Dialing for Dollars

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Dialing for Dollars was a franchised format local television program in the United States and Canada, popular in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.


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 (on most stations, "the count and the amount") to the audience at the beginning of the program and then randomly select a phone number 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) and call it. If the viewer was watching the show, they would know that they were being called, answer the phone with the correct password, and would win a monetary prize. If the number did not answer, the prize money would continue to increase. The term "the count" comes from cities where, at the beginning of the show (and after a jackpot is won, if it was not the last call of that show), a number from 1 to 9 and either "top" or "bottom" (in some cities, "up" or "down") was selected randomly; the numbers called were selected by taking slips of 9 to 18 numbers cut from pages of phone books and selecting the appropriate phone number. (For example, the count could be "six from the top" (or "down six"), in which case the sixth number down from the top of each selected slip was the phone number called.) "The amount" simply referred to the dollar amount that was being offered to the person being called.

Dialing for Dollars originated as a radio program in 1939 on WCBM in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted by Homer Todd. With the rapid development of commercial television broadcasting in the U.S. in 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), the Dialing for Dollars format would be used during the local telecasting of a morning or afternoon movie. Every so often, rather than going to a commercial break, the film would be interrupted by a dialing for dollars segment, after which the program either went to a commercial or directly back to the film.[citation needed] On others, such as WKBW's version, the show was a full one-hour variety show complete with studio audience and mini-games.

By the mid-1970s, the popularity of the Dialing for Dollars format faded as competition from daytime talk shows developed and more sophisticated game shows were syndicated. 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. Although still seen in a few markets, Dialing for Dollars left the Baltimore airwaves in 1977, 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 Mr. Guber's soon-to-be-diagnosed illness; he died of a brain tumor on March 27, 1988.

Janis Joplin sings about the show in the song "Mercedes Benz":

"Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?
Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?"

The program has also been satirized on Second City TV.

Live! with Kelly and Michael 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).

List of stations that carried Dialing for Dollars[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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott Shane, "Television host Stu Kerr dies", Baltimore Sun, July 18, 1994.
  2. ^ Oprah Winfrey Timeline

External links[edit]