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.
“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.
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” 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.
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.
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.