to believe that any new technology would attract so much
attention today! Even with the introduction of the past 30
of TV related inventions: VTR's, VCR''s(Beta and VHS),
Camcorders(VHS, C-VHS, 8mm,
Digital 8, DVD recording, etc.), Digital TV, Digital Hi-Definition,
Plasma and other flat set formats, no event like it has EVER taken
Illinois Television pre-1953
Local Television was non-existent before
1953, and even then it was limited in reach. Local UHF
in the early years didn't reach out much beyond 20-30 miles from the
transmitter point. VHF stations were a different
When WCIA went on the air local television became a reality.
home TV set included a UHF tuner (at an extra cost) it would add the
possibility of adding one or possibly two more stations, if it was
Illinois Television Mania
typical television installation during those early days cost about $200
to $400 plus antenna, tower, cable, rotor, etc. adding another
$150-$200 to the investment. One thing for sure, your life
wouldn't be your own after your purchase.
If you had a television people would "pop in" to watch shows on many
nights, especially when those "spectaculars" were shown and the popular
shows of the era like "Milton Berle," "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and
"The Toast of the Town, " not to mention the World Series and various
boxing matches and wrestling matches.
Many bars and taverns installed television which pretty much guaranteed
a large number of viewers who would spend hours drinking before going
home. People would gather at store fronts along Main Street
there was a television in the window. It's hard to imagine
anything today which would get so much attention!
Television dealers sprung up overnight, some were mom and pop
neighborhood dealers in back rooms, garages and small store
fronts. Others were already major department
Television manufacturers set up franchises which would lock in certain
brands to select dealers who also would provide service departments
which would maintain those fragile early televisions.
at left): This is a personal picture of my father installing
television antenna on top of my grandparents house in Taylorville,
Illinois at around 1951. The picture shows the
antenna based on the position of the
house pointing to the southwest to receive the only TV signal available
to viewers, that of Channel 5, KSD-TV.
we missed before we had TV in Central Illinois
presented "The Ruggles" live from Hollywood from 1949 to
1952. It starred the movie character actor Charlie
It was performed live for the west coast stations from KECA-TV, while
being kinescoped for airing the next week on the rest of the small ABC
1948,"The Life of Riley" aired on just a few thousand TV sets in mostly
major markets, starring Jackie Gleason. William
a very successful film career, and in spite of playing the character on
radio for several years, wasn't able to fill the roll of
Riley. Gleason filled the roll, but the program was canceled
after one year. Those few viewers wanted Bendix as Riley, and
January of 1953, watchers of "The Life of Riley" got to see William
Bendix play the bumbling husband on TV. He also continued to
him on radio for a number of years at the same time. Here is a video
from the pilot episode with William Bendix from January of 1953. WICS
wasn't on the air yet
Ed Wynn Show was the first variety show to originate from
Hollywood. It was done live in Hollywood, then kinescoped for
airing the next week on the rest of the CBS network stations.
NBC kids sci-fi series was broadcast from 1950 to 1952. The
episodes were 15 minutes long for mos of the it's run.
is an excerpt from "The Ford Theater" which was a syndicated 1950
feature from early TV. This particular video features a
Ford commercial from the era.
these videos are
provided by an outside source and
a sample of "The Jackie Gleason Show" as broadcast live on the
DuMont TV network.
Below are some select ads placed in central Illinois newspapers before
and after the sign-ons of local television stations in Decatur,
Champaign, Springfield, Bloomington and Danville. Many of
"cookie-cutter" ads that would insert the local call letters of the
markets TV station.
above TV advertising for Arvin TV was a bit different than that which
was published in Champaign with WCIA. This one was a
which featured the VHF-UHF tuner which would have been needed for the
reception of WTVP.
was a Decatur department store which eventually went out of business in
DuMont Televisions were manufactured by the product division of the
DuMont Television Network.
Radio and Appliance Company was a Decatur well
business well into the 1980's.
Here was an
appeal of the
Corporation, which was a wholesaler of things like washing machines,
refrigerators and ....televisions.
