This month is a great time to celebrate children’s television programming in the State of Iowa. After all, Iowa Public Television is debuting their new IPTV Kids Clubhouse with host, and personal friend of yours truly, Dan Wardell. If you have kids (or you are a kid at heart) I would recommend checking it out.
Of course, any discussion of children’s programming in Iowa eventually leads to talk of WOI-TV and America’s longest-running children’s program (who am I to argue with Wikipedia?)–The House with the Magic Window. Originally called The Magic Window, this program aired in central Iowa on WOI-TV from 1951 until 1994 and for nearly 40 years was hosted by Betty Lou (McVay) Varnum. Betty Lou became a fixture in most central Iowa households and almost anyone growing up here during this time could tell you who Betty Lou was and name each of her puppet friends that regularly appeared on the show.
However, Betty Lou was not the first host of The Magic Window. Other hosts included Virginia “Ginny” Adams, Joy (Ringham) Munn, and Arjes “Sunny” Sundquist. Each of these women hosted the show for a year or so until Betty Lou took over permanently. Special Collections and University Archives has kinescope (16mm film) recordings of some of the earliest episodes of The Magic Window in our collections, but sadly we only have one recording, dating from 1955, of Betty Lou as host of The Magic Window!
Something most people may not be aware of is that WOI-TV produced a second children’s program in 1954 called Window Watchers (I see a theme here). This program was sponsored by the National Educational Television and Radio Center, later known as the Public Broadcasting Service. Window Watchers was hosted by Arjes Sundquist and featured a format very similar to that of The Magic Window.
To view some of these early children’s programs, visit our YouTube Channel!
For more information on WOI-TV during the time it was owned and operated by Iowa State University, read through some of the finding aids listed on the Special Collections and University Archives website on this page.