Dialing for Dollars

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Dialing for Dollars was a franchised format local television program in the United States and Canada, popular from the 1950s to the early 1990s.


These two ads show the Dialing for Dollars format in 1972-73 on two sister stations, KXMB-TV in Bismarck/Mandan, N.D. and KXMC-TV in Minot, N.D. They illustrate how local stations used their own talent and set design to create a Dialing for Dollars series.

The program's usual format had the host, a local television personality, announce a certain password to the audience at the beginning of the program (on most stations, "the count and the amount"). He would then randomly select a phone number to call from a bowl or drum, either from those that had been previously submitted by viewers, or by scraps of paper cut from residential telephone directories. Viewers watching the show would know that they were being called, answer the phone with the correct password, and would win a monetary prize. If the viewer did not respond correctly or failed to answer the call altogether, the prize money would continue to increase until it was claimed.

"The count" consisted of a number (1 through 9) and direction (up/down or top/bottom), randomly selected at the beginning of the show, that served to determine which number would be called. Slips were cut from pages of the viewing area's telephone book(s), each containing several numbers; at each playing, one slip was drawn and the appropriate number was selected. If the count was "6 Down," for example, the sixth number down from the top of the slip was called. "The amount" was the value of the cash prize at stake.

Dialing for Dollars originated as a radio program in 1939 on WCBM in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted by Homer Todd. With the advent and rise of commercial television broadcasting in the U.S. during the late 1940s and 1950s, the format switched to television and was franchised nationally as a popular, low-budget way to fill local market airtime, especially in the late mornings.

On some stations (such as KTVU hosted by Pat McCormick, who also did voices for the Charley & Humphry puppets during a local cartoon show), the Dialing for Dollars format would be used during the local telecasting of a morning or afternoon movie. The film would be interrupted by a dialing for dollars segment every so often, rather than going to a commercial break, after which the program either went to a commercial or directly back to the film.[citation needed] On others, such as WKBW's version and WTNH's version, both versions are variety shows complete with studio audience and mini-games, The difference between both stations is that WTNH's version also contains special guests and performances after dialing games or mini-games. However, WKBW's version runs for an entire hour, and WTNH's version runs for 30 minutes as normal.

By the mid-1970s, the popularity faded for the Dialing for Dollars format, as competition developed from daytime talk shows, and more sophisticated game shows coming from syndication. Another factor in the show's decline was the trend of fewer households having stay-at-home members available to answer the phone during the day. Dialing for Dollars left the Baltimore airwaves in 1977 (although it is still seen in a few markets), after giving away $800,000 locally in its 38-year run there on radio and television.[1]

Broadway producer Lee Guber attempted to resurrect the concept on a national basis in 1987, meeting with Canadian broadcaster Peter Emmerson with regards to hosting what would have emanated from the former GFG Productions facilities in Brooklyn. The project was never completed due to Guber's illness which was diagnosed soon after; he died of a brain tumor on March 27, 1988.

The program has also been satirized on the Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV.

Live with Kelly and Ryan carries on the tradition with its daily Travel Trivia contest, and a few local shows directly trace their lineage to Dialing for Dollars (an example is AM Buffalo).

The program was also referenced in Janis Joplin's classic hit song "Mercedes Benz" from the 1970 album "Pearl".

More recently, cable network Adult Swim has periodically revived the concept beginning in mid-2018 for their online livestream; due to the original concept being rendered obsolete by the advancement of technology, instead viewers of the livestream must memorize a certain word (indicated by the onscreen appearance of a plane marked "SPY"). Viewers that enter their phone number into the Adult Swim website can then have a chance to be picked to win a prize of some sort if they are picked during the drawing (which is broadcast Thursdays at 9PM on the livestream) and say the correct word.

List of stations that carried Dialing for Dollars[edit]

Other local formats[edit]

A similar format, The Money Man, was used on WLOS-TV Asheville, North Carolina, in the late 1960s. Host Bob Caldwell would call viewers and ask them to tell how much money was in the jackpot and name the show or star of the day. This aired in late afternoons, during reruns of Perry Mason and the station's 5:30 PM newscast.

Another similar format, the Prize Movie, aired for many years on WUAB-TV in Cleveland, Ohio; host John Lanigan would call people in a manner similar to Dialing for Dollars, and would spin a wheel containing photos of both station personalities and stars of the syndicated fare seen on the station; he would then ask the caller to identify that person. If they did so successfully, they won the jackpot (which always ended in 43 cents). This lasted for many years, until the station opted to replace the Prize Movie with a slate of syndicated talk shows in the fall of 1993; this was a failure and the Prize Movie was brought back in January of 1994, and ended for good that August.

WFLI-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning with its first year of operation in 1987, ran a 30-minute live and locally-produced program entitled 53 Trivia Spin. The program was equivalent to the Dialing for Dollars format, hosted by Bob Broome and Cynthia Davis. Bob would give the viewers a question, then a person would call in to answer the question. Once the caller gets a correct answer, the caller then chooses a number between 1 and 18 (including two "53" spaces) that were listed on the wheel before Cynthia would spin it. Once a random non-selected number was landed, the caller would win a selected amount of money or a smaller prize that was given such as coupons and tickets. If a selected number was landed, a big prize would be given to the caller such as vehicles and trips, which its prize was changed each round.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott Shane (July 18, 1994). "Television host Stu Kerr dies". Baltimore Sun.
  2. ^ "Oprah Winfrey Timeline".
  3. ^ "Ralph Vartigian, Albany TV's 'Commander Ralph', dead at 89". 15 December 2015.

External links[edit]