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WBLN, Channel 15, Bloomington, Illinois

WBLN Broadcast Tower

WBLN 1953
On December 6th, 1953 Bloomington would finally see its own TV station after seeing other central Illinois communities receive their own crop of stations earlier in the year. After broadcasting a low power test pattern for several days, regular programming would begin at 7pm.

Ownership of the station would fall to a broadcaster who already was a ten year owner of four radio stations in Missouri and Kansas. Cecil W. Roberts of Farmington, Missouri applied for and received the license in March of 1953 for UHF channel 15 in Bloomington, Illinois.

Cecil W. Roberts was actively pursuing other broadcasting properties of both radio and television.   In May of 1952 Roberts applied for an AM radio station in Chester, Illinois to broadcast on 1450kc with a 250watt full time signal.  He was rather frugal in his proposal to the FCC.  His construction costs were only listed at $13,500, with operating costs of $35,000 his first year and revenue at $45,000.

In one of his more prominent quests he applied for channel 36 in St. Louis in August of 1952.  More on that application in the section which contains the history of KSTM-TV on the Others page.

It appears he took the "blanket" approach to adding to his station group.  By applying for a number of different properties, he would get lucky on at least one or two proposals.  In applying for channel 15, he met no competition which made his application a sure thing for his company.  His ten-year radio ownership experience came from small AM local radio stations in (KREI-AM 800) Farmington and (KCHI-AM 1010) Chillicothe, Missouri as well as (KBIA-AM 1460) Chanute and Leavenworth (KCRB-AM 1410), Kansas. Unfortunately his ownership of his first TV station would prove unsuccessful within a little more than 3 short years.

The broadcast facility would be housed in a building built and owned by James Hastings and leased to Roberts. It was located near the intersection of Route US 150 and US bypass 66(now Route US 150 and Veterans Parkway) in southeast Bloomington. Also at the station site was the 455 foot broadcast tower which was said to be able to “beam a clear picture to sets within 40 miles of its ultra high frequency signal.”

WBLN's television studio and business office included a studio room which was 20 by 30 feet, and included two garage type doors which enabled vehicles to be driven through for live commercials for local auto dealers. No other details are known about the rest of the facility.

Terrell Henry, who worked for Roberts at the Chanute, Kansas radio station would be named station manager. The staff numbered nine people, but the identities of most are largely unknown, as they were not included in any newspaper descriptions. It was reported that all but one of the nine were brought in from the radio properties owned by Roberts. The only other early staff members identified in newspaper accounts were Wayne Cox (who later became a news anchor at WICS, Springfield, Illinois), Miss Jo Harter (whose position at the station is unknown) and Ned Wallace who was an engineer.

at left: Here is the caption from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph from the fall of 1953:
Newcomer among Bloomington's landmarks is the 455 foot television tower of station WBLN. The tower rises from the stations studios near the intersection of Routes 66 and 150.

WBLN Dage Camera
WBLN Film Chain
WBLN Control Room

Practice Commercial is staged in WBLN studio by Miss Jo Harter and Cameraman Wayne Cox. The Bloomington studio is equipped with two new type “live” cameras.

(picture and caption from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph in late 1953)
Wayne Cox would later become a news anchor for WICS in Springfield. 

It make look like a stack of boxes, but it's the film chain at WBLN.  It consists of a 16mm film projector shooting an image into a camera.  There is also a series of mirrors which would select the projected images of the film projector as well as at least one slide projector.
(picture from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

Engineer Ned Wallace operates controls at WBLN's film and master monitors. Over engineer's head(and show in picture) are monitors for the stations “live” cameras.

(picture and caption from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph in late 1953)

WBLN Labor Dispute

WBLN Labor Dispute
WBLN Labor Dispute

WBLN Labor Dispute

(all news clippings above from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

Labor Problems

The beginnings of this failed operation began under much controversy primarily because of labor issues between the Bloomington-Normal Building Trades and Labor Assembly and later with the Peoria Local 1292 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Initially, problems began with Contractor James Hastings, builder of the studio facility, when it was disclosed that non-union painters were hired by Hastings for interior painting of the facility, after the job was completed. Even though picketing didn't take place until the next week in early November of 1953, the other union workers walked off the job and construction of other areas of the building stopped.

Union representatives and Hastings met the following Monday but according to Pantagraph reports the sides failed to reach an agreement. The president of the Assembly, Kenneth Pearl, stated that picketing would continue until an agreement was reached. At least part of the agreement would have had Hastings either pay union painters to repaint the facility, or pay the union a fine which would be the same amount as if the building was panted by union painters. Another part of the agreement would have forced Roberts to pay the other carpenters who walked off for their time away from the job.

Picketing was also underway from the IBEW who was in charge of electrical work at the studio facility. Union representatives met with station owner Cecil W. Roberts and they reported that the owner “refused to bargain.”

Yet another union joined in the picketing of the new WBLN facility during that time as well. The AF of L Radio Television Broadcast Technicians placed a lonely picket there initially because, as the union stated, the owners have imported two non-union engineers “from the south.”

The business agent for the Peoria based AF of L Radio Television Broadcast Technicians, R.K. Pratt said his only demand was that WBLN employ union members. This fact seemed to be a surprise initially to WBLN station manager Terrell Henry. Henry said that union reps visited the station and asked him to sign a union contract. Henry told them they would have to make that request to the station owner, Cecil W. Roberts who was not in the area on that day. According to Henry, as soon as the representatives left, “all of a sudden we had pickets.” According to Henry, those non-union engineers were regular employees brought in from the other radio stations owned by Roberts.

By November 19th of 1953 the labor quarrel continued as pickets were still reported at the facility. Union representatives were still stating that Roberts “refused to bargain.” When the Pantagraph contacted Roberts the day before the report was published he just replied, “no comment.”

It's unknown when or if any settlement was reached as newspaper accounts ended coverage of the dispute. It would be assumed, though, that this labor dispute was the first of several public relations problems experienced by the new UHF station.

WBLN G.E. Transmitter
WBLN filtertrexer
WBLN set to go on-air

TV station manager Terrell Henry takes a trail turn at the WBLN transmitter controls. The transmitterat the new Bloomington station operates on 1,000 watts, developing 20,000 watts of effective power out of the antenna. The station will operate on channel 15.

(picture and caption from Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

Filtertrexer, made up of a complicated network of pipes and tanks, combines sound and video waves and feeds them to the antenna at the Bloomington TV station.

(picture and caption from Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

WBLN New ABC Shows


The Bloomington station was relegated to become an affiliate of the ABC Television Network since other local affiliations were already claimed by other central Illinois broadcasters. CBS was holding out for the yet to be decided owner of the Peoria license for VHF channel 8 and WCIA had already claimed CBS for much of central Illinois. NBC had signed contracts with WEEK-TV in Peoria, WCIA in Champaign(as a secondary affiliate) and WICS in Springfield. It's also possible that NBC could have also been still holding out for Springfield's VHF station on Channel 2, but it could have become a CBS station when the ownership question would be decided and finally awarded by the FCC. I would have to assume that WCIA owners Midwest Television would strongly object, though, and in fact the CBS-WCIA affiliation agreement may have already prevented it.

It should be noted that during the early days of WICS, NBC placed only a few of their network shows with the UHF station at channel 20. The number of NBC shows during the first two years of WICS, hardly qualified NBC as a primary affiliate of the station. That may have been an indication that the network was just signed on with WICS to establish a relationship with Channel 20 in case the allocation for channel 2(WMAY-TV) was eliminated by the FCC from Springfield.

Other low powered central Illinois UHF stations were already signed by ABC and included stations in Decatur and Danville. WTVH in Peoria was the lowest powered of the two Peoria stations, and did not deliver a watchable signal in Bloomington. That made WBLN a natural network partner with ABC.

