Former local television personality Bill Howard died Wednesday in Oklahoma City. He was 77.
Although his television career spanned 37 years, Howard was best known for playing Pokey the Puppet, the sock-puppet sidekick of Ho Ho the Clown on KOCO-5's long-running children's program.
“Bill was an integral part of the history of KOCO. Pokey the Puppet is legendary in thousands of kids' lives,” said KOCO President and General Manager Brent Hensley, who worked with Howard for seven years.
After a tour of duty as a photographer in the U.S. Army, Howard started at KOCO in 1960 as a camera operator and soon joined the “Lunch With Ho Ho Show,” according to The Oklahoman Archives. The show aired from 1960 to 1988, making it one of the longest-running children's TV programs in the United States.
“Ho Ho and Pokey are important to baby boomers especially because they were part of our lives ... and they came into our living room every day,” said Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Their wit and their relationship were special. You could appreciate it on several levels.”
Howard had cancer, Blackburn said.
Howard played other on-air characters, including the sidekick Pronto in a Lone Ranger spoof and the sarcastic Granny Fern, and worked on the production side at KOCO. He supervised the camera crew for the taping of more than 6,000 episodes of “The Ida B Show,” starring Blackburn's mother, Ida B. Blackburn.
“I was 8 years old when she went on the air, and she was a single mom raising us two kids ... so we'd hang out at the TV station,” he said. “Bill just made us feel like part of the family.”
Howard hosted many tours of the station before he retired from KOCO in 1990, Hensley said.
In 1990, he joined OETA as stage manager. He retired from the TV business in 1997.
Two Pokey sock puppets are part of the history center's permanent collection and will be included in an exhibit planned for next year about the state's television history.
For the past six months, Blackburn said, he had been working with Howard on his autobiography, which Tate Publishing will release in a few months.
Graveside services are set for 1 p.m. Friday at Gerty Cemetery in Gerty, under the direction of Phillips Funeral Service. A memorial service is planned at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 at Mayfair Church of Christ, 2340 NW 50.