Wormwood Forest was an original production of NBC affiliate station WSM, Nashville
Wormwood Forest garnered The Billboard's 1948 Second Place Children's Programs Award for local stations of 50,000 Watts of transmitting power.
WSYR, Syracuse spot ad for the premiere of Wormwood Forest, nationally, over NBC from January 8th 1949
From the April 15th 1972 issue of The Billboard:
THEY called it the Golden Age of Radio, and the station which provided much of the gold was WSM in Nashville. And the man with the golden touch was Jack Stapp, now president of Tree, International.
Stapp and his old roommate, Bert Parks, had gone to New York together in the 1930's from their place of residence in Birmingham. Stapp eventually became program manager at CBS, while Parks became a leading host of various radio and, later, television shows.
Wanting to return to the South, Stapp left CBS just prior to our involvement in World War Two, and became Program Manager of WSM, which was then, and is today, an NBC affiliate.
He had confided to an old friend at NBC, Phil Carlin, that one of the things he wanted to do when he got to Nashville was to put together an orchestra suitable for network performances. Carlin heard him well.
Upon arrival at WSM, Stapp contacted George Cooper Jr., president of the AFM local, and asked about bringing in musicians from various parts of the country to form an orchestra. Cooper advised him that the musicians should be members of the Nashville local, and suggested he try to find a competent group at home.
Stapp next contacted Jack Gregory, a clarinetist-saxophonist, and long one of Nashville's leading musicians. He suggested that there were many good Nashville musicians on the road, who would happily come home. Stapp got on the phone and contacted them, one-by-one, and all said they would be willing to return to Nashville if the work was steady.
So, in they came, all of them with Nashville union cards, and the band played together for about two weeks. Then it happened.
"It was on a Saturday morning," Stapp recalls, when he got the call from NBC. "It was Jack Carlin, and he had an emergency. Someone had cancelled out, and he told me he need a show with an orchestra to do a program the following night. He need a name for it, too."
Stapp got the script-writers together, Noel Digby and Eddie Bernbriar, and they went to work. The next night the show went on the air, on NBC, and because it was broadcast on a Sunday night, they called it "Sunday Down South." The host was a young fellow named Snookie Lanson (who later would become the best known singer in America), and Stapp got Kitty Kallen to sing on it as well. Kitty at the time was engaged to a trumpet player in the band named Carl Garvin.
The show was so successful, that others quickly followed. Within a short time, WSM was originating more network shows than any station in America.
There was "Hospitality Time," "The Riverboat Revels," "Mr. Smith Goes To Town," the "Francis Craig Orchestra Show," "The Lion Oil Show," and many others. There followed the only dramatic children's show on the network, "Wormwood Forest," produced by Margie Cooney and Tom Tichenor. And there was an afternoon soap opera, "Counter Number Seven," featuring Trudy McClanahan.
It was about this same time that Prince Albert smoking tobacco bought a 30-minute segment of the "Opry" for the network, and the production of this also fell to Stapp. Hosted by the late Red Foley, the show featured Minnie Pearl, Rod Brasfield, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb and others of that famous era.
Eventually, with a schedule that ranged from early in the morning until after midnight, Stapp began to share some of the various production chores with Ott Devine, who later was to become manager of the "Opry."
Working closely with Stapp in those days was the late Jim Denny, who ran the "Opry," the Artists Service Bureau (the forefunner of the booking business in Nashville), and who saw to it that the talent was always ready to go on the air.
Stapp also was instrumental in getting together a local show called "Eight O'Clock Time," hosted by Ralph Christian, which featured Nashville talent, and had everything from folk music to the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Later the program was changed to "The Waking Crew," and Dave Overton, now program manager at WSM, has been its host for 20 years. During all of those years it has featured a live band or orchestra (Jack Gregory is still one of them), with talented performers such as Teddy Bart, Marti Brown, Dottie Dillard, Don Estes, Delores Watson, Terri Lynn, Kay Golden, Louis Nunley and many others. Bart now hosts the WSM-TV "Noon Show," which also has a live band under the direction of Joe Lane.
But it was Jack Stapp, whose creative mind and production ability are a legend, who put it all together at the beginning. Stapp left WSM in 1955 to form Tree, taking along Buddy Killen and Joyce Bush.
Stapp's genius also played a big part in the growth of music in Nashville in many ways. He reached out all over the country, for talented announcers, writers and performers, and brought them into Music City. There, at WSM, they were allowed to develop their own abilities and to grow, either with the radio station or elsewhere.
WSM, Nashville launches "Wormwood Forest" juvenile adventure
As noted above, Nashville's NBC affiliate, WSM, originated a great deal of local programming throughout the Golden Age of Radio--much of it targeted to its largest local demographic--Nashville and its rich heritage of Country Western Music. But in 1947, WSM launched its concept for a juvenile adventure drama centered around the fictional "Wormwood Forest" and its colorful animal denizens.
Walt Disney and Clarence Nash (center) visit WSM, Nashville studios to join the cast of Wormwood Forest. Nash was the voice of Donald Duck and Walt Disney himself voiced Mickey Mouse for the guest visit.
Apparently Wormwood Forest initially aired locally over WSM between 1947 and 1948. In July 1948 The Billboard awarded Nashville's WSM its 1948 2nd Place Award for Locally Produced Childrens' Programming by a 50,000 Watts Station. By January 1949, NBC had picked up Wormwood Forest for national syndication, placing it right after Lassie in its Saturday afternoon childrens' lineup.
Wormwood Forest placed Second among locally-produced Childrens' Programming from 50,000 Watts stations in The Billboard's First Local Programming Competition of 1948
Notes on Provenances:
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