Some may remember a No. 1 country music hit in 1983 by Anne Murray, "A Little Good News." The song lamented tensions in the Middle East, the bad economy and how we needed a change in policy. The recurring line was, "We sure could use a little good news today."
Mike Price recently retired after 46 years on the job at WSYR-TV Channel 9 in Syracuse, also formerly known as WIXT and WNYS. Whether over the air or on cable, the station covers most of The Heartland of New York.
When Anne Murray's song was on the airwaves, Price coincidentally began a feature in the early evening newscast called Good News. Price was a general assignment reporter at the time. As an experiment, Price suggested to his boss that a feature strictly on human interest, rather than what he called "D&D" _ death and destruction news, be the final story of each evening newscast.
The idea worked, and Price made the feature so popular, it continued five nights a week until his retirement last July.
Sometimes the feature wasn't necessarily newsworthy, but would be aired just to make a viewer smile or laugh. For instance, Price once donned a sport coat and went down a slide into a pool of strawberry gelatin as a stunt to promote a Leukemia Society event.
"It turned out messy, but the gelatin was tasty," Price recalled.
Mike Price spent nearly his entire career at Channel 9. He was hired as a staff announcer one week before the station signed on, Sept. 9, 1962. Shortly after, Price met up with the station manager and program director one afternoon in the hallway. The manager was discussing how the station had leased some old horror films, including "Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Wolfman" and "The Mummy," and wondered how and when they might be aired.
Price interrupted them with a suggestion. "I think I could do a fairly decent imitation of the way Bela Lagosi did Count Dracula," Price said. Doing the imitation, Price continued, "I think we could run these movies late on a Saturday night, and I could do some sort of foolish comedic skit during our commercial breaks."
The consensus of the manager and program director was that the idea was good and they ought to give it a try. Price wasn't going to be a "count" as his scary character. He came up with the idea of being a "baron." And so Baron Daemon was born.
Channel 9 was then located in the Shoppingtown Plaza in Dewitt. Price went next door to a W.T. Grant department store, bought three yards of black cotton cloth in the fabric department, got some white baby powder and a black eyebrow pencil, and became a vampire character.
The Saturday night show was an instant hit, and remained so until 1967. Friday night was soon added. Parents called in complaining because their children wouldn't go to bed until they saw Baron Daemon. The station then added a late-afternoon kids show, "Baron and His Buddies."
The Baron turned into a promotional gold mine for Channel 9. Price made appearances at businesses, hospitals and schools in a 50-mile radius of Syracuse. In 1963, Price recorded a novelty 45-rpm record that was a huge seller, "The Transylvania Twist," accompanied by a local group, Sam and The Twisters. Price estimates more than 12,000 copies were sold.
An appearance at an automotive parts store is still memorable.
"I was in an imitation crypt-setting with bars on it. I'd reach out and shake hands and pose for pictures. One 7-year-old boy approached me and went right into the Baron voice, and said, I'm going to bite you,' since I was always kidding about biting people in the neck. So the kid bit my hand, and latched right onto it. It didn't break the skin, but there were teeth marks on my hand for a couple of days," Price said.
Fire at the Shoppingtown studio in 1967 destroyed the Baron's set and wardrobe, and the show was discontinued. Price wasn't too saddened by it, as getting into the costume almost seven days a week had grown old.
Whether bringing out the good news as the Baron, or many other duties he performed at Channel 9, it was all enjoyable for Price.
"I'm a lucky guy," Price said. "Some people hate to go to work or consider it drudgery to be there. I'm lucky, as I had a job that wasn't really like a job, one that I'd wake up each morning and look forward to going in to."
If you've never seen him before, Baron Daemon's Halloween Fright Fest special will air Friday on WSYR-TV at 7:30 p.m.
This weekend: Oneonta's 1908 mayoral election was about as close as it could possibly be.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.