60th Anniversary: The Channel 12 Christmas Parade

Published On: Dec 24 2013 08:30:48 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 23 2013 08:53:12 AM CST
December 23, 2013 -

From the sidewalk outside of the Broadview Hotel, in the early 1950s and 60s Channel 12 broadcasted a live Christmas parade. Large balloons of cartoon animals and floats, Santa, television personalities and local politicians, could be seen rolling down Douglas Avenue.

Each year the parade crossed the bridge over the Arkansas River to end at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Despite the fun, by the mid-1960s the annual parade appeared to have had its run.

 Click here to see photos of the Christmas Parade.

But in 1980, the parade was back for more than a decade with floats, candy and huge balloons. The parade was even held at night for a couple of years.

"December at night," KWCH anchor Roger Cornish recalls jokingly. "We had some cold, cold parades."

Each October, KWCH employees began to design the float and organize the parade. More than 50 floats were sponsored by groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Shriners, Miss Kansas, churches and local businesses.

The parade did have a couple of mishaps. In 1980, the large balloons barely made it under the light posts arching over Douglas. Another year an ice storm hit the morning of the parade.

"They had to post-pone the parade for a day and store the balloons in the studio overnight," said Dana Barnet, who came to work at the station in 1981. "There were probably five huge balloons floating in the newsroom."

The parade originally took place the Saturday after Thanksgiving. But parade organizers discovered none of the high school marching bands wanted to participate because many of the students were out of town for the holiday. The parade soon changed to the first Saturday in December.

Channel 12 even commissioned a special Christmas ornament each year in the 1980s. Many viewers collected the whole set of nine.

Click here to see photos of the KWCH Christmas ornaments.

"Most people said they loved the spectacle of the parade and of course getting to see Santa," said Merril Teller, meteorologist at KWCH. Henry Harvey came to Channel 12 in 1977 as Santa in the show "Santa's Toyshop." He spent more than a decade at the station spreading Christmas cheer.

"When he was Santa, you better never ever call him anything else," Barnet said.

"He wouldn't even let anyone tell people that Henry Harvey was Santa Claus," added Linda Liebe, who worked at Channel 12 from 1973 to 2009.

Over the years, the route changed to go down Main Street, and the show was taped and aired later after the 6 p.m. news and again on Christmas Day. But year after year, KWCH employees who had helped organize the event said viewers often gave the same reason they came out to see the parade.

"There were a lot of parents that grew up with Henry Harvey as Santa Claus," said Liebe. "And when we brought Santa back in the parade, we would get comments from the viewers, 'Oh, I grew up watching Santa, and we wanted our kids to see him too.'"