Tommy Bartlett (right) on the "Welcome Travelers Show" on NBC in the late 1940s. Bartlett would go to Chicago train and bus stations in Chicago and find interesting people and ask them what they thought of Chicago, why they were visiting, etc.
Updated: August 23, 2012 6:05AM
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — Tommy Bartlett did not want to make waves.
But he did not like water.
The founder of “The Tommy Bartlett Show” was born in 1914 in Milwaukee and spent most of the 1940s as an announcer for WBBM-AM in Chicago. He became a flight instructor for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, but returned to Chicago in 1947 to host that station’s “Welcome Travelers” radio show. Bartlett would hang out at bus stations and train stations and quiz people on why they were visiting Chicago. “Welcome Travelers” morphed into a daytime NBC (and later CBS) television show that was taped in the College Inn Room at the Sherman Hotel.
In 1949 Bartlett caught a water skiing show as part of the Chicago Railroad Fair at Navy Pier.
“He thought it was the wave of the future” said Skip Gilkerson, who was the Bartlett show director between 1961-84. “So he went to Mercury Motors and said he was going to produce a water ski show. His love of publicity outweighed his fear of water. But on his 70th birthday he went water skiing. He had a specially made wet suit, a flotation jacket. Everybody thought Tommy Bartlett must be a water ski champion. That was just assumed.”
“His 70th birthday was the only time he had been on water,” added alumni skier Glenn Sperry. “He was a big man and not really athletic. It took two of us to get him on the skis. He was tentative. We got him up and got out of the way so they could get a picture of him. He was able to hold his own. He hardly ever got in the boats. He directed and had all the ideas, he knew people and what he could get out of people. And we reaped the benefits.”
Bartlett was inducted into the Water Ski Hall of Fame in 1993. He died on Sept. 6, 1998.
“The Tommy Bartlett Show” season runs from Memorial Day until Labor Day weekend.
— Dave Hoekstra