Not long ago, George Sanford Becker, who as Sandy Becker fascinates hundreds of thousands of youngsters in the Metropolitan area eleven times a week when he appears on WNEW-TV, encountered a thorny problem.
He had been advising his viewers to spend some of their time reading books. In his mail one day was a letter from 9-year-old Richard Schreiber, of Metuchen, N. J., who wrote:
"I heard you say that I should get a library card and read books and I did get a library card and borrowed some books and now that I read the books I don't have time to watch your TV show any more."
Mr. Becker naturally does not want to encourage wholesale desertions from the ranks of his audience. But he also is aware of the desirability of getting the youngsters to develop an interest in the world around them.
He is on the air Monday through Friday mornings from 8 o'clock to 9:30 and Monday through Saturday evenings from 6:30 to 7.
On the morning shows he use an assortment of thirteen puppets, which he created, and for which he supplies the voices. He also gives illustrated talks on such subjects as the life of the ant and the story of volcanoes. Another feature is "imagination drawings," in which he sketches a scene and asks the members of his audience to draw their version of it and add a conclusion.
Recently he drew a picture of Schatzi, his dog, who appears on the program with him. The drawing showed Schatzi, a terrier of doubtful pedigree, digging a hole. Many children submitted their conceptions of the sketch but the winner was Mindy Menk, a little girl from White Meadow Lake, Rockaway, N. J. Her drawing showed a Chinese man emerging from the hole and saying: "We dig you, too".
On his evening programs, Mr. Becker introduces animated cartoons.
In his five years on children's programs, Mr. Becker has been impressed by the sophistication of his audiences.
"I never play down to children," he said here the other day. "The itsy-poo style of comedy may be all right if you're peering into a carriage and tickling a baby. But the kids find it cloying. Almost any kind of movement on the TV screen will attract a 2 or 3-year-oId. But when they're 4 or 5 or oIder you have to think about what you're going to do to amuse them.
"They're able to distinguish between real humor and trash. They won't be satisfied for long with the clown wearing a beanie."
In the last five minutes of his morning programs he introuces a puppet called Henry Headline, who offers some light news Items. A typical item used in this part of the program was the true story of a woman who wrote away for a baby alligator. When the shipment arrived it contained an unexpectedly large reptile that snapped at her and caused consternation until it was removed.
Mr. Becker doesn't think that It would be sensible to try and do serious news items on the program.
"Ostensibly we're doing this for young children," he said. "Many of our viewers are only 4 years old. The impact and importance of a major news story might be lost to them or it might even frighten them. They'll learn about wars and international crises soon enough. I try to keep the news as light as possible. Occasionally I'll use an item that has historical value."
He reserves the right to screen the commercials that are submitted for the program. He is unalterably opposed to the kind of advertising message that tells the children: "Now go and call your mother into the room."
"Naturally, you hope that the child will remember the name of the product," he said. "But to attempt to direct them and to use as leverage your own power of persuasion is certainly wrong."
A 39-year-old native New Yorker, Mr. Becker was graduated from Newtown High School in Queens and was a pre-medical student at New York University when he decided to enter broadcasting. His first job was as an announcer on radio station WWRL in Queens.
He played the role of "Young Dr. Malone" on radio for more than seven years and worked as an announcer and master of ceremonies for other radio and TV shows.
He is married to the former Ruth George Venable. They live in a New York apartment, own a home in Great Neck, L. I., and are the parents of three children, Joyce, 16; Curtis, 12, and Annelle, 10.