Before receiving a live ABC network signal, WBLN had to be satisfied to air kinescopes of network programming until the AT & T microwave receiving tower could be built at the TV station site to receive programming from ABC. It would be completed as other central Illinois TV stations were also being connected to live network service in October of 1953.

WBLN Equipment Fails WBLN still a week away WBLN 100-watt Test Pattern

WBLN with one failure after another.  The number one error was to publicize each
time they were going to test the transmitter.  It would have been better to  do transmitter
testing in the middle of the night, and don't announce when the on-air date until everything
was 100-percent ready to go....and go on the air at full power!
(clippings from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

Going on the Air....maybe

WBLN was set to go on the air in late October of 1953. That was not to be. Labor disputes described above and equipment delays kept the station behind schedule. By mid November the pressure was on to get WBLN on the air and fast! The fact that WCIA in Champaign had gone on the air by this time was at least a psychological defeat to Cecil Roberts and his staff. Even though at least one representative of the Channel 15 had said that “we're not going on the air with anything messy.”

It was planned that the new station would go on the air with a 100 watt test pattern and then after a few days of testing the transmitter power output would be increased to give the station a 20,000 watt ERP. The first try to go on air was decided to take place on November 15th, although Terrell Henry wouldn't predict an hour of the sign-on. The final “piece of equipment” to operate the station had arrived at the facility and installation was underway. What that equipment included is unknown.

Bloomington area viewers were once again disappointed as equipment failures prevented them from seeing the new Channel 15 on the projected dates of November 15th. This time, it would be a few more days before any mention would be made of a WBLN premiere.

WBLN going on air

WBLN, Channel 15 “Suddenly it was there”

Then on Thursday, November 19th, from 4:15 to 5pm WBLN broadcast its first test pattern at 100 watts. Even with only a 100 watt power output, the signal was received by a viewer in Shirley, 10 miles away from the transmitter site. Station staff also received 20-30 other calls after the initial low power broadcasts. There was no audio broadcast with the test pattern.

The next day, the transmitters output was upped to give the station an 18,000 watt ERP. It was reported on the following Sunday in the Pantagraph that Terrell Henry said the station was still “about a week” away from full time broadcasts. The station was still experiencing problems with equipment. It's unknown what the problems were, but it was enough to delay the actual full time broadcasting of WBLN for another couple of weeks.

Finally, though,  on December 6th, 1953, WBLN would become one of the final heritage television facilities in central Illinois, although not the last one. WDAN-TV in Danville was still just short of one week away from broadcasting.

At sign-on, the WBLN broadcast day would begin at around 7pm and would continue to 11pm. In just a few weeks, the day was lengthened to run from 6pm to Midnight and eventually would move up during the mid afternoon. That shortened broadcast day was common with most area early TV stations, although most other stations increased the length of their broadcast day to include most of daytime in just a couple of years. WBLN continued with an abbreviated schedule.

The only exception to the evening only broadcast schedule was the broadcast of ABC's Don McNeil's Breakfast Club from 8 to 9am, then either the station signed off until later or would broadcast a test pattern until programming resumed, a common practice during the very early years of television. There were also some mid afternoon sign-on times with some late afternoon ABC programming, and on weekends for at least a time in the 1955-56 period.

On the first day of sign-on, newspaper reports in the Bloomington's Daily Pantagraph indicated many viewers were disappointed by it's signal quality. Even though station manager Terrell Henry reported the first day as going “pretty good” he also indicated some problems early on, which he said were corrected during the first hours of broadcasting. Meanwhile viewers stated that the picture was “blurry” and “dark.”

Two local TV repairmen called the stations signal “lousy.” An out of town viewer in Hudson reported that the signal was weaker than that of her reception of WEEK-TV in Peoria.

I speculate viewers might have had antennas pointed toward other stations, such as those in Peoria. Keep in mind that Peoria is northwest of Bloomington-Normal, while the broadcast tower of WBLN was located on the outskirts southeast of Bloomington. If people had antennas pointed toward Peoria, they could have been picking up WBLN on the back or side of the antenna, which could have created “ghosting” with a reflected signal which would have been “blurry.”

It was just a couple of weeks before that WCIA in Champaign went on the air, and other viewers might have had antennas directed in a direct line with the Champaign station, giving those Bloomington viewers a signal from the side of their receiving antenna. This would have also created “ghosting” or blurry pictures. Most TV viewers at the time, were not acquainted with the experience of moving their antenna to receive different stations from different locations and many didn't make the investment of an antenna rotor.

"The Big Picture" was a 30-minute public service program was provided by the US Army.  Along with being broadcast on ABC, it was also syndicated and by 1957 was on over 350 stations where it filled many odd times in the schedule.
This 30 minute religious program, "Faith for Today" was provided by the Seventh Day Adventist Church and hosted by the Rev. William Sagal.  It was syndicated to local stations and also carried on ABC.
"Don McNeill's Breakfast Club" was broadcast from Chicago and on ABC in 1953-54.  The host Don McNeill was joined by Sam Cowling.  This was the reason WBLN signed on at 8am-9am, then signed off or ran a test pattern until late afternoon.
"Sky King" was originally on NBC from 1951-52, but later reruns were shown on ABC and even CBS.  Sky King was played by Kirby Grant as the pilot of the Songbird, his private plan.  It was a modern day western in which he was the guardian to his niece Penny and nephew Clipper.
"Captured" was a syndicated off network version of "Gang Busters."  Since there is no known title shot for "Captured" I include it's original title "Gang Busters."  The original series played on NBC in 1952...based on the long running radio crime drama.
This ABC show, "Pride of the Family" was produced by the Revue Studios(now Universal) and starred Paul Hartman, Fay Wray(of King Kong fame), and a very young Natalie Wood as one of their daughters.  It ran from 1953-54.
"Make Room for Daddy" as it was called during it's first three seasons, was also known as "The Danny Thomas Show."  Since it's listed on WBLN as "The Danny Thomas Show" I include the title shot from the 30-minute,  long running sit-com above.
This series was produced for syndication in 1952 and a few years later showed up on WBLN's schedule.  "Dangerous Assignment" was based on a radio drama  with both starring Brian Donlevy as Steve Mitchell, a secret agent.

WBLN programming ABC, Local and Syndicated, from 1954

The details of the broadcasting of local news are unknown. The half hour dedicated to news, weather and sports aired on Monday and Tuesdays at 10pm and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 9:45pm. The only mention of any personality associated with local news came with an ad in TV Guide which mentioned Fred Muxfeld.

Mr. Muxfeld was the creator of “Problems and Solutions” audience call in talk show on local radio station WJBC. The show was developed, ironically, to combat the promised local programming on the new Bloomington TV station. It was just a year or two later, that Muxfeld's name was included in TV Guide ads for WBLN as the newscaster. Muxfeld's hiring may have come with the ownership change of the TV station to a new owner, who seemed to have at least some interest in broadcasting local TV news. His tenure at WBLN came to an end by February of 1957. Another name from the WJBC management roster comes up in December of 1957 during the second “life” of WBLN. More on that later. (continued below)

WBLN News 1956

WBLN Children's Hour
WBLN Broadcast Schedule from September 11-17, 1954
Less than one year after WBLN went on the air, the programming schedule included several ABC shows,
Saturday, Sept 11, 1954

5:30pm-Preview Matinee(90 minutes long-probably a movie)
7:00pm Watch and Win(unknown); 7:30pm-Greatest Sports Thrills (ABC-sports coverage of an assortment of events)
8:00pm-Saturday Night Fights (ABC-live from Cincinnati Music Hall)
8:45pm-Fight Talk (ABC-post boxing match)
9:00pm The Big Picture(ABC and syndicated film provided by the US Army)
9:30pm Miss America Pageant(ABC-sponsored by Philco, Selection of the 1955 Miss America, the first national telecast of the event)

