Wildlife expert and storyteller Harley Berg provided entertainment for those across Central Texas in the mid-twentieth century. Broadcasting from the local KWTX to the homes of Wacoans, the Harley Berg Show emphasized the importance of wildlife and provided conservation tips. Engrossed by Berg’s animal exhibits and captivating narratives, viewers tuned in weekly to the popular show.
Fascinated by wildlife since his youth, Berg enjoyed hunting, fishing, and exploring nature from his family’s move to Texas in 1913. Those early interests guided his career path as he decided to become a game warden. Berg, along with his wife, son, and mother-in-law, eventually settled in Waco in late 1949, where he continued his work as a game warden. His passion for wildlife inspired the creation of a traveling wildlife exhibit sponsored by the Parks and Wildlife Department and often featured at state fairs. The subsequent popularity of the exhibit spurred KWTX’s general manager M.N. “Buddy” Bostick to invite Berg to the big screen.
The first episode of the Harley Berg Show premiered on April 4, 1955, at 7:30 p.m. Donning his game warden uniform, Berg began telling stories he had collected over the years while he displayed a largemouth bass, green sunfish, and bluegill. In the episodes that followed, Berg featured various animals brought in from the San Antonio Zoo, including mountain lions, snakes, porcupines, and various species of fish. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provided funding for the animals’ transportation, but Berg hosted the show nearly free of charge. He appeared regularly on Monday evenings in a half-hour slot, live and unscripted.
Messages that encouraged the protection of wildlife struck Berg as most important. He taught his audience about ecosystems and how they could improve wildlife habitats. He explained how overfishing led to dilapidated lakes and why listeners should not hunt nongame wildlife. Once, he brought a hawk on the show to explain that hawks helped control rats, mice, and other insects and did not pose a threat. He also outlined the importance of poisonous snakes and spiders and informed viewers of protocols if ever bitten. Many viewers expressed that Berg’s informative show helped them protect themselves and animals when they encountered wildlife in their communities.
Despite the show’s popularity, the television station briefly halted production after they were acquired by a larger network. Complaints from those in the community spurred the show’s reinstatement. Though the network initially provided a fifteen-minute slot, Berg contended that he needed more time to tell his stories. While some stories contained exaggerations, many came from Berg’s personal experiences. His fascinating tales about nature and wildlife remained a prominent feature of the show, and with broad audience support, the Harley Berg Show began once more on Sunday afternoons in a half-hour slot, where the show remained until its final episode.
Though the show primarily focused on wildlife, Berg also diverged into other topics that he felt offered important information to viewers. He provided recipes for deer chili and deer jerky. One episode touched on how to identify glaucoma, which aired after Berg was diagnosed with the eye disease. He also received over two thousand requests for a printed snake bulletin that contained information regarding identification of poisonous snakes and first-aid, which he sent to viewers across Central Texas. And after years of transporting animals from San Antonio to Waco, he sought to form a local zoo. The local zoo project and Berg’s wildlife advocacy aided the later establishment of Cameron Park Zoo.
Those who watched the Harley Berg Show ranged from people in nursing homes to schoolchildren. Fisherman, doctors, farmers, preachers, and professors expressed interest in the show and wrote letters to signal their support of Berg’s work. When The Texas Outdoorsman magazine featured Berg on the front cover, hundreds of viewers requested autographed copies. He received invitations to speak at universities across the state, including Texas Christian University, Baylor University, and Texas Southern University. He also spoke to Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps and elementary and high school students. With over nine hundred episodes airing over the years, Berg relished the support of viewers across Texas.
At the end of each episode, Berg concluded in three languages—English, German, and Spanish. In what became his signature sign off, Berg stated, “This is your old wildlife man saying, amigos grande y chiquitos, grosse und kleine freunden, big and little friends, bye for now.” He continued to close out with that message until the late 1970s. Remembered as a friend to wildlife, Berg passed away in 1979.