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The History of WCIA,Champaign
  Page 1
The First 10 Years
  Page 2
The Era of Strong Personality TV
  Page 3
Being on Top
  Page 4
The End of the Midwest TV era and Nexstar
  Page 5
The Digital TV Years

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WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign, Illinois, Part 1

The First Ten Years (1953-1963)

The narrative part of the this web page features excerpts from what will be a much larger body of work.  Progress is being made on a book tentatively titled, "Central Illinois Television: The First Ten Years." 

(Above): various pictures
of the construction of the
WCIA tower near Seymour, Illinois.
(from the WCIA 50th Anniversary Special
and the Ed Mason Collection)

(Above): Merrill Lindsey,
one of the owners of WCIA
and owner of WSOY-Radio, Decatur. His family also owned the Champaign-Urbana Courier and the Decatur Herald-Review Newspapers.

(Above): Here is a picture showing the studio and the control room through the window.  It's believed the man in the picture is August C. Meyer.
(from C-U Courier)
(Above): The control room at WCIA in 1953
(Above): The construction of the microwave tower at the rear of the WCIA studios.  The tower is still used today.

Midwest Television Applies for Channel 3 in Champaign....but They're Not Alone

This wasn't the first application for a television station in central Illinois, but it would be a very important one. In the July 7, 1952 edition of Broadcasting-Telecasting it was announced that Midwest Television Company had applied for channel 3 in Champaign, Illinois. The proposed station would operate at a power of 100kw or 100,000 watts from an antenna height above average terrain(HAAT) of 700-feet. The applicant estimated a construction cost of $402,500 with a first year operating cost of $228,500. A first year revenue was estimated at $256,140. The transmitter and antenna would located 2.4 miles northwest of Champaign's business center and would be manufactured by RCA, although the models were not designated in the application.

Midwest Television's principals owners were listed as: August C. Meyer at 24.1%; M.S. Dyers 28%(also a 40% owner of the News-Gazette and WDWS Radio); R.O. Derby at 5%; C. R. Meyer at 26%; Helen M. Stevick at 13.7%(40% owner of the News-Gazette and WDWS Radio). August C. Meyer was an attorney on staff of the News-Gazette, one of two Champaign, Illinois local newspapers.

Within the same edition, another applicant for channel 3 would appear. The Illinois Broadcasting Company tried to stake a claim on the valuable VHF allocation with a proposal before the FCC which included a 100kw power, an antenna (HAAT) at 550-feet. The investment would include a construction cost of $338,260, first year operating cost of $338,250 and expected revenue was stated to be $261,760. The studio and transmitter was to be located near Florida and Vine Street in Urbana, Illinois. The transmitter was to be manufactured by DuMont Laboratories and the antenna was to an RCA model.

The principal owner of Illinois Broadcasting Company was F.W. Schaub at 100%. Mr Schaub was a vice-president of Decatur Newspapers Inc. owner of Illinois Broadcasting Company, and operator of WSOY Radio in Decatur, Illinois.

With each owner making a legitimate request for the allocation of channel 3 in Champaign it became evident that the final decision would require possible hearings before the FCC, perhaps even a court case and several appeals by the losing group. This process could have delayed the construction of channel 3 for months, if not years.

Meanwhile, applicants for the many UHF allocations were being awarded grants and construction permits all across the country and throughout central Illinois. As you'll read later, other battles for VHF stations were and would continue for years. Two of the many battles throughout the country included two in central Illinois, that being the battle for channel 2 in Springfield and channel 8 in Peoria.

The prospects of Midwest Television to get into the television business soon was not looking promising. That was when a unique plan was put into place by Midwest Televisions principal owners August Meyer. He would approach the competing group applying for channel 3 with an offer of a twenty percent stake in Midwest Television. Evidently, it was an offer Illinois Broadcasting could not refuse.

A new Midwest Television would come together with the listing of principals being: Mr. and Mrs.August C. Meyer, Merrill Lindsey 20%(representing the Illinois Broadcast Company); Russel O. Derby (5%); J. A. McDermott (2.1%) and the Reverend A. Ray Cartlidge (of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign). Reverend Cartlidge would take the seat at the board of directors at the request of Helen M. Stevick and her daughter Marajen Dyess Chinigo 20% (both of the Champaign News-Gazette and WDWS Radio). Mr. and Mrs Meyer would hold the controlling interest at 52.2%.

On February 26, 1953, the FCC would grant Midwest Television a permit to construct a television station on channel 3. This would ultimately be central Illinois first and only commercial VHF station. There were some minor changes made to the new application which included the cost of the new facility stated to now be $423,278, operating cost during the first year were listed as $261,760 with a proposed first year revenue at $270,890. The placement of the transmitter, tower and antenna was also changed.

It was about this same time an application was filed for the communities first commercial UHF station at channel 21. The spokesperson for the filing company Phillip Zimmerly said he had “hoped to join WCIA-TV in the near future” and applauded the TV dealers in the Twin Cities pitching the advantages of having both VHF and UHF tuners to their customers. He represented Champaign-Urbana Television Incorporated. There's more about the filing company, its ownership and its proposed station on channel 21 later.

Meanwhile, August Meyer speaking on behalf of Midwest Television stated that Channel 3 would be operational by the Summer of 1953. He explained that the construction of the areas first commercial VHF television station was launched immediately and work would continue as rapidly as the acquisition of equipment and material would allow. He also said that all four television networks had expressed interest in becoming an affiliate of WCIA. Just a few months later, WCIA would become CBS television network affiliate number 106.

In his statement he also alluded to a fast track on equipment deliveries with the exception of the tower. It's not sure if he was referring to a controversy about the placement of the WCIA broadcast tower or if it was a legitimate problem with the delivery of the tower and/or the actual construction. In May a request was filed by WCIA requesting a transmitter relocation about a third of a mile north of Illinois route 47 at White Heath, which would place the transmitting tower about 14 miles west of Champaign. The FCC granted the change in location the following week.

A couple of weeks later Decatur's WTVP, Channel 17 filed a protest with the FCC citing the loss of a secondary affiliation agreement with CBS would create “economic injury” with the new UHF station. Prairie Broadcasting(WTVP) stated that the granting of the transmitter location change with the modification to the WCIA construction permit would seriously hinder the success of the Decatur station. WTVP charged that the move of the transmitter of Channel 3 would place it much nearer to Decatur than the original proposal, enabling WCIA to cover Decatur with a “Grade A” signal.

Seeing that the protest could potentially hold up the construction of WCIA, while WTVP was nearing completion and ready for a July or August sign-on. August Meyer backed down in July but not without getting something in return. The original transmitter site was for a 810-foot tower just south of Illinois route 47 near Seymour, Illinois. After the FCC approval of the move to near White Heath, Illinois, Mr. Meyer agreed to move back to the original transmitter site but with a broadcast tower of 1,000 feet! There was more than likely an engineering study which showed Meyer that the increase in antenna height would make up for the slight increase in distance and still deliver a “Grade A” signal across Decatur as well as Champaign-Urbana.

Upon the agreement, construction would finally begin on the tower and transmitter site and the studio-transmitter microwave link between the tower site and the studios of WCIA, located at 509 South Neil Street. The studio would be located in a former tire store at a land-locked location just south of downtown Champaign along the cities main north-south artery, between Springfield Avenue to the north and Green Street to the south.

