Air-Age Adventure Stars Helicopter

Air-Age Adventure Stars Helicopter

By Shirley Barr

Reprinted from Oil Producers Monthly Report, June 1958

To prevent glare during front filming, the bubble was cut out of the mock helicopter.

To prevent glare during front filming, the bubble was cut out of the mock helicopter.

With the rash of westerns on television, the hero who captures the bad man without the aid of “Old Paint” and cowboy Stetson is a refreshing rarity. This may be the reason “Whirlybirds,” the Conoco-sponsored weekly adventure series, is so successful. Or maybe it’s the fast-paced action of the hard-fisted heroes, Chuck Martin and P.T. Moore.

The men were referred to as “heroes” and not “stars,” you’ll note, for the undisputed star of the show is a Bell helicopter. This mechanical “eggbeater” whirls over the highest mountain, to aid an elderly uranium miner in the clutches of villainous claim-jumpers. It hangs suspended over a surging river to rescue a frightened child from a broken bridge, to the delight of audiences from coast to coast.

The weekly show celebrated its one-year anniversary in Omaha last January and approaches the end of the first year in many of the other 61 cities in Conocoland that get the show. And it’s still going strong.

It’s a winner

“Whirlybirds” received practically overnight acceptance from TV viewers. The new stations continually being added are proof that the show that “sells” Conoco is a winner.

Although “Whirlybirds” is up against tough competition in many locations, its ratings are good. In one of the larger cities in the Central region, “Whirlybirds” competes with “Boots and Saddles” and “Men of Annapolis” and comes out on top with a 36 percent weekly rating. (An estimated 36 percent of total TV sets are tuned to “Whirlybirds.” At this time of day, 58 percent of the total number of sets is turned on.)

In the Rocky Mountain region, “Whirlybirds,” competing with “MGM Theatre,” “Academy Theatre” and “Love that Jill” in one city, rates about 32 percent of the total TV sets in the area, the same number of viewers that tune in the other three channels combined.

Craig Hill (left) and Kenneth Tobey weren’t helicopter pilots.

Craig Hill (left) and Kenneth Tobey weren’t helicopter pilots.

Competing programs have a lot to do with TV ratings. In a west Texas town, for example, “Whirlybirds” would obviously have done much better had it not been opposite “Gunsmoke!” “Whirlybirds” was moved to a less competitive time slot and the audience grew by 75 percent.

In one location, “Whirlybirds” is opposite one of the toughest competitors in television, “Kraft Theatre,” and comes out on top. In this same west Texas town, the show gets higher ratings than “Maverick,” “Wagon Train” and “Wyatt Earp.”

Louisiana folks like the show, too. In a one-channel town, “Whirlybirds” pulls a higher rating than such programs as “This Is Your Life,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” “Your Hit Parade” and “George Gobel,” all televised on different evenings.

Another point in its favor is that the show attracts a well-rounded family audience. Mom, dad and the kids pull up chairs when the “eggbeater” starts its action. In one representative city, an average of three viewers per home watch “Whirlybirds,” a high average compared to many other shows.

Conoco co-sponsors “Whirlybirds,” in conjunction with another company or with the TV station. In other words, we don’t carry the whole cost of the program, but our commercials appear every week. In about half of the 61 cities in Conocoland who get “Whirlybirds,” the co-sponsor is Nabisco (National Biscuit Company), so commercials sell cookies and Conoco.

Plot sells

Although an exciting plot indirectly “sells” Conoco, the direct selling is done with commercials. Two principal commercials include Chet Lauck telling about that “Royal feeling” and a commercial that shows the testing of the new Conoco gasoline at the Bonneville Salt Flats races.