Christmas Eve surprise: Website unwraps Channel 7 time capsule

Fahey Flynn

Fahey Flynn

Yes, Virginia, there is a Fahey Flynn.

On Christmas Eve of 1972, the avuncular anchorman at the peak of his popularity on WLS-Channel 7 hosted “Fahey Flynn Presents Seven’s Greetings.” The one-hour special aired just once — from 11 p.m. to midnight on the ABC-owned station — and was never seen again.

Until now.

Courtesy of Rick Klein’s Museum of Classic Chicago Television, the complete program has been salvaged, restored and made available for all to enjoy for the first time in 41 years. To ease downloading, Klein divided the show into seven segments, which he posted on his website late Tuesday. (The videos don't play on iPad or iPhone.)

An ad for the special that ran in the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 24, 1972, called it “a relaxing hour of holiday cheer . . . and everybody in our family will be there to bring you a little bit of nostalgia, a little bit of music, and a lot of fun.”

It’s certainly all of that, but viewed more than four decades later, it’s also an amazing time capsule of a golden era in Chicago television and of a local station at the top of its game. Here in just 49 minutes (minus commercials) you can see all the ingredients that made Channel 7 a leader in news, programming, public affairs and community service — not to mention No. 1 in ratings and revenue.

Sporting his trademark bow tie and lapels as wide as the Mississippi, the 56-year-old Flynn is in fine fettle, relishing his role on the special whether he’s matching wits with a couple of puppets (one a talking hamburger, the other a gesticulating microphone) or suddenly breaking into a waltz with Joanie Sandler (aka Susie Streetnoise), the adorable teenage host of “INK: Interesting News for Kids.” You have to see it to believe it.

Other highlights of “Seven’s Greetings” include:

  • John Drury reading the 1897 editorial from the New York Sun that concludes: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
  • Ione, host of “The Prize Movie,” dialing up Santa Claus on her oversize phone.
  • Joel Daly delivering a sharp-edged commentary on modern times, department store Santas and the true meaning of Christmas.
  • Weatherman John Coleman tracking the arrival of Santa on radar.
  • Sportscasters Bill Frink and Duane Dow in a piece of business about assembling toys.
  • “Action Seven” reporter Frank Mathie channeling Jack Webb in a “Dragnet” parody on the search for Santa’s stolen suit.
  • Bob Kennedy and Susan Peterson of “Kennedy & Co.” waxing nostalgic about Christmas traditions and introducing musical numbers from the excellent Viking Ensemble of Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
  • A cavalcade of Channel 7 program hosts joining Flynn in a rendition of  "A Visit from St. Nicholas,” including Jim Stewart of “Passage to Adventure,” Shari Blair and Rosemarie Gulley of “Feminine Franchise,” Daddy-O Daylie of “Black on Black,” Frank Agraz of “Oiga Amigo,” Sid Ordower of “Jubilee Showcase” and Alex Karras. Even the station’s vice president and general manager, John C. Severino, has a cameo.
Rick Klein

Rick Klein

Klein, who operates his Museum of Classic Chicago Television website as a labor of love, said he secured the master tape from Gary Peterson, who’s worked in the video department of Channel 7 since the 1980s. “Frankly I still can’t believe that in 2013 there would be a tape with something as vintage and rare as a locally produced Christmas special from 1972 just sitting around and not really cataloged or preserved, and which could have easily been tossed out and no one would have known the difference,” Klein told me.

“Sure, there are some clunky moments, but overall this is a gem that will bring a glow to the heart to anyone old enough to remember how TV used to be,” Klein said of the special. “All in all, you are struck by the feeling when watching this of how much television and television news have changed in 40 years — and not necessarily for the better. Can you imagine any station doing something like this today? And would you care about what the station ‘personalities’ had to say during it? Not only that, but all the goofing around or lack of sincerity that we normally get from our media today would result in it not meaning very much.

“For me, this special was a temporary antidote from that, and a warm reminder that we can get this feeling back in our culture if we only decide that we want to.”

Thursday update: The Channel 7 special was written and produced by Rick Ludwin, who went on to a 30-year career with NBC, where he rose to executive vice president for late night and prime-time series.