WCIA 1953
WCIA view of sign across the top of the building
and the "old radio tower" which served as support
for the microwave antenna which sent the signal of
WCIA from the studio to the transmitter site west of
Champaign near Seymour.  The "old radio tower" still
serves WCIA today.
(from the WCIA 50th Anniversary Special
and the Ed Mason Collection)
August Meyer WCIA President
August Meyer, President of Midwest Television
(from the WCIA 50th Anniversary Special
and the Ed Mason Collection)
Pictured is the groundbreaking of WCIA's tower and transmitter at their initial location near White Heath, although the tower wasn't constructed here.  Find out why in the text below. 

Pictured on the left photo(left to right)  Henry Kaiser, President of Monticello Chamber of Commerce; Francis Anderson, Mayor of Monticello; Luella and Eddie McCartney, children of Dean McCartney(just outside the picture range at far left); Mrs. McCartney, Mrs. August Meyer; Mr August C. Meyer, President of Midwest Television(with shovel); J.C. Vinson, President of White Heath Community Club; also just outside the picture on the right was C.G. Holforty, President of First State Bank of Monticello.
(from the WCIA 50th Anniversary Special
and the Ed Mason Collection)
Standing left: Merrill Lindsey, Board Member(representing the former Illinois Broadcast Company); F.R. White, Manager of White Heath Grain Company; Cloy Rudisaill, landowner. 
Kneeling are Rev. A.R. Cartlidge, Board Member(placed on the board by
request of Helen M. Stevick and daughter Marajen Chinigo(of the Champaign News-Gazette and WDWS Radio)) ; Harold Davis of the Architectural Firm of Royer and Davis; August C. Meyer, President of Midwest Television(in background), Russell O. Derby, Board Member, Robert Showalter, Monticello Attorney an C.G. Hofforty, President of First State Bank of Monticello. 

The above two pictures were published in the June 4, 1953 edition of the Urbana Courier Newspaper.

(Above): Shows the coverage area of WCIA including much of central Illinois and west central Indiana. 
(graphic from the Champaign News-Gazette)

(Above): Harry Y Maynard, the general manager of WCIA from 1953-54.
(pic from B-T)
(Above): James Fielding,
was hired as a production manager but by late 1955 he would become assistant secretary and treasurer of Midwest Television.
(Above): Robert Schaub joined the engineering staff at WCIA in 1953.  He was formerly at WSOY, Decatur.  Robert was the son of Frederick W. Schaub, vice president and general manager of Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers, Inc. (the company was a part owner of Midwest Television).

Assembling the Staff of WCIA

During the construction phase of WCIA August Meyer had the task of assembling a staff. Along with overseeing the building of the studio/office facility, there were many decisions which could have been delegated to a group of trusted managers within the organization. It was important to bring in a strong experienced general manager who would begin the process of hiring a management team.

That general manger would be Harry Y. Maynard who was appointed to the position in June of 1953. During the previous five years he was the sales manager of KTLA in Los Angeles. His experience in the advertising field would come to be a major advantage for the station. Even before Maynard was in broadcasting, he was on the staff of radio production at the advertising agency of Batten, Baren, Durstine and Osbourn in Hollywood. His experience in the entertainment industry included a position of staff assistant director with Warner Brothers, Paramount and Selznick film studios. It was quite a resume for a man in who was in his mid 30's.

On the personal side, Mr. Maynard was a graduate of the San Jose State Normal College and a Marine in World War II.  His wife was the former Joan Casgrove. He and his wife were parents of three daughters: Mary Sue(12 years old in 1953), Julie Ann(10) and Sally Joan(8).

Mr Maynard assembled a management team and staff which included: James Fielding as production manger, Fred A. Sorenson as news editor, Lou Martz in sales, Martha Meyers as office manager, George Pienderleith as film director, Allen Doyle, Kenneth O Fristoe, Carle W. St. John, Nancy Hill and Jerry F. Drakeas as members of the engineering staff, Robert Meyer as assistant chief engineer, M.D. Hunnicutt Jr. as chief engineer, Guy Main as commercial manager, William Stinson as art director, John Kitterer as music director and Leonard Davis as publicity director.

He would also hire the son of Midwest Television director Frederick W. Schaub, Robert Schaub.   The younger Mr. Schaub, even though experienced at his fathers company's radio station, WSOY in Decatur, would end up in the engineering department at WCIA.  Good move.

Mr. Maynard's time at WCIA would be relatively short.  He and his family would leave their home at 1104 West Park in Champaign to move back to southern California. He made a statement in the News-Gazette as to the reason for the resignation being that the climate of east central Illinois had not been agreeable to his families health, so they would return to California.

One can only speculate on why Mr. Maynard left WCIA. Was it the central Illinois climate, or was it the apparent forcefulness of August Meyer? August Meyer seemed to be the constant spokesperson for Midwest Television and WCIA with only a few minor programming announcements being made by Mr. Maynard. Was the personality of Mr. Meyer overwhelming to Mr. Maynard?

Mr. Maynard's leaving WCIA, if it did create a hole in the management team, it was soon be gradually filled by Guy Main. Mr. Main evidently wasn't the flamboyant personality or egotist that Mr. Meyer was, which may have made him the ideal person to fill Mr. Maynard's position.

Obtaining a link to the Network

As was stated earlier, if Channel 3 had actually been contacted by all four networks, that being ABC, CBS, DuMont and NBC, it seems logical that the dominant television network would probably make the best offer to the obviously dominant VHF station in the region. The relationship that WDWS had being a CBS Radio affiliate may have brought about the choice of WCIA's primary network affiliation.  The other local affiliated radio station in Decatur, WSOY was also a CBS Radio affiliate.

In that era, the role of network radio was still quite strong. The CBS Radio network was still programming a full slate of entertainment and news programs for its radio affiliates. Many of the entertainment stars of that network would become headliners for its television equivalent as well. With at least 20% of the ownership of Midwest Television being with WDWS Radio, its logical to assume the influence there and another 20% being owned by Lindsey-Shaub which owned WSOY Radio.

With the signing of WCIA as an affiliate of CBS, it became necessary to now try to get the network signal to the TV station. This was proven to be a difficult, expensive and troubling task.

The location of the nearest A.T. & T. coax carrying CBS ran through Danville. That was the location of the nearest switchboard which would allow WCIA to link to the video signals coming from CBS in New York. The ultimate problem was getting the signal from Danville to Champaign and the studios of Channel 3.

That problem would be solved by the construction of a microwave network which would  originate at the telephone office in downtown Danville and beamed to a repeater tower with a receiver and transmitter near St. Joseph, Illinois north of U.S. 150. The twin legged tower was constructed by A.T. & T. and would include a reflecting screen at the top of the tower which would send the signal to an antenna on top of the service building at the foot of the twin towers. A receiver/transmitter would then resend the signal to another reflector on the other side of the twin tower which would reflect the signal westward to Champaign.

In Champaign a receiving antenna was erected on the top of the Inman Hotel, which was one of, if not the tallest building in Champaign-Urbana at the time. From there the signal was cabled to the WCIA studios a few blocks away.

This CBS network set up would be used for a number of years before a direct cable coax was connected to WCIA. During its years of use, though, it would prove to be a technical nightmare for the stations engineering staff and probably for A.T. & T. as well. Keep in mind, electronics of the time used vacuum tubes as it was well before the development of transistors and solid state electronics. Each individual component in the network had to operate within acceptable tolerances.

