Wonderama was a very popular and long-running kids' show that aired from 1955 to 1978. It originated from WNEW-TV in New York City and also appeared on the Metromedia-owned stations in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Kansas City.
Wonderama was a variety show with a studio audience of enthusiastic kids and featured a range of segments that included games, contests, interviews, audience participation, musical performances, and cartoons. The show ran three hours long on Sunday mornings, and there was also a one-hour weekday version for a time. It had a series of hosts over the years, but the longest-running and best-known were Sonny Fox and Bob McAllister.
The show reached its peak of popularity under McAllister, the former host of a children's show in Baltimore. McAllister was a multi-talented performer who sang, played guitar, and clearly had a way with kids. He presided as ringmaster over a fast-paced three hours of fun and games, including several regular features:
- "Snake Cans" -- McAllister would choose a series of kids from the audience to open one of ten tin cans arrayed on a long table. Nine of the cans were filled with spring-loaded "snakes" that would fly out when the cans were opened. The tenth can held a bouquet of artificial flowers. All the kids received small prizes, but the child that picked the can with the flowers would win the grand prize, usually a fancy bicycle. All the children also had to answer trivia questions correctly before they received their prizes, but McAllister did his best to see to it that they got the answers right.
- "Does Anybody Here Have an Aardvark?" -- McAllister would pick kids from the audience to show off unusual objects they had brought in with them.
- "Wonderama-a-Go-Go" -- This was an American Bandstand-type dance contest, later renamed "Disco City," in which the kids competed to win a prize. The record that the children danced to was brought in by "The Disco Kid," a boy dressed in a Lone Ranger-like outfit.
- "Exercise, Exercise!" -- All the kids in the audience (and undoubtedly most of those watching at home) got up and worked out.
- "Good News" -- McAllister picked children from the audience to read happy news items from newspapers around the country, and then asked other audience members if they had any of their own good news that they wanted to share.
- "Whose is Whose is Whose?" -- Four children and four dads were introduced, and kids from the studio audience had to guess which dad was which child's father.
- "Guess Your Best" -- This was a game-show-type segment in which three kids competed to guess the results of audience polls and relay races.
- "Head of the House" -- This segment featured kids competing against each other in various quirky competitions, like gerbil races, balloon-breaking contests, and so on. The child who won the most competitions was named "Head of the House."
Because it originated from New York, Wonderama was able to feature some of the top stars of the day, including Abba, the Jackson Five, Jerry Lewis, the cast of Monty Python, and even boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, who competed against each other in a game of marbles.
The show would end with McAllister singing the show's theme song "Kids Are People, Too." This became the program's title when it later aired briefly as a national network show on ABC.
This song embodied McAllister's approach to the show, which he treated as a kids' version of The Tonight Show combined with The Today Show, with a little touch of circus thrown in. He was never patronizing to his young audience and seemed genuinely to be having a good time interacting with his guests and the audience as he kept things moving along. Wonderama and McAllister developed a loyal and devoted following who still remember the show fondly today.