Sunday, Sept 12, 1954

6:00pm-You Asked for It (ABC-hosted by Art Baker would include live stunts as requested by the TV audience); 6:30pm-The Christophers (syndicated- religious program with the Rev. James Keller)
7:00pm-Melody Manor (may have been ABC's “Melody Tour” a musical variety show which ran July-Sept of 1954)
7:30pm-Faith for Today(syndicated religious drama-Seventh Day Adventist Church)
8:00pm-Hour of Worship(unknown) 8:30pm-This is the Life(religious drama anthology-Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod)
9:00pm-Break the Bank(ABC-game show);
9:30pm-News, Weather, Sports(local origination)
10pm-Starlight Theater(syndicated-CBS off network drama anthology series from 1950-51)

Monday, Sept 13, 1954

8:00am-Don McNeil's Breakfast Club
(ABC-live from Chicago)

5:30pm-Preview Theater(local movie presentation)
7pm-Ships Reporter(unknown); 7:30pm-Video Varieties(unknown); 8:00pm-Sky King(ABC-adventure- drama);
8:30pm-Boxing (ABC-preliminary bouts)
9:00pm-Boxing (ABC-from Eastern Parkway Arena)
10:15pm-Starlight Theater(syndicated-CBS off network drama anthology series from 1950-51)

Tuesday, Sept 14, 1954

8:00am-Don McNeil's Breakfast Club (ABC-live from Chicago)

5:30pm-Preview Theater(local movie presentation)
7:00pm-Watch and Win(unknown) 7:30pm-Video Varieties(unknown) 8:00pm-Danny Thomas Show (ABC-sit com)
8:30pm-Files of Jeffrey Jones (syndicated-crime drama produced in 1954 with Don Haggerty) 9:00pm-Captured(syndicated title for “Gangbusters”-crime drama); 9:30pm-Stop the Music (ABC-game show)

10:15pm-Starlight Theater(syndicated-CBS off network drama anthology series from 1950-51)

Wednesday, Sept 15, 1954

8:00am-Don McNeil's Breakfast Club (ABC-live from Chicago)

5:30pm-Preview Theater(local movie presentation)
7:00pm-Watch and Win(unknown); 7:30pm-Video Varieties(unknown); 8:00pm-Mystery Theater(syndicated-unknown); 8:30pm-Wrestling(syndicated on film); 9:45pm-News, Weather, Sports
10pm by Starlight Theater(syndicated-CBS off network drama anthology series from 1950-51)

Thursday, Sept 16, 1954

8:00am-Don McNeil's Breakfast Club (ABC-live from Chicago)

5:30pm-Preview Theater(local movie presentation)
7:00pm-Watch and Win(unknown) 7:30pm-McLean County Home Bureau(local production, possibly public affairs programming) 8:00pm-Illinois Government(unknown); 8:30pm-Dangerous Assignment(syndicated adventure drama, starred Brian Donlevy produced in 1952)
9:00pm-Facts Forum(unknown); 9:30pm-News, Weather, Sports
10pm by Starlight Theater(syndicated-CBS off network drama anthology series from 1950-51)

Friday, Sept 17, 1954

8:00am-Don McNeil's Breakfast Club (ABC-live from Chicago)

5:30pm-Preview Theater(local movie presentation)
7pm-Watch and Win(unknown) 7:30pm-Video Varieties(unknown) 8:00pm-Pride of the Family (ABC-sitcom)
8:30pm-Soldier Parade (ABC-Army talent show hosted by Gisele MacKenzie, Arlene Francis and Martha Wright with Richard Hayes, formerly known as “Talent Patrol” variety show)
9:00pm-Answers for Americans (ABC-public affairs panel show moderated by Deven Garrity.)

*Network Programming from ABC in bold lettering
(Source/description of program in parentheses)
Syn(syndicated non-network program)

**Video Varieties

Supplemental Information on "Video Varieties" which aired on WBLN.  Contributor Jack Keefe, remembers it as "a primitive precursor to MTV.....  The host sat at a desk and introduced film clips of various song and dance performances.  Where they got this stuff, I have no idea, but I'd guess it's another gimmick they thought they could sell." 

"I don't think Bob Benecke was on staff at the time....more likely a free lancer.  Bob was sort of a child prodigy in the broadcast community and didn't graduate from Bloomington High until 1957 or '58.  By then he was pulling a board shift at WJBC ("Bloomington Ballroom," 7-midnight).  He went from WJBC to WLW to WWDC."

The Facility

Jack described the WBLN studios as a "blue cinder block building with a flat roof.  Inside the visitor would walk into a lobby and see office doors along the south (side) of the building.   I remember one of them said 'Directors.'  The studio was (a) lower level but probably with a walk out for those garage doors to let advertisers bring cars in.  There were two studio cameras with one(maybe both) having an ordinary wall clock mounted below the lens."

He also described his experience on a kiddie show, "Uncle Ralphie and Randy Riggins."  He says, "Ralphie was a ventriloquist and Randy was he dummy.  Tis was in the days when Paul Winchell/Jerry Mahoney and Edgar Bergan/Charlie McCarthy were popular as ventriloquist/dummy acts."

The "show aired at 7pm....would have been 1954-55 or so.  I think it followed....'Video Varieties.'"

thanks to Jack Keefe for his recollections of this previously unknown program, and his description of WBLN's studios.

The appearance of Fred Muxfeld on WBLN also came at about the same time of the sale of an least a 50-percent interest in the WJBC from the Daily Pantagraph to another local group. At that point, Muxfeld left the station and appears to have taken the newscaster job at WBLN. Since the operation was very small, along with being the newscaster, he was probably the news gatherer as well. His broadcast was sponsored by “Telephone Answering Service.”

WBLN had a featured children's show as many other early TV stations did. On Channel 15 it was called “The Children's Hour” even though it aired during the half hour from 4:30 to 5pm on weekdays beginning in 1955 or 1956 after the broadcast day was extended. It was hosted by “Esther” and was sponsored by Prairie Farms Creamery(Dairy).

During the Fall of 1954 season ABC would air a number of programs which were not aired on WBLN. It was probably because of the advertising agency which owned the rights to these programs didn't purchase the time slot on Channel 15. Those programs included: Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, Flight #7, Big Picture, Walter Winchell, Martha Wright Show, Dr. I.Q., Kukla Fran and Ollie, Name's the Same, Come Closer, Voice of Firestone, Junior Press Conference, Cavalcade of America, Twenty Questions, U.S. Steel Hour, Stop the Music, Disneyland, Stu Erwin Show, Masquerade Party, Enterprise, Lone Ranger, Mail Story, Treasury Men in Action, So You Want to Lead a Band, Kraft Television Theater, Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, Adventrues of Ozzie and Harriet, Ray Bolger Show, Dollar A Second, The Vise, Compass, Dotty Mack Show, Stork Club. As you can see, WBLN was only airing a small portion of the programs offered by ABC.

WBLN Programming in August of 1956..more from ABC

It appeared that by August of 1956, WBLN had given up on the broadcast of local news at 10pm, having only the 6pm 15 minute local newscast before the ABC national and world news broadcast.

Schedule of Programming on WBLN, Channel 15 for the week of Aug 25-31, 1958
SATURDAY(Aug 25, 1956)

3:15 pm Man to Man(religious-unknown)
3:30 pm Big Picture(ABC-Army film) 4:00pm-5:30pm(unknown programming-could have been a test pattern)
5:30 pm Film Short(unknown)
6:00 pm Theater(unknown)
7:00 pm Ozark Jubilee (ABC-country music variety)
8:00 pm Lawrence Welk (ABC-music variety)
9:00 pm Masquerade Party (ABC-game show)
9:30 pm Wrestling(syndicated-film wrestling matches from Chicago).

