I recall many years ago my preschool niece, Angela, sauntering into the front room, where her adult relatives were gathered during the holidays and proclaiming matter of factly and with conviction: “JP Patches is stupid”! Now perhaps Angie, who as an adult would become an archaeologist and college professor, had already developed at this young age, a more discerning evaluation of children’s television fare than her cousins and siblings (still enjoying the antics of the Seattle television clown in the adjoining room) or, she was simply correct. JP Patches was stupid! But for most Puget Sound area children JP Patches, each weekday afternoon, was their funny friend. And if it wasn’t JP, there was always Brakeman Bill, Captain Puget, Stan Boreson & his dog Nomo, or Wunda Wunda.
However, if you were a kid living east of the Cascades in Central and Eastern Washington you were, more than likely, aware of none of these children shows … nor their famous personalities. Still, you did have your very own favorite kids’ show to enjoy every weekday afternoon. The perennial children’s birthday show, “Uncle Jimmy’s Clubhouse,” on KIMA-TV in Yakima, featuring everybody’s favorite uncle … Uncle Jimmy Nolan.
James Walter Nolan Jr. was born September 28th, 1918 in Moscow, Idaho. His family soon moved to the unincorporated community of Cowiche, just 21 miles northeast of Yakima, were they operated two apple orchards. He graduated from WSU (back when it was still known as WSC) with a degree in Speech in 1940, landing his first broadcasting job at KUJ in Walla Walla. He was in the US Army from 1942 to ’46, then joined the staff of KIT-AM in Yakima after his discharge. While at KIT he originally launched “Uncle Jimmy’s Clubhouse” as a radio show.
In 1953 he left KIT to join the staff of KIMA-TV as their Program Director and an on-air talent. Nolan quickly became better known as Uncle Jimmy and a favorite television personality at KIMA-TV for the next 28 years. He is perhaps best remembered for two of his many roles with Cascade Broadcasting. He was the popular Weather Reporter on the nightly local news segment, but he became a local icon as the endearing host of “Uncle Jimmy’s Clubhouse.”
The half hour live “Clubhouse” had it’s inaugural broadcast on July 20, 1953, the station’s 2nd day on the air, and it continued every weekday afternoon until the late 1970s. The program featured children whose birthday occurred on or near the date of the broadcast. During each program Uncle Jimmy would interview each birthday child who would then receive a gift, usually supplied by a show sponsor, from the program’s “treasure chest.” Jimmy would also show cartoons and promote sponsors’ products. He had an extremely engaging manner while communicating with each child. The children always seemed extremely comfortable with their Uncle Jimmy as he seemed to show an utmost interest in their every word.
There’s an interesting bit of trivia about the theme song for “The Clubhouse.” The tune “The Solfeggio” by the George Cates Orchestra was played at 45rpm from a 33 1/3 LP, giving the tune it’s spunky little flavor. If you’d like to skip along to this happy little tune CLICK HERE.
At the same time Uncle Jimmy launched his children’s show on KIMA-TV an additional weekday feature was hosted by a “cowboy” named Montana Tom. A KIMA staff member, dressed in a cowboy outfit with boots and a big western style hat, introduced old black and white cowboy films. Tom would treat his little TV wranglers to Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Tom Mix and every movie cowboy who ever rode the range. Most movies were divided into episodes aired over a number of days. After his brief run, Montana Tom apparently rode off into the sunset and retired to the back 40.
In contrast there were 6,000 episodes of Uncle Jimmy’s Clubhouse on Yakima’s first television station. The show had a captive audience, as viewers in the area had no other choices for TV programs, enabling the show to establish a loyal fan base. It’s estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 kids appeared on the show during its reign. The Clubhouse was seen throughout most of Eastern Washington, as it was aired on all the Cascade Television stations, which included KEPR-TV Tri-Cities, KLEW-TV Lewiston, Idaho and KBAS-TV Ephrata (before shutting down in 1961).
My favorite memory, while viewing “The Clubhouse” with my mother in my early teens, involved a very young boy who continually interrupted Uncle Jimmy as he interviewed other birthday children. We continually heard this child saying: “Uncle Jimmy! Uncle Jimmy! Uncle Jimmy!” Finally Nolan broke from his current interview and acknowledged the young boy. “Yes, what is it,” Jimmy asked. Finally recognized, the young boy replied with much enthusiasm, “Uncle Jimmy, I have impetigo!” My mother, who was a Registered Nurse, explained to me that impetigo is a very highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects infants and children. Uncle Jimmy went to commercial!
Nolan retired in 1981 and lived in the Gig Harbor area until his death at 85 in 2004.
When KIMA-TV first went on the air in 1953 it was the 200th television station in the US and the first in Central Washington. They carried programming from all four networks – CBS being their primary network, plus they were affiliated with Dumont, NBC and ABC television. They lost Dumont when the network shut down in 1955. As other stations (KAPP and KNDO) eventually entered the market, KIMA-TV became the full-time CBS affiliate.
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