May 04, 1989 12:00 PM

In 1948 when Howdy ran for President of the United States, we asked the kids to write in for buttons if they were going to vote for Howdy—send in a self-addressed stamped envelope and we’ll send you a button. We had only six stations on the full NBC network back then—New York, Boston, Schenectady, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington—and I think that in the whole six cities there weren’t more than 60,000 television sets. The response was overwhelming, like 150,000 returns after one mention on the air, and we had only ordered 10,000 buttons. We had no idea it would be that successful, but it turned out everybody was over at the neighbor’s house watching The Howdy Doody Show. I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m either fired or I’ve got to dig down and get more money for more buttons.” The sales department came through. [Our sponsor] Colgate was told about it, and immediately Colgate Dental Creme bought two spots. Kellogg’s bought two spots. Continental Baking, which had Hostess Twinkies and Wonder Bread, bought two spots, and within a matter of a month we were completely sold out.

We weren’t on the air for more than a year, and we were invited to come to Boston to make an appearance—Clarabell, Howdy and myself—at the Jordan Marsh department store. I shall never forget this. [It’s] as if it were yesterday. This is when I knew I hadn’t made a mistake to leave Buffalo, where I’d been quite successful in radio, making $600 a week in 1946, which was a hell of a lot of money then. When I got the offer from NBC to come to New York, my boss in Buffalo tried to talk me into staying there. We were buddies, we played golf together, and he said, “You know, Bob, you’re a big fish in a small pond here; you go to New York and you could get lost. Don’t you want more than two cars in your funeral procession when you die?” So we arrive in Boston, where none of us had ever been before, and we had a line of people for blocks. We were going to be there half an hour, but we were there over four hours, just saying hello to people. I was a bigger name in Boston, a place I’d never been in my life, than I would have been in Buffalo being on radio for a thousand years. So much for the two-car procession.

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