David Boreanaz’ dad, Dave Thomas, takes critics on a Rocketship 7 ride back to the ’60s

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot: somewhere on the Niagara Peninsula

Do you remember Rocketship 7?
The children’s series, which aired weekday mornings from 1962 to 1978 on Buffalo`s WKBW, was your typical, low budget little local morning show effort. You had your cartoons (those weird Davey and Goliath shorts plus Gumby), you had your puppets (bizarre Mr. Beeper), and you had your local weatherman-turned-children’s host.
The soothing presence at the centre of it all was Dave Thomas. The Buffalo native, who went on to a long career on the air as a weatherman in Philadelphia (under the name Brian Roberts), just happens to be the father of David Boreanaz, star of Bones and before that, Angel and Buffy.
The Buffalo stations flooded across the border in the old over-the-air antenna days and if you grew up in the ’60s in Toronto or Hamilton, Ontario, Dave Thomas was as well known to Canadian kids as he was in upstate New York.
I’ve written a story for The Canadian Press about meeting Thomas two years ago at a Fox network press tour party. You can read that full story here.
I’d spoken with Boreanaz six months earlier at the previous press tour, and he knew there were a few Rocketship 7 fans among the critics, so he brought his dad to the next Fox party. The Bones star can forevermore do no wrong with at least two critics. By meeting Dave senior, myself and Andy Ryan of The Globe and Mail were like Bart and Milhouse before Krusty the Clown.

Boreanaz, Ryan, Thomas and Brioux. Like visiting Santa

There’s something about meeting a childhood hero that’s an extra kick for most critics. Meeting Adam West, TV’s Batman from the ’60s, or the men behind those first Charlie Brown TV specials, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, was very, very cool. On one of my very first TCA press tours 25 years ago, I stood in line with other critics, all reduced to seven year olds, as we asked Roy Rogers and Dale Evans for autographs (normally a big press tour no-no).
Meeting the local heroes, however, can be an even more cherished experience. These guys were your hometown heroes, they were like family.
Several years ago when I was at the Toronto Sun I wrote about my memories of local CTV kiddie host Kiddo the Clown. His early-’60s show was one of my first TV memories.
The day the story came out, Kiddo, a.k.a.Trevor Evans, who went on to a long career directing the likes of Wayne & Shuster, called me at The Sun. He came down the next day with a bottle of bubbly, an autographed Kiddo pic and some hilarious stories about Kiddo’s clashes with CTV brass.
The sad thing about Evans and Boreanaz’s shows is that they no longer exist. All of Kiddo is lost. Only three minutes of the original Rocketship 7 remains.
That`s according to Marty Biniasz, who runs Rocketship7.com and has put together this Rocketship tribute clip on YouTube. It’s worth listening to just for the rousing theme song, part of a symphonic suite composed in the ’50s by Norman Dello Joio.
Biniasz kindly provided the photo up top of Thomas and Promo. He also is restoring the original robot costume, no longer on display at that East Aurora, N.Y. toy museum.
Biniasz reports that only three or four minutes of the original Rocketship7 series still exists. Thousands of hours were erased or just junked. Old TV shows had little value once they were broadcast back in the days before DVDs and specialty channels. The snippet that does exist was the tail end of a show.

Jimmy & Johnny (back), Thomas and Nolan Johannes
on WKBW’s “Dialing for Dollars”

You have to remember, says Biniasz, who is working on a book about the series, that Thomas and the crew didn’t have time to worry about archiving their series. They had to rush to the next studio right after each taping to prepare for the local series that came next: Dialing for Dollars. Among those in the fast change lane was Johnny Banaszak, the accordion player on Dialing for Dollars and the guy inside the Promo the Robot suit on Rocketship 7.
“Johnny unfortunately passed away shortly after I left Buffalo,” recalls Thomas. “One of the nicest guys you’d ever meet and endured so much going in that suit every day under the hot lights.”
SCTV used to goof on Dialing for Dollars, especially the part where Thomas in Buffalo (different versions aired all over America) would call housewives at home and ask them if they knew “the count and the amount.”
Most of the time no one was home. “Or if you got someone, the line went out,” says Thomas. “I loved all of that stuff because it was all live. And you never knew what was going to happen.”

