Air-Age Adventure Stars Helicopter

Air-Age Adventure Stars Helicopter

By Shirley Barr0505010_1.jpg

Reprinted from “Oil Producers Monthly Report”, June 1958

With the rash of westerns on TV, 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—and the new stations, continually being added (last month, San Angelo) is all the proof needed that the show that “sells” Conoco is a winner.

The ratings are good—and in many locations, “Whirlybirds” is up against tough competition. 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, 58 percent of the total number of sets is on.)

In the Rocky Mountain Region, ratings show “Whirlybirds” competes with “MGM Theatre,” “Academy Theatre” and “Love that Jill” in one city and 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.

Competing programs have a lot to do with TV ratings. In a west Texas town, for example, “Whirlybirds” would obviously have done much better if it hadn’t been opposite “Gunsmoke!” So it was moved to a less competitive time and gained a 75 percent larger audience.

“Whirlybirds” is opposite one of the toughest competitors in television, “Kraft Theatre,” in one location, and comes out on top. In this same west Texas town, it 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”—televised different evenings.

Neither Craig Hill (left), nor Kenneth Tobey were helicopter pilots.

Neither Craig Hill (left), nor Kenneth Tobey were helicopter pilots.

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

Conoco co-sponsors “Whirlybirds,” either 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 sell

Although an exciting plot indirectly “sells” Conoco via the program, the direct selling is done with commercials. Two principal commercials are ones where Chet Lauck tells about that “Royal feeling” and the Bonneville Salt Flats races test the new Conoco gasoline.

The Bubble was cut out of mock helicopter to prevent glare for any front filming.

The Bubble was cut out of mock helicopter to prevent glare for any front filming.