Outside of A.T. & T., I would assume the receiver/transmitter repeater near St. Joseph would bear the brunt of any blame when it came to technical problems. The temperature and humidity extremes of east central Illinois during the summer and winter would surely affect the operation of the electronics located there.

As there was only one channel of video being networked from Danville to Champaign, any additional video feeds would have be to manually switched by A.T. & T. engineers in Danville or maybe Chicago. This would come into play once WCIA would become a secondary NBC affiliate.

Here is a picture of the tower shack which was located at the base of the twin microwave tower repeater near St. Joseph, Illinois, which enabled WCIA to receive CBS from Danville, Illinois and the A.T. & T. facility there.  The actual towers were removed during the 1980's leaving the tower shack.  The tower shack is no longer in existence.
(picture from the Doug Quick Collection)

(Above): This shows the microwave relay antenna on top of the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign, Illinois.  It would receive the network signals from the repeater near St. Joseph, Illinois.  In the background is the dome of the Champaign City Building.  (Picture from Champaign News-Gazette)

WCIA Before Sign-On

Even though the initial goal was to have WCIA up and running, on the air by late Summer of 1953, it was not to be. Like other new television station across the country, there were many unforeseen problems which would bring delays to every construction schedule.

Equipment manufacturing and delivery delays were common. As I describe the onslaught of the lifting of the “freeze” as being a gold rush, the equipment manufactures, the major ones being RCA, General Electric, DuMont and Collins, were being inundated by orders from these early pioneer broadcasters. To be able to equip several hundred stations with transmitters, antennas, video and audio control boards, film projectors and associated film chain pieces, cameras, cables and other behind the scenes electronics was quite a challenge of logistics for these manufactures. Having equipment arrive at the final destination on time was the challenge of the contractors and each new television station.

WCIA was no exception, although, publicity about such construction hurdles were hidden by Midwest Television. It appears August Meyer understood the importance of public relations and how the public would perceive his new television station. It was important to him, the community and his investors that everything appear to be moving along quite smoothly.

Remember, Mr. Meyer stated that WCIA would be broadcasting buy late Summer of 1953.  It was also stated by the stations new general manager that a target date of September 1 was the goal. It appears that the change of location would delay the final construction of the tower/transmitter facility well past the original target dates. It took time for the FCC to get around to canceling the modification of the construction permit and re-approving the original location with a request for a higher transmitting antenna and tower. The FCC approval would take place on August 17, 1953 and new completion date deadline was wet by the commission for February 25, 1954. One thing was for certain, August Meyer was going to complete his television station long before that FCC deadline and the expiration of the construction permit.

Now, construction could get back on course, equipment could be re-ordered, factory installers and tower assembly crews could be scheduled and work could proceed. But, this was only approval to “get on the list.” That is, actual work was still several weeks away from proceeding. Arranging for tower crews can be frustrating depending on the weather at any one location where the crew was to work. As any broadcaster knows, tower crews get to you when they can and want to.

It would be safe to assume it was a tense situation in late August as the race to go on the air was reaching a climax at several stations across mid Illinois. WEEK in Peoria had already gone on the air in February of 1953, WTVP in Decatur was on the air August and WICS in Springfield was targeted to go on the air in late September. August Meyer and Midwest Television was going to be the central Illinois high prestige station. WCIA wasn't going to the first, but it wasn't going to be the last either. When it went on the air, the entire region would know it.

A promotional plan was formulated which included the hiring of a professional trade show  organization that would organize and sell local participation in an exposition to be held in Urbana. It was at this event, potential viewers would be able to see how WCIA would be beaming entertainment, news and educational programming to households throughout central Illinois and west central Indiana. This “Television Home Show” would take place on November 14-15, 1953. It was timed to coincide with the first WCIA public broadcast which would take place at the Urbana Armory on November 14, 1953.

As the chief promoter along with the News-Gazette and the Urbana Courier newspapers the organizers would invite over 30 local TV dealers. The dealers had already formed a trade group and would co-sponsor the event.  At “The Television Home Show” dealers would showcase what television sets they sold. The news papers profited with selling ads to these dealers and repair shops “welcoming” WCIA to the air.

To the credit of most of these dealers, it seems the sales pitch featured sets with both VHF and UHF tuners. There were also dealers for antennas and towers convincing those new TV set owners they had to invest in 30 to 50 foot towers and antenna rotators which could direct an antenna to some far distant city to bring in signals from Chicago, Indianapolis and even St. Louis!

Demonstrations which would show visitors how they would look on television were performed on “closed circuit” broadcasts within the Urbana Armory. The planning undertaken by Midwest Television and the resources of its related newspaper media outlets would give the public an impression that WCIA “did it right...and did it big!”

Among the delays in the construction of WCIA was a settlement whcih moved its tower/transmitter and antenna from a location near White Heath back to the original location near Seymour, Illinois.  Awaiting the FCC approval added another delay to the station sign-on.  It moved from late summer of 1953, to September 1, 1953, then October 1953 and eventually would sign on November 14, 1953.  
( from the Urbana Courier)
Here WCIA announces it's programming for the first week of broadcasting, mid November 1953.
(from Champaign-Urbana Courier)

The “Maiden” Broadcast of WCIA

After weeks of test pattern broadcasts and tests of equipment, Midwest Television would turn on the switch at 10:45am, Saturday, November 14, 1953. The first day of broadcasting included the broadcast of a short 15-minute film, “Round South America” (a travel log), followed by the first CBS show, “Big Top” (circus show for kids), and a local presentation of a western movie, “Trail of the Silver Spur.” The move was followed by a test pattern from 1pm to 5:45pm, when programming resumed with a formal live welcome featuring community leaders and the officers of Midwest Television. At 6pm the movie, “Overland Trail” was broadcast ahead of the first CBS prime-time program, “The Jackie Gleason Show.” It was followed by “Two for the Money” and WCIA's first off network rerun, “Amos and Andy.”

(Above): WCIA "Goes on the Air" in an ad placed in the Urbana Courier.
Click to enlarge

CBS Shows Airing on WCIA 1953-1954

"Burns and Allen" "I Love Lucy"
"Amos and Andy" "Mama" "The Jack Benny Show"

"Arthur Godfrey's
Talent Scouts"
"What's My Line" "Arthur Godfrey
and His Friends"
"Douglas Edwards
with the News"
"Strike it Rich"
"Life with Luigi" "Love of Life" "Topper" "The Robert Q. Lewis
"Art Linkletter
and the Kids"
"The Lone Ranger" "Private Secretary" "Toast of the Town" "Search for Tomorrow" "The Big Payoff"
"Place the Face" "The Red Buttons Show" "Two for the Money" "Big Top" "Jackie Gleason Show"
"The Morning Show" "Faith for Today" "Red Skelton Show" "Captain Kangaroo" "Blue Ribbon Bouts"


"Mama" was one of CBS' original shows having premiered in 1949.  It continued to be a part of the CBS schedule on Friday nights as an occasional series(having rotated with others) at 7pm CT.  It starred Peggy Wood as "Mama" Hansen.  Dick Van Patten, the father on ABC's" Eight is Enough" was a child star at the time and starred in the role of son, Nels.

