Uncle Orrie, Ferdie Fussbudget and Nosey the Clown were once household names for children across the Miami Valley.
The Uncle Orrie Show debuted on WHIO-TV in 1955, the same year Captain Kangaroo and The Mickey Mouse Club hit national airwaves.
Each weekday at 4 p.m., 50 to 60 excited school kids packed inside the WHIO-TV studios on Wilmington Pike in Dayton. The show was done live — without a script — a concoction of cartoons, games and studio banter.
More than 600,000 children from the area were part of the studio audience over the years. Photographs from the era capture grinning, white-gloved troops of Brownies and packs of Cub Scouts seated in bleachers in front of looming television cameras.
At the center of it all was Uncle Orrie, a mustachioed character wearing wire-rimmed spectacles, a Civil War-era cap, string tie and a fringed vest emblazoned with his name.
Joe Rockhold, the man behind those wire-rimmed glasses, first developed the character for radio. He spent years working in the medium on two NBC soap operas and was part of network shows including The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and Tom Mix.
Uncle Orrie was joined in the studio by other colorful characters. Ken Hardin portrayed Ferdie Fussbudget, who donned a striped jacket, dark and oversized glasses and a bowler hat. Jack Jacobson played Nosey the Clown, Ignatz Hammerslob, and an old cowboy with a droopy mustache called Whittlin’ Jake.
The show opened with music and a shot of kids cheering and waving to the camera. Uncle Orrie often played musical instruments and sang songs to the audience. Slapstick comedy was a hit with the kids — and there was often a safety tip to share.
A few lucky kids were pulled out of the bleachers during each episode and placed in front of the cameras alongside Uncle Orrie and the gang.
“We’d ask them where they were from, and then we’d play a game and give away some prizes,” Hardin said in 1985. “Then we’d have a cartoon and let them settle down for seven minutes. At the end, they’d get a chance to wave to the folks at home. That was very big — waving. And they’d make faces, too. It was fun, you know.”
Chuck Hamlin, a videographer with WHIO-TV, fondly remembers the goody bags filled with penny candy that each kid received at the end of the show.
Hamlin was in the bleachers with his class from Dorothy Lane Elementary School in Kettering during the early 1960s and would also “sneak in” and watch the show from the back of the studio when he came to work with his father, Tom Hamlin, the longtime sports director at WHIO-TV.
The significance of the children’s show and its role in local television history is still vivid for Hamlin.
“Television was still a relatively new medium, and to see your buddies on television — or anyone on television — was a big deal,” he said.
After 13 years, The Uncle Orrie Show came to an end.
“When a boy puts his arm around you, it’s a great inner satisfaction for you,” said Rockhold after the show concluded. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something. I try to be careful never to hurt a child’s feelings — and never embarrass him. Children have trust in me.”