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Early Days of Television(in central Illinois)

It's hard to believe that any new technology would attract so much attention today!  Even with the introduction of the past 30 years 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 place since!



Central Illinois Television pre-1953

Local Television was non-existent before July 1953, and even then it was limited in reach.  Local UHF stations in the early years didn't reach out much beyond 20-30 miles from the transmitter point.  VHF stations were a different matter.  When WCIA went on the air local television became a reality.  If a 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 lucky.

Central Illinois Television Mania

A 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 if 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 stores.  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.



(picture at left):  This is a personal picture of my father installing a VHF 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.



What we missed before we had TV in Central Illinois







ABC  presented "The Ruggles" live from Hollywood from 1949 to 1952.  It starred the movie character actor Charlie Ruggles.  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 network.

In 1948,"The Life of Riley" aired on just a few thousand TV sets in mostly major markets, starring  Jackie Gleason.  William Bendix had 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  Chester Riley.  Gleason filled the roll, but the program was canceled after one year.  Those few viewers wanted Bendix as Riley, and by January of 1953, watchers of "The Life of Riley" got to see William Bendix play the bumbling husband on TV.  He also continued to play 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

The 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.







This NBC kids sci-fi series was broadcast from 1950 to 1952.  The episodes were 15 minutes long for mos of the it's run.

This is an excerpt from "The Ford Theater" which was a syndicated 1950 feature from early TV.  This particular video features a typical Ford commercial from the era.


Some of these videos are provided by an outside source
and may be withdrawn without notice.

Here's a sample of "The Jackie Gleason Show" as broadcast live on the DuMont TV network.






Local Newspaper Coverage/Advertising

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 which were "cookie-cutter" ads that would insert the local call letters of the markets TV station.


Decatur







The above TV advertising for Arvin TV was a bit different than that which was published in Champaign with WCIA.  This one was a variation which featured the VHF-UHF tuner which would have been needed for the reception of WTVP.


Staubers was a Decatur department store which eventually went out of business in 1954. 

DuMont Televisions were manufactured by the product division of the DuMont Television Network.








Rogers Radio and Appliance Company was a Decatur well known business well into the 1980's.


Here was an appeal of the Illinois Appliance 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 Televisions.


All images from Decatur from the Herald-Review
"The 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 bring in distant signals.




Champaign




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 they could display their models.  Television's with names like Arvin, Majestic, Hoffman, DuMont, Sentinel, Columbia, Motorola, joined brands known today like RCA, Philco, Zenith, Sylvania, Emerson and Admiral at the dealer's booths.  I would bet that most of not all were manufactured right 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 was coming into Central Illinois with a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement!

All images for Champaign were from the Urbana Courier.












This 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 in the Champaign-Urbana area at the time
.



"What's new in TV?  What's best for me?  What kind
of installation?  Should I buy now?  What programs will I get?"  Think about it, with TV prices at around
200-400 dollars, most family incomes were only around $50 a week.  What could you afford if TV's were 6 times your weekly salary?








Above: Sentinel TV was a lower priced TV offered by many 'mom and pop" local TV 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.



Manny 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!












Robeson's was a downtown department store in Champaign and went into the TV business with Zenith in 1953.  This model was a mere $379, that's about 8 weeks worth of paychecks for the average middle income wage earner.
The ad below is for a 21-inch Admiral...and if you can't afford it....easy terms could be arranged!

Above: "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.

Arvin 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 Courier.

The ad below was for the Twin City TV Center offering service to those troublesome early TV's.


The DuMont logo was also used to promote it's TV line.  The DuMont network was also seen in Champaign on WCIA-TV.




Springfield



Far 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.


Close left:  Radio was beginning to get "squeezed out" by the attention given to local TV.  During the same week that WICS was 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 Headlines."

Both images from Springfield are from the Journal-Register




Bloomington


1954 Philco RCA Welcomes WBLN
RCA Welcomes WBLN
Motorola Welcomes WBLN-Channel 15

Magnavox(upper 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!