(Videos from the Doug Quick You Tube Channel)

"Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" was an early version of "American's Got Talent" or any of the other recent day talent contest shows.  Some of the talent discovered on "Talent Scouts" included Pat Boone(and before you dismiss it entirely), The McGuire Sisters and even Johnny Nash(who had the hit "I Can See Clearly Now" which went to number one on the pop charts in 1972!).

"The Lucky Strike Program starring Jack Benny" began on CBS TV while Jack was still starring in his long running radio show.  This one had to be the model for Seinfeld many years later.  Many times it was a show within a show featuring a great supporting cast.  It ran from 1950 through 1964 on CBS and spent 1965 on NBC.  "The Jack Benny Show" was a Sunday night tradition for years on CBS radio and then on TV.  During most of it's run through the 50's, the show was only seen on alternate weeks, and didn't go every week until 1960.  One note, CBS brought back several classic episodes of "The Jack Benny Show" as a tribute during the summer of 1977 and were seen on WCIA.

CBS had a near monopoly on the Top Shows of the era.  Certainly WCIA had the right idea when the negotiation for network affiliation was done.  Among the top rated shows of the era included "George Burns and Gracie Allen" which ran on CBS from 1950 to 1958.   Many times George would turn to the camera and address the audience with cigar in hand after some silly thing that Gracie would say.  This show also had the "show about nothing" formula and based many episodes on some little thing which happened to Gracie.  Sponsors included Carnation Instant Dry Milk which showed up many times as set decoration (product placement) in the sponsored episode.

This is the intro/outro from the 1950's CBS Crime Drama, "Racket Squad."  It also aired in syndication during the 1950's on WCIA.

Courtesy of You Tube: Here is a complete episode of the classic CBS sit com/variety Show
"The Jack Benny Show"
Special guest: Jackie Gleason.

Jack and Rochester are in New York, relaxing in the penthouse suite of the luxurious St. Regis Hotel. They're staying free, masquerading as painters; whenever the doorbell rings, they put on painters' caps and toss drop cloths around the room.
Jack's awaiting Jackie Gleason for a business meeting. Before Gleason enters the room, the June Taylor Dancers prance in and give him a huge introduction. Gleason and Benny are forming a production company to make movies. Jack thinks the films will star him, but Jackie has heard about The Horn Blows at Midnight and has different ideas. When the hotel manager calls to say he's coming up, Rochester starts throwing out the drop cloths and paint buckets; Benny puts a cap on Gleason and tells him he's the foreman.
(this video is from an outside source and my
be deleted with no notice)

WCIA Adds the NBC Television Network

On December 4, 1953, WCIA announced it had signed a secondary affiliation agreement with NBC. It was arranged by August Meyer and announced upon his return to Champaign from New York. The first NBC broadcast would follow the following Saturday afternoon at 12:45 with the Notre-Dame and Southern Methodist football game.

Mr. Meyer would also state that negotiations were underway to add further NBC shows such as “The Voice of Firestone,” “Dragnet,” “The Dave Garoway Show,” “Ethyl and Albert” and “Television Playhouse.” Since the sponsors of many of the potential programs operated on quarterly budgets, some shows would not be able to added to the WCIA schedule until the next 13 week cycle.

Now WCIA would have to depend on precise patching of the proper feed at the A.T. & T. office to switch between the CBS and the NBC feed. With the addition of NBC, WCIA would now offer programming live from the two most popular networks.

Later on December 21, 1953, NBC would celebrate the FCC approval of color TV standards with the “first authorized color signal” which consisted of the NBC chimes in the three primary colors. The first compatible color program would follow on CBS at 6:15pm. NBC's first color TV program would follow at 6:30pm. It's unknown if WCIA aired this celebratory programming, but if it did, WCIA would count as one of most stations broadcasting the event in black and white.

Eye Witness:  Over the years I have heard from many people who "were there" in those very early days of central Illinois television broadcasting.  One person who has been invaluable resource is the former sales manager at WTVP in Decatur, Downey Hewey.  His background includes time with WSOY Radio, WTVP and other broadcast stations in Peoria including WPEO Radio and WEEK-TV.  He related this story about WCIA's President, August C. Meyer and WCIA:

"One thing that might be of interest to all of us Illinoisan: The two newspaper families fought over the WCIA VHF Channel 3 dial position.  It looked as if the FCC might take as long as 3-4 years to decide on whether or not the Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers (owners of the Courier in Champaign-Urbana) would win out as the best operators over the D. W. Stevick family (News Gazette)."

"Neither wanted such a long term fight, especially when it would allow the UHFs to establish set penetration and network affiliations. They both also knew that Senator Dirksen might favor either chain at a time when politicians were suspect in their close influence with the commission.  Stevick also would probably have to discard WDWS Radio - and get some kind of FCC approval for owning a newspaper and a TV (station)  in the same market.  They did the wise thing and had (what) was then called a "marriage", typical in many markets the time.  The competing interests did a 'Solomon' and cut the grant in half by forming a convenient partnership.  Any group who managed to get a VHF grant became instant millionaires at the time;  it was a wise and immensely profitable move."

He continues:

"The Augie Myers story w/Ozark was like this. I was flying from Decatur to Chicago w(ith) a first stop in Champaign.  The plane was filled to capacity.  This was in the first days of Ozarks existence.  Augie got on board across the aisle from me. He seemed nervous, looking around a lot.  As we were all buckling up, he adjusted his hearing aids and asked the stewardess if they'd carried "this many passengers before?" She responded that the FAA even required that the DC-3 could fly with a full load on only one engine."

"We left the terminal.  On the way out, he asked her again:  "have you carried this many people before?"  She again answered 'yes' and tried to calm him, carefully checking his seatbelt.  We got to the end of the runway where in those ancient days they used to rev the engines up as a test before taking off.  When the first acceleration came, he unfastened his seat belt, got up and said he wasn't going, he didn't think it was safe.  There was a lot of fuss.  She rushed to the cabin and told the pilot....the co-pilot came out and talked with him, but he refused to sit down.  He went back into the cabin and shortly after we returned to the terminal.  Augie got off.  We taxied back out to the runway....they revved up the engines again and some wag in the back (I wish I could say it was me) said loudly "Do you suppose he knew something we don't?"  There must have been a lot of white knuckles after that - but of course nothing happened.  I've often wondered if Ozark ever let him back on a plane."

---Many thanks to Downey Hewey for his contribution!!!

NBC Shows Airing on WCIA 1953-1954

"The Arthur Murray Party" "Dragnet"
"Mr. Wizard" "Your Hit Parade" "The Loretta Young Show"

"Ford Theater" "Colgate Comedy Hour" "Masquerade Party" "Meet the Press" "Victory at Sea"
"You Bet Your Life" "Fury" "Sky King" "Father Knows Best" "Name That Tune"
"Milton Berle Show" "Roy Rogers Show" "Big Town"

DuMont is also a Player at WCIA

Channel 3 was also an affiliate of the DuMont Television Network as well. The only regular broadcast from DuMont appeared as a weekday 6pm program popular with the kids (and Art Carney's character Ed Norton on the “Honeymooners”) "Captain Video."  It appears that WCIA would air “Captain Video” by kinescope as the story line did not follow the story of the live network feed in the listings of TV Guide.  WCIA and most DuMont affiliates were only airing delayed kinescopes of its east coast live presentations.

DuMont Shows Airing on WCIA 1953-1954

"Captain Video" "Dollar A Second"
"Marge and Jeff" "Amateur Hour"

WCIA, Channel 3 Program Schedule for the week of April 30-May 6, 1954      TV Guide
note: TV Guide in that era began it's listings on Friday through the following Thursday.  In later years schedules would run from Saturday-Friday.
Monday-Friday sign-on to 6pm

7:00 am  Morning Show-(CBS),Walter Cronkite and Charles Collingwood
10:00 am  Film 2
10:30 am  Strike it Rich(CBS)game
11:00 am Film
11:30 am Search for Tomorrow(CBS)
11:45 am Film
12:30 pm Rural Report
12:45 pm U of I program
1:00 pm  Film
1:30 pm  Linkletter's House Party (CBS)-variety, game
Tue, 1:45 pm  Film
2:00 pm  The Big Payoff (CBS)-game
Fri, Tue 2:30 pm  Film   1
Mon, 2:30 pm Bob Crosby Show
Wed, Thur 2:30 pm Bob Crosby Show
Wed, Thur 2:45 pm Garry Moore Show
3:00 pm  Welcome Travelers (CBS)        -travel
3:30 pm  On Your Account (NBC) -game
4:00 pm  Happy Home-DiAnne Thomas
4:30 pm  U of I program
4:45 pm  Western Theater-Sheriff Sid
5:45 pm  Cartoon Time-Scotty Craig

Saturday, May 1, 1954

9:30 am   to be announced
10:00 am Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (CBS) kids-sci fi
11:00 am Big Top (CBS) kids circus
12:00 pm Smilin' Ed's Gang-syn kids 4
12:30 pm Film
12:45 pm Baseball Warm-Up (CBS) 3
1:00 pm   Baseball (CBS) Baltimore Orioles vs Philadelphia Athletics.  Game called by Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner
4:15 pm   Kentucky Derby (CBS) called by Fred Capossela and Mel Allen
4:30 pm   Western Theater
6:00 pm   Range Rider- syn, western
6:30 pm   Ethyl and Albert (NBC) sit com
7:00 pm   Jackie Gleason Show (CBS) variety, comedy
8:00 pm   Two for the Money (CBS) game
8:30 pm   Cases of Eddie Drake- syn, crime drama
9:00 pm   That's My Boy (CBS) sit com
9:30 pm   Your Hit Parade (NBC) music variety
10:00 pm  Wrestling from St. Louis- syn
11:00 pm  Film Commercial
Sunday, May 2, 1954

11:30 am  Faith for Today (CBS) religion anthology
12:00 pm-2:30 pm no listings
2:30 pm Film
3:00 pm Man of the Week (CBS) public affairs interview
3:30 pm Youth Takes a Stand (CBS) public affairs interview conducted by young people
4:00 pm Adventure (CBS) educational series with the American Museum of Natural History, hosted by Mike Wallace, later by Charles Collingwood
5:00 pm American Week (CBS) news review anchored by Eric Sevareid
5:30 pm You Are There (CBS) historical recreation anthology
6:00 pm Life with Father (CBS) sit com
starring Leon Ames
6:30 pm Jack Benny Show (CBS) sit com, variety
7:00 pm Toast of the Town (CBS) variety with Ed Sullivan
8:00 pm G. E. Theater (CBS) dramatic anthology
8:30 pm Dollar A Second (CBS) game
9:00 pm Loretta Young Show (NBC) dramatic anthology hosted by Loretta Young
9:30 pm What's My Line (CBS) panal quiz
10:00 pm Paul Winchell Show (NBC) comedy seen via kinescope/film
10:30 pm News Final-Fred Sorensen
10:35 pm Weather Vane-Mr. Roberts
10:45 pm Evensong-religion

Friday, April 30, 1954 6pm-sign-off

6:00 pm  to be announced
6:15 pm  Captain Video (DuMont) kinescope of earlier live broadcast
6:30 pm  Newsreel-Fred Sorensen
6:45 pm  Jack Prowell Sports
7:00 pm  Amos n' Andy- syn, off CBS network syndication
7:30 pm  Topper (CBS) sit com, starring Leo G. Carroll, Robert Sterling, Anne Jeffreys
8:00 pm   Life Begins at 80 (DuMont) panel show with octogenarians
8:30 pm   Original Amateur Hour (NBC)
talent show hosted by Ted Mack
9:00 pm  My Friend Irma (CBS) sit com starring Marie Wilson, Cathy Lewis
9:30 pm Pepsi Playhouse (ABC) dramatic anthology hosted by Anita Colby, kinescope/film 5
10:00 pm News Final-Fred Sorensen
10:05 pm Weather Vane-Mr. Roberts
10:15 pm Midwest Marquee- local origination movie "Gigolette" starring Gilbert Roland

Monday, May 3, 1954

6:00 pm   Gene Autry-syn, western starring Gene Autry
6:30 pm   Newsreel-Fred Sorensen
6:45 pm   Jack Prowell Sports
7:00 pm   to be announced 6
7:30 pm   Place the Face (CBS) game
8:00 pm   no listing 7
8:30 pm   Red Buttons Show (CBS) variety, comedy
9:00 pm   Playhouse of the Stars-syn, off network 8
10:00 pm no listings for the rest of the evening from WCIA 9

Tuesday, May 4, 1954

6:00 pm   to be announced
6:15 pm   Captain Video (DuMont) kinescope of earlier live broadcast
6:30 pm   Newsreel-Fred Sorensen
6:45 pm   Jo Stafford Show (CBS) musical variety
7:00 pm   The Range Rider-syn, western starring Jock Mahoney
7:30 pm   Red Skelton (CBS) variety, comedy starring Red Skelton
8:00 pm   Meet Millie (CBS) sit com starring Elena Verdugo
8:30 pm   Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC) comedy, variety, seen via kinescope from an earlier NBC live broadcast
9:30 pm   Wrestling-unknown source
10:00 pm News Final-Fred Sorenson
10:05 pm Weather Vane-Mr. Roberts
10:10 pm  Sports Report-Fred Sorensen
10:15 pm  Life With Elizabeth-syn, sit com starring Betty White
10:45 pm  to be announced

Wednesday, May 5, 1954

6:00 pm   Wild Bill Hickok syn, western starring Guy Madison, Andy Divine
6:30 pm   Newsreel-Fred Sorensen
6:45 pm   Jack Prowell Sports
7:00 pm   Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (CBS) variety, music starring Arthur Godfrey
8:00 pm   Strike it Rich (CBS) game
8:30 pm   I've Got a Secret (CBS) panel quiz
9:00 pm   Blue Ribbon Bouts (CBS) boxing sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and called by Jack Drees
10:00 pm News Final-Fred Sorensen
10:05 pm Weather Vane-Mr. Roberts
10:15 pm Rasslin' with Russ-unknown source/format
10:30 pm Film commercial
Thursday, May 6, 1954

6:00 pm   Film
6:15 pm   Captain Video (DuMont) kinescope of earlier live broadcast
6:30 pm   Newsreel-Fred Sorensen
6:45 pm   Yesterdays Newsreel-syn recent theater newsreel footage
7:00 pm    Foote Notes-unknown format/source with Dick Cisne and Bruce Foote and family
7:30 pm   I Led Three Lives-syn, intrigue drama, starring Richard Carlson
8:00 pm   Dragnet (NBC) crime drama, starring Jack Webb
8:30 pm   Ford Theater (NBC) dramatic anthology, this episode starred Howard Duff and Ida Lupino in "A Season to Love."
9:00 pm   Biff Baker, USA-syn, off CBS network, espionage drama, starring Alan Hale Jr.
9:30 pm  Files of Jeffrey Jones-syn, crime drama starring Don Haggerty
10:00 pm News Final-Fred Sorensen
10:05 pm Weather Vane-Mr. Roberts
10:15 pm no listing
10:30 pm Douglas-Dirkson Report-syn political public affairs hosted by Illinois two senators
Program titles in bold print are network origination
Program titles in italic are local in origination, all or in part from the WCIA studios with local talent listed. 

