History of Nickelodeon Part 1: Pinwheel 1983

Nickelodeon Pinwheel

Before Nickelodeon became the Nickelodeon 80’s kids know and love, it was called C3 or “The Pinwheel Channel”. It was part of an experiment from Warner Amex called Qube and was first tested in Columbus, Ohio. 

The absolute best explanation of the founding of Qube I’ve seen has been on Pop Arena’s You Tube channel. They have an excellent series on the history of Nickelodeon (Nick Knacks) that is both informative and entertaining. 

Nickelodeon’s first president, Cy Schneider, marketed the new network as “The Young People’s Network”. The fledgeling  network’s very first logo was a grown looking man looking into an old fashioned nickelodeon, which he named the network after. From what I understand, people used to stand up and put a nickel into this viewing device and watch short films on it. 

Nickelodeon pinball

The second logo was a silver pinball with Nickelodeon spelled out in multiple colors. It was pretty but a little derivative considering many early Sesame Street viewers have fond memories of learning to count to twenty while watching a pinball game. 

Schneider’s focus for the network was on “edutainment” and gained Nickelodeon a reputation as a “green vegetable” children’s television. It was basically a second PBS that went twelve hours a day instead of a few hours in the morning and afternoon. 

Pinwheel follows the time-honored model in children’s television of adult humans interacting with puppets. Pinwheel always felt like a weird hybrid of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood. It had animated shorts like Sesame Street, but it also had the calm and gentle tone of Mister Rogers

Pinwheel’s humans were Jake, Kim, Sal, Smitty, and a mime named Coco. I’ve already written about Coco (originally played by C.C. Loveheart and then Lindanell Rivera) in my Pop Culture Clown article. Pop Arena says they think of mimes as being like the “ninjas of the clown world”. Early commercials for Nickelodeon also featured a male mime from a different school of mime (Claude Knipsis) that did not wear make up. Another pre-school show that aired on Nickelodeon, Today’s Special, also had a segment featuring a mime. 


George James played Jake and he also wrote many of the songs performed on the show. He had a series of songs called “Did You Ever Dream?” inspiring kids to imagine themselves as all kinds of animals. I remember George/Jake as having a very calming voice. 

Kim (Arline Miyazaki) was a young Asian woman who was written as the puppet Aurelia’s niece. Kim was an artist and loved to paint. 

I always found it a little odd that a human was a puppet’s niece. Especially since Aurelia’s twin nephews (Plus and Minus) are also puppets. Then again, Lady Aberlin (The Neighborhood of Make-Believe segments on Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood) was King Friday XIII’s niece and King Friday was also a puppet.  

The other humans are an elderly couple named Smitty (Dale Engel) and Sal (Betty Rozek) who run the local newspaper, The Daily Noodle. Sal and Smitty are on a constant quest to find the Admiral Bird. 

The Puppets: 


Nickelodeon Aurelia

Aurelia is the owner of the Pinwheel House, which was a boarding house. Aurelia is also a psychic with a crystal ball that had a rotary phone base. She has reddish orange hair, covered with a scarf and green glass eyes. Aurelia’s human niece (Kim)  and twin puppet nephews (Plus and Minus) also live in Pinwheel House. 

Plus and Minus 

Plus and Minus, Aurelia’s nephews, are the Bert and Ernie counterparts of Pinwheel. Plus is orange with black hair and Minus is purple with white hair. Their favorite game is a hide and seek/tag hybrid they call “Got You Last”.  My brother loved the ‘Gotcha Last” game and I remember playing it. 

It’s also funny to me that Pinwheel gets criticized for having very little educational content. Yet there are characters on the show named Plus and Minus. These characters may not have actually done arithmetic on the program, but it is interesting that their names introduce the concepts of addition and subtraction or positive and negative. 

The Hobobugs- Herbert and Lulu 

Herbert and Lulu mostly hang out in the garden outside Pinwheel House. They have yellow pear-shaped heads with antennae, green fuzzy bodies with yellow bellies, and red heart shaped wings. 

There was always something oddly familiar about Phil and Lil on Rugrats. From watching clips of Pinwheel on YouTube, I realized it’s because they remind me of the Hobobugs.  

Silas the Snail

Like the Hobobugs, Silas is mostly found in the garden outside Pinwheel House. Silas has a brown shell and his neck and head are silver. He wears tiny glasses and a little straw hat, kind of like if you told someone in the 1980’s to draw the old man from the “Pepperidge Farm remembers” commercials if he were a snail. 

Molly McMole 

Molly McMole lives under Pinwheel house. In her segments, she frequently mentions that she can hear “the trees growing up and the roots growing down”. Molly is also a contributor to The Daily Noodle. She’s very warm and maternal in her interactions with younger characters like Plus and Minus and the Hobobugs. 

Luigi O’Brien 

I really liked this guy and I also liked his sentient companions, the fruits and veggies on his cart. I particularly remember an elderly pear who wore a monocle. 

The Admiral Bird 

The Admiral Bird is an elusive red bird wearing a black pirate style hat. Humans Sal and Smitty were always trying to get a picture of the bird for their paper, The Daily Noodle. The puppeteers would drop the Admiral Bird over the bushes. Then they would pull him back up just before the humans were about to see him. 

Ebenezer T. Squint 

Nickelodeon Pinwheel Ebenezer

Every show, even a children’s show, needs someone to stir up a little conflict to keep things interesting. Sesame Street had Oscar, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe had Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and Pinwheel had Ebenezer T. Squint. 

I could deal with Oscar and Lady Elaine, but Ebenezer scared the ever-loving stuffing out of me. Oddly, it wasn’t from anything he ever did on Pinwheel, but it was from a commercial for Nickelodeon  that aired on other channels. I think I remember it airing most often on TBS. 

