Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

The story of “Teen Age Barn”

Tommy Sternfeld was an Albany native who danced in vaudeville and Broadway shows. A local dance instructor in 1946, Sternfeld auditioned 3,000 boys and girls for a show called ‘Here’s To Youth.” It was staged at the Strand theatre to raise money to send underprivileged children to camp. The show had a cast of over 300.

A year later, Mr. Sternfeld formed a radio show using some of this same talent. It was called “Backyard Follies,” held every Saturday morning at the Strand and broadcast over WABY. It was joined briefly by a subsequent half-hour quiz show called “Whata-Ya-Know,” also starring children and held at the Strand.

whata-ya-know 1948

“Backyard Follies” ended up winning a Billboard Award for children’s programming. The next year the show moved to Schenectady and WGY. “Backyard Follies” ran for a total of two years.

backyard follies 1 backyard follies 2

As more affordable models of sets became available to the public, television exploded into the American consciousness in 1949. Sternfeld seized the opportunity, and sold WRGB two different local TV talent shows based on his “Backyard Follies” finds. Recycling the name of a 1939-1940 radio show, Sternfeld herded the younger performers into a half-hour Saturday afternoon “Juvenile Jamboree.” At the same time, the older teens were to be featured in an evening broadcast, called ‘Teen Age Barn.”

teen age barn

“Teen Age Barn” debuted on April 4, 1949, when there were only 17,000 television sets in the area. While “Juvenile Jamboree” vanished quietly in 1953, “Teen Age Barn” became a big success, moving into a primetime Friday night timeslot (1954 also saw a short-lived “Tommy Sternfeld Show”). By 1959, “Teen Age Barn” was the oldest locally-produced variety show in the nation. The show even took to the road via Channel 6’s mobile truck; one Friday in 1960, the show was even broadcast live from inside the new Albany Savings Bank at Western and West Lawrence. Much like “American Idol,” troupes of “Teen Age Barn” alumni were formed to perform live shows at local auditoriums and fairs, in support of community service organizations. In 1962 the program was expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour. The show was renamed “The Barn” in 1963.

the barn

Come 1966, in a major programming realignment, WRGB announced plans to drop “Teen Age Barn.” Sternfeld held out hopes WRGB would change its mind about the cancellation, adding, “I’d like to see the show continue. Our only chance is if we can get our audience to react.” No reaction was forthcoming, and after 17 years the Barn doors closed for good on January 29, 1966.

There were so many episodes of “Teen Age Barn” that almost every local with a teaspoon of talent appeared on the show, and most everyone who didn’t was either related to or knew someone who did.

sternfeld studio

Tommy Sternfeld used the cachet of his TV experience to reinvigorate his dance instruction studio. He augmented his income by selling houses for Picotte Realty. He died in 1974 at the age of 65. The Sternfeld Dance Studio, passed on to his students, still exists in Hudson, NY.

8 Responses to “The story of “Teen Age Barn””

  1. John Dallas

    Peter and Dorothy Dallas, Brother and Sister Musical Comedy Act were on the “Teen Age Barn” as regulars. Their signature song was “How Could You Believe
    Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Lier All My Life”
    Hope Some People remember them

    Reply
  2. Steve Butler

    I played upright bass with the Hyde Franklin Singers, a hootenanny style folk froup from Ballston Spa. We appeared several times on Teen Age Barn in 1964-65.

    Reply
  3. Harold Roth

    Happy to find this cool story about the history of the Teenage Barn. I performed monthly from late 1963 for about 2 years. Played classical piano pieces. So did my brother. I started when the show was on live tv from WRGB and about halfway through they changed to a videotaped version. Rather less nerve racking. Does anybody know if there are any more photos or even tapes of any of the shows. I once checked on the WRGB website but could not find anything.

    Reply
    • alcue

      A few years ago I bought a beautiful VHS copy of a full show from some guy in Connecticut. I made the mistake of lending it to someone and never got it back. And I can’t find another copy.

      Reply
      • Harold Roth

        That’s distressing. Did you get more feedback on the excellent article you wrote that is not posted online? Thanks for writing it: you gave us a historical perspective that few of the performers ever had. I will continue searching online for info. Did you ever call WRGB to ask them directly if they had any copies of the show? I wouldn’t expect the live version to have survived but the tapes ones might have.

  4. Kathleen (Wood) Maker

    I was a dancer and appeared on Juvenile Jamboree at least once. Later I danced on Teen Age Barn many times both in group routines and then with my dance partner performing ballroom routines. My partner and I spent a year in NYC studying when we graduated from High School and came home to open the Spendwood Dance School in 1964. Needless to say we were extremely disappointed when “The Barn” left the air. Spendwood still exists today in Cohoes, although I resigned in 1983. I am curious to know if any of the shows that were taped still are accessible

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: