Published on Monday, 03 September 2012 10:04
In the early and mid 1970's, WSNS-TV/Channel 44 broadcast an afternoon cartoon show each weekday called "The Popeye Show," which was soon after re-named "Popeye with Steve Hart." The host of the show, Steve Hart, has just launched a new website filled with memories of this classic Chicago children's show.
In the 1970's WSNS-TV was a little-watched UHF channel. It aired old off-network TV shows, "B-movies" from the 1950s and 1960s, religious programming, Bob Luce wrestling, roller derby, and sports broadcasts no other station in town wanted to air. It's children's programming was primarily old cartoons form the 1960s and re-edit/dubbed Japanese cartoons. In 1972, a young man named Steve Hart entered the WSNS-TV offices and convinced the station manager to give him a shot at hosting his own television show, based solely on his outgoing personality, his puppets & voices, and his experience with hosting a children's radio show. (The fact he was able to bring in a big sponsor helped, too.) That young man -- 23 years old at the time -- was allowed to host the Japanese cartoon, "Prince Planet" on afternoons. Eventually, WSNS-TV was able to secure the rights from King Features Syndicate to air Popeye cartoons and dropped most of the Japanese cartoons to make room for "The Popeye Show."
For nearly four years, Steve Hart was the human host, seen doing bits before and after the Popeye cartoons. Hart used his own puppets, along with some newly created ones, to entertain the young viewers. Joining him on each show were such puppet and dummy characters as Little K, Hector the Chicken, Bookie Worm, Captain Salty, and Morris Mustard. For quite a while, the show was a hit for the station, thanks to Hart's tireless efforts, which included making appearances at malls on weekends to help promote the program.
This was all before WSNS-TV went to the pre-cable subscription service, ON-TV in the early 1980s, and a few years later flipped to an all-Spanish format, which it remains to this day.
In addition to his few years on WSNS-TV, many Chicagoans may remember Steve Hart as the host of multiple award-winning children's radio show "Audio Jam," which was heard in the 1970s and 1980s on WBEZ-FM. That show started around the same time as his work at WSNS-TV began. Prior to that, he hosted a kids show on WLTD-AM in Evanston (now known as WCGO-AM).
Growing up, Steve Hart was always passionate about puppetry. Television and radio work was just a side job for him and another way for him to use his talents with his puppets. However, his "day job" was teaching and working with special needs children. Hart graduated from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education and Communication in 1969. In 1972, he earned his Masters Degree in Special Education from Northeastern Illinois University.
Long gone from Chicago, Hart now lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Rick Klein, the President/founder/curator of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television (MCCTV), tracked down Steve Hart in Florida this year to talk with him about his days on WSNS-TV. The MCCTV website, FuzzyMemories.TV
, has many fantastic-quality video clips from Hart's days hosting on Channel 44. Thanks to Klein's efforts, Hart was reminded just how beloved his time on Chicago television was and how fondly he is still remembered to this day.
One of the results from that realization is that Steve Hart has put together a website that pays tribute to the classic "Popeye with Steve Hart" television program. The new website was just launched this weekend. It features many of the videos from the MCCTV website, audio clips from his WBEZ-FM "Audio Jam" shows, photos, stories and more. The new website will also soon have an online store open where fans can purchase Steve Hart & Popeye memorabilia, as well as videos and other items from classic cartoons.
Steve Hart's website can now be seen at PopeyeWithSteveHart.com
. You don't even have to open up a can of spinach to enjoy the new site.
Popeye's popularity, which waned over the years, could be making a comeback in the future. Sony Pictures Animation is currently creating a big budget, 3-D, computer-animated Popeye film. As the movie is far from finished, no release date has been set. Perhaps local interest in "Popeye with Steve Hart" will come back big, as well.