John Chick: Ups and downs of live programs

Courtesy PhotoTulsa TV personality John Chick, right, is shown portraying Mr. Zing, with his sidekicks Tuffy the Tiger and Leafy Barks, on the 1969s “Mr. Zing and Tuffy” show. Chick often did live commercials on the air — which led to some unforeseen happenings.

I watched an advertisement on television the other night with a guy loudly proclaiming the durableness of the flashlight he wanted to sell.

He sounded absolutely excited as he rhapsodized its virtues.

If you become the proud owner of this particular flashlight, you won’t have to worry about dropping it, because it’s virtually indestructible, he related, as his voice rose in intensity.

Why, you can even drop it from a helicopter and it will continue to work, he raved. Then, to make the point, the camera cut to a nighttime shot of a helicopter hovering overhead as someone aboard tossed a flashlight out of the aircraft. Somebody below ran and grabbed the flashlight, which, sure enough, continued to cast a beam.

To further underscore the flashlight’s durableness, another bit showed it immersed in cooking oil, alongside some french fries. Yes, even that will not harm the indestructible light, the guy on the TV said, his voice sounding even more excited.

This flashlight can even be frozen in ice and smashed on concrete and it will continue to work, he extolled, his voice now at a fevered level.

By the time he launched into a pitch about how easy it is to order two of the tactical lights for almost the price of one, I’d already started to wonder about a few things.

Who drops a flashlight from a helicopter anyway? Really, think back — is that something you’ve ever done? Even for a helicopter pilot, is this really a needed item? I can imagine some weary pilot, coming home after a nighttime search and rescue mission, with the spouse asking how the evening went.

“Fine — except I dropped my tactical flashlight out of the helicopter as we were flying over a heavily-wooded area about 30 miles from here. I just came home to get the truck so I can head back out to the woods and find it tonight, because I’m sure it’s still working.”

The cooking oil bit seemed even more incredulous. It’s not often you see a flashlight immersed in hot, bubbling oil alongside french frying potatoes. Have you ever placed a flashlight in a skillet while cooking some fries? I’ve never felt the need to do so myself. Even when I’ve tapped into my inner chef, I’ve added peppers and maybe some onions to the mix, but never a flashlight. It’s an ingredient I’m sure I would remember.

All of which served to remind me of a bit of live TV I watched in my younger years — which stands for me as the hallmark of spectacular television product claims.

No doubt many longtime Eastern Oklahoma residents remember John Chick, of KTUL TV in Tulsa.

In the 1960s and ‘70s he hosted the number one children’s TV program in Tulsa and the rest of Eastern Oklahoma, “Cartoon Zoo.” He also portrayed Mr. Zing on the popular “Mr. Zing and Tuffy” show, featuring Zing and his sidekick, Tuffy the Tiger. Wearing a bright red shirt and overseeing the antics of characters such as the costumed Tuffy and a tree called Leafy Bark, Chick’s warmth and humor when interacting with the children who comprised the program’s live audience made him a local favorite.

Those programs were for the after-school kids audience, though. In the mornings, Chick hosted “The John Chick Show” — a mix of country, bluegrass and occasionally folk music, broadcast live every morning before many of us had to leave for school or work.

“The John Chick Show” featured outstanding local talent, not only from Tulsa, but from around the station’s viewing area. Many a musician arose early to make the long trek to Lookout Mountain, where Channel 8’s studios were located at the time, to perform during the show’s live telecast.

John Chick not only served as the program’s amiable host. He sometimes strapped on a 12-string guitar or banjo and performed a folk or bluegrass song himself. If he sounded more influenced by Paul Robeson — think “Ol’ Man River” — than Bill Monroe, that was OK, too. Everybody seemed to like John Chick.

He proved to be such a local favorite that his show for a time pre-empted the ABC program “Good Morning America.” Before “Good Morning America” host David Hartman could enter your living room, he had to wait for “The John Chick Show” to end.

As host of the program, Chick also did local commercials live on the air. In those days live meant live — with no five-second delay to give the station time to scramble and cover for any unforeseen happenings.

On one particular morning, Chick touted the indestructibleness of a coffee table being sold by a Tulsa furniture dealer. It would never break and would last a lifetime — with a money-back guarantee, he said.

That’s where I suspect the script for the commercial ended. But Chick, ever-quick with an ad lib, suddenly took it a step further and jumped up on the table, microphone in hand. He then proceeded to stomp the table top, all the while testifying about how it could withstand such punishment.

Then Chick, who apparently had great faith in the product, began jumping up and down on the table while continuing to stomp it with all his might, while simultaneously proclaiming how the table could endure even that type of treatment.

It did, too — for the first three or four times. Then, the table suddenly shattered into countless pieces and spilled Chick flat on the studio floor, where he could be heard groaning over the still-on microphone.

Ever-game though, he raised his head. Still lying on the floor, he conveyed the message that if you’re ever jumping up and down and stomping on a coffee table, you deserve to have it break on you.

I wouldn’t say Chick was unscathed after his tumble — scathed is more like it — but no bones were broken and he did manage to finish the show.

All of which brings me back to the tactical light guaranteed to work through helicopter drops, being frozen, etc.

If you ever immerse a flashlight in the skillet while you’re cooking up some french fries and find later that it doesn’t work as well as it should, remember what John Chick had to say in regard to a previous product.

 Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.