Popular hosts instilled values and kept children happy
By Dorothy Fletcher

Published in The Florida Times-Union October 18, 2008

Copyright Dorothy Fletcher, used by permission

Once in a place called Jacksonville, there lived two television personalities who provided quality programming for all the children.
The first was Ranger Hal, a forest ranger who would descend a fire tower each weekday morning to entertain us. The other was Skipper Ed, the captain of a studio boat, who brought fun to our living rooms every afternoon.

Henry Baranek (aka Henry Baran) was Ranger Hal for a show of the same name that first aired in 1958 on WJXT TV-4. He had many adventures. From driving around Daytona Speedway with a ranger hat on top of his helmet to water skiing with bathing beauties at Cypress Gardens, Ranger Hal was always fun. He also provided "how-to" segments on crafts, Crusader Rabbit cartoons, and had visiting audiences of nicely dressed children from the area.

David Baranek, 50, and a defense contractor near Washington, knows all about Ranger Hal, his father, who died in 1979.

"Our family is proud of our father's legacy. We've heard from so many who enjoyed seeing him on television," he said. "My mother has a letter from a man who told of an unpleasant childhood. Watching the show every morning was the only good part of his day."

Of course, the celebrity of Baranek's father had some drawbacks. "When I was 6, our family moved to a new neighborhood, and one of the kids who lived there rode around the block yelling 'Ranger Hal just moved in!' We soon had 10 kids at our house. It was, however, a good way to make friends."

"Skipper Ed" McCullers hosted two children's shows in Jacksonville. The first was called Popeye & Pals, which first aired in 1959, when TV-12 was WFGA. When TV-12 was WTLV, The Skipper Ed Show ran until the '80s. Both shows featured Popeye the Sailor cartoons and children from the community making up a live, on-camera audience.

Arlington resident Meg (McCullers) Fisher, 53, vice president of the Clara White Mission, remembers fondly the years her father, who died in 1992, played host to Jacksonville's children.

"I believe that he recognized right away that being Skipper Ed presented him with a real opportunity to instill values," she said. "The 'mind your manners' tagline on his show was a mantra with real meaning in the McCullers household."

One of Fisher's funniest memories of her father concerns a PR event the station ran with the circus. "Dad would ride an elephant down Adams Street, past Channel 12, as part of the traditional elephant parade Ringling Brothers did when they came to town. Don't know what got the elephant going, but she suddenly broke from the sedate pace of her trainer and charged off down Adams Street with Dad hanging on for dear life," she said. "The trainer chased her down, and Skipper Ed - whose hat never came off - was safely removed. Dad expressed that any ride he had ever taken in a Blue Angel paled in comparison to the bolting elephant."

Both of these TV personalities may be from a distant, gentler time, but the upbeat messages they promoted made it so children around here could grow up to live happily ever after. How could it not be so with Skipper Ed there to remind us to "Mind your manners!" or Ranger Hal saying "Be good, have a happy birthday, get well soon, listen to Mom and Dad - they're your best friends - and remember-it's great to be an American."
  • San Jose writer Dorothy Fletcher has lived in Jacksonville since 1957. Her column, By the Wayside, takes a look back at Jacksonville's earlier pastimes, people and places. Send your Jacksonville recollections to dotief@comcast.net.
This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at  http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/101808/ner_345103494.shtml.
Henry Baranek was Ranger Hal for a show that first aired in 1958 on WJXT TV-4. He is shown on the set of his show in 1967.
Photo courtesy of MEG FISHER and WTLV TV-12

Meg Fisher's first-grade class on Popeye & Pals, circa 1960-61. She's in the boat with her father, "Skipper Ed" McCullers, who hosted two children's shows.
Author Dorothy Fletcher
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