"I am not the fastest tongue in the West anymore. I surrendered that crown a long time ago."
Bernie Calderwood (1998)
Bernie Calderwood, a k a Captain KC and Admiral Bernie, still has the same infectious laugh that delighted Utah's children more than 30 years ago. A staple of children's local television programming through the '60s, Calderwood entertained young audiences first as Captain KC at KCPX and then as Admiral Bernie at KSL television.
He began his career in entertainment in 1928, at the age of 4, playing the harmonica on Utah's first children's radio program, hosted by Uncle Roscoe. At age 12, Calderwood went on to win the state harmonica championship.
"I've been an entertainer for over 70 years," Calderwood says. "I used to haunt the radio stations when I was just a little guy. The studios got to know me quite well. They'd say, `Here comes that little Calderwood kid again.' " Inevitably they allowed him access to the studio and let him play with all the sound-effects equipment.
In the mid-'30s Calderwood played harmonica with his father on a KSL radio show. "And I continued doing that until I joined the Marines in 1942."
His professional broadcasting debut came in 1948, when he became a disc jockey at the old KMUR station. In 1958 he moved on, becoming production director and announcer at KDYL, which later becoming KCPX.
It's at KCPX that Calderwood developed the character Captain KC, the submarine commander. In between introducing cartoons, the Captain would look directly at the camera and talk to the kids at home, occassionally reading letters sent into the station.
In 1963 Calderwood was promoted from captain to admiral when he moved over to KSL. Admiral Bernie, as he was known, continued the same format - talking directly to children in between cartoons.
In conjunction with all his broadcasting skills, he also taught himself to play - and became quite good at - the marimba and vibraphone.
Calderwood's last televised series was the "Big Money Movie," which aired on KSL and showcased a feature film every weekday afternoon at 2. The show ran for 13 years, ending in 1983 when Calderwood underwent quintuple bypass surgery. "When I returned to KSL it was as public service director," he says. "I really enjoyed working with the wonderful people in nonprofit organizations."
Three years later Calderwood retired.
Today, his voice as strong as ever, he reads for the blind, doing audiocassette talking books for the LDS Church. "I read instructor manuals, student manuals, leadership manuals and guides," he says. "I also read the monthly church magazines."
Once a week, with other readers, Calderwood descends to the basement of the Tabernacle on Temple Square,"where we do the recordings in the language translation booths. It's thoroughly enjoyable and I'm working with wonderful people."
"I don't miss it at all," Calderwood says. "I had a good run and had lots of fun. I believe I was able to retire at a time appropriate for me. Natalie (his wife) and I watch very little television today because we don't like a lot of what's on. And the programs that are good, we either don't have the time to watch or would rather spend the time reading.
"There are some wonderful things on
television, but as far as general entertainment is concerned . . . ." He pauses. "I'm glad I got out when I did. I really am."
Calderwood then rises from his chair, goes to the vibraphone that sits in the corner of his livingroom, and plays a mean rendition of "Sentimental Reason."
When he's through, he laughs.