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Flashback Fridays: An Early Promotion Gone Wild

Aviator C

Back in the time before satellite programming, small town radio stations lived on remote broadcasts from “Joe’s Market,” or the town’s one Chevy-Olds-Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac-GMC dealer.  Basically, those AM stations were doing anything to squeeze an advertising buck out of a small market, and they would go wherever an advertising customer might be.  Southwest’s marketing approach was a lot like that in our early days.  After looking back through our vintage photo files, it looks like we never met a promotion we didn’t like.  Case in point is this week’s Flashback Friday.


By now, you are asking “Who are these critters, anyway?” and why are they on a Southwest Airlines airplane.  Fortunately, thanks to a fading press release from October 14, 1973, we know the “who” and the “when” of these photos, not to mention the “where.”  The “who” is these are Kid’s Kounty Kharacters from what the press release calls “the SuperfunSuperstore for Kids.”  We see Peter Panda, Dirty Bird, Hugh the Shoe, and Connie Cone as they deplane off a Southwest Airlines aircraft in Houston.  The big event was the opening of their two new prototype stores in Houston, which sold everything from toys to pets to bicycles, furniture, clothes and Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream.  There is more to these photos than a long lost promotion, however.  For the serious aviation student, consider this.  Kid’s Kounty was owned by the W.R. Grace & Co.  In Peru during the 1800s, Grace formed a steamship line to serve the West Coast of South America, and it eventually formed an airline with Pan American called Pan American-Grace or popularly, Panagra.  (Braniff later merged with Panagra.)  Also Southwest students will notice that the airplane wears the original titling with “SOUTHWEST AIRLINES” on the tail.  This style of marking began to disappear in 1972 with the arrival of our fourth aircraft and the later sale of one of our original three.  Based on the late date of the photo, this is probably the last one (and maybe last date) of our aircraft with the original titles.  As you can see in some of the photos, the airplane is more than ready to be repainted as the elements have sandblasted the nose back to bare metal.

One of the iconic Southwest Photos of our early days has our Flight Attendants lined up on the aircraft steps.  It looks as though the photographer is trying to recreate this classic photo using the Kharacters and our Flight Attendants,.


This photo looks also looks like it is paying homage to another classic photo—the one with a line of Flight Attendants running toward the camera.


Although they are far from being typical Customers, this photo inside the Houston Hobby gate house shows some of the first screening equipment used at airports around the country.  On January 5, 1973 was the deadline set by the Federal Aviation Administration for airlines to screen passengers and their carryon luggage.  Here we see the Hobby gate area with an early magnetometer.

These young “Kustomers” seem overwhelmed by Ms. Cone and Mr. Shoe.  It doesn't look as though the Kid’s Kounty idea never spread beyond Houston, but maybe the time wasn’t right for the “superstore” concept.