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Bowling for Dollars

Bowling for Dollars
Genre Game show
Created by Bert Claster
Presented by Various (see below)
Narrated by Various (see below)
Country of origin United States
Location(s) Various locations throughout the United States and Canada
Running time 22–24 minutes
Original channel Various local stations
Original release 1960s – February 2008

Bowling for Dollars is a television game show on which people could play the sport of bowling to win cash and sometimes prizes based on how well they bowled.[citation needed]

Unlike most TV game shows of the time, which were taped in New York or Hollywood and broadcast nationally, Bowling for Dollars was produced by local TV stations and only had contestants from the immediate area. The show was actually a franchise, created by Bert Claster of Claster Television, also the creator of Romper Room. Episodes of Bowling for Dollars were taped either in a local bowling alley, or on a pair of bowling lanes constructed right inside the TV studio.

The show reached its heyday in the 1970s. The most recent station to air the format was Detroit, Michigan independent station WADL, who relaunched Bowling for Dollars in September 2013.[1]

The show

The show's main set consisted of a sliding door from which the host emerged, as did the contestants, one-by-one. There was also a Jackpot light with a numeric display of its value, and a Pin Pal hopper (see below). There were also stands set up for an audience.

Local editions may have varied, but there were two musical themes used. One was a custom theme for the show's opening and close (with a short phrase to introduce each contestant). The other was played when a contestant hit the jackpot, also used for commercial bumper music in some editions. The latter was an instrumental version of "Keep the Ball Rollin'" by Al Hirt, a song originally done by Jay & the Techniques.


As each contestant appeared, the host would interview him or her for a couple of minutes. Then the audience camera would cue as the contestant pointed out who he brought along ("There's my wife Paula, there's my son Nick..."). The contestant was then instructed to pick a Pin Pal out of a hopper filled with postcards sent in by home viewers, then went off to the lanes where they would bowl at least two balls.

A half-hour show had seven contestants.


Each contestant received one dollar for each pin knocked down (e.g., a contestant who knocked down a total of eight pins won $8, though some versions may have had a $5 minimum for less than five pins). A Strike or Spare awarded $20. The real allure of the show was the Jackpot, which was awarded to any bowler who got two consecutive Strikes. The jackpot started at $200, $300, or $500 (depending on the version) and was increased by $20 each time it was not hit.

Some versions of Bowling for Dollars awarded prizes in addition to the money. In the Detroit edition of the show, a contestant who got a spare won a dinner for two at a local restaurant. If that spare was a split, they would also get two large pies from Buddy's Pizza. If the contestant got only one strike, they got to pick a pin from a "pin board" for a prize from a local jeweler; one such prize was a genuine diamond ring. Finally, if a contestant did break the jackpot, he or she got to bowl one more time, and if that was a strike (a "turkey") they would receive yet another prize, such as a recliner chair or bicycle. The Los Angeles version awarded a portable television set for three consecutive strikes, and a car for four.

Pin Pals

Each contestant, just before approaching the bowling lane, was instructed to randomly pick a postcard out of a large, horizontally mounted hopper. The name on the card was then read aloud by the host. These were Pin Pal cards, allowing a viewer at home to participate in the game on TV. Whatever the contestant won the Pin Pal won also, although the jackpot may actually have been split between the two of them. Many people wrote clever messages on their Pin Pal cards, like "Strike it rich!" A Pin Pal was only eligible once per show, in case folks tried to send an overwhelming amount of postcards.

Local editions

Bowling for Dollars was broadcast from TV stations serving medium to large communities all across the United States, Canada, and England.


There were two separate runs. Both aired on WBAL-TV:

This show only required contestants to make one strike for the jackpot — a significantly harder task in duckpin bowling than in standard tenpins.
At one point, the show alternated between duckpin and tenpin bowlers.

There are only 2-3 cities that still have Duckpin bowling. Baltimore is one of the last.


This edition was titled Candlepins for Cash, featuring the regional candlepin variation of bowling, and had two separate runs:

  • WNAC-TV (now WHDH), 1973–1980, hosted by Bob Gamere and originated from area bowling lanes using WOR-TV's remote truck; then at special lanes built in the basement of WNAC-TV's Government Center studio
  • WXNE-TV (now WFXT), 1980–1982, hosted by Rico Petrocelli and Bob Gamere;[2] originated from Wal-Lex lanes in Waltham (since closed)

Both editions only required contestants to make one strike for the jackpot — a significantly harder task in candlepin bowling than in standard tenpins. In the last two seasons of the show, the player would get $30 for a spare plus one bonus ball, worth $2 more per pin knocked down. When a person threw a 10-box (all pins knocked down on the third ball) they got $20 plus one bonus ball.

The 2006 show Candlepins For Dollars that aired on WLVI Channel 56 was not related to this format.


A revival of Bowling for Dollars aired between January and February 2008 on WGRZ, also hosted by Kilgore. This version, airing weekdays at 11:45 AM, was much shorter, with only one frame. It used a rotation of numerous theme songs, mostly from game shows from the 1970s.

A similar competing show, called Beat the Champ, aired on WBEN-TV during the original Channel 2 program run, hosted by Van Miller. This was one of two local-origination bowling programs on Channel 4 throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the other being a women's team-bowling program called Strikes, Spares & Misses hosted by Chuck Healy


  • Station: WKRC-TV Channel 12
  • Host: Glenn Ryle; fill-ins included weatherman Mike Fenwick, sportscaster Dale Conquest, and WKRC radio host, Jerry Thomas.
  • Site: In studio lanes. The set for Nick Clooney's daytime talk show sat atop the lanes. There was also a daytime version that featured only lady bowlers called Strikes and Spares, hosted by Jerry Thomas.
  • The show first premiered on WKRC as a 13-week trial run in the fall of 1971. It became a regular series on September 3, 1972, airing live at 7:00 p.m. weeknights, later moving to 6:30 p.m.
  • Gus Bailey, then-station PD, cancelled the show in the fall of 1975; its last weeknight program was Thanksgiving night.
  • WKRC began a pre-recorded Saturday afternoon filler show in 1976, hosted by Dick Schorr, who also hosted the weeknight edition on then-sister station WTVN-TV in Columbus.


Had two separate runs of Bowling for Dollars. Both used in-studio lanes.

  • 1st run
    • Station: WEWS Channel 5
    • Host: Don Webster
  • 2nd run (1977–79) Weeknights at 7:00 from August 1977 to September 1978; 5:30pm Sept 1978-January 1979

Columbus, OH

  • Station: WTVN Channel 6 (Now WSYX)
  • Host: Dick Schorr, Gene Fullen with Sally Flowers
  • Site: Two in-studio lanes
  • Aired weeknights at 7:00PM.

Dallas/Fort Worth

Dayton, OH

  • Station: WLWD (now WDTN)
  • Host: David G. McFarland
  • Site: the WLWD studios (aired live)

The show aired Mon-Fri at 7:00 p.m.


  • Station: WWJ-TV/WDIV Channel 4 (original run); WADL Channel 38 (2013–present)
  • Host: Bob Allison
  • Site: Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, MI

This was originally at Highland Lanes in Toledo, Ohio, where it was also seen on WDHO Channel 24 (now WNWO-TV). It moved to Detroit in about 1974. A revival of this show began in June 2013 on WADL, initially as a one-hour retrospective special, with a weekly half-hour series started in September. As with the original version, the WADL version is hosted by Bob Allison and originate from Thunderbowl Lanes.[1]

Flint, MI

  • Station: WJRT Channel 12
  • Host: Ed Phelps
  • Site: Southland Lanes (now Grand Blanc Lanes), Grand Blanc Township
  • Original Host: Fred Trost 1979-1980

Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Station: KWHE Channel 14
  • Site: Aiea Bowling Center, Barber's Point Bowling Center, Hickam Bowling Center, K-bay Bowling Center, Leeward Bowling Center, Pali Bowling Center, Schofield Bowling Center, and Subase Bowling Center [3]
  • Time: 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. every Saturday [4]

Kansas City

  • Station: KMBC Channel 9
  • Host: Fred Broski
  • Site: Originally at King Louie West Lanes in Overland Park,[5] 2 years NKC Pro bowl, then in studio

Kitchener, ON

  • Station: CKCO-TV Channel 13
  • Host: Jim Craig (1972/73), then Bill Inkol (74-?), later Jeff Hutcheson, Tom Knowlton
  • Site: Victoria Bowlerama/Twin Cities Bowl

Los Angeles

  • Station: KTLA Channel 5 (July 4, 1972 – March 4, 1977); KHJ-TV (now KCAL-TV) Channel 9 (February 27-September 15, 1978)
  • Host: Chick Hearn


1st station

  • WVTV Channel 18 (1972–1975)
    • Site: Red Carpet Lanes North (Now closed)
    • Host: The late Dick Johnson until October, 1975. Replaced by co-hosts the late Lee Rothman & Tom Kohl
    • After 1975, WVTV and station owner Gaylord Broadcasting created a different bowling show called The Bowling Game, which would air until January 4, 1987 on WVTV.[6] It then moved to WDJT-TV where it aired until at least 1993.[7]

2nd station

  • WISN-TV Channel 12 (1975–1978)
    • Site: In studio
    • Host: The late Bruce Bennett

Minneapolis/St. Paul

New York

An infamous moment when bowler Mary Schmidt failed to bowl a single strike in a game has been cited by several as the moment Bowling for Dollars jumped the shark.[8]

Host Larry Kenny later achieved national fame as the voice of Lion-O in the smash-hit 80s cartoon ThunderCats and the voice of Karate Kat in the not-so-successful series The Comic Strip.


  • Stations: WTAF-TV (now WTXF-TV); WPHL-TV
  • Host: Dick Schorr (WTAF), Bob Gale (WTAF), and the late Tom Dooley (WPHL).
  • Site: The WTAF version was taped at Willow Grove Park Lanes in 1969 (closed), moved to Andorra Key Lanes in 1972 (closed), then in the basement of their Center City studios, which also served as the studio for weekly bowling matches, while the WPHL version was taped at Boulevard Lanes (closed) in Philadelphia.


  • Station: WTAE Channel 4
  • Host: Nick Perry, then Ron Jaye.
  • Lanes: In Studio Lanes. These same lanes were also used for Channel 4's Greater Pittsburgh Championship Bowling, a fixture on Saturday afternoons throughout the 1970s and 1980s


  • Station: WOKR-TV Channel 13 (Now WHAM-TV)
  • Host: Ron DiFrance, then Matt Rinaldi
  • Site: In studio. (Studio's lanes also host to Sunday's "Junior Bowling" and "Brighton-Panorama TV Roll-offs" hosted by sportscaster DiFrance, then Tony Distino.)

St. Louis

  • Stations: KDNL-TV channel 30, KTVI Channel 2
  • Hosts: Russ Carter (KDNL) and Morgan Hatch (KTVI).
  • Sites: In studio lanes (KDNL version), Arena Bowl (KTVI version, no longer in existence)


The WSTM version was taped in the basement of the studios on James Street. The studios were also used for the taping of Challenge Bowling, a regional junior bowling show co-hosted by Marty Piraino.

Tampa/St. Petersburg

  • Station: WTSP Channel 10 (then WLCY-TV); 1975–76
  • Host: Jim Bradley
  • Site: Sunshine Bowl in Pinellas Park (closed, following hurricane damage in 2004 and, during rebuilding, a fire in 2005; since demolished and replaced by a WalMart Neighborhood Grocery)

Washington, D.C.

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

  • Station: CKND-TV
  • Site: Academy Uptown Lanes. The bowling center now operates as Academy Lanes and has undergone multiple renovations since the show including new lane beds, furniture and pinsetters.
  • This was a five-pin edition of the show, which ran from 1979 to the mid-1980s.
  • The jackpot started at $200 and increased by $15 per contestant until it was won.
  • Strike or spares earned $20 for the bowler and pin pal. An open frame was scored as per five pin rules and $1 per pin was awarded.
  • If a spare was made then a third ball would be allowed - if this ball was a strike, the prize was $40.
  • In the initial running of the show, if the first strike was achieved and the second strike missed, the turn was over and the prize was $20. Later on, if the first strike was achieved and the second strike missed, the bowler could attempt a spare. If the spare was made, the prize was $40.
  • The bowler must throw three consecutive strikes to win the jackpot.
  • If a third strike attempt was missed, the prize was $40.
  • Each 30-minute episode consisted of seven bowlers. One bowler among the seven would be selected at random as the Bonus Bowler. If the Bonus Bowler won the jackpot, he won an array of additional merchandise and services.