Here they were looking to lock in a few franchise dealers for Sylvania
from the Herald-Review
Eyes of Decatur are
on WTVP, Channel 17...."
Philco was one of the most
popular brands of television and
radio. One advantage of owning a Philco was it's ability to
in distant signals.
The Champaign-Urbana Television
Dealers Association, being led by WCIA introduced the new appliance to
the Champaign-Urbana households by hosting a weekend trade show like
event at the Urbana Armory. Each dealer had a booth in which
could display their models. Television's with names like
Majestic, Hoffman, DuMont, Sentinel, Columbia, Motorola, joined brands
known today like RCA, Philco, Zenith,
Emerson and Admiral at the dealer's
booths. I would bet that most of not all were manufactured
here in the USA. WCIA also gave a demonstration of just how
attendees would look on TV by setting up a camera with a closed circuit
"broadcast" within the confines of the Armory. The event
attracted thousands, with a newspaper account naming the east central
Illinois and west central Indiana communities which were represented at
the show. It appeared that the advent of the TV age
coming into Central Illinois with a great deal of enthusiasm and
All images for Champaign were from the
was an ad for the C-U Television Dealers Association's TV Show Trade
Show which took place at the Urbana Armory in early November of
1953. This lists most of the local TV dealers which sprang up
the Champaign-Urbana area at the time.
"What's new in
TV? What's best
me? What kind of
installation? Should I buy now? What programs will
get?" Think about
with TV prices at around
dollars, most family incomes were only around
week. What could you afford if TV's
times your weekly salary?
Sentinel TV was a lower priced TV offered by many 'mom and pop" local
dealers. This one featured both VHF and UHF tuning.
Below: A live demonstration of TV was a real crowd pleaser at the
Armory for the TV Show, sponsored by the C-U Television Dealers
Association. This set up was provided by WCIA which signed on
during the weekend.
and Martin TV purchased an ad in the Urbana Courier in 1953 to try to
sell Admiral Televisions to the future audience of WCIA-TV. Below:
Those "exclusive features" tell the story of the benefits of
owning a Motorola TV!
was a downtown department store in Champaign and went into the TV
business with Zenith in 1953. This model was a mere $379,
about 8 weeks worth of paychecks for the average middle income wage
The ad below is for a 21-inch Admiral...and if you can't afford
it....easy terms could be arranged!
"Look what WCIA will bring you...!"
introduced this full page ad for RCA Victor Television.
Below: this "cookie cutter" ad was for Zenith, "the biggest dollar for
dollar value in television!"
Notice the drop in designed for WCIA.
TV was a low budget television brand many times offered by smaller "mom
and pop" dealers like the ones on the quarter page ad from the Urbana
The ad below was for the Twin City TV Center offering service to those
troublesome early TV's.
DuMont logo was also used to promote it's TV line. The DuMont
network was also seen in Champaign on WCIA-TV.
left: "Look what station WICS-TV will
bring you!" This ad was apparently placed by RCA in markets
with NBC stations. That's why it showed up in the Springfield
Journal-Review with WICS and in the Urbana Courier with WCIA-TV, which
at the time was a part time NBC affiliate.
left: Radio was beginning to get "squeezed out" by the
attention given to local TV. During the same week that WICS
being introduced, local radio stations WMAY(970kc) and WTAX(1240kc)
were running ads in the local papers as well. This one
for WTAX was promoting CBS' big Sunday night lineup with the likes of
Eve Arden's "Our Miss Brooks" followed by "The Jack Benny Show," "Amos
'n' Andy," "Bing Crosby," "My Little Margie" with Gale Storm, "Hallmark
Radio Hall of Fame," "The Gene Autry Show" and "They Made the
Springfield are from the Journal-Register
left), Philco(upper right), Motorola(lower left) and RCA(lower right),
were all well known brands of TV in 1953....all American companies, all
producing sets in America for Americans!