Local newscasts fell into the 6:30-6:45pm slot, this was the time slot of the CBS network newscast, not carried by WCIA.

1 listings are as indicated but are probably wrong.  Bob Crosby Show was on network as being Mon-Fri, Garry Moore Show days were probably Mon-Fri as well, but I can't confirm that
2 the subject of the many listings for "Film" can not be determined.  It may have been a theatrically produced travel log which were common, or a syndicated drama series re-purposed as a "filler"
3 baseball from CBS was sponsored by Falstaff Beer and syndicated to other stations which might not have been CBS in different markets.  At that time Springfield and Decatur were considered "different" markets so the same broadcast was aired by WTVP-Decatur and WICS-Springfield.  It's possible that broadcast was distributed on the other network feeds having been purchased by the sponsor
4 "Smilin' Ed's Gang" was syndicated, but more of an info-mercial for Buster Brown Shoes for kids
5 "Pepsi-Cola Playhouse" aired on WCIA, in spite of it being an ABC show.  This arrangement was probably made by the purchase of the broadcast time by the ad agency representing Pepsi-Cola to achieve a much broader audience
6 "Burns and Allen" was actually on CBS at this time period.  In spite of a "to be announced" listing, it was probably filled by "Burns and Allen."
7 "I Love Lucy" was actually on CBS at this time period.  In spite of WCIA having no listing, it probably aired the Lucile Ball-Desi Arnez classic sit com
8 "Playhouse of the Stars" was the syndicated title of the "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars."  Schlitz, by the way, was a brand of beer
9 no further programming was listed on behalf of WCIA for the rest of the evening.  This obviously a TV Guide error

Since this was early in the life of WCIA, many CBS programs were not contractually set up to air yet on Channel 3.  Some of the CBS programs not airing on WCIA included:  Daytime Shows-"Arthur Godfrey Time," "Valiant Lady," "Love of Life," "The Guiding Light," "Brighter Day," "Garry Moore Show(the 12:30pm version)," "Robert Q. Lewis Show."   Prime time shows on CBS, but not on WCIA at this time were: "Studio One," "Jane Froman," "Gene Autry(night time CBS)," "This is Show Business," "Suspense," "Danger," "See it Now," "Perry Como," "Ray Milland," "Lux Video Theater," "Big Town," "Philip Morris Playhouse," "Mama," "Schlitz Playhouse," "Our Miss Brooks," "Person to Person," "Beat the Clock," "My Favorite Husband," "Medallion Thater," "Mirror Theater," "G.E. Theater" and "The Man Behind the Badge." "

(TV Guide from the Doug Quick Collection)

Eye Witness:  Over the years I have heard from many people who "were there" in those very early days of central Illinois television broadcasting.  In 2012 I heard from Lou Mautz, one of the original advertising salesmen at WCIA.  He told of his experience selling sponsorship of a show which got him involved in the production. 

"The Bar None Ranch aired once a week on Thursday evening at 7 for 13 weeks.  I twas produced by Jim Fielding and featured a group of musicians fronted by 'Jack Carson' a well known entertainer in the area.  (Real name, Carl Bergbauer)"

"I was in the sales departement of the station and had sold the live studio production to the J.I. Case Dealers of Central Illinois.  As I mentioned, I was the announcer of the show since none of the WCIA staff announcers (being big city boys) wanted to have anything to do with a country western show and I had several years experience in radio."

"Each week, we would wheel into the studio a piece of J.I. Case farm equipment and build a commercial around it...."

"At the end of the 13 weeks, it was determined the studio production was too much of a hassle so we were replaced by the film production of 'The Jimmy Dean Show.'"

---Many thanks to Lou Mautz for his story!

University of Illinois Basketball and the Beginnings of WCIA

Even though the first University of Illinois Basketball telecast honor would fall on Decatur's WTVP, WCIA had the best opportunity to exploit its nearness to the University and its vast coverage area. Sports coverage was king in those early days of local television, and if a television station had a “home team” in its area, it stood to profit.

WCIA by Christmas of 1953 had a major sponsor of its broadcasts of ten home Illini basketball games through early 1954. Chesty Foods signed a contract with Channel 3 to be a major sponsor of the broadcasts. Chesty was a regional snack food producer whose main product was Chesty Potato Chips. The advertising agency was Ruben Advertising in Indianapolis. Chesty also signed a contract with WTTV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis which was broadcasting Indiana University Basketball as well.

The video for these U of I basketball games was provided to local station by the University's Broadcast Journalism Department by arrangement. The local station would provide its own play by play talent as well as provide video for station interviews or its own talent.

WCIA Syndicated Programming 1953-1955
"Gene Autry"
"Popeye" Cartoons
"The Range Rider"
"Andy's Gang"
"Wrestling" from St. Louis
"I Led Three Lives"
"Jungle Jim"

WCIA Programming

By May of 1954, WCIA was beginning its broadcast day with the CBS morning news show aptly titled “The Morning Show” it was hosted by Walter Cronkite and Charles Collingwood. This was the CBS attempt at counter-programming NBC's “Today With Garroway” and would air from 7am to 9am.

Daytime broadcasts consisted of CBS programming including game shows “Strike it Rich” and “Art Linkletter's House Party. Daytime serials were just in the process of moving from radio to television and one of the originals aired on WCIA, “Search for Tomorrow.” Some programming from NBC was included in the daytime schedule with the game shows “The Big Payoff,” “On Your Account.” Also from NBC was “Welcome Travelers” which originated in Chicago hosted by Tommy Barlett.

The in-studio production of “Happy Home” aired at 4pm on weekday afternoons. It was hosted initially by Dianne Thomas and featured recipes and household hints for those “housewives” across central Illinois and west central Indiana. The University of Illinois also supplied programming to WCIA. The subject matter would vary but it would classify as educational programming.

Westerns were big in early television and there were many sources of western movies which were re-edited for television. Many of which were edited from the Saturday afternoon movie serials. WCIA would air a western movie weekday afternoons before another in-studio production of cartoons, “Cartoon Time with Scotty Craig” and a presentation of “Captain Video” via kinescope from DuMont.

In September of 1954 WCIA described one of its original public service programs produced “live” in the Channel 3 studios, “Know Your Neighbors.” It was designed to help inform area viewers about other communities in central Illinois and western Indiana. The first city profiled by the series was Ottawa, Illinois on August 25, 1954. An article published in the September 11, 1954 edition of TV Guide stated, “In it, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce secretary, presented an educational and highly entertaining show describing and illustrating recreational, business, cultural and industrial aspects of the Ottawa area.” Future programs would focus on other area communities including Decatur, Mattoon, the Chanute Air Force Base, located in Rantoul and other Illinois and Indiana cities and towns.

