Matthews reunion planned for former WSOC-TV show
by Alan Hodge
If you were a Charlotte-area teen back in the 1960s who had even the slightest interest in the latest pop tunes and dance steps, the world stood still each Saturday afternoon when “Kilgo’s Kanteen” came on.
Hosted by local broadcast personality Jimmy Kilgo, the WSOC-TV show was a spin-off of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and featured tunes from local bands, Top 40 pop hits and plenty of sock-hopping by teens from area high schools.
So, fans of Kilgo and the show should be pleased to know a reunion dinner is coming soon.
“Kilgo’s Kanteen” was not only a local hit, but also was named “Top TV Bandstand Show” in the Aug. 13, 1966, issue of Billboard magazine. The one-hour program of tunes and teen talk ran from 1957 to 1970, and was broadcast to viewers within a 100-mile range of Charlotte.
Now a resident of Providence Plantation, Kilgo began his broadcasting career on the radio in the mid-1950s and went to television from there. “Kilgo’s Kanteen” was his brainchild.
“The idea for the ‘Kilgo’s Kanteen’ television show came from a WIST radio broadcast program I did in 1956 where we set up a remote studio in the Hawthorne Recreation Center in Charlotte and had high school kids come by to dance and listen to music,” Kilgo said. “We used that same format for the television show when I went to WSOC in 1957.”
“Kilgo’s Kanteen” was ahead of its time in many ways. For one thing, teens danced on a rotating turntable so cameras could catch the action from a variety of angles. “Kilgo’s Kanteen” also broke ground in the area of race relations.
“In 1962 I had the idea of having African-American students appear on the show,” he said. “At first the switchboard lit up with complaints and threats, but that soon changed to positive comments. It really went over well.”
Memories of “Kilgo’s Kanteen” are still strong in those who either watched the show or were part of the action. Rustee Lane of Mint Hill was a loyal fan. She graduated from Garinger High School in 1965, during “Kilgo’s Kanteen’s” heyday, and is now helping to organize the Jan. 12 reunion.
“I would run to the television every Saturday at noon when the show came on,” Lane said. “It was our American Bandstand.”
Even though she never made it on the show, Lane said she once transported a local band and their equipment to WSOC-TV for a “Kilgo’s Kanteen” audition.
“I don’t remember the name of the band,” Lane said. “But the guitarist could play his instrument behind his neck.”
The Kilgo Girls go-go dancers were a big part of the show. According to Kilgo, the idea for dancers came after a scheduled group of high school students failed to show up and there was no one on the set to film. A taped tour of the WSOC studio filled in the gap that time, but Kilgo made sure he wouldn’t be empty handed again.
“I went to my friend Bubba Grose of Grose Dance Studio and told him I wanted some girls each week for the show,” Kilgo said. “We put them on and they were a hit.”
Each of the Kilgo Girls wore a sweater emblazoned with different letters from Kilgo’s last name.
Sandy Wooten Durham, who graduated from Garinger in 1967, was one of the featured Kilgo Girls go-go dancers. She wore the letter “G,” with pleated skirts and go-go boots completing the outfit.
“It was the height of a teen’s life to be a Kilgo Girl,” she said.
Kilgo’s personality also gave the show a feeling of camaraderie.
“Jimmy was a charismatic person and fit right in with all the kids,” Durham said. “We felt like a big family. You could not meet Jimmy without feeling like you had made a friend.”
Kilgo says the idea comes up from time to time about reprising a version of “Kilgo’s Kanteen” for a more modern audience. However, Jimmy isn’t sure it’d work.
“I think ‘Kilgo’s Kanteen’ is best left in memories,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, but I don’t think you could replicate it today.”
Want to go?
The reunion dinner is planned for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Jonathan’s Restaurant, 10630 Independence Pointe Pkwy. in Matthews. The event is open to the public, but reservations are required and people have to buy their own dinner. For reservations, call the restaurant at 704-847-8911 or Rustee Lane at 704-545-6618 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
AS I REMEMBER IT …
I was a teenager back in the 1960s when “Kilgo’s Kanteen” was one of the most popular television shows in Charlotte – and host Jimmy Kilgo was someone kids looked up to as a fun-loving and wholesome role model.
Even though I never got to be on the show, I recall a girl that lived on our street named Jacki Parker who made the coveted trip to the WSOC-TV studios and appeared on the show. To be seen on “Kilgo’s Kanteen” by one’s high school peers was about as close to stardom as a local teen could get in those days. Jacki basked in the glow of her celebrity for several days.
I guess the most marked memory I have of “Kilgo’s Kanteen” was the fact that the show was all about music, dancing and having a good time without the need for vulgarity.
– Alan Hodge