...
DS: Well Wally started the show. It was a nine to ten morning audience show. Bob Bell had come in as a staff announcer and he got tied up with the show because it turned out he was such a funny man. And very versatile in terms of voices and facial expressions and make-up. Which he taught himself. Never had a make-up lesson in his life. And it was fun to work with these two guys but I worked twelve hours days. And then we started a 7 in the evening show sponsored by one of the top beers in the area. And that stayed on for about two and half years.
VV: This was another comedy?
DS: Remember the old Ernie Kovacs type stuff? It was just like that. The unexpected. The crazy. Lots of camera gimmicks. Big sets, live bands and vocalists.
DS: Oh yea! Lots of improv! So now I'm doing an hour in the morning and fifteen minute show in the evening. We did the satires of every show back then. That was fun doing the satires then because they were so weird. 64 Thousand Dollar Question where they put contestants in a glass booth. We put Bob Bell in an outhouse! This Is Your Life where the host surprises a celebrity guest with all the people in his past. Bob had to play all the friends and relatives. He would change in a booth on camera. We also satired the current movies like High Noon, 20, 000 Leagues Under The Sea, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Destination Moon.
VV: Were you doing any on screen work?
DS: No. I was a producer, director and a writer. And that was all I could handle.
VV: But you did take advantage of the new medium?
DS: All the time. WLW was very innovative when it came to special effects. And I used every single one that came along. In fact I even helped the engineering department diagram the equipment so it could be used to it's fullest. We had Wally talking to himself or Bob dancing on the ceiling. That kind of stuff. Then the three of us were invited to come to WGN.
VV: How did that come about?
DS: Ward Quaal, who was WGN's general manager and president had come from WLW. He was there just a few months and he decided to enlarge on live programming at WGN. We had this huge studio, 1-A, next to the Tribune Tower. It had been built there for The Chicago Theater Of The Air. I think for Col. McCormick. You could fit a symphony in it. And that's where we emanated from. Anyway we went on the air the eighth of October.