SUNDAY(Aug 26, 1956)

2:30 pm  Film Short(unknown);
2:45 pm  Christian Science(syndicated religious)
3:00 pm  Campaign Roundup (ABC-politics)
4:00 pm  College Press Conference (ABC-appeared to be from network)
5:00 pm Going Places (ABC-variety hosted by Merv Griffin)
5:30 pm  Reporters Roundup(unknown);
6:00 pm  This is the Life(syndicated-
religious anthology)
6:30 pm  You Asked for It(ABC-stunts, audience participation)
7:00 pm  Famous Film Festival (ABC-movie introduced by Donald Woods)
8:00 pm  Amateur Hour (ABC-talent show)
9:00 pm   Focus(syndicated drama-unknown)
9:30 pm   Mystery Theater(unknown)
10:00 pm The Way(syndicated-religious drama-Methodist Church)

MONDAY(Aug 27, 1956)

2:00 pm  Afternoon Film Festival (ABC-movie)
4:00 pm  Film Short
4:30 pm  Children's Hour(local children's program hosted by “Esther”)
5:00 pm  Mickey Mouse Club (ABC-children's Disney Show);
6:00 pm News, Weather, Sports
6:15 pm News with John Daley (ABC-news)
6:30 pm Bold Journey (ABC-adventure)
7:00 pm Dotty Mack (ABC-variety music)
7:30 pm Voice of Firestone (ABC-classical music variety)
8:00 pm Film Fair (ABC-English movie presentation)
9:30pm  LeRoy Festival(local- talent show with participants of LeRoy, Illinois)
10:00 pm Lucky Bucks Show(unknown)
TUESDAY(Aug 28, 1956)

2:00pm-Afternoon Film Festival (ABC-movie)
4:00 pm Film Short
4:30 pm Children's Hour(local children's program hosted by “Esther”)
5:00 pm Mickey Mouse Club (ABC-children's Disney Show)
6:00 pm News, Weather, Sports
6:15 pm News with John Daley (ABC-news)
6:30 pm Warner Brothers Presents (ABC-western series subtitled “Cheyenne)
7:30 pm Wyatt Earp (ABC-western)
8:00 pm G.E. Summer Originals (ABC-anthology adventure series)
8:30 pm Cavalcade Theater(unknown)
9:00 pm Times Square
9:30 pm Playhouse(unknown);
10:00 pm Pendulum(unknown)
10:30 pm Film Feature(local movie presentation)
WEDNESDAY(Aug 29, 1956)
2:00 pm Afternoon Film Festival (ABC-movie)
4:00 pm   Film Short
4:30 pm   Children's Hour(local children's program hosted by “Esther”)
5:00 pm  Mickey Mouse Club (ABC-children's Disney Show)
6:00 pm-News, Weather, Sports
6:15 pm News with John Daley (ABC-news)
6:30 pm Disneyland (ABC-Disney adventure/comedy anthology)
7:30 pm Dunniger (ABC-mentalist audience participation)
8:00 pm Directors Playhouse (syndicated anthology drama)
8:30 pm Eddy Arnold Time (syndicated country-western music variety filmed in Springfield, Missouri)
9:00 pm Boxing from Chicago (ABC-boxing)
10:00 pm Movie(local presentation of “The Great Plane Robbery”)
THURSDAY(Aug 30, 1956)

2:00pm-Afternoon Film Festival
4:00 pm   Film Short
4:30 pm   Children's Hour(local children's program hosted by “Esther”)
5:00 pm   Mickey Mouse Club (ABC-children's Disney Show)
6:00 pm   News, Weather, Sports
6:15 pm  News with John Daley (ABC-news)
6:30 pm   Lone Ranger (ABC-western)
7:00 pm   Hour Glass Theater(unknown)
8:00 pm   Star Tonight (ABC-dramatic anthology series)
8:30 pm    Hillbilly Jamboree(local country-western music program broadcast live from WBLN hosted by “Uncle Johnny Barton”)
9:30 pm    TV Theater(syndicated drama)
10:00 pm   Youth for Christ (unknown -religion)
10:15 pm   Film Short(unknown)
FRIDAY(Aug 31, 1956)

2:00 pm  Afternoon Film Festival
4:00 pm   Film Short
4:30 pm   Children's Hour(local children's program hosted by “Esther”)
5:00 pm   Mickey Mouse Club (ABC-children's Disney Show);
6:00 pm   News, Weather, Sports
6:15 pm  News with John Daley (ABC-news)
6:30 pm  Rin Tin Tin (ABC-western adventure)
7:00 pm Combat Sergeant (ABC-war adventure)
7:30 pm Crossroads (ABC-drama)
8:00 pm Dollar a Second (ABC-game show)
8:30 pm Vise (ABC-crime drama)
9:00 pm Ethel and Albert (ABC-sitcom)
9:30 pm First Nazarene Church(unknown-local religion)
10:00 pm Movie(local presentation of “Captain's Paradise” British film from 1953)

*Network Programming from ABC in bold lettering

(Source/description of program in parantheses)
Syn(sndicated non-network program)
local in studio productions in italics

Other ABC shows that aired on the network which were NOT included in the WBLN schedule are as follows: Omnibus, Lawrence Welk Talent Show, Broken Arrow, DuPont Theater, It's Polka Time, Navy Log, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Ford Theater, Wednesday Night Fights, Circus Time, Wire Service, Adventures of Jim Bowie and The Ray Anthony Show. By August of 1956, WBLN was airing around 60-percent of the ABC offerings during prime time.

"Ozark Jubilee" aired on ABC from 1955 to 1961.  It was hosted by Red Foley and originated in Springfield, Missouri.
"The Lawrence Welk Show" was a Saturday night tradition to many of the older set during the 1950s' and 60's.  Welk and his cast of singers and musicians would present a number of songs related to a theme each week.
Here's one of the few shows which made an appearance on all three major networks during its run.  "Masquerade Party" was hosted by Peter Donald during its run on WBLN and ABC.
Here's another of those shows hwich had alife on all trhee networks.  During 1955-1957, it was on ABC and WBLN.  "Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour"  was an early version of "Star Search."
"Crossroads"  was another of the 30-minute religous themed anthology dramas of the 1950s.  It was a part of the ABC schedule from 1955-57.
"The Mickey Mouse Club" was the second series coming from Disney after "Disneyland" (.below).  This children's favorite ran on ABC weekdays from 1955-59.
"Bold Journey" was a documentary adventure series hosted by John Stephenson when it aired on ABC and WBLN.
"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" aired on ABC from 1955 to 1961, but only during the short run of WBLN from 1955 to 1957.  Hugh O'Brien starred as the famous western lawman.
"The G.E. Summer Originals" ran during the summer of 1956 on ABC and was a half hour filmed anthology series.
"Warner Brothers Presents" was the umbrella title to a trio of WB TV productions which aired in 1955-56.  "King's Row" "Casablanca" and "Cheyenne" were rotated each week.  They were based on older Warner Brothers movies to which they held the rights.
"Disneyland" was the first of the ABC shows to reach the top 20 in the TV ratings.  It ran on ABC from 1954 to 1961.  On WBLN it had a short run having aired from October of 1954 until WBLN went off the air in February of 1957.
This ABC long running western series was seen on WBLN during its life as an ABC affiliate.  "The Lone Ranger" starred, by the mid 1950's, Clayton Moore as Tonto's keemo-sabbi.
"Mystery Theater" was one of several anthology dramatic film presentation in syndication.  It was probably known more by its original name "Mark Slade." Other than that, little is known about this series.
"Dollar A Second" originally was broadcast on DuMont in 1953, but by 1954-55 it was on ABC and hosted by Jan Murray.
"Cheyenne" was the only one of the original trio series under the heading of "Warner Brothers Presents" (above) to be renewed during the 1956-57 season.  Clint Walker starred as the soft talking Cheyenne Brody.
TV's best known German Shepard "Rin-Tin-Tin" was the star of this ABC 30 minute adventure western series.  Along with dog, Lee Aaker starred as Rusty his owner at the 101st Cavalry at a western outpost.
"Stop the Music" was on ABC radio, then TV in 1949 where it was part of the ABC prime time schedule through 1956.  Bert Parks was the game show host.
"The Voice of Firestone" was broadcast on NBC from 1949-54, then on ABC from 1954-1963.  It was a half hour musical variety show, which concentrated on classical music for the most part.
"The Vise" was a 30-minute dramatic anthology series which was imported from England.  It was also called "Mark Saber" during it's run on ABC as well.