Also in the fall of 1954, it must be noted that on Saturday afternoons, the schedule for channel 3 and the broadcast of the “Baseball Game of the Week” sponsored by Falstaff Beer, would be simulcast on all of the mid Illinois television stations in Springfield, Decatur and Champaign! WDAN-TV in Danville was not listed in TV Guide, but it is assumed it also would have broadcast the game. In that same edition of TV Guide of September 11, the White Sox-Yankee game at Chicago's Comiskey Park, was broadcast on WCIA, WHBF-TV(Moline); KHQA-TV(Hannibal, Missouri; WTVP Decatur; WTVH(TV) Peoria and WICS Springfield.

Even though the primary network affiliation of WCIA was CBS, there were also a number of NBC telecasts offered by Channel 3. For example, “Mr. Wizard,” “Ethyl and Albert,” “Your Hit Parade,” “The Loretta Young Show,” "You Bet Your Life," “A Time to Live,” “Concerning Miss Marlowe,” “Dragnet,” “Ford Theater” and “Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.”

CBS prime-time programs included the following; “Private Secretary,” “Toast of the Town,” “Public Defender,” “Masquerade Party,” “Meet Millie,” “Arthur Godfrey and Friends,” “Strike It Rich,” “Best of Broadway,” “I've Got a Secret,” “Topper” and “Star Theater.” Most of the CBS daytime fare was also broadcast by Channel 3 including: “The CBS Morning Show,” “Strike It Rich(daytime version),” “Valiant Lady,” “Love of Life,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “Guiding Light,” “Seeking Heart,” “Welcome Travelers,” “Robert Q. Lewis Show,” “Art Linkletter's House Party,” “The Big Payoff,” “Bob Crosby Show,” “Brighter Day” and “Secret Storm.”

 (Above): Scotty Craig hosts "Cartoon Time" during the late afternoons on WCIA.
(picture from WCIA's 50th Anniversary Show, and
from the Ed Mason Collection)
"Happy Home" starred DiAnne "Thomas" Mathre from the WCIA studios.  Even though she was quite young she had a full resume including awards and honors from 4-H, U of I degree in home economics and was one of the original radio "Quiz Kids" in Chicago.
(picture from WCIA)

An unknown group of performers at WCIA during the very early years.  
(picture from WCIA)

WCIA Celebrates Its First Year Anniversary in Color

By August of 1954, CBS affiliates in 81 markets were planning to be color ready, at least to broadcast what few color CBS television shows were being planned. Among those in the area included WEEK-TV, Peoria; WTHI-TV, Terre Haute; KWK-TV St. Louis, but WCIA was not one of least not yet.

In November of 1954, WCIA would celebrate one year of being on the air. Even though there was talk of some kind of a televised celebration of the fact, according to August Meyer, the staff was simply too busy doing its job.

In a story published in the Champaign-Urbana Courier the station during its first year of operation would receive reception reports from Cuba and New Brunswick, Canada. During the first year, WCIA would also expand its broadcast day to begin at 7am.

Now, the station's new goal was the installation of equipment to allow for the broadcast of color programming from CBS and NBC. This upgrade in service would include changes in the coaxial cable from Chicago to Danville. Modifications would be made in the amplifiers located at seven mile intervals along the coaxial route. According to the Champaign-Urbana Courier adjustments had already been made in the A.T. & T. microwave system which runs from Danville to Champaign.

WCIA Chief Engineer Robert Myers stated that much of the 1953 equipment such as the RCA transmitter was designed to be adaptable to the additional equipment needed to broadcast color. Midwest Television President August Meyer said earlier in November that even though the exact date of the first color-cast was “elastic” it would definitely occur before Christmas.

It was the goal to color-cast the Rose Bowl game from Pasadena, California and the Orange Bowl game from Miami, Florida both on New Years Day. Mr. Meyer in a statement before the Central Illinois professional chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, journalistic fraternity said that WCIA was probably the only station in the U.S. to broadcast both games in color. One game would come from CBS and the other from NBC, and even though there were probably a hand-full of stations broadcasting both games in black and white, WCIA would air them both in color. Meyer also stated that Channel 3 would be the first VHF station downstate to broadcast in color. That wasn't a very bold statement since there were only four other VHF stations in downstate Illinois.

Interestingly though, August Meyer made some predictions about television before that group in 1954. He said many more improvements can be anticipated when it comes to television technology. He predicted television sets “would be the size of a cigar box and the screen as big as your living room wall” in the future.

By November 15, the first year anniversary of WCIA, with only a few viewers in locations to witness the first broadcast of color TV, the initial color-cast premier went without a hitch. As far as what's known, there were only three color television sets in Champaign-Urbana with one being at WCIA. That's where station officials witnessed the initial color broadcast, then a few made the short run to Dillayou's Appliance Store at 335 North Walnut where another color television set was on display and being watched by over 200 people. They would also travel to the third receiver, also at a television retailer, Downtown TV at 32 East Chester Street. A spokesperson at WCIA described the event as going “beautifully!”

The first regular color broadcast was of CBS' “Best of Broadway.” Another color broadcast was scheduled the next evening, “Ford Theater.”

In March of 1955 it was reported that WCIA joined the list of WBBM, Channel 2, Chicago; WNBQ, Channel 5, Chicago; WEEK-TV, Channel 43, Peoria; WTVH, Channel 19, Peoria; WGEM-TV, Channel 10, Quincy; and WHBF-TV, Channel 4, Moline, all which could pass network programming in color.

"Best of Broadway"
(no picture available-
still looking)
"Ford Theater"
"1954 Tournament of Roses Parade"
"1954 Rose Bowl"

 (Above): WCIA's first anchor man, news director Fred Sorenson at the news desk. (see a better picture of Mr. Sorenson below)
(from WCIA and Ed Mason Collection)
 (Above): WCIA's first weather caster, Wyndham "Mr." Roberts.  He was also Channel 3's first "superstar."  More about Mr. Roberts below.
(from WCIA and Ed Mason Collection)
 (Above): Pictured at the right is WCIA's sports director Tom Schoendienst.
(from WCIA and Ed Mason Collection)


The first WCIA news anchor was Fred Sorensen. He also served as news editor for the Channel 3 news broadcasts. Those early newscasts included watching the newsman read wire copy with reports of local news . It was much like “radio with pictures” as no film or video was available. The newsman readings was only broken up by an occasional snap-shot picture of a news event.

The first weathercaster was a man who would be legend at the station. Wyndham “Mr.” Roberts would begin his career on November 15, 1953 at WCIA where he would continue well into the early 1980's! Mr. Robert's “Weather Vane” would update central Illinois viewers with the latest forecast. The weathercast including commercial sponsorship was around 4-5 minutes. There's more about Mr. Roberts later.

Jack Prowell was the stations first sportscaster. Similar to the reading of the news, sports was equally without video footage and only included descriptions of contest results. Sportscasts, like weathercasts, were usually only around 5 minutes as well. Jack's tenure at WCIA appeared to be a short one. By later in 1954 sports was also being handled by Mr Sorensen.

The length of most local newscasts on WCIA varied anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for the early evening cast which ran at 6:30pm. The 10pm news ran 15 minutes and was followed by the “Midwest Marquee” which was an umbrella title for the late movie.

The newscast, sportscast and weathercast sponsor's logo would be prominently displayed on the front of the news-desk of the appropriate broadcast desk or on the weather maps. News sets were very simple, consisting of a table, chair and a background world map. Weather graphics were non-existent but a wall display of the various readings like temperatures, barometric pressure and winds direction/speed were simply written in chalk in the designated spaces. WCIA did have a rather different weather map display. More later.

