Martin Miller, CEO and General Manager of New England Public Radio, Shares his Memories of His Appearance on Wonderama.
I just listened to the podcast you did with Gilbert Godfried recently and I was inspired to write to you. It was a great interview and I look forward to picking up your autobiography. You’ve truly had a wonderful career and I’m grateful to you for it.
In 1965, when I was 10 years old and in 5th grade, I was one of what was probably thousands of kids, over many years, who got to sit in the bleachers and be on Wonderama. I watched you on Wonderama and Just for Fun for many years and I remember those years and you with great fondness.
I recall that I, my brother, one of my best friends and his sister, had to be excused from school to attend a taping of the show which was sometime during the week. Our parents had sent away for tickets for us. Several years before that they had also gotten us into the peanut gallery on the Bozo show on WPIX. I will admit to being star struck for the longest time.
I don’t remember too many details about the show we were on, except for something that happened to me (and I think a game of Simon Says), which I’ll never forget. During the show you went around and asked kids what they wanted to be when they grew up and I said that I wanted to be an actor. Later on during the program, you asked who had said that they wanted to be an actor and everyone pointed at me and a girl in the audience. I was either in shock that everyone was pointing at me, thought they had me mixed up with someone else, or didn’t remember saying it, but in any event you called us down to the front of the bleachers, sat us down in chairs and asked us to act out a scene which you suggested to us. I have no recollection of what that was, but what I do recall was seeing this pitch black studio in front of me, being under a very bright light, and looking up and seeing the only thing I could see, which was you towering over us. I was petrified and I don’t think much came out of mouth. I really don’t remember. But I do recall you saying something comforting about how difficult this was to do. (Actually another thing I remember about the show, and one of my favorite segments was you going through girls pocketbooks and of course the Amazing Randi!)
That Sunday I fully expected to watch the show and see myself, as embarrassing as it was, in this little skit (or non-skit) however it turned out. And to my shock my mother insisted that I go to Hebrew school that morning. I couldn’t believe it. She got the tickets for us, let us miss a day of school to go to the show, and then she insisted that I go to Sunday school. I mean what was the point, if I wasn’t going to get to see myself on television? I guess because the show was on for several hours, I always got to watch some of Wonderama, even when I had Sunday school. But not on that day. It took me a long time to forgive my mother for that; and she’s a wonderful mother (she’s your age – 91 and she and my father still live in the same house that I grew up in, in Plainview, Long Island! Of course there was no way to record anything back then and I’ve always wondered if any of those shows were preserved, and if so, was there any chance that I could get to see it now? Probably not, but I’ve always wondered about my appearance on Wonderama and what I actually looked like during that scene. Or was I left on the cutting room floor? Years later when I worked at Channel 5 for a while I never thought to ask anyone there.
I didn’t become an actor, but I did go to school and got a masters degree in music education. I didn’t pursue a music career, and because schools were cutting music programs when I got out of college in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I decided to pursue my other passion which was journalism, determined to become the next Walter Cronkite, one of my childhood heroes. Well, I never became a journalist in the long run either, but I did work at CBS as a security guard (my big break in broadcasting); followed by a stint as a desk assistant at ABC Radio News; then as a reporter at WNYC Radio for 6 months: and then at a radio station in Middletown, NY, owned by Robert FX Sillerman, and “Cousin Brucie” Bruce Morrow. My last broadcasting job in New York City was at WNEW where I was a t.v. news feed producer, when it was still owned by Metromedia. Eventually, I got married, and my wife (a pianist) and I moved to the Boston area where I worked for 10 years at WGBH Radio in a variety of roles, including producer and program director. Then 21 years ago I landed where I am today as the CEO and General Manager of New England Public Radio. So while my dreams of acting never came to be, I guess you might consider me one, if you think of on-air public radio fundraising as acting! It’s actually a pretty serious business in terms of our survival, but no matter, when the on-air light goes on it’s show time, and I’ve done a lot of on-air fundraising.
I’m not sure what part my “acting debut” on Wonderama played in my final career path, but I do want you to know that as a broadcaster I’ve followed your amazing career, I admire and applaud you for all of the ground breaking programs you’ve been involved in, and that Wonderama was a huge part of my suburban childhood as a 1950’s baby boomer.
Thank you for all you’ve done for broadcasting. May you have many more years of good health.
With warmest wishes,