WBLN as a Bloomington Business

The business of WBLN during the early years of its existence is unknown, but it was probably very difficult. The biggest problem was the lack of households which could even watch the station. Bloomington was also the home of one of the leading AM radio stations in the country with WJBC and the community was the home of a strong daily newspaper the Daily Pantagraph. Both the radio station and the daily newspaper could claim many more listeners and readers than the local TV station could claim viewers to prospective advertisers.

WBLN's Lost History...and it's fate

I also observed in researching the history of WBLN, the lack of information from the Bloomington Pantagraph compared with the amount of coverage, advertising and other publicity of the other stations as they went on the air in 1953. There were only a few photos published of the new stations equipment and staff. All that I have found are included on this site. As mentioned earlier, I could not find a listing of all of the stations employees, something that was always featured in the news stories of the other stations in central Illinois along with pictures. It also appeared that WBLN did not capitalize on the advertising possibilities with area TV dealers as only a few were included in the pages of the newspaper. Other newspapers in Springfield, Decatur, Champaign, Urbana and Danville all took advantage of the opportunity to sell ad space to the TV dealers and repair shops to celebrate the arrival of local TV service in their respective cities.

The lack of outside promotion whether it was ad space in the newspaper or time on the local radio station(which would be impossible to prove or disprove) was another public relations mistake made by Cecil W. Roberts and his management.

Add to that the number of stations which were coming on the air at the time and competition was increasing as well. Signals from WEEK-TV, Channel 43 in Peoria which broadcast many NBC programs, and the overwhelmingly strong signal of WCIA, Channel 3 and network programming from CBS were the two main sources of competition for WBLN. As an added hurdle, remember that the overall programming quality of CBS and even NBC was putting lowly ABC in the ratings basement....dragging the viewership of WBLN into the basement as well.

The possible small staff of WBLN limited the stations ability to produce local programming which could have generated some local interest. Compare the small staff of 9 WBLN employees with the enormous staff of 47 employees at WTVP* in Decatur and over 20 employees at each WICS and WCIA facilities. It appeared that WBLN was a low budget, shoestring operation which had a total disregard of outside promotion and advertising. Local programming surely had a low production value compared to much higher quality local broadcasts on Peoria's WEEK and Champaign's WCIA.

*a situation that would change within the first 6 months of WTVP's time on the air. See History of WAND.

Ownership Changes

According to records, on July 13th, 1955 ownership of WBLN was transferred from Cecil W. Roberts to Worth S. Rough's WBLN Inc.. The price paid for the property is unknown, but the low or non-existent profitability certainly contributed to the sale of the facility. It was during this time in the mid to late 1950's many stations were running out of operating capitol. Many UHF stations all over the country were going out of business, especially ones in which the direct competitor would have been a VHF station with a major affiliation contract with either CBS or NBC.

Under the ownership of Worth Rough WBLN would live least for while, before stumbling in February of 1957.

WBLN Blacks Out

On Tuesday, February 5th, 1957, WBLN went off the air. By the following Thursday, it was reported in the Pantagraph that a “bad tube” was the cause.  The newspaper account reported that Worth Rough, WBLN station manager said that mechanical difficulties had forced the station to go off the air at 6:15pm. Even then, WBLN was operating under partial power before the tube finally shut the transmitter down.

Failure of the man power tube, was the cause according to Rough. He said the tube which was guaranteed for 1,000 hours of operation had by then been used over 4,000 hours and a spare was not stocked by the station for backup. He also said a replacement tube had been ordered from G.E. In Syracuse, New York and was expected to arrive sometime Thursday.

He also stated that the downtime would be used to “overhaul” the station equipment, and viewers may see a test pattern broadcast from time to time during the period.  This was obviously a stall and most certainly an embarrassing situation for the recent new owner of the station. By the following Friday, February 8th, the Pantagraph published the stations first obituary, with the headline which read “WBLN's Blackout Will Be Extended.”

The story began with the statement that the station “was reported out of business at least temporarily.” Rough had no comment on the report that the station would remain off the air permanently. He did say that a “lack of operating capital would prevent immediate resumption of operations.”

The cost of the main power tube, around $3,000, for the G.E. Transmitter was beyond the ability of the station to replace it. There was simply no money to do so, as the station continued to struggle in its day to day efforts to stay afloat.

A few days later, the newspaper account would say that “financial problems have forced Bloomington's channel 15 television station off the air for 'an indefinite length of time.” The announcement was made by Worth S. Rough, president and general manager of WBLN Television, Inc..

He wrote a report to the FCC in Washington explaining that WBLN would be off the air indefinitely or until the company’s financial health improved.

It appears he sought a loan to purchase a new power tube, as well as more operating capitol to bring the station back to life, as well as keep it running for while and until advertising time sales were better. In fact from the time he took control of the facilities he was seeking additional capital to the sum of around $20,000. Even though during his ownership he said, he had been able to reduce by half the debt he took on with this purchase from Cecil Robert's company.

He also described the problems saying that advertisers were slow to respond to the station, but advertising interest had “picked up considerably in recent months.” He went on to say his sales staff operated differently from other stations because he “did not instruct salesmen to put the heat on potential advertisers. We depended on solid, sound business practices and those practices were beginning to show results in recent months.”

From that point Worth Rough intended to keep the stations franchise(license), but his future plans were not stated. The writing, though, was on the wall because much of the stations equipment may have been put in storage at an unknown location. The building of James Hastings Jr. would stand vacant for a few months.

WBLN February 57 Goes off the Air

WBLN Blackout Goes On

WBLN No Capitol

The Bloomington Daily Pantagraph accounts of the demise of WBLN in February of 1957.
(clippings from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)'s back!

By December 1st, 1957 WBLN would be back as Bloomington's local television station. Once again, 10 months later Worth Rough, WBLN's station manager would be making announcements about a new sign-on for Channel 15. The mailing address of WBLN in 1958 was P.O. Box 646, Bloomington, Illinois.

The kick off broadcast took place from 5 to 5:30 on Sunday, December 1st and would include a number of Bloomington's dignitaries. Those appearing during the local broadcast would be Mayor Robert McGraw of Bloomington, City Manager Eugene Moody and City Attorney Frank Deneen and Ed Dirks, Executive Secretary of the Association of Commerce. Regular programming would begin at 5:30pm.

Pantagraph accounts would, this time, include the names of station staff members. They were sales manager Willard Nichols, news and program director Warner Tidemann, sports director Don McKellar, chief engineer Buri Dixon, staff announcer Jim Evans, traffic manager Mrs. Worth Rough and copy writer Mrs. Warner Tidemann.

Warner Tidemann was at least the second person to go to WBLN from WJBC radio. Tidemann was the former WJBC station manager from 1946 to 1956, when he was replaced at the radio station during an ownership change. By December of 1957 he was at WBLN, with his wife as copy writer.

The actual “second” sign-on of WBLN came about only after the FCC approved a debt payment plan and the station passed an equipment performance test to broadcast standards. By December 1st, approval was granted.

