‘Candlepins for Cash’ was a strike for Boston area television viewers


By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Writer

BOSTON – When “Candlepins for Cash” made its debut on television station WHDH in 1973, Bay Staters quickly embraced the opportunity to watch the bowling action from home.

As is evident by the comments in response to a YouTube video clip, the campy game show still holds a special place in the hearts of those who cherish their proud tradition of knocking down those tall skinny pins.


DerekPelton3124 wrote: “It would be super cool to see this show come back. And with the lucky pin! I think it would be a success.” Stephensevenpounder5447 added: “I feel as though this may become a niche that #DiscoveryChannel should look into. We are very passionate.”


Start in local bowling alleys

A 1978 advertisement for the Boston TV show “Candlepins for Cash” with its host Bob Gamere.
A 1978 advertisement for the Boston TV show “Candlepins for Cash” with its host Bob Gamere.

The local bowling show first aired on WNAC-TV (now WHDH) from 1973 to 1980 and was hosted by Bob Gamere, originating from area bowling alleys using WOR-TV’s remote truck before moving to special lanes built in the basement of WNAC-TV’s Government Center studio. From 1980 to 1982, “Candlepins for Cash” was hosted by retired Red Sox player Rico Petrocelli from Wal-Lex lanes in Waltham.

Both editions of the show required contestants to roll a strike for the jackpot. In the last two seasons of the show, the player would get $30 for a spare plus one bonus ball, worth $2 more per pin knocked down. When a person threw a 10-box (all pins knocked down on the third ball) they received $20 plus one bonus ball. Payouts may not have been all that attractive or made anyone rich, but fun was always the bottom line for avid bowlers.

As for the Wal-lex Recreation Complex, the old landmark is another missed blast from the past. The complex, with well over 20 lanes in the candlepin bowling alley, was a huge area attraction. It also housed a roller-skating rink, mini golf course, billiard tables, kiddie rides and an ice cream and snack bar.

Candlepin unique to New England and eastern Canada

Photo/Rene Schwietzke
Wikimedia Commons
(CC BY 2.0

Primarily played in the Canadian Maritime provinces and the New England region, candlepin bowling has found its way onto film and television. There is one episode of “The Simpsons” where the family travels to Boston and Bart takes Homer out for a little candlepin bowling. The sport is also featured in a scene in the 2023 Christmas comedy film “The Holdovers.”

“Candlepins for Cash” attracted a 40% share of the 5:30 p.m. viewing audience when it first aired in Boston, providing the news on WNAC with such a strong lead-in that it moved from last place to first in the local ratings.  

Invented in 1880, the only US bowling alley outside of New England currently offering candlepin is Apex Entertainment in Albany, New York and for those remaining elsewhere, there are issues. Aside from adult bowling leagues dwindling, the machines used to clear pins from the lanes are no longer in production and it is difficult to find someone knowledgeable enough to maintain or restore them.



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