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Boston Local TV
Tony Saletan and the early NET programs

by Jim Moran

Jim Moran is a writer in Boston, who has contributed features for The Boston Globe's Calendar magazine, Boston Rock and Sweet Potato magazine.

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Instruction manual for teachers whose classes were viewing the 1970's series Singing Down The Road.

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Does anyone remember a very old show that aired on PBS (it was National Educational Television) back then in the early '60s called "Sing High, Sing Low"? I remember watching it on WGBH Boston.

As I recall it was 15 minutes and ran in conjunction with "The Friendly Giant." It consisted of a woman named Bash Kennett (I can't believe I still remember that name!) playing a guitar and singing folk songs with explanations about the history behind them.

The theme song was to the tune of "Skip to My Lou," and I can't believe I still remember that too:
"Let's sing high and let's sing low
Of our country long ago
How the people made it grow
Come and hear my story
Let's take pioneering trips
Railroads, wagons, sailing ships
Over plains and mountain tips
Come and hear my story"

The show looked ancient even then, kind of grainy and blurry with poor sound quality, like something from the early '50s. Does anyone remember it? I'm curious to know where it originated from and when, and whatever happened to Ms. Kennett.

-- Bev Seinberg

 

Jim Moran answers:

The name of the host of that show on National Educational Television (NET) could quite possibly have been one Tony Saletan, a kind of Boston version of Pete Seeger (without the overt left-wing angst and union songs). This was before PBS, when the national public broadcasting system was called NET.

Saletan hosted a show called "Come and See" (not "Sing High, Sing Low," to my knowledge anyway), on WGBH (Channel 2 in Boston) with a female, guitar-playing co-host. He was the host of a few early WGBH series that taught children about folk music and invited interactive sing-alongs, one being "Sing, Children, Sing," the other "Let's All Sing," both which went out to schools nationally for instructional usage (in that they were geared toward students for in-class usage by their teachers) as part of the "21-Inch Classroom."

The local NET station, WGBH, Channel 2 (today a leading producer of PBS programming) was part of a network (Eastern Educational Network) that showed instructional programming in conjunction with school curricula. Known as "The 21-inch Classroom," the station ran short little programs during school hours, that gave instruction: in French lessons ("Parlons Francais," with Madame Anne Slack), science, mathematics and Language Arts.

One program, "Imagine That" hosted by Marcia Chellis (who later wrote a tell-all bio on her years as an aide to Joan Kennedy, the former wife of Senator Ted Kennedy), featured the hostess reading a children's storybook aloud, as the camera scanned across the book's pages (much in the manner innovated by Bob Keeshan as "Captain Kangaroo").

Another storybook program was "You Come Too." Then there were the science-based "All About You," in which real-life science teacher Louise McNamara talked about the human anatomy, along with "Land & Sea," also hosted by McNamara, where the subject matter was earth science and marine biology.

In between these short programs would be a title card with the time of the next program, as some classical music piece played until the next "lesson on the airwaves" came on. So unlike today's TV that is never off the air, never silent, absent of snow and test patterns, and always contributing to noise pollution 24/7.

Originally these "21-Inch" programs were part of the Eastern Educational Network, a small chain of public TV stations in the New England and eastern Canadian provinces that was never fully hooked up - some programs shared by tapes through the mail. WENH (Channel 11), at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and WGBH in Boston were definitely sharing programs through electronic or satellite hookup.

Tony Saletan also hosted another instructional program called "Field Trips." On this program, Saletan visited various historical landmarks, such as Plymouth Plantation, Fort Ticonderoga, and a Shaker village, talking to and with children about these places, and offering their history as the camera panned around these historical tourist sites.

"What's New?" was a nationally-broadcast NET show for kids that Tony Saletan would appear on sometimes, with edited segments from his "Field Trips." There were a few co-hosts on this show which had documentary and features for kids of a slightly older age range.

I remember part of the show's theme, a voice talking the lyrics over a tune composed of a flute part and bass line: "In, out and roundabout
Up, down & all around
Here there & everywhere
--WHAT'S NEW?"

The program would be on around the dinner hour, usually after "The Friendly Giant" and "Kindergarten" with teacher Miss Frances Jordan (does anyone remember this latter program, also a NET production).

Both "What's New" and "The Friendly Giant" preceded "Sesame Street" and "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" as late afternoon, at-home (as opposed to instructional) public television for kids.

Saletan also sang on these shows, but not in the interactive manner as the aforementioned shows he hosted, I don't believe. I saw these shows both in school and at home as a child.


"Thank you for your interest in my television programs.

"When WGBH-TV (Channel 2 in Boston) started on the air (May 2, 1955), I was the host of the first program. It was the premiere of a series for young children with the title "Come and See." I asked for a co-host, and Mary Lou Adams filled that role for about four months, after which I continued as the sole host. Mary Lou is deceased but the producer/director, Ralph Tangney, is retired and living in New Jersey.

"I'm aware that the 50th anniversary of that premiere is coming up in less than a year. I'd be happy to write about that series, and many others on which I hosted and sang and played since then, including three (about 90 programs) which are currently distributed by Western Instructional Television. Highlights include being the first guest to appear with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on "Sesame Street" (program #27 - current ones are in the 4000s!) and hosting several music series broadcast nationally during the day on public TV channels but intended primarily for in-school viewing."

- Tony Saletan

(Look for more memories of Boston local educational children's shows hosted by Tony Saletan the future!)


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