WBLN is Back on the Air Dec 1957

The Business of WBLN

Not a lot of information is known about the advertising sales efforts of WBLN, other than the fact the sales manager was Willard Nichols. How many salesmen(it was a man's world back then) were on staff is unknown.

One of the items I found was a published rate for WBLN in a 1958 directory of local TV station rates. The national advertising representative company for WBLN was McGillvra. The publication also gave a household number at 113, 242 with a top rate of $200.

To put that in comparison, WCIA had a household number at 335, 900 with a top rate of $700.

The Joseph Hershey McGillvra Company also represented a number of Chicago area radio stations nationally including stations in Hammond(IN), Joliet, Elgin and Waukegan.

The rates asked of local advertisers is unknown.

WBLN Back on the Air, December 1st 1957.

Examining a television camera are three leading figures of Television Station WBLN-TV, which returns to regular telecasting today.  Left to right, they are Warner Tidemann, news and program director, Worth Rough, manager and Don McKellar, sports director. 
(photo and caption from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

WBLN would be an independent

It appears that ABC had canceled the affiliation agreement with WBLN when it left the air those months before and either had no intention of renewing a new contract or the Rough decided to “go it alone” with no network. By this time time it was known WTVH in Peoria would lose it's claim to CBS programming when WMBD-TV would go on the air in January of 1958. 

It's possible that WTVH was holding on to its only chance for any financial success with an exclusive arrangement with ABC which included those few viewers in Bloomington-Normal that received the low powered station.

It was also during this time that WTVH was going through its own trauma with reductions of staff which virtually wiped out its local news programming.

With WBLN not having any network service there were some costs which were saved from AT & T, but programming costs would increase with the necessary purchase of programming material. In December of 1957 a package of motion pictures was purchased from National Telfilm Associates called the “Champagne Package.” This package of top notch movies included “High Noon,” “Spellbound” and “The Bells of St. Mary's.” That same package of movies for broadcast was also purchased by WGN-TV(Chicago) and KMOX-TV(St. Louis). It's unknown how many movies were in the package, but during its non-ABC months of operation WBLN would air at least two movies most evenings, an 8pm 90 minute feature and a 10:30pm feature.

WBLN Back on the Air with Local News
WBLN December 1957
WBLN and Brave Eagle Feb 58

WBLN Broadcast Schedule from February 15, 1958
Saturday, Feb 14, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)

6:30pm-Brave Eagle(syn-western, film)
7:00pm-Movie(local origination, TBA)
9:30pm-This is the Life(syn-religious-film)
10:30pm-Movie-"No Minor Vices"

Sunday, Feb 15, 1958

5:30pm-Amos 'n Andy(syn-CBS off network sitcom)
6:00pm-Church in the Home(unknown origin-religion)
6:30pm-The Way(unknown origin-religion)
7:00pm-Sherlock Holmes(syn-film)
7:30pm-Our Miss Brooks(syn-CBS off network sitcom)
8:00pm-Movie(local origination, TBA)
9:30pm-San Francisco Beat(syn-film)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination, TBA)

Monday, Feb 16, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)
6:30pm-Confidential File(syn-unknown)
7:00pm-Janet Dean(syn-medical drama-film)
7:30pm-Thinking About Life(local origination-religion-see description elsewhere on this page)
8:00pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)
9:30pm-Sports Roundtable(local origination-sports-see description elsewhere on this page)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)

Tuesday, Feb 17, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)
6:30pm-Liberace(syn-film musical variety-film)
7:00pm-Sherlock Homes(syn-film)
7:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)
9:30pm-Life With Father(syn-film sit com)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)

Wednesday, Feb 18, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)
6:30pm-Industry on Parade(syn-documentary-film)
7:00pm-Amos 'n Andy(syn-CBS off network sitcom)
7:30pm-Life with Elizabeth(syn-film sitcom)
8:00pm-Hillbilly Jamboree(local origination-country/western musical variety-see description on this page)
9:00pm-Eddie Drake(syn-crime drama-film)
9:30pm-Confidential File(syn-crime drama-film)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)

Thursday, Feb 19, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)
6:30pm-Mama(syn-CBS off network-comedy/drama-film)
7:00pm-Whistler(syn-suspense anthology-film)
7:30pm-Honeymooners(syn-CBS off network sitcom-film)
8:00pm-Movie(local origination-film)
9:30pm-Jeffrey Jones(syn-crime drama-film)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)

Friday, Feb 20, 1958

5:30pm-Gene Autry(syn-film)
6:30pm-Hope of the World(unknown origination-religion)
7:00pm-Movie"Roaring Guns" Tim McCoy(local origination-western movie)
8:00pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)
9:30pm-I Spy(syn-adventure-film)
10:30pm-Movie(local origination-TBA)

(Source/description of program in parentheses)
local studio productions in italics
Syn(syndicated non-network program)
TBA-to be announced  WBLN obviously had no prior knowledge of what movie it was going to air by TV Guide publishing deadlines

See Hear News WBLN

Bloomington's Local TV News

During the first go around of WBLN, there didn't seem to be any real emphasis on the broadcast of local news. Now with the second go around, WBLN returned to the air with two newscasts per day seven days a week, anchored mostly by Warner Tidemann with sports director Don McKellar. A United Press teletype machine and Unifax machine will supply the news from around the nation and the world. A weather caster was not included in the anchor positions at the station, presumably, weather forecasts were simply read by the Mr. Tidemann.

At that time, most local news, especially world and national, would consist primarily of the anchor reading wire copy, with an occasional picture, similar to what would be used by newspapers. The Unifax was an early “fax” machine which would recreate news photos that would be copied to paper and mounted on TV boards which would be placed in front of the studio's second camera and inserted at appropriate places during the reading of the script.

During the second "life" of WBLN, local news

seemed to play a major part of it's programming...especially
since regular programming was so poor.  Along with a program
collection which included religion, country-western music and
sports, local news was added to the list.
(ad from TV Guide)

Other Local Programming

Three sources of local programming would come from the subjects of religion, country music and sports. WBLN planned to air a weekly discussion of Holy Scripture called “Thinking About Life” by an in-studio panel on Monday from 7:30 to 8pm hosted by Amos Barton, “Hope of the World” a live broadcast of scriptures and gospel music with Paster Allen R. Blegen and an unknown male quartet with aired Fridays at 6:30-7pm.

Country music and local sports were represented with The “Hillbilly Jamboree” hosted by local radio personality(WHOW, Clinton, IL) “Uncle Johnny Barton” which aired on Wednesday from 8 to 9pm and “Sports Round Table” was a weekly sports talk show with local coaches hosted by sports director Don McKellar on Monday nights at 9:30.

In 1958 listings from TV Guide, there were at least two more locally produced shows listed with those above. “Randy Bramble” was listed as a music program airing late Sunday night at 10:20pm, and “Church in the Home” aired on Sundays at 6pm.

WBLN Religious Broadcasting
Hillbilly Jamboree-Uncle Johnny Barton

(Above)"Thinking About Life" a panel discussion with local
religious leaders hosted by Amos Barton.  Right before the end of the
second "life" of WBLN, the station was purchased by
Mr. Barton, who was an area contractor...and
also dabbled in religion and eventually broadcasting as well.
(ad from TV Guide)

(Below) "Hope of the World" another live religious program
from WBLN this time hosted by Pastor Allen R. Blegen
(ad from Bloomington Pantagraph)

It's unclear if Amos Barton was related to
local WHOW-Clinton, Illinois radio personality "Uncle" Johnny
Barton, but it's possible.  Barton hosted a local
country-western music show from WBLN studios
in 1957.  He would later come back to TV at
Decatur's WTVP with his country-music show
called "Cornbelt Country Style."
(ad from TV Guide)

(Below) Another ad for "Hillbilly Jamboree"
appearing in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph
Shows sponsors: Clay Dooley(?), Marben's(?) and
 the Bloomington Livestock Pavilion.