another of the "cookie cutter" RCA
television ads which ran in local papers with the instructions of
"Insert Local TV station Here" In this case it was WBLN in
for Bloomington were from the
ad for Motorola TV recognized that the Peoria stations were already on
th air and Bloomington's Channel 15 was soon to come.
big challenge of WDAN-TV was to convince viewers to add a UHF converter
to their television sets to the tune of an additional $100 or
The investment would include a UHF converter priced from $35 to $50
along with a separate UHF antenna and coax line between the antenna and
the converter. Television set owners in Danville
receiving scratchy TV signals from Indianapolis on WFBM-TV, Channel 6
and by November of 1953, a much better VHF signal from WCIA, Channel 3
from Champaign. For most of these few viewers, two signals
enough. At opposite ends of the reception area, Channel 6 to
east and Channel 3 from the west, would require a rotator on their
antenna mast to receive both signals. That would take a $50
investment. Most viewers probably just turned their single
direction antennas to the west for WCIA, sacrificing their reception of
A large number of ads for
area TV dealers, repair shops and antenna service center appeared
in the pages of
the co-owned newspaper, the Danville Commercial-News when WDAN-TV was coming
on the air.
All images above
are from the pages of the Danville Commercial-News
are being made for Network Service
bad photograph was taken by the Decatur Herald and Review was published
in 1953. It shows the construction of a microwave tower just
northwest of Pana, Illinois. Here was the caption of the
on Williamsburg Hill
southeast of Pana will be used to carry a television impulse from
Pittsburgh to St. Louis when the project is completed this summer. Five
Illinois towers in the project are at Kansas, Mattoon,
Williamsburg Hill, Burensburg and Highland. A microwave impulse
will be bounced from tower to tower until it reaches its destination.
The tower will not help local reception."
was pretty obvious the
writer of the caption didn't have a clue as
real purpose of the
mysterious tower. In case it wasn't
clear, it was another
of the repeater
stations for the microwave of network TV
service to affiliates
from the Decatur
Herald and Review)
map showed how NBC was
routing it's network service by 1958. You'll
notice that the signal
for both WICS and WCIA was coming from
shows the actual carrier
for the local central Illinois NBC
coming via telephone
company coax, and not being microwaved.
might also notice that the NBC was also sent to
WCIA in Champaign, which was a secondary affiliate
of NBC until WCHU came on line in 1960.
programming on WCHU was directly from WICS, a network connection
wasn't needed until Channel 15 replaced both Channels 24 and 33.
That saved the cost of line charges from A.T.& T.
Coverage of Central Illinois TV
This Urbana Courier story summarizes the
local TV situation from
November of 1953.
"Here is the status of seven television channels alloted to cities
within 60 miles of Champaign-Urbana:
You'll notice that the
list includes a Channel 21
listed for Champaign-Urbana. Needless to say, the station
came about. Look for other proposed
central Illinois stations and those that just didn't
make it on "Other
Courier covers the future WDAN-TV sign-on in Danville and
the sign-on of WBLN-TV, Bloomington:
Sets Dec. 10 Goal "WDAN-TV
(Channel 24, UHF) expects to go on the air December 10, Robert
Burow, manager, has announced. A crew of
workman arrived last week to assemble and erect the new
400-foot AM TV tower for the television station. The
tower which will support a 41-foot antenna, is expected to take up
to approximately a week. It will be used for the transmission
both radio and television signals. If
preparations keep progressing as ......in the past we hope to make
the December 10th air date,' Burow said. The last of
the guy wires....(unreadable).... All other
equipment has arrived and has been installed."
UHF Station On
Air Within a Week "WBLN-TV
(Channel 15, UHF) is expected to begin broadcasting from
Bloomington within the next week, according to Jerell Henry, general
Courier also described the first couple of days of broadcasting of WDAN-TV
fourth area TV station goes on the air today when WDAN-TV, Channel
24 offers the ABC network program "Super Circus." The station
present is offering ABC network programs exclusively for the next two
weeks and will carry both commercial and entertainment shows.