Those in-studio presentations would include the use of two studio cameras each manned by an operator, an audio microphone boom operator and a floor director to communicate information as to the correct camera to look into as well as to communicate the timing of the production. An IFB, or intercom between producers and the talent was non-existent at the time.

In 1955 a sportscaster would join the WCIA staff and would continue to be with Channel 3 well into the 1960's. Tom Schoendienst would take over the role of sportscaster making him, along with Mr. Roberts, one of the best known central Illinois early television personalities.

Illinois High School Basketball

The magnitude of the importance and draw of high school basketball and the March tournaments held each year is difficult to imagine today. In 1955, the IHSA would crown one Illinois high school team as the states best. Local radio stations would broadcast the games, and from the mid 1950s', local television would follow suit.

In 1955, a regional network of television stations were contracted and would be responsible for the broadcast of the IHSA Basketball Tournament Finals from the campus of he University of Illinois. In February of that year, the announcement was made that Illinois Bell Telephone Company would sponsor the telecast for the forth consecutive year with the originating station being WBKB, Channel 7, Chicago. Downstate and outside of the Chicago market the feed would be picked up by WCIA, WDAN-TV (Danville), WHBF-TV (Moline), WTVP (Decatur), WICS (Springfield), WGEM-TV(Quincy), WTVO (Rockford) and WEEK-TV (Peoria). The advertising agency representing Illinois Bell was N.W. Ayer and Son, Inc.

If you were a viewer in central Illinois in the vicinity of Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana or Danville you would have no choice other than to watch the high school basketball tournament that weekend. The multiple station network with the IHSA basketball tournament would continue for years, before becoming a WCIA exclusive in the 1960's.

Mr. Roberts

Central Illinois' First Television Superstar

It would be difficult to rank the list of WCIA celebrities according to popularity, with one exception. The “air” name of Wyndham J. Roberts, or “Mr. Roberts” as he was called is still brought up by someone at every civic group I've ever spoken in front of over the last 20 years! Mr. Roberts is a local TV legend in every respect. He was the first weathercaster at WCIA, a position he would hold through his retirement in the early 1980's.

Six nights a week, he would fill a four minute weathercast with the weather stats for the day along with his forecast using the “technology” of the day....or maybe the lack of technology of the day as it was in 1953. One unique item of his weather broadcasts was he use of a “clear” weather map. It was designed so he would not have to turn his back to the camera as he adds map features with the use of his white marker. He would just have to learn to write backward! He would soon after adopt a more traditional weather map.

His soft spoken nature was perfect for keeping local weather enthusiasts calm during bouts of central Illinois severe weather, but interesting even when the weather was quiet. His repartee with the news anchors further enhanced his likability. He would often be the butt of the typical criticisms of the accuracy of his forecasts and he would defend them when it was appropriate but he would halfheartedly agree when he wasn't so correct. He was also known to get in a zinger or two at the expense of the anchor as well. Those moments were priceless, and not lost on central Illinois viewers.

Mr. Roberts was a veteran of World War II, but he taught at the weather school at the nearby Chanute Air Field(Air Force Base) in Rantoul, Illinois. After WW II, he spent nine years working on hydraulic research. His day job was at the Illinois Water Survey at the University of Illinois.  But in the evenings, he was a star! His credibility also was transferred to several WCIA sponsors, as he would often time appear in behalf of a product advertising on Channel 3.

CBS Shows Airing on WCIA 1955-1958 (not already shown above)
"$64,000 Question" "Valiant Lady" "Gunsmoke" "The Garry Moore Show" "The Edge of Night"
"Have Gun Will Travel" "The Ed Sullivan Show" "Perry Mason" "The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show" "The Twentieth Century"
"Shower of Stars" "December Bride" "The Lone Ranger" "The Millionaire" "Sgt Preston of the Yukon"
"The Secret Storm" "The Texan" "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" "Climax" Trackdown"
"The General Electric Theater" "The Johnny Carson Show" "Playhouse 90" "The Brighter Day" "This is CBS"
"Mighty Mouse Playhouse" "The Lineup" "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" "The Danny Thomas Show" "The Gale Storm Show"
NBC Shows Airing on WCIA 1955-1958 (not already shown above)
"The Rosemary Clooney Show" "Wagon Train" "The Today Show" "The Thin Man" "Richard Diamond"
"Saber of London"

Syndicated Shows Airing on WCIA 1955-1958 (not already shown above)
"Casey Jones" "Jim Bowie" "Martin Kane" "Lassie" "The Silent Service"

Above are a series of ads placed by WCIA in the Bloomington Pantagraph in 1957.  Monday Ad with lineup of George Burns and Gracie Allen at 7pm, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts at 7:30, U of I Basketball broadcast at 8pm.
Saturday night on WCIA with Perry Mason at 6:30, Gunsmoke at 9pm
Thursday night on WCIA with the Channel 3 News at 6:30pm and 10pm.  Climax! is on at 7:30pm
Tuesday night on WCIA with The Red Skelton Show at 8:30pm followed by the $64,000 Question at 9pm.
WCIA news anchor Fred Sorenson is pictured with news at 6:30 and 10pm.


"Our Miss Brooks" aired on CBS as a regular Friday night staple from 1952 through 1956.  It starred Eve Arden and Connie Brooks, English teacher at Madison High School.  Supporting cast included Gale Gordon (Mr. Mooney on Lucy), Richard "Dick" Crenna (later of "The Real McCoys" and the movie "Rambo"), Robert Rockwell, Gloria McMillan and even Gene Barry (of "Bat Masterson" and  NBCs "The Name of the Game").  This show originated on CBS radio in the 40's and was heard on CBS radio with just about the same cast.

"The Halls of Ivy" was originally a radio program which starred veteran actor Ronald Coleman and his real life wife Beneta Hume.  It ran for one year on CBS in 1955.  Fans of Jack Benny might recognize the couple as guest stars on Benny's radio program.  Ronald Coleman was also the star of one of my favorite movies, Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon."

"The Jimmy Durante Show" aired on both NBC and CBS from 1954 to 1957.  It was essentially a sitcom, as Mr. Durante starred as himself.  He was a owner/manager of a nightclub and the stories involved other performers at his club.  "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

Intro/Outro from 1st anniversary show of "The $64,000 Question." Hal March was the MC. The show aired on CBS from 1955-58. This show was one included with the Quiz Show Scandals of the late 1950's.

More Coming Soon

More Coming Soon

WCIA, Channel 3 Program Schedule for the week of May 18-24, 1957     TV Guide
Monday-Friday sign-on to 6pm

7:00 am  Jimmy Dean Show (CBS) variety
8:00 am  Captain Kangaroo (CBS) kids
8:45 am  CBS News
9:00 am  mon-thu: Garry Moore (CBS)
               fri:  Film
9:15 am  fri:  Garry Moore (CBS)
9:30 am  mon-tue: Arthur Godfrey (CBS)
               wed: Variety Review (CBS)
               thu: My Little Margie (CBS)
off network 1
               fri: Film
9:45 am  wed: Arthur Godfrey (CBS)
10:00 am thu: Arthur Godfrey (CBS)
10:30 am Strike it Rich (CBS) game
11:00 am Valiant Lady (CBS) serial
11:15 am