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Remembering Qued and Phred, the Weirdest Mascots in KQED History

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An illustration showing a little man in a black top hat leading a huge red monster around. on a leash.
Qued, a red dragon-like monster being led by Phred, a guy who looks like the Monopoly man sold his soul to Satan.

If you’re an old-school KQED viewer, you might remember Qued and Phred — the very strange mascots of the now-defunct annual KQED auction. Qued is a mischievous-looking giant red devil creature who walks on all fours and often carries a “sold” sign in his mouth. Phred, who can usually be seen leading Qued on a leash, is what would happen if the Monopoly man had a baby with the Babadook.

For reasons that are fairly unfathomable now, these two “Monster Mash”-looking weirdos were an integral part of mainstream KQED culture between 1960 and 1990. Qued and Phred’s images adorned T-shirts, belt buckles, advertisements and studio backdrops. Now and again, we as a TV channel even made volunteers climb into mascot costumes in Qued and Phred’s likenesses.

“I remember the first time I saw [the Qued costume],” says former auction worker Marianne Fu-Petroni. “It was a real big, human-sized costume. I was like ‘Somebody gets into there?!’ You know, you can’t really keep it clean after so many years…”

A man and woman stand between a table and a lined board with a list of items on it. They are surrounded by random objects including a clock, painting of flowers, carving of an Indigenous person, and full-sized figures of a devil and a man in a top hat.
Qued and Phred looming terrifyingly over a KQED auction scene. (KQED Archives)

The design for Qued and Phred arrived in 1960, five years after the first live auction was launched to keep KQED’s lights on. The characters came into being when a volunteer named Frannie Fleishhacker (wife of prominent Bay Area businessman Mortimer Fleishhacker) decided to seek out an eye-catching logo for the auction. Frannie reached out to Oakland advertising company Foster & Kleiser to see if anyone would be willing to create a design, gratis.

A young illustrator named John DeBonis answered the call and took it upon himself to draw “a weird guy — you might even call him villainous — who goes to the auction and brings home something equally weird,” DeBonis later explained. “It seemed like it would be kind of fun. Not too deadly serious.”

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One of the reasons DeBonis’ design was so seemingly out of step with the idea of public media is because he had almost no idea what KQED was. “It was a little peanut of a station in those days,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1971. “We didn’t even have a television set at the time and I had never seen their programs. The initial reaction [to Qued and Phred] at KQED was a pleasant one but I don’t recall that anyone jumped up and down…”

Still, the Qued character garnered a solid following fairly quickly. By the time the Chronicle sat down with DeBonis for that interview, the paper was reporting that, despite Qued having “a slightly lewd expression … it’s impossible not to return his grin.”

Two stuffed toys. One is a white-faced figure with red eyes and grin of fangs, wearing a black suit and top hat. The other is a grinning red devil with pointed tail.
Phred and Qued in stuffy form. These toys were once available to buy at auction — and they didn’t come cheap. (Rae Alexandra)

While Qued had a title from the time of his inception, it would take Phred a full 16 years to get his own name. That happened in May 1976, when KQED decided to hold — and please do marvel at how creative this title is — “A Contest to Name the Little Guy Who Leads Around the Qued Monster.”

The Berkeley Gazette happily reported later that month that:

The winner was Peggy Fuson of Pinole who has christened the little man ‘King Phrederick IX, Pretender to the Throne of Bryant Street.’ Ms. Fuson, who wrote a ballad to go along with the new name is willing to let the monster man be called Phred for short.

(So yes, people were definitely doing a lot of drugs in the 1970s.)

Three separate images: One of four gold belt buckles, all depicting different versions of the same devil monster. One of a white watch with the devil monster on the clock face. One yellow t-shirt featuring the monster as seen on an auction broadcast.
Qued merch from decades past. (Rae Alexandra)

As a representative of an unusual auction item, Qued wasn’t far off from reality. The KQED auction was indeed, a hodgepodge of anything and everything you could possibly think of.

Auction items were gathered by volunteers and “auction solicitors” literally going door-to-door and calling around asking for donations. Paintings, clothing, food and wine, office, garden and pool equipment and even some houses (houses!) were sold off alongside gift certificates for restaurants and other Bay Area businesses. In the late ’60s, Qued toys were so sought after, they sold for an impressive $100 (about $800 today).

The auction also featured so-called “priceless items” — experiences you couldn’t buy anywhere else. In 1970, a dinner with beloved Chronicle columnist Herb Caen was auctioned for $300 (about $2,300 in 2023 money). That same year, dinners with Giants legends Willie Mays and Willie McCovey went for $350. On another occasion, Martin Yan of PBS’s Yan Can Cook offered up a homemade dinner for 12 people. He was stunned when someone bid $10,000.

One of the most shocking things, looking back, is that living animals were also auctioned off on the air. These included an English bulldog donated by the Charter Bank of London and livestock. One year, a steer that had been raised on then-presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson’s Texas ranch found itself on the auction block.

A model wearing a 1950s-style gown stands, smiling broadly, in front of a TV camera. At her side is a calf.
A cow. Up for auction. In the KQED studio. Next to a woman in a gown. Yeah. (KQED Archives)

What started in 1955 as a 12-hour auction morphed, over the years, into a grueling 10-day marathon at the Cow Palace.

“The auction generally went from 8 a.m. to midnight,” recalls KQED’s Fu-Petroni, now executive director of membership operations. “In 1988 though, on the last night of the auction, they didn’t stop at midnight. They were just grabbing random stuff to auction! Jimmy Scalem was one of the auctioneers and he could just talk and talk and talk. Right around four in the morning, the phone rang on one of the desks and it was my mother asking when I was coming home.”

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The KQED auction peaked in 1985, earning a final (astonishing) tally of $1.5 million. By 1990, however, it was calculated that for every dollar earned, 50 cents was being spent on organizing the auction. That, along with plummeting viewing figures (and an audience that wasn’t sticking around for regular KQED programming) led the station to axe auctions in favor of pledge drives. When the wacky fundraiser went away, so too did Qued and Phred — a sadly unceremonious end to the oddest pairing in KQED history.

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