WBLN Religion
WBLN Hillybilly Jamboree

Other Local Programming

Three sources of local programming would come from the subjects of religion, country music and sports. WBLN planned to air a weekly discussion of Holy Scripture called “Thinking About Life” by an in-studio panel on Monday from 7:30 to 8pm hosted by Amos Barton, “Hope of the World” a live broadcast of scriptures and gospel music with Paster Allen R. Blegen and an unknown male quartet with aired Fridays at 6:30-7pm.

Country music and local sports were represented with The “Hillbilly Jamboree” hosted by local radio personality(WHOW, Clinton, IL) “Uncle Johnny Barton” which aired on Wednesday from 8 to 9pm and “Sports Round Table” was a weekly sports talk show with local coaches hosted by sports director Don McKellar on Monday nights at 9:30.

In 1958 listings from TV Guide, there were at least two more locally produced shows listed with those above. “Randy Bramble” was listed as a music program airing late Sunday night at 10:20pm, and “Church in the Home” aired on Sundays at 6pm.

WBLN The Honeymooners
WBLN Jeffrey Jones
WBLN Life with Father
WBLN San Francisco Beat WBLN San Francisco Beat

Advertising placed in the local edition of TV Guide
for syndicated programs airing on WBLN in 1957.

"Amos 'n Andy" aired on CBS from 1951-53.  Another series which had its roots on radio.  It was one of radios longest running sitcoms.  It aired in syndication for a number of years on local TV stations, like WBLN before being removed after being objected to for being racially objectionable.
Ronald Howard starred as "Sherlock Holmes" in these 30-minute filmed episodes produced in 1954.  The show ran in syndication to local TV stations during the 1950's.
During the years of 1953-55, "Liberace" ran in syndication after being on NBC in 1952.  The flamboyant pianist would play his piano and introduce a number of melodies, along with his brother George.
"Mama" was one of televisions first and most popular sitcoms.  It ran on CBS from 1949-1957.  The off network episodes were syndicated to local stations like WBLN.
"The Honeymooners" was another off network CBS sitcom which ran in syndication for decades(WPIX-New York), but it's life was cut short on WBLN by the failure of a final transmitter tube in June of 1958.  The Jackie Gleason classic ran for one season on CBS, but has been a part of TV landscape for over 50 years!
"Life with Elizabeth" was Betty White's first starring sitcom produced in 1953-55 for syndication.  The sitcom also
starred Del Moore(who would later appear in several of the Jerry Lewis movie comedies of the 1960's).  Betty
White got her start on Los Angeles KLAC-TV where the show ran exclusively during the first season.  It was later syndicated
once enough episodes were produced to allow for the "bicycling" of 16mm prints to be distributed.
Don Fedderson, by the way on the production credits, was also responsible for "My Three Sons" for ABC and CBS
during that shows run.

Supplemental Information
   In November of 2016, I received an e-mail from "Ann Hill" who said she hosted a program on WBLN during the stations last days in 1958.  She also said she had a copy of an "ad for my program (that) would have been in the Daily Pantagraph probably a week before." 

She went on to describe the show "We titled the show 'Talk of the Town.' Mr. Rough decided to use only my name as "Ann Hill." My first interview was with a local doctor, Dr. McNeely, who was in charge of a contest of Quarter Horses to be held in Bloomington. He was upset because they had to spray the trophy which he brought because it was too shiny. We were told not to wear white because it didn't project well on TV." 

Unfortunately, her show was short lived as, she went on to say,  "Shortly thereafter, the tube blew and that was the end of my television career."  She also said her father actually bought some of the WBLN stock after she was hired.  Ann was a mother of three children at the time.  She was a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University with a BFA in Theater.  She celebrated her 86th birthday in October of 2016.

Thanks Ann for the information about your experience with WBLN!

-Doug Quick

(ad from the Bloomington Pantagraph and the Ann Hill Collection)

Broken Promises

The June 14th edition of TV Guide (see above) included a local news release from WBLN which announced a boys baseball league formed by the local American Legion post and sponsored by local businesses would play games from a baseball diamond constructed next to the Channel 15 studios. Each game played from the field would be televised from 4 to 5:30pm with the play-by-play furnished by sports director, Don McKellar. The broadcasts were to begin on June 16th, 1958.

A TV Guide advertisement during the week of the final broadcast also teased an upcoming high budget syndicated series called “The Grey Ghost” an adventure series based during the Civil War. “The Grey Ghost” was syndicated from October 57 to July 1958 and consisted of 39 half-hour episodes. WBLN was to broadcast the series beginning sometime during the Summer of 1958.

Unfortunately, circumstances would prevent those broadcasts from happening.

One of the last local programming decisions of WBLN
was an attempt to broadcast American Legion Baseball
from the lot, just outside the studios.  A baseball diamond
was being set up....for nothing.  WBLN signed off
for the last time before the first broadcast.
(ad and news item from TV Guide)

"The Grey Ghost" was a large budget syndicated
series based in the Civil War era.  The one season
series ran on many stations before it was scheduled
to air on WBLN.  Unfortunately, it was not to air, as
WBLN went dark before the premiere.
(ad from TV Guide)

WBLN's last day of broadcasting

A TV Guide page showing programming in central Illinois on the final day
of broadcasting of WBLN.  The final tube in the transmitter failed sometime
during the 6pm hour, perhaps during the local news or during
the following "Film Feature."
(TV Guide)

On Again....Off for the last time.

On Thursday, June 5th, 1958 WBLN once again, as it did in early 1957, went off the air. A “station official” said the interruption was caused by transmission tube failure.

Would the Real Owner Please Stand Up

Interesting enough, Worth Rough was reported to be president of “a” corporation operating WBLN, but he also said he is no longer directing the operation of the station, except in a technical capacity.

Rough admitted he had taken a job with another company, but remained technically in the WBLN position pending FCC approval of a “stock transfer.” The new principal stock holder of Channel 15 was reported to be Amos Barton, a Towanda, Illinois construction firm owner. Mr. Barton had already been acting station manager for several weeks before the tube failure and going off the air. He was also on staff as the moderator of “Thinking About Life” the religious local production which included a panel consisting of local religious leaders.

It's also unknown whether Amos Barton was related to WBLN personality “Uncle Johnny” Barton who hosted “Hillbilly Jamboree” on the station as well as held a position as a disc jockey at Country-Western station WHOW Radio in nearby Clinton, Illinois.

By June 5th, WBLN would be off the air....and this time for good.
(from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

Ken Way of Bloomington took these series of pictures of the then deserted WBLN studios.  These appeared to be taken after the station had gone dark because of the klystron tube failing in the G.E. transmitter (shown in the background-above right).  From the looks of the exterior of the studios, the length of the grass and the condition of the gravel driveway, it appeared to be idle for quite some time.  The station went dark in June of 1958, and from the looks of the exterior shot it may have been taken in the Fall of 1958. The G.E. film/slide chain is shown in the foreground of the photo (above right).

(From the Ken-Way Studio Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at Illinois State University)

The main studio was at the lower level in the building, as shown in the picture (left).  The stairs at the right of the photo probably led to the control room shown in the picture on the right.  If you look through the window you'll see the ornate trim just above the world map of the news set.  Also, if you look at the world map, the map of Europe and north Asia has detached itself from the background and is folder over.  Another sign that the studio had suffered some neglect.  One missing item is that of a studio camera.  When the station returned to the air, it is known that the station had purchased (or leased) a new studio camera to replace the Dage cameras which were missing as well.  There may be other items also missing.

(From the Ken-Way Studio Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at Illinois State University)

I thank the Milner Library at Illinois State University for allowing me to share these valuable photos from the Ken-Way Studio
Photograph Collection which are now part of the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at ISU. 
These might be the only known photos of the facility.

Financial Settlement in Jeopardy

At the same time WBLN went off the air for the final time, a notice from a bankruptcy judge in Springfield announced that a settlement which was made on October 10th of 1957 between the station and several creditors which would stave off bankruptcy was now in jeopardy.

One claim for payment was made by Motion Pictures for Television, Inc. which supplied syndicated programming for WBLN. An August 20th, 1955 edition of TV Guide included an article on syndicated programming identifying Motion Pictures for Television as being the syndicator of “Janet Dean,” “Duffy's Tavern,” “Flash Gordon” and “Sherlock Holmes.” “Janet Dean,” “Sherlock Homes” were indeed broadcast on WBLN being confirmed in TV listings in TV Guide in 1958.

Several creditors were slated to receive 10-cents on the dollar as part of a settlement. Among the creditors was General Electric Co., which sold the station the Channel 15 1,000 watt transmitter and other broadcast equipment. Even with a 10-cents on the dollar arrangement, GE was to receive $22,500. There were other creditors as well but they are unknown.

When the station went off the air for the final time the ownership of the station asked for a court order which would nullify the payment plan. WBLN it appears had failed to comply with the original settlement and once the station left the air, it would have no way to continue to pay a settlement.

The Federal Court issued an order setting July 1st 1958 as the date for a hearing in a suit that was filed by the Motion Pictures for Television, Inc., as well as a meeting with other creditors of WBLN. It's unknown the outcome of that hearing and that meeting.

It was also released that when the station went on the air for the second time in December of 1957 a successful plea was made to community residents to purchase stock in WBLN to give Channel 15 $15,000 in working capitol. When WBLN left the air in June of 1958, I would assume those community residents lost their investment.

There are also no known pictures or recordings of any of the stations test patterns or of any actual broadcasts of WBLN. I have never received any correspondence from any former personnel or anyone with any knowledge of the station through my website. Without my findings here from research within the pages of the Bloomington Pantagraph and TV Guide, the History of WBLN, Bloomington's Channel 15 would have faded completely from the central Illinois broadcast landscape.

Lessons Learned....obvious now.

If there was a lesson for those TV pioneers at the time, it would be that to be successful, you would have to go on the air running at full speed. There should be no errors, no technical snafus. As a business your company should be full staffed and experienced(as much as possible in those early years). Your facility would have to be technically on the cutting edge of what was to come. If a more powerful transmitter was being marketed by manufacturers, you would have to buy it. If a taller tower was possible, you should build it. As color broadcasting became possible, you must equip for it. You had no choice.

It was those stations in central Illinois which came closest to achieving all of the goals listed above during the early years that have enjoyed successes over the last 55 years! The others are now “dried bones” lying in the prairie of central Illinois. Among those stations which became “dried bones” is WDAN-TV in Danville and unfortunately, WBLN in Bloomington.

(above):  Bloomington's Streids Motel/Restaurant/Service Station pictured from the mid to late 1950s.  It was located on the northwest corner of US150 and Bypass (The Beltline) 66 on Bloomington's southeast side.  It's significant here on this website, because it includes the broadcast tower of WBLN in the back ground!  This could be the only color photograph of the tower of Channel 15.

(photo contribution from Barry Thompson)

What If?

What if WBLN had gone on the air with a full staff, comparable with other successful central Illinois TV stations? What if WBLN had twenty employees instead of nine, with many of those employed to produce and broadcast local news and create a full service TV station? What if WBLN went on the air with enough capitol to keep the station on the air for 2-3 years without making a profit? What if the sales department was dynamic enough to put more local, regional and national advertisers on the air with successful advertising campaigns?

What if ABC network programming would have been used to fill the prime time schedule of WBLN to attract the largest possible TV audience, instead of a schedule filled with syndicated religious programming, local productions of religious panel discussions and low quality local productions of country-western music, game shows and high school ping-pong tournaments(true)? What if WBLN signed on in the morning and continued with programming during the day, instead of waiting to sign-on as late as 5pm? What if packages of more popular syndicated programs were purchased and aired during the non-network times during the day?

What if the transmitter/studio location was placed northwest of Bloomington-Normal instead of southeast, which would put the station more in a direction line of reception with the successful station WEEK in Peoria? What if WBLN increased its power and broadcast from a taller tower by 1956 to put a city grade signal into Peoria? What if WBLN took ABC from WTVH back when WTVH was airing a large number of CBS programs(until channel 8 went on the air-which it never did)?

Many TV stations used religion as a source of program material, but it seems that WBLN had much of its roots planted in religion. The abundance of Christian programming on WBLN was obvious and indicated a very similar programming philosophy of nearby WTVP in Decatur. Did the decision to air religious programming in prime audience times instead of more mass appeal programs actually turn viewers away? There was also an extraordinary amount of public affairs programming airing during prime times as well. That was probably done with the best of intentions, but more than likely drove the audience to more mass appeal network programs on the other network affiliates.

If things were different would WBLN still be around today? If it was, the Peoria-Bloomington market TV landscape could be very different. I would speculate that WTVH would have gone off the air as an independent in 1958-59, leaving WBLN as the ABC affiliate for the Peoria-Bloomington market. History tells of an elimination of virtually all of WTVH's local newscasts in 1957 just before loosing CBS programming to the new WMBD which went on the air on January 1st, 1958. This act would effect the future struggles of WTVH(later WIRL, WRAU, WHOI) for years!

WBLN, if it was to be successful, by 1957 would have had to get authority to increase broadcast power and possibly relocate its transmitter/tower although it still may have required a translator station in Peoria by the early 1960's, as many other stations were building them to extend their range.* As multi-million watt transmitters were being built in the mid to late 1960's and into the 70's, the need for a translator in Peoria could have been eliminated.

The Peoria-Bloomington FOX affiliate would probably end up on channel 19 sometime in the 1980's, instead of it ending up on the vacated channel 43. Perhaps WMBD would have shifted frequency from channel 31 to 19 even before then, to take advantage of the lower frequency, lower power output necessary to achieve the same coverage area. The only argument against that would be the promotional tool of having Channel 3 and 31 being co-owned, but I never saw any promotional material which took advantage of the “3” and “31” being used in that way.

The Peoria TV line up could have ended up like this: 15-WBLN(ABC), 19-WYZZ(FOX), 25-WEEK(NBC) and 31-WMBD(CBS) …..or maybe like this: 15-WBLN(ABC), 19-WMBD(CBS), 25-WEEK(NBC), 31-WYZZ(FOX)....but who knows?

*WEEK had WEEQ, a full power translator on channel 35 broadcasting to LaSalle-Peru. Also in the early 1960's, WTVP had a low power translator in Champaign, Illinois on Channel 70. Also in the mid 1960's WCIA had a low power translator on Channel 49 in Springfield, Illinois and WICS in Springfield, Illinois had a low power translator in Mattoon on Channel 75 as well as a low power-licensed full powered station WCHU in Champaign on Channel 33 even earlier, in 1959.

thanks to:

The Bloomington Pantagraph(through the facilities of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Danville Public Library and
TV Guide from various weeks from 1953 to 1958(from the Doug Quick collection)
The Milner Library at Illinois State University
The Dr. JoAnn Rayfield Archives at ISU and the Ken-Way Studios
Total Television by Alex McNeil(an indispensable guide to all TV shows)
The Compete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows(1946-Present) by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
Billboard Magazine from 1953, 1958 editions(available on line)
Bob Lee(for many of the network/syndication screen titles)

McLean County Historical Museum
Barry Thompson
Ann Hill-contributor
Jack Keefe-contributor

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updated 11/24/2016
web master:  Doug Quick
copyright 2001-2016  Doug Quick