Little Bits of History

Buy a Vowel?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 19, 2013
Wheel of Fortune with Vanna White and Pat Sajak

Wheel of Fortune with Vanna White and Pat Sajak

September 19, 1983: An American game show begins syndicated, prime-time broadcast. Wheel of Fortune migrated from daytime to early evening with Pat Sajak and Vanna White working with three contestants to solve the puzzle. The game is similar to Hangman with a phrase or name displayed with all the letters blanked and appropriate spaces shown. Players spin the wheel to determine the cash value and then guess a consonant. If the letter appears, they get to spin again or solve the puzzle. Vowels are sold if the player has enough cash to buy them.

During the premiere year, the top money value on the wheel was $5,000. The player with the most cash after three rounds spent their earnings on prizes or gifts. In 1987, the players began to play for cash alone and a fourth round was added. The wheel has 24 spaces (each one three clicks). Most of them are for cash amounts but there are also prizes, free spins, lose a turn, and bankrupt spaces. The wheel weighs 4,000 pounds. For the 2008 season, a $1,000,000 space (wedged in between two bankrupt spaces) was added.

Pat Sajak was a meteorologist and talk show host before coming to Wheel of Fortune. Merv Griffin, creator of the show (and Jeopardy!) liked Sajak’s on air personality and asked him to take Chuck Woolery’s spot on the daytime version. The rest, as they say, is history. One year, for an April Fool’s joke, Sajak and Alex Trebek (host of Jeopardy!) switched places. Pat Sajak’s philanthropic efforts include the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland.

Vanna White is from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She became a model and moved to Los Angeles, hoping to become an actress. She auditioned for the co-hosting job along with 200 others. She was selected because of her “intelligence, all-American beauty, grace, and exuberant personality.” She has been turning letters and dressing in high fashion outfits ever since. Her own fans – called “Vannafans” – have added to the show’s popularity. Vanna is the most frequent applauder on television, clapping her hands 720 times per show or 28,000 times per season. Her own philanthropic endeavors go to helping St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“A celebrity’s opinion should not be given any more weight than anyone else’s, unless there is some special expertise the celebrity brings to a subject. That expertise should involve real life, as opposed to having once portrayed a doctor or a mayor or a scientist in a movie or on a television show.” – Pat Sajak

“Anyone who has seen me spin that heavy, giant wheel on television knows that I’m not a steroid user.” – Pat Sajak

“I think people think of me as this elegant person because they always see me dressed up.” – Vanna White

“It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.” – Vanna White

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Wheel of Fortune remains on the air with both Pat and Vanna hosting the show. In 2009, the show became the longest running syndicated game show in the US when they reached 5,000 shows on February 27 of that year. Their thirtieth season began on September 17, 2012. Merv Griffin was the show’s executive producer until he retired in 2000. Harry Friedman worked with Griffen from 1999 and took over the position which he has held since. Steve Schwartz took over as producer in 1997 and has held that position to this date. The location for filming has changed over time and is presently at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California and has been since 1995. Today, the award winning show is distributed by CBS Television Distribution.

Also on this day: Lord Haw-Haw – In 1945, William Joyce is sentenced to death for high treason against the British Government.
Sportsman of the Year – In 1988, Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board at the Olympic games.
Equal Rights – In 1893, women got the right to vote in New Zealand.

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