11 Responses to “David Boreanaz’ dad, Dave Thomas, takes critics on a Rocketship 7 ride back to the ’60s”

  1. Thank you Bill for jogging my memory. Did not seem to matter how old we were young or tens we enjoyed these programes. They seem high standard compared to TLC with tiaras and hill billies!
    Always look forward to listening on CHML….and romper room teacher never saw me!

    Reply
  2. Debra Jacobs

    I not only remember Rocket Ship 7 also Dialing for Dollars. During the summer my friends and I would go EVERY DAY MONDAY THRU FRIDAY to Dialing for Dollars and I got on several times I won the $110 prize, Delta Sonic vouchers, KFC VOUCHERS…. It was fun …. we were saddened when they canceled Dialing for Dollars.

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  3. Mike Shantz

    Not sure why I was thinking of the show but sure had fun watching rocket ship 7 growing up thanks

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  4. patricia

    I searched for rocketship 7 because I found an old promo card to me, signed by Dave Thomas. It shows in black and white, Dave, the robot, puppet, and of course, the rocket. Grew up watching this fun show during simpler times! Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  5. Denis McGrath

    Bill, this article is absolutely crazy!
    Rocketship 7 was a must watch for me when I first moved to Canada. I was heartbroken when it stopped — I thought it was a few years after we got here but per your timeline, I guess it wasn’t. Being in Canada was weird, and somehow the Buffalo local programs were soothing. And Davey and Goliath was just …weird. I always wanted less Davey and Davey’s preachy churchy Dad, and more Goliath.

    I forget when/where it was, but I too met Dave Thomas sometime in the 90s when I was working for MediaTelevision and I was kind of StarStruck. That whole lost era of local TV fascinates me. And it was much on my mind when I produced my little no-budget late night interstitial stuff when I was at the SPACE channel in the late 90s.

    All that and I never knew the connection to Boreanaz! Crazy stuff. Thanks for this!

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    • Bill Brioux

      I practically knocked over the Glee kids to get to Thomas at the Fox party when Boreanaz brought him to that press tour a few years ago. Happy to report father and son are great guys. Thomas had great stories about crossing the border into Canada on visits to the Hospital for Sick Children with Promo the Robot folded up inside his station wagon. Tragically, NOTHING exists of Thomas on tape on R7 despite the series enjoying a 23-year ride on WKBW. All that is left is a four-minute clip of Promo as the credits roll–somebody wanted to save the show that followed and caught a bit of Rocketship 7 on tape.

      Reply
  6. Wow. What a great article. I actually had the chance to go on the set of this show with my Cub Scout pack back in 1963. It was even more entertaining to see Dave and the others interacting off camera and busting each others’ chops over things like emerging bald spots. As crazy and stressful as that live stuff must have been to do, I remember being impressed that everyone seemed have a lot of fun doing it.

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  7. david graham

    I loved Rocketship 7–I even remember during the Oil embargo in the early 1970’s that Richard Nixon tried to conserve energy by turning the clocks ahead 1 hour about a month earlier than usual–that meant getting up at 6 AM (instead of 7 AM) to watch R7 from Toronto—nevertheless I did!! just to see it before I went to school

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  8. David Peck

    Loved both Rocket Ship 7 and Comander Tom Show as a kid.
    Never knew the Bones connection until this article and a fan of that show I can see the family resemblance in father and son.
    I also used to watch Uncle Bobbie. We had a really good antenna in Alexander New York.
    My son grew up in Oregon watching Rambling Rod a show similar to R7.
    I miss those shows and the good cartoons.
    Great article!

    Reply

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