Here's 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 Bloomington.

All images for Bloomington were from the
Daily Pantograph

This ad for Motorola TV recognized that the Peoria stations were already on th air and Bloomington's Channel 15 was soon to come.








Danville








The 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 so.  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 were 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 were enough.  At opposite ends of the reception area, Channel 6 to the east and Channel 3 from the west, would require a rotator on their antenna mast to receive both signals.  That would take a $50 or so investment.  Most viewers probably just turned their single direction antennas to the west for WCIA, sacrificing their reception of WFBM-TV.

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








Preparations are being made for Network Service

NBC Network Distribution 1958


This rather bad photograph was taken by the Decatur Herald and Review was published in 1953.  It shows the construction of a microwave tower just to the northwest of Pana, Illinois.  Here was the caption of the picture:

"The 250-foot tower 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."


It was pretty obvious the writer of the caption didn't have a clue as to
the 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 around the Midwest. 

(picture from the Decatur Herald and Review)

This 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 St. Louis.

This shows the actual carrier for the local central Illinois NBC affiliates
was coming via telephone company coax, and not being
microwaved.

You 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.
 
Since 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.





Newspaper 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:

WCIA-TV 3
VHF
Champaign-Urbana
within next week
WTVP
17
UHF
Decatur
Already on air
No call letters
12
VHF
University of Illinois
Sept 1954
No call letters
21
UHF
Champaign-Urbana
No plans announced
WDAN-TV
24
UHF
Danville
Dec 10, 1953
WBLN-TV
15
UHF
Bloomington
within next week

You'll notice that the list includes a Channel 21 listed for Champaign-Urbana.  Needless to say, the station never came about.  Look for other
proposed central Illinois stations and those that just
didn't make it on "Other Television History."



WDAN status report

The Urbana Courier covers the future WDAN-TV sign-on in Danville and the sign-on of WBLN-TV, Bloomington:

Danville 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 of 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."

Bloomington 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 manager"


The Urbana Courier also described the first couple of days of broadcasting
of WDAN-TV in Danville:

About Town
"A fourth area TV station goes on the air today when WDAN-TV, Channel 24 offers the ABC network program "Super Circus."  The station at 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 show 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 between Georgia Tech and West Virginia starting at 12:45pm, New Years Day."
WDAN status report



Program 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. 


It was sometimes difficult to figure where the programs were coming from at anyone of the local TV stations.  Some shows were taken right off the network coax, others were on film or kinescope and others were live in studio productions.  I tried to 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.

The very 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 signed on....




The network lineup on Thursdays were as follows:

ABC 
6:15--News
6:30--Lone Ranger
7:00--Quick as a Flash
7:30--Where's Raymond
8:00--Talent Patrol
8:30--Kraft Television Theater
CBS
6:30--News
6:45--Jane Froman
7:00--Meet Mr. McNulty
7:30--Four Star Playhouse
8:00--Dragnet
8:30--Big Town
9:00--Philip Morris Playhouse
9:30--Place the Face

NBC
6:30--Dinah Shore
6:45--News
7:00--You Bet Your Life(Groucho Marx)
7:30--Treasury Men in Action
8:00--Dragnet
8:30--Ford Theater
9:00--Martin Kane, Private Eye

DuMont
6:00--Captain Video
6:15-7:00 off air
7:00--New York Giants Quarterback Huddle
7:30--Broadway to Hollywood
8:00--Guide Right
WTVP, Channel 17, Decatur

2:00--Feature Film
3:30--Dick Shoughnessy
4:00--Woman's World
4:30--Prairie Ranch House
5:00--Uncle Al and Friends
5:30--Headlines from the Past
5:45--Triple Streak
6:00--Farm News
6:15--News
7:00--Head of the Class-1
7:30--Where's Raymond
8:00--Talent Patrol
8:30--Lilli Palmer-1
8:45--Sports Showcase-1
9:00--Greatest Drama-1
9:15--Public Prosecutor-1
9:30--Dick Tracy*
10:00-Weather
10:10-Women
10:15-News
10:30-Sports
10:45-Story Theater

all underlined shows are broadcast live from ABC
*ABC off network-syndicated
1= source unknown, possibly local or film

WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign

2:00--Big Payoff
2:30--Film
3:00--Welcome Traveler
3:30--On Your Account
4:00--Better Living
4:30--Western Theater
5:30--U. of I.
6:00--Captain Video-D
6:15--Marge and Jeff-1
6:30--Newsreel
6:45--Yesterday's Newsreel
7:00--Gene Autry*
7:30--I Led Three Lives**
8:00--Guide Right-D
8:30--Ford Theater-N
9:00--Biff Baker-C
9:30--Files of Jeffrey Jones-1
10:00-News, Weather, Sports

all underlined shows are broadcast live from a national network identified by
A-ABC, C-CBS, N-NBC, D-DuMont
*CBS kinescope
**syndicated
1= source unknown possibly local or film
WICS, Channel 20, Springfield







5:30--Shopping With Julie
5:45--Down on the Farm
6:00--Art's Workshop
6:15--Captain Video*
6:30--News
6:45--Sports, Weather
7:00--Groucho Marx
7:30--Play of the Week
8:00--Talent Parade-1
8:30--Gloria Swanson-1
9:00--Four Star Playhouse**
9:30--I Led Three Lives
10:00-News, Weather, Sports

all underlined shows are broadcast live from the NBC network
*DuMont kinescope
**CBS kinescope
1= source unknown, possibly local or film
KSD, Channel 5, St. Louis




4:30--Howdy Doody
5:00--Wranglers Club-local
5:15--Buckeye Four-1
5:30--Sports
5:40--Weather
5:45--Telenews
6:00--Art Linkletter
6:15--Dotty Bennett-1
6:30--Dinah Shore
6:45--News Caravan
7:00--Groucho Marx
7:30--Ozzie and Harriett-**
8:00--Dragnet
8:30--Theater
9:00--Martin Kane
9:30--Victory at Sea
10:00-Crown Theater
10:30-Playhouse-1
11:00-News, Weather
11:15-Danger***
11:45-Treasury Men in Action*
12:15-News

all underlined shows are broadcast live from the NBC network
*NBC kinescope
**ABC kinescope
***CBS kinescope
1= source unknown, possibly local or film


If 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.  The explanation is that the relationship between the network and affiliates were not like they are today.  Many of the shows were owned by ad 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 Theater," "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.  KSD-TV 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 of various network programs.  This would also explain why at 7:30pm 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) during 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 behind the scenes factor which made early TV very competitive.  This most 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.  The only NBC show broadcast by the Springfield station was the very popular "You Bet Your Life" hosted by Groucho Marx.  The program sources for the other programs in the prime time lineup are currently unknown.   The shows listed above are not in any national program listing data base I have found.

An early look at Television

Zenith at Vermilion County Museum




The TV set shown at left is my former 1950 Zenith Porthole TV. 
 I inherited 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.


Check it out at the Vermilion County Illinois Museum in Danville.










Early Television Accessories



The Philco Television Booster

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 "pull 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 UHF.  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.  So 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 to 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 back which were actually two screws each.  The bare copper wire from the 75 ohm coax line from the antenna would be wound around each screw and tightened.  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 coax 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 5.  The converter had an internal modulator which would converter the UHF channel selected to the usable VHF channel 5.  To select the UHF channel viewers had to use the radio style slide turner to tune to....and very carefully fine tune the channel for optimum video/audio quality.

One of the major problems was achieving the level of optimum watchable quality.  It seems in many cases the higher the UHF channel the 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 would be lost.   It was also based on vacuum tube technology. 

(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 very 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 "stacked" to receive signals at different heights.  Each element was tuned 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 which 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 years sighted at least a couple over homes in Danville, Illinois.











(Left):  The 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.







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updated 8/26/2017
web master:  Doug Quick
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