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Here’s how three doting dads (and a devoted uncle) became the biggest thing in children’s entertainment since Barney.

Heard the one about the journalist, the architect, the firefighter and the schoolteacher? They put on some blue jumpsuits, bought some amps, got their rock on and became international superstars — with the preschool crowd.

That’s the condensed tale of Imagination Movers, the blockbuster children’s series on Playhouse Disney (which is being rebranded as Disney Junior in 2011) that finds four gregarious guys power-chording and problem-solving their way through impossibly crunchy, tuneful songs — think Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Mister Rogers — in a warehouse called the Idea Factory. The band was formed in New Orleans less than a decade ago when longtime friends and neighbors Rich Collins (the journo and drummer), Scott Durbin (the teacher and mandolinist), Dave Poche (the guy with the T square and bass) and Scott “Smitty” Smith (the firefighter and guitarist) got sick of subjecting their kids to subpar children’s programming on local television. “We started talking about what kinds of shows we wanted our kids to grow up watching,” Durbin says. “And music had to be a part of it.”

To cut their teeth, the unlikely quartet played one kiddie gig after another, competing against inflatable jumpers, pony rides and kettle-corn machines for the attention of their diminutive fan base. “We oftentimes had to scoop up dog poop in people’s backyards so we could plug in our amps and have a ‘safe’ place to play,” Collins laughs.

But what could have peaked as a regional success story on the Gulf Coast became a mission of survival in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; three of the band members lost their homes in the storm, and firefighter Smith disappeared for two harrowing weeks on a search-and-rescue assignment. “Once the storm hit, the Movers became the one thing that was constant for us,” Poche says. “We didn’t know about our day jobs anymore, or where we were going to live or anything, but we did know we could make music and do a show that moved and inspired people.”

The guys — who pen and play all their own material — pressed, distributed and promoted a CD all on their own. Along the way, the band collaborated with experts in the fields of education and child psychology and played a spot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where they were discovered by a Mouse House executive. “Ultimately, stars aligned and these four dorks ended up on the Disney Channel,” Collins says.

Imagination Movers, which premiered in September 2008, is a genuine powerhouse; one of the highest-rated shows among preschoolers on the network’s Playhouse Disney block, it’s won an Emmy, airs in 55 countries and is in production on a third season, which will begin in February. The band is gearing up for a spring tour of the United States, as well. “We come from the heart,” Poche says. “We’re not looking to be in a ‘real’ band. This is the real band. We play music we love, and I think parents and kids alike really sense that strongly.”