From 1973 to 1981, my family and I always began our Thanksgiving by watching The CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV from 9AM until noon. While NBC covered only New York City’s Macy’s Parade, this CBS show covered about thirty minutes each of five different parades throughout the USA and one in Canada.
The parades in Philadelphia, Detroit, Toronto, (a “Santa Claus Parade”) and New York City’s Macy’s Parade, were covered live, while the fifth parade, from Hawaii, was pre-recorded because of the time difference. Four parades each had a couple of celebrity commentators, usually stars of CBS shows that changed yearly, while the Hawaiian parade was hosted every year by Hawaii Five-O star, Jack Lord.
Holding the entire show together was the warm, deep-voiced host, William Conrad. The CBS Thanksgiving parade show began in 1959 and was hosted over the years by several TV celebrities, including children’s TV show host Captain Kangaroo in the 1960s, but that was before my time.
For me as a child, it was always Conrad, sitting in a big leather chair by a fireplace like a middle-aged Santa Claus, introducing each parade with gentle, calm authority.
There is not much evidence of William Conrad’s parade hosting ability on YouTube, but I found this little gem of an audio recording which features Conrad’s voice, which we often heard from the living room as we helped prepare food in the kitchen:
This short clip brings it all back to me. Conrad would always end the three hour show with a prayer and songs, pausing to mention the sponsors, which always included Amana Radarange, which was an early microwave oven. It seemed like space age technology to me!
If you’re wondering how five thirty minute parade segments filled a three hour TV show, the extra thirty minutes were commercials combined with segments featuring Conrad in the cozy living room set, fireplace ablaze, as he told amusing anecdotes and what we would call today, “fun facts”.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into a TV tradition that no longer exists, complete with William Conrad’s anecdotes, (one minute in and twenty minutes in) look here:
Nowadays, CBS shows only its coverage of New York’s City’s Macy’s Parade, the same parade that NBC covers at the same time, on Thanksgiving morning. With streaming, now it’s possible to see other cities’ Thanksgiving parades, but no one can watch a little bit of five different parades in one three-hour show anymore.
Yes, The Macy’s Parade features Broadway show performances and nationally known singing stars, but I still think it would be cool to also watch parts of parades in other cities happening the same morning, to feel like part of one big American celebration.
And the Hawaiian parade was so different, with its scantily clad marching bands, hula dancers, and aging Jack Lord in a Hawaiian shirt talking about what he was thankful for! We will never see the like of that again!
When we saw The Aloha Parade on our TV, we knew the CBS parade coverage was almost over, as it was always the last parade shown. And so, I’ll end with this YouTube video featuring outtakes from Lord’s introduction to and conclusion of the 1979 Aloha Parade coverage.
If you stay with this video more than five minutes, you will see a horse foaming at the mouth, a take interrupted by an airplane, and Lord telling viewers a fun fact about how Hawaii Five-O got its name!
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays, everyone! Aloha!
____________________________________________________This story was originally published on Medium.com.
About the Creator
An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm
Very well written. Keep up the good work!