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Friday, September 12, 2008

Bill Stulla (1911-2008)

William Stulla was born May 24, 1911, in New York City. He only lived in New York for a year before his father, a printer, moved the family to Erie, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, before settling in Denver, Colorado, where Bill graduated from high school. Even before graduating from high school, Bill was already a journeyman printer. One afternoon in 1929, he was riding on a street car, riding home in Denver. He saw a billboard at the University of Denver advertising courses in radio. So he enrolled in it. He only stayed in it for six months until he was offered a job at station KFEL, a 5,000 watt outlet. 

In time (1934), he moved on to KOA, then an NBC outlet, which had 50,000 watts and was heard in over half the country at the time. At KOA he was a staff announcer and script writer. Five years later, in 1939, he moved to Los Angeles and worked at KFI. 

At KFI he hosted a musical program and he was the announcer for the Rudy Vallee Show, which was heard over the entire NBC network. 

He then enlisted in the U.S. Army in the Signal Corps, stationed in the China-Burma-India theater. Bill's job was helping to set up 15 American Forces Radio Service (AFRS) stations. As the war was also raging at this time, he was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery while engaging Japanese forces. 

Returning to civilian life in Los Angeles, Bill went back to work at KFI. He had a program called Ladies' Day, a talk show for women. He was at KFI until 1950, when he moved on to the NBC television network and hosted that show, now known as Parlor Party. The show soon moved to KHJ-TV (local now, not national).

In 1952, KTTV in Los Angeles began a long running kids' show, Lunch Brigade. It was a program with a live host, dressed as a law enforcement officer, Sheriff John (played by John Rovick, a staff announcer at channel 11.) Channel 9 (KHJ-TV) wanted a similar program and Bill auditioned for the part. The KHJ idea was a character named Ranger Ed, another law enforcement officer, but Ed was really just a lousy phony version of Sheriff John. 

Bill's idea was for something totally different. He became a train engineer (in British English, the term is "train driver".) He wore traditional engineer's clothing... engineer's cap, pinstriped overalls, and a bandana around his neck. There were other traditional railroad symbols in the studio. So he was Engineer Bill. And the TV show was Cartoon Express. It was most famous for the Red Light/Green Light milk drinking game, an ingenious version of "Simon Says" created by Bill's wife, Ruth (whom he married in 1947), which she based on activities their daughter, Kathy, was doing in her nursery school. When it first aired, it came on at 6:30 in the evening. Bill didn't talk down to children. That meant that adults enjoyed the show too.

Cartoon Express aired from 1954 to 1966. After that, Bill retired from broadcasting, moved to Ventura County, and became a stock broker. He lived a very quiet life in the community of Westlake Village. His wife Ruth died in 1999.

Bill Stulla died August 12, 2008, at his Westwood Village home. He was 97 years old. His daughter, Kathryn Stulla Mackenson, was his sole survivor.

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