TV

Toby the Robot used to beep-beep through the comics. A look back at a beloved Miami show

Wayne Chandler and Toby the Robot
Wayne Chandler and Toby the Robot

If you were a kid in Miami in the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s, you knew Toby the Robot.

The moving collection of garbage cans went beep-beep-beep when he pressed the button on his body, and was the foil for the host of Channel 7’s “Sunday Funnies.”

Along with Skipper Chuck on Channel 4, Miami kids grew up on the show, hosted first by Charlie Baxter and then by weatherman Wayne Chandler. Charlie Folds played Toby.

On the show, the host and the kids took turns reading the comics section of the Miami Herald.

The show wound down in 1984, but the memories remain.

Here is a look back at “The Sunday Funnies” through the archives of the Herald.

TOBY RETIRES

Published Feb. 6, 2003

In an unprecedented exit of broadcast talent, WSVN-Fox 7 lost half a dozen of its most memorable on-air personalities Friday as the taciturn Toby the Robot, bumbling vampire Count Down, shy prestidigitator Mr. Magic, Duffo the Clown and several others all announced their retirement.

Not to ruin things for a generation of South Florida kids who grew up thinking Toby, the Count and all the others were separate individuals, but they were all played by the same guy - WSVN’s community relations director Charlie Folds, who announced he’s stepping down Dec. 15 after 46 years at the station.

Folds, 65, plans to write childrens’ books — an ambition honed during his quarter-century in costume as co-host of various WSVN kiddie shows.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” Folds said. “I even tried to get a job at The Herald when I was 11. But somehow I wound up in television. Don’t ask me why.”

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Charlie Folds Miami Herald File

As community relations director, Folds has been the public face of WSVN at a host of events like the Winterfest boat parade, has listened to thousands of complaints about programming and has parried countless cranky questions from reporters about which anchor was secretly checking into drug rehab. (He can say “We don’t comment on station personnel” backward and in several languages, in his sleep.)

But none of it got more attention than his roles on the WSVN kiddie shows that flourished from the late 1950s to the early ‘80s - particularly that of Toby the Robot, who clunked and clanked and beeped his way into the hearts of South Florida’s first TV generation. Many of those children, today in their 40s, can still recall the names of Toby’s wife (Tulip) and kids (Beeper and Tinker).

Toby appeared on several different WSVN shows, but his longest-running gig was on Sunday Funnies, where he and a co-host (first Charlie Baxter, later Wayne Chandler) read the comics pages out loud.

“I still hear from people who call up or e-mail to say, ‘Are you the guy who used to read The Herald comics on TV?’ “ Folds said.

Actually, the co-host did all the reading. Toby only beeped, using an alarm-clock mechanism inside his laundry-bucket head. “Toby never said anything but beep-beep-beep, but it was amazing to hear kids interpret it,” Folds said. “They all heard what they wanted to hear in that beeping.”

A second-generation version of an earlier robot known as Garby, Toby was cobbled together from plastic garbage cans and various bits of, well, junk. His hardy scuff-proof exterior did not render him immune to personal tragedy. When Toby leaned over one day to hammer on a coffin (don’t ask), his head fell off.

“There I was, my face right out there in front of the world,” Folds recalled. “And in those days I was so shy.”

It was his worst moment, though there were plenty inside the hot, sweaty Toby costume that were merely bad.

“What I really hated was when a youngster would reach up under the costume and pull the hair on my legs — I wore trunks under there because of the heat,” Folds said. “They’d just grab hold of you and yank.”

Toby retired in 1984, the final casualty of a flood of red ink in children’s programming that drowned not only local kiddie-TV hosts like Skipper Chuck but national figures like Captain Kangaroo and Buffalo Bob.

“The ratings were still pretty good, especially for a Sunday morning, but it was just too expensive to produce, the time and the tape and everything,” Folds said.

On Toby’s final day at the station, he cried:

“When I put on that costume, I became Toby.”

Folds, who grew up in Vero Beach, started at WSVN — then known as WCKT — in 1958, editing movies to remove the hells and damns from soundtracks, and cutting them to make room for commercials. In recent years, he’s probably wished he could edit out the “hells” and “damns” as he serves as the buffer between WSVN’s sometimes controversial tabloid-style news department and irate viewers. His bosses say nobody could have done it better.

“The best thing I ever did was take him off of kids’ TV and put him in promotions,” said Robert Leider, WSVN’s general manager. “He takes care of everything around here in terms of public relations.” Not that it was always easy. “I’ve survived all the egos of the anchors and reporters,” Folds mused Friday. “I’ve seen a lot of them go on to greatness. And otherwise.”

TRAGEDY FOR THE HOST

Published Aug. 15, 2006

Wayne Chandler, a former WSVN-Channel 7 weatherman whose career ended abruptly after a 1984 head-on car crash, died Wednesday. He was 65.

In addition to giving weekend weather reports, Chandler hosted a kids’ show called Sunday Funnies with Charlie Folds for more than a decade in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

“He auditioned as co-host and I liked him right away,” said Folds, who retired from the station in 2003. “He had a way with children.”

Folds recalled how Chandler read comics like Peanuts and Hagar the Horrible during the half-hour program, while Folds, dressed as Toby the Robot, made sound effects.

“He did the talking, I did the clowning around,” Folds said.

Chandler worked with the station until Dec. 7, 1984, when a head-on collision left him with multiple fractures and a severe head injury. Chandler was traveling in a Volkswagen Beetle on Biscayne Boulevard when another driver lost control and struck his car.

Chandler slowly recovered, his wife said, but was never well enough to return to work.

“It kind of got to him for a while after his accident, because that was his life,” said his wife, Lynn Chandler.

Sunday Funnies ended soon after Chandler’s departure from the station.

Chandler was born Oct. 17, 1940, in Chester, Pa. He moved to South Florida as a child, graduating from North Miami High School. He later attended Miami Dade Community College, and earned a bachelor’s in meteorology from Florida International University.

Before working at WSVN — formerly WCKT — he worked in sales, his wife said. In addition to his wife, Chandler is survived by four daughters and one grandchild. A memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home in Hollywood.

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Charlie Baxter with Charlie Folds as Toby the Robot reading the Miami Herald funnies. Miami Herald File

END OF THE KIDS’ SHOWS

Published March 9, 1984

WSVN-Ch.7 ‘s long-running robot, Toby, is taking his sinuses to Arizona come April 1. That’s when Toby retires from the tube after 21 years on the air — 14 of them on “Sunday Funnies,”

Ch. 7’s weekly children’s program that also features real-person and Ch. 7 weatherman Wayne Chandler reading newspaper comics to kids and extricating the robot from assorted scrapes each week. Charlie Baxter was the first host of the show.

“Sunday Funnies” will continue in modified form without Toby. After April 1, the robot’s final appearance on the program, Toby will transplant himself and his family (wife, Tulip, and children, Beeper and Tinker) to a robot’s retreat in Scotsdale, Ariz.

“It’s the weather and his allergies,” explains Toby’s “mechanic,” Charlie Folds.

Folds is, in reality, the man inside the plastic trash cans that stack up to Toby’s yellow-and-green body.

The “retirement” for Toby means a new career for Folds, here in South Florida. However, the robot’s departure is more than the end of an era for South Florida kids. (“I loved Toby. I always wanted to know who was in the robot,” sighs one now grown-up Toby devotee.)

The retirement is another signpost pointing to a trend in local television around the country. Locally produced children’s programming is not that important to many TV stations anymore. about as important to many TV stations as the buttonhook is to high-heeled shoes.

WTVJ-Ch. 4 dumped longtime South Florida children’s personality Skipper Chuck Zink in 1979, and Zink now introduces afternoon movies on WCIX-Ch. 6. Stations now often entertain kids with syndicated cartoons tied to mass-marketed toys such as Mattel’s He-Man characters. As a result, Ch. 7’s continuation of “Sunday Funnies” in any form is notable. Ditto WPLG-Ch. 10 and its charming local children’s magazine, “Kidsbeat.”

A station’s other needs — particularly for promotion and image-building — also easily supersede an aging trash-can robot.

On Toby’s departure, Folds will become head of a new department at Ch. 7 — community and public relations. It is an expansion of the public relations/director job that Folds has held for three years, in addition to his Toby work.

In the new job, Folds will make speeches in behalf of the station, deal with the press and plan Ch. 7’s partial or full sponsorship of community events such the recent Grand Prix auto race. Reporting to him will be a public affairs producer, the station’s Latin affairs coordinator and its director of public service announcements.

It is the speeches and sponsorship that are the critical elements of Folds’ job. While they can accomplish good purposes in a community, they also help stations become known as Good Joes around town, a reputation important in a business as competitive as local television. Good Joes draw viewers, and viewers draw advertising revenues.

“I think we have a handle on (a strong community image) now,” Folds says.

Business aside, Toby’s retirement is also a big step in the evolution of a warm and generous man who talks about South Florida as if it were his first-born child. C

harlie Folds, 46, is the product of a strict, hard- working, Southern Baptist family from Vero Beach. He grew up shy and stuttering but worked to overcome his limitations by learning magic tricks. The ministry also attracted him — he was licensed to preach at age 17 — but the calling didn’t take, and Folds drifted into a radio school and then TV.

Folds came to WSVN in 1958 to edit film and gradually became involved in its children’s programs. Through all the shows and in a business that feeds the ego, Folds was content to have a fictional character speak for him.

There were, for example, Count Down the Vampire and Duff the Clown. Toby, the last and longest character, became like Charlie himself.

“Toby is a reflection of me, my moods, my drives, my feelings,” Folds said in a 1979 newspaper profile.

Nowadays, it hurts Folds a bit to think of being on his own. At a station meeting Wednesday to discuss the robot’s farewell program, the man was close to tears.

“You just don’t realize how much something is a part of you until you have to face it,” Folds says. Toby will appear in person for the last time at the Dade County Youth Fair on March 21. The event will be taped for use the next day on “Sunday Funnies.”

At the end of the appearance, Toby, wearing dark glasses, will ride off in a chauffeured limousine. The limo befits the robot’s venerable position; the glasses, the feeling. Goodbye, Toby. Welcome, Charlie.

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