Between network shows the station will show only its test
pattern. Sunday's programming closes with the Peter Potter
which starts at
8:30pm. Monday the station will be on the air from 6:15 until
9:30. The station will carry the Sugar Bowl football game
Tech and West Virginia starting at 12:45pm, New Years Day."
Listings from a Thursday in November 1953
If you lived in Decatur, these
local TV stations were most likely your
only choice for TV viewing on a typical Thursday.
sometimes difficult to
figure where the
programs were coming from at anyone of the local TV stations.
shows were taken right off the network coax, others were on film or
kinescope and others were live in studio productions. I tried
identify most of the programs listed. Most with no source are
either local productions or are syndicated on film and shown
locally. Others are network, off network film or kinescope.
early days of central
Illinois TV included newspaper listings
of programs of the "big 3" as featured in the Decatur Herald and
Review below. This is from December of 1953, after all three
network lineup on
Thursdays were as follows:
7:00--Quick as a Flash
8:30--Kraft Television Theater
7:00--Meet Mr. McNulty
7:30--Four Star Playhouse
9:00--Philip Morris Playhouse
9:30--Place the Face
7:00--You Bet Your Life(Groucho Marx)
7:30--Treasury Men in Action
9:00--Martin Kane, Private Eye
6:15-7:00 off air
7:00--New York Giants Quarterback Huddle
7:30--Broadway to Hollywood
WTVP, Channel 17, Decatur
4:30--Prairie Ranch House
5:00--Uncle Al and Friends
5:30--Headlines from the Past
7:00--Head of the Class-1
underlined shows are broadcast live from ABC
*ABC off network-syndicated
1= source unknown, possibly local or film
WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign
3:30--On Your Account
5:30--U. of I.
6:15--Marge and Jeff-1
7:30--I Led Three Lives**
9:30--Files of Jeffrey Jones-1
10:00-News, Weather, Sports
shows are broadcast live from a national network identified by
A-ABC, C-CBS, N-NBC, D-DuMont
1= source unknown possibly local or film
WICS, Channel 20, Springfield
5:45--Down on the Farm
7:30--Play of the Week
9:00--Four Star Playhouse**
9:30--I Led Three Lives
10:00-News, Weather, Sports
shows are broadcast live from the NBC network
1= source unknown, possibly local or film
11:45-Treasury Men in Action*
shows are broadcast live from the NBC network
1= source unknown, possibly local or film
you examine the list of programs you'll see that many of the NBC
shows which aired on St. Louis' KSD weren't shown on WICS.
explanation is that the relationship between the network and affiliates
were not like they are today. Many of the shows were owned by
agencies which represented products. In order to share in the
network income for broadcasting these shows an affiliated station would
bid for the right to air these shows and share in the payments form the
network/agencies. Even though many of the shows were
entertainment, they could be classified today as an
"info-mercial." For example "Lux Video Theater," "Ford
"Kraft Mystery Theater," "Lucky Strike Program with Jack Benny,"
"Texico Star Theater with Milton Berle," and "The Lucky Strike Hit
Parade" all entertainment shows named for the sponsors.
also aired a number of CBS daytime programs before WTVI and KWK-TV went
on the air in 1953 and 1956.
This would also explain why, if your
read some of the early TV history
of the stations there would be mention that the station manager or
owner would travel to New York to arrange for the broadcast
various network programs. This would also explain why at
on KSD, that KSD(NBC) would air an ABC network show, "The Adventures of
Ozzie and Harriet." The ad agency for Ozzie and Harriet which
also at that time represented Kodak and Coca-Cola seemed to be quite
aggressive in purchasing time on only the strongest stations in the
market, which was KSD-TV, owned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
newspaper. "Ozzie and Harriet" wasn't shown on WTVP(ABC)
much of the 1950's but would appear on WCIA(CBS).
There are other examples of such "cherry
picking" of affiliates such as
the broadcast of the ABC show "Zorro" on WICS(NBC) and not on
WTVP(ABC). This kind of program bidding was certainly a
the scenes factor which made early TV very competitive. This
certainly gave the huge coverage area of the VHF station in central
Illinois quite an advantage over the UHF stations which offered a much
smaller coverage area. This may have also contributed to the
massive lay-offs at WTVP in January 1954 after the reality of getting
less than expected revenue.
