Charles Scruggs was better known as “Mr. Chuck.” Scruggs’ educational children’s show Hello, Mr. Chuck! aired on WKNO from 1997 until 2009. Dressed in his signature captain’s hat, Scruggs entered the living rooms of thousands of children in the Mid-South. The beloved Memphis host died this morning. He was 80 years old.
Scruggs had a long and varied career. He arrived in Memphis in 1972 to take a job as VP-General Manager at WDIA. Scruggs was also one of the founders of the National Civil Rights Museum, and the museum’s first President. Still, he is probably best known for his work hosting a children’s television show on WKNO Channel 10.
“We came up with an idea that we would create an imaginary neighborhood called #10 Friends Circle, ten because of our channel,” said CEO of WKNO Michael LaBonia.
Scruggs first appeared on WKNO in 1993. LaBonia said the early response, gathered through viewer surveys, was overwhelmingly positive.
“This program dealt with values, conflict resolution, a lot of the things children struggle with, especially children in underprivileged areas,” LaBonia remembered, “and what we found was that, in many children’s lives, this was the only neighborhood they really had, even though it was an imaginary neighborhood.”
The show became a weekday series and took the name Hello, Mr. Chuck! Scruggs came to children’s television late in life, but LaBonia said he was a natural, and others took notice. When Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, visited Memphis in 1997, LaBonia said he was impressed by Mr. Chuck, “Before Fred Rogers left, he stopped in my office and said, ‘Mike, you really have something remarkable here.’ He said, ‘Mr. Chuck is achieving things I still struggle to achieve.’”
Hello, Mr. Chuck! won a regional Emmy and Scruggs became one of most recognizable faces on WKNO.
“To the children of the Mid-South, Mr. Chuck was more famous than many of our leaders,” said LaBonia. “In 2000, President Nelson Mandela was honored with a Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. As part of his visit, he spoke to a group of school-aged children. Mr. Chuck was present for the event. After the speech, the children were encouraged to go up and meet President Mandela, and many of the children ran to Mr. Chuck!”
LaBonia said Hello, Mr. Chuck! worked because of Scruggs’ personality and how much he cared about children.
“There was something magical about him, there really was,” LaBonia said. “Chuck was never out of character, because Chuck was never in character. I mean, what you saw, that was him.”