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Saluting a Very Special Santa:

George H. Heid, Sr.

October 8th, 1902-December 23rd, 1973


A while ago, the KringleQuest Team stumbled onto the following story, with the help of Flickr.com. Please enjoy this story of one very special Santa, as told by some of the surviving members of his family:

Here is Santa, reading some of the letters that have been sent to him, live on the air on Paul Shannon's Adventure Time, an early 1960's kids' show on Pittsburgh's WTAE. Santa's segments were staged on a set featuring Santa's North Pole Rocketship, which each afternoon blasted off to the Top of the World, carrying a full cargo of letters addressed to Santa Claus.

George Herman Heid was born in New York City, the youngest of seven children. In 1919, his mom moved him, along with his youngest brother and sister, to Oakland, California. Here, young George began a modest show-business career, which frequently was divided between Legitimate Theatre and Grand Opera. But after a successful decade as a veteran of the stage, George turned his attention to radio, eventually assuming the duties of program director at KPO, the NBC-controlled affiliate in San Francisco. Shortly afterward, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he became station manager and co-owner of KVOA-AM.

It was 1934, or thereabouts, when a friend named Dale Jackson told George that he, Dale, had recently moved from Tucson to Pittsburgh. As the nation plummeted into the abyss of the Great Depression, Dale encouraged George to make the journey to Pittsburgh himself. It was, as Dale explained, a top city in terms of radio, musical venues, and live performance theatre. There were opportunities in all three, Dale told George .... and it was not long before George did indeed make that move, answering the call to become program director at KQV-AM. Following a few early successes with that station, he was quickly lured over to the more powerful --- and more legendary --- KDKA. For the remainder of the 1930's and onward into the 40's, George produced and hosted some of Pittsburgh's most popular radio shows, among them, Memory Time with Al Marsico. He also headed up KDKA's music department, where he presented the Max Adkins Orchestra from the Stanley Theatre; The Big Swing to Isaly's; and Dimling's Candy Kids, on which George gave then 11-year-old prodigy Erroll Garner his first professional paying job. In addition, Mr. Heid produced live radio broadcasts for other area stations, notably WCAE, WJAS, and WWSW.

By the mid-1930's, he had launched his own self-named production company, which would house Pittsburgh's first-ever recording studio facility. Under his supervision, and using on-location equipment, George recorded several of the first recordings by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. As the years passed, George Heid Productions recorded the earliest musical performances by, among others, Billy Strayhorn, Marylou Williams, Henry Mancini, George Benson, and even Fred Rogers (yes, THAT Mister Rogers!). Then in 1948, he launched the George Heid School of Radio & Television Arts, whose graduates would include some of the finest sportscasters on the air: Dick Stockton, Ray Scott; and various other personalities, such as Perry Marshall, Marie Torra, Eleanor Schano, Nick Perry and Ray Lehman.

At the end of 1948, George Heid Productions moved its operations to bigger quarters on the Club Floor of the William Penn Hotel. There, musicians of every description wanted to make themselves available to George's new studios; as a result, the top musical acts in Pittsburgh soon became veterans of the facility: Johnny Costa, Mister Rogers' music director; Bobby Cardillo; Loren Maazel; Walt Harper; Shirley Jones; Danny Conn; the Skyliners; El Capris; and the Del Vikings.

But George himself could still make magic whenever he had the chance to do his own performing, whether it was singing in his own church choir, or being asked to sing the national anthem at prominent events. For an extended period he was Master of Ceremonies for South Park's beloved Allegheny County Fair. And when he was profiled in the early years of NBC's Today show, its founding host, Dave Garroway called George "the most versatile, most creative man I know in show business."

But it was his last, and probably his most cherished, role --- that of Santa Claus --- that made George Heid, Sr. a legend to truly be reckoned with. With a fine tenor voice and a sincere twinkle in his eyes, George's "Ho-ho-ho!" was a call to which every youngster who tuned in to WTAE-TV, Channel 4, was quick to respond. As Santa-in-Residence for Paul Shannon's Adventure Time, George brought happiness to millions of Pittsburgh kids and their parents. He took that role to several various local charities in the region as well, and often as he sang "Toyland" from Babes in Toyland, tears of heartfelt love would fill his eyes, for those children who had gathered around to listen knew that Santa was singing a very special song from deep within his heart.

George Herman Heid, Sr. passed away on the Night Before the Night Before Christmas, December 23rd, 1973. He was 72. Today, the Heid Studios, controlled by George Heid, Jr., continues the Heid family legacy.

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