Remembering the March of Dimes Telerama

Monday, March 13, 2006 - by Harmon Jolley
March of Dimes Telerama was held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium.  Click to enlarge.
March of Dimes Telerama was held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. Click to enlarge.
- photo by courtesy of Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library

Chattanooga’s Memorial Auditorium was once the venue for regularly scheduled events. Saturday nights brought out many fans of NWA professional wrestling events promoted by Harry Thornton, Nick Gulas, and Roy Welch. When a wrestling card wasn’t scheduled, fans of southern gospel packed the auditorium to hear Mull’s Singing Convention. Another regular event – the March of Dimes Telerama – united the community in a spirit of giving to help to prevent birth defects.

At 11:00pm on Saturday, January 21, 1967 the first March of Dimes Telerama began. WRCB-TV provided coverage of the event. On-air personalities Joan Barry, Dave Carlock, Don Fischer, Mort Lloyd, and Roy Morris worked the marathon show until it signed off at 6:30pm Sunday night. They were joined by families affected by birth defects. By the time the event ended, Chattanooga area residents had called in with pledges totaling $65,115.

The Telerama was watched by many each year. Employees of rival companies and students of rival schools challenged one another to make the largest pledge. Students from Rossville High School made an annual walk to the Memorial Auditorium as a fund-raiser.

Cameras often focused on the “tote (totals) board,” which tracked the ever-increasing total of pledges which had been made. O.J. Bailey’s band provided live music for the Telerama, and would break into fanfare when a new dollar figure was to be announced.

Many celebrities passed through Lovell Field each year on their way to appearing on the March of Dimes Telethon. Below is a sample of the stars and the year that they appeared.

1967 – Michael Landon (“Bonanza”) and the Stonemans, a folk-country singing family

1968 – Roger Miller (singer of “King of the Road”), James Drury (“The Virginian”), Leonard Nimoy (“Star Trek”), Minnie Pearl

1969 – David Canary (“Bonanza”), Linda Cristal (“High Chaparral”)

1970 – Mark Slade (“High Chaparral”), Maureen Arthur

1971 – David Hartman (“The Bold Ones” and later, “Good Morning, America”), Crystal Gayle

1972 – The Hagers (“Hee Haw”), Barbara Sharma (“Laugh-In”), Don Galloway (“Ironsides”)

1973 – Peter Marshall (“Hollywood Squares”), Gunilla Hutton and Roy Clark (“Hee Haw”)

1974 – Donna Douglas (“Beverly Hillbillies”), Lloyd Haynes (“Room 222”), Dave Madden (“Partridge Family”)

1975 – Anson Williams (“Happy Days”)

1976 – Lee Majors (“Six Million Dollar Man”)

1977 - Robert Reed (“Brady Bunch”)

The Telerama appears to have been discontinued after 1977. However, the community spirit of giving to the March of Dimes continues in the annual WalkAmerica event.

If you have memories of the March of Dimes Telerama, please send me an e-mail at jolley@bellsouth.net.

Roy Morris was master of ceremonies for the annual Telerama.  Click to enlarge.
Roy Morris was master of ceremonies for the annual Telerama. Click to enlarge.

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