It seemed to be obvious that WICS was
coming up a little short in
ordering shows from the NBC menu. In an era of stations
scrambling for programming, WICS had to work a little harder.
only NBC show broadcast by the Springfield station was the very popular
"You Bet Your Life" hosted by Groucho Marx. The program
for the other programs in the prime time lineup are currently
unknown. The shows listed above are not in any
program listing data base I have found.
early look at Television
TV set shown at left is a 1950 Zenith Porthole TV.
inherited one just like it many years ago, and kept it in my personal
collection until a few years ago, when I donated it to the Vermilion
County Museum. The
last time I visited the Museum, it was on display. Check
it out at the Vermilion County Illinois Museum in Danville.
The lack of VHF TV signals in remote (relatively
speaking that is) areas brought about the development of add on turners
which included amplifiers and noise reduction. This would
out the signals" from the static to at least allow for the reception of
some of these distant signals from stations in St. Louis, Indianapolis
and even Chicago for those in central Illinois.
This particular one is from Philco and included its own VHF tuner
divided into channels 2-6 and 7-13, or lower VHF and upper
Those two stretches of bandwidth is separated the FM radio band as well
as other uses.
(unit from the Doug Quick Collection)
The Philco UHF Converter
The need for a UHF tuner would come about if a television set was
equipped with only a VHF tuner. In many metro markets in the
country the TV spectrum was only populated by VHF stations making the
conversion to receive UHF stations unnecessary.
In central Illinois all but one station was on the UHF band.
to receive channels 17 from Decatur, 20 from Springfield, 15 from
Bloomington, 24 from Danville or one of the Peoria stations at 19 or
43, you would need a UHF converter. The concept was similar
the FM converter which would allow drivers to receive FM stations on
their vehicles AM radio.
Here's how it worked: There were two antenna inputs on the
which were actually two screws each. The bare copper wire
the 75 ohm coax line from the antenna would be wound around each screw
One coax set of wires would be attached to the VHF antenna, the other
to the UHF antenna terminals.
The converter would be plugged in separately (although some would allow
for the TV to be plugged in the back of the converter-only requiring
one wall outlet). A separate short "pigtail" 75 ohm
would be attached between the converter and the VHF antenna terminals
on the back of the set.
The left knob on the front was the power off-on switch which would
allow the viewer to switch between VHF and UHF viewing. To
receive UHF channels, the set would have to be set at channel
The converter had an internal modulator which would converter the UHF
channel selected to the usable VHF channel 5. To select the
channel viewers had to use the radio style slide turner to tune
to....and very carefully fine tune the channel for optimum video/audio
One of the major problems was achieving the level of optimum watchable
quality. It seems in many cases the higher the UHF channel
more difficult it was to tune in the video and audio at the same
time. Many times the video would be watchable, but the audio
would be "fuzzy." Then as you cleared the audio, the video
be lost. It was also based on vacuum tube
(photo from unknown source)
The Right Antenna?
Purchasing an antenna for optimum viewing was sometimes a difficult
decision. There were many styles, most were "yagi" style and
similar to what is used today, but there some different styles
available depending on the distance between the viewers home and the
transmitters of the TV stations.
Shown at the right was one unusual style antenna presumably both for
VHF and UHF viewing. It was actually two like antennas
to receive signals at different heights. Each element was
to receive lower VHF frequencies (the long elements), upper VHF
frequencies (slightly shorter) and the shorter elements for the UHF
band in graduated lengths. You can see the strands of wire
connected each of the stacked antennas.
These seemingly fragile antennas became rare over the years prone to
wind and ice damage. Even though, I have over the last 20
sighted at least a couple over homes in Danville, Illinois.
coverage area map shows just how unequal the coverage areas were
between Channel 3, WCIA and the other UHF stations in central
Illinois. WDAN-TV was not included in the graphic.