HORROR HOST SPOTLIGHT: The One & Only, Svengoolie
As I child I was not like most kids. Instead of playing, or even having any interest in, sports I could be found out in nature collecting insects, drawing, listening to my favorite music and watching monster movies. Though many UHF stations at the time would show these movies once in awhile, I got my weekly fix every Saturday afternoon on the CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE on channel WLVI 56 out of Boston. It was a show that I would watch every week, providing I could draw the station in.
It was during the early 1980s, while watching the CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE, when I was introduced to my first horror host. Though I was certainly aware of the horror host phenomenon, New England really didn’t have their own host as many local stations used to have across the United States. When I first saw the Son of Svengoolie, I thought he was based out of Boston and that the CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE was going in a new direction. It turned out he was being syndicated from Chicago and would record certain lines to add to the show, giving it an at-home feel. I was hooked!
Unfortunately this format was short lived as the CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE was then replaced with MARTIAL ARTS THEATER, something I had no interest in. The memory of the Son of Svengoolie stayed with me though and with the arrival of the internet, I was able to locate other Son of Svengoolie fans. Thanks to a forum, I was able to get copies of recent episodes and it was like re-living my youth all over again! I was hooked yet again.
The first Svengoolie, hosting a show called Screaming Yellow Theater was played by Jerry G. Bishop, from 1970 until 1973. The show featured horror and science fiction films. In 1979, Rich Koz, who was a regular contributor to Screaming Yellow Theater, took over as the Son of Svengoolie. Before and after commercial breaks, Svengoolie would present sketches, jokes and perform song parody spoofs related to the films being aired with Doug Graves. Svengoolie has been Chicago’s horror host for over 40 years. In recent years the show expanded nationally, airing Saturday nights on MeTV.
The Jerry G. Bishop Svengoolie was more of a hippie type of character, very different from Rich Koz’s incarnation. On June 16, 1979, Son of Svengoolie debuted on WFLD, with Rich in the title role. The show also aired on Field Communications, which controlled stations in Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Detroit. The series ran until WFLD, then owned by Metromedia, was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations Group in 1986 as part of the newly created Fox network. New management canceled the show, deciding that it did not fit the new programming direction. After 334 shows, the final episode aired January 25, 1986. Rich returned to WFLD in various capacities, mainly as the host of Fox Kids Club and The Koz Zone, weekday afternoon children’s programming, and appearing as an announcer on the Fox network’s 1988 New Year’s Eve broadcast.
One of my favorite aspects of the show was when the movies were presented in what was later dubbed “Sven-surround,” a pun on “Sensurround,” a brand name theater audio system, in which Svengoolie would joke as the film aired, sometimes with humorous sound effects. Sometimes just a segment was done this way but at other times, the entire movie was added to. This stunt was discontinued for a short time, then brought back due to viewer request, although as a clip segment aired outside the film.
Before MeTV was available in my area, I got my Svengoolie fix thanks to the shows I was getting from fellow fans. I e-mailed with Rich a few times, not knowing at the time what the future would hold.
In March of 2011 I was able to meet my idol for the first time, and though I was nervous, Rich’s personality and sense of humor made me feel like an old friend. There I also met Jim Roche, his right hand man, and marveled at the chemistry of these two, constantly cracking jokes showing how quick-witted they both were. It was like watching Abbott and Costello.
In subsequent years I met up with Svengoolie again, even getting to see the filming of an episode. I was blown away by the studio and the work that went into the episode. You can tell that a lot of preparation goes into each and every episode, with very few takes needed for each scene. They even let me appear on the show, an honor I still brag about to this day.
Another thrill for me was going to dinner with Rich and Jim at the Squared Circle Restaurant, at the time owned by professional wrestler Victoria, who happened to also be there that night. It was a great time and meeting a wrestler who I had watched on television was an added treat. The food was excellent and the company was fantastic. To be out in public with such a celebrity was mind-numbing to me.
Thanks to Rich Koz, and of course Svengoolie, so many great memories have been created over the years in my life. He is so classy and deserves all of the recognition that he gets. To say he is appreciative of his fans is an understatement. Despite the current challenges of creating during a pandemic, the show must go on, and it does!
COMING UP: an interview with Svengoolie!
Make sure to read other entries in my HORROR HOST SPOTLIGHT series.