When we first moved into our house in Georgia in early 1983, other stations were airing a commercial for the network featuring a clay animated man. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the man doing the voice over  in the commercial was Fred Newman, who was hosting a talk show for teenagers at the time. The show he hosted, Livewire, aired on Nickelodeon in the early evening. 


I think Livewire might have been the last show that aired for the day before Nickelodeon signed off and transitioned to Arts and Entertainment (aka A & E).  Over the course of the commercial, the clay version of Newman shape-shifted. 

It was the first time I had ever seen images on a screen change that quickly. One of the forms they had clay Fred Newman change into was Ebenezer T. Squint. As commercial went on, the images became more disturbing to my five year old mind. At the end, it looked like there were things growing out of a television set that also grew out of the man’s head. 

Anytime I saw that commercial start to come on, I would either run out of the room or reach for the dial on the cable box to switch to a different channel. 

 My absolute FAVORITE part of watching Pinwheel were the awesome international animated shorts. Thanks to Pinwheel and Nickelodeon, we got to see amazing animation from around the world. Technically, I was already too old for Pinwheel, but when I was home on a break or something I would watch it when there was nothing else. 

Some of the animated British shorts were comfortably familiar from seeing them on Captain Kangaroo. Two of these comfortably familiar shorts were Paddington Bear and Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.  Remember the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live sketch where he sits in a bathtub and explains drawings? 

Here are a few of the other shorts I enjoyed through Pinwheel: 


This is a really pretty French cartoon about a little girl named Emily who wears a red dress, shoes, and hat. My guess is that I liked her because she reminded me of Strawberry Shortcake with her red and white color scheme. 

Emily has an older brother named Stephen and an adorable pet hedgehog named Humphrey. Stephen and Emily also have a baby sister possibly named Beth, but it’s difficult to tell from the scratchy recordings. 

Sometimes I tried to draw Emily, but I couldn’t keep up with the animation of the drawing in the opening segment. I liked the simplicity of the animation style in the shorts. 

Hattytown Tales– 

This is British stop animation similar to the Rankin-Bass Rudolph style specials. Most of the “human” characters have hats for heads. Sancho has a yellow sombrero with red markings. Simon was a detective and wore a trench coat and deerstalker cap, like traditional depictions of Sherlock Holmes. There’s also a baker who wears a pastry chef’s toque. The only non “hat head” character is a little brown donkey named Carrots. Carrots wears a yellow felt hat with a little carrot on a string attached to the hat. 

The Magic Roundabout–  

This is another stop motion about a dog named Dougal. Dougal was a very cute dog with long beige fur. Sometimes our Lhasa Apso reminded me of him. 

Charlie’s Climbing Tree 

This animated short was from Sweden and was about a young Swedish boy who would climb a tree and daydream. Charlie’s grandfather sat under the tree and read his newspaper.  I love the acoustic music they used and watching it again, I see the roots for where Jim Jinkins  (who worked on Pinwheel as the voice of the Minus puppet) may have created Doug in the 1990’s. 

About Dressy Sally 

The last animated short I want to address here is one I don’t remember ever seeing. As I mentioned, I didn’t get to watch Pinwheel very often because I was usually at school when it was on. I think Pinwheel may have dropped the “About Dressy Sally” short from their rotation before we started watching it. Oddly, there’s something familiar about the voice of the woman who narrates the story in the English dubbed version of the short.  

I’ve always been fascinated with urban legends and the “creepypastas” on early social media messaging boards. The story of “The Clockman” in particular fascinated me when Pop Arena mentioned it in their video on Pinwheel. 

In 2012, a user with the handle Commander Santa posted on a message board about being home sick from school in the early 1980’s and seeing a scary short while watching Pinwheel. Commander Santa described the short as being about a little boy who loses his shoes and a wizard comes out of a clock to abduct the boy. 

Commander Santa’s post resonated with other users on the message board and soon a search was underway. Another user did an impressive job of contacting people who worked at Nickelodeon in the early 1980’s. 

In December of 2017, the company that currently owns the rights to the cartoon, AAA Studios, uploaded it to their You Tube channel. The short also goes by the names “Stylish Sally” or “About Dressy Sally”. The version Pinwheel showed was found to have been the English dub.  The original cartoon had been produced in Communist Czechoslovakia in 1976.  

Pinwheel ended production in 1984, but Nickelodeon continued to show reruns of the show through July of 1990. 

After Pinwheel’s cancellation, Nickelodeon began running new programs for pre-school age children. They renamed the programming block “Nick Jr.”. This was right around the time I started babysitting and saw many of the shows featured in my previous article on The Best and Worst of 90’s Children’s Programs

1984 would bring a new president, new branding, new logo, a new sound, and new programs to Nickelodeon. It’s not quite the “Golden Era” yet, but we’re getting a tiny bit closer to it. 

About Karen Flieger 75 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.


  1. Pinwheel is where I fell in love with Paddington Bear. After the format changed (adding Smitty and Sal, etc.), they added those charming FilmFair Paddington shorts to their lineup. (Years later, I showed the first Paddington short to a friend of mine. His assessment: “This is SO British.”)

  2. I first remember watching Pinwheel at someone else’s house because we didn’t have cable television in our area yet and they did. By the time we did get cable, I was a little old for this programming and did not watch it very much. I did come back to Nickelodeon to watch You Can’t Do That on Television (one of my all time favorite shows) and then later on for Double Dare.

  3. “Pinwheel, pinwheel
    Spinning around
    Look in my pinwheel
    And see what I found!”

    That jingle will always be with me, no matter how long I live. I will be an old man nearly bereft of all mental ability, and somewhere deep in my brain will still play the Pinwheel song.

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