For once the worst news of my entire day had nothing to do with deaths or Presidential election. Any Indianapolis native over the age of 30 was saddened today to hear about the passing of local TV legend Cowboy Bob, a kiddie-show host and super-friendly personality who played a major role in so many childhoods during his illustrious career on the air, along with his dog Tumbleweed and his greatest puppet, Sourdough the Singing Biscuit, who was as deformed and low-budget as you’d imagine. But he was our deformed low-budget singing biscuit puppet and Cowboy Bob made him happen.
(All the professional news sources insist his name was Bob Glaze. This information is injurious to my rare moment of nostalgia. These journalists were clearly children at the wrong time. His name was Cowboy Bob. SAY HIS NAME.)
Context for youngsters: in the ’70s and early ’80s, America only had three broadcast networks and not every VHF channel was affiliated with a multinational corporation. WTTV channel 4 was the largest independent station in Indianapolis, ruling our household with a healthy mix of syndicated TV reruns, old movies on weekends, and local programming, including televised Pacers and Indians games that frequently interrupted our regular schedule. As one of the invaluable entertainment sources during my pre-school days, channel 4 was one of the few carriers of cartoons outside of Saturday mornings, showing them on weekdays before and after school.
(If you’ve watched Netflix’s Stranger Things, set ostensibly in 1983, one of its numerous anachronisms is the scene where Eleven flips channels while Mike and the other kids are at school and skips past Masters of the Universe. NOPE. That would be an absurd time slot when its entire fan base wouldn’t be home to watch it. Never mind how she’s flipping channels and none of them are dead-air static. In the show’s small-town Indiana setting, you’d be lucky if you actually got all three major networks, let alone a station on every channel.)
Cartoon hosts oversaw weekday mornings on channel 4. I have a distant memory of a lady named Peggy who dressed like a sailor and introduced Popeye cartoons, but two hosts endured longer both on channel 4 and in my heart: the mononymous Janie, and Cowboy Bob, host of Cowboy Bob’s Chuckwagon Theater, better known in its theme song as Cowboy Bob’s Corral. I was cool with Janie, but Cowboy Bob was a rarity for me: a male role model. In a childhood without a father figure, years before I’d have my first male teacher in sixth grade, he taught us kids about life, safety, citizenship, decency, and probably some other noble qualities that I wish I could list with authority. I was really young and we couldn’t afford our own VCR till 1990, so I don’t have entire episodes in front of me to compile my own “Top Ten Lessons I Learned from Cowboy Bob” article for Buzzfeed or Cracked. I kind of wish I could.
As with most kids in those days, I had the misfortune of getting older and drifting away from my old pal Cowboy Bob over time, but I never forgot him, or the fuzzy feelings retained from years of getting excited whenever rode in, said hi, and brought us cartoon shorts starring Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, the original Looney Tunes gang, and the extensive lineup of Hanna-Barbera all-stars. Channel 4 fired Cowboy Bob near the end of the ’80s, presumably after their board of directors had been overrun by Evil. For years after, he kept up a public profile with guest appearances at fairs and special events and so forth. Sadly I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, and there’ll likely be no chance to relive those early educational experiences through a Cowboy Bob: The Remastered Complete Series on Blu-ray or DVD or even on YouTube. At best, all I have to carry with me is the faded recollection of my utmost regard for him, and the faith that the best parts of who I am were made possible by mornings spent learning and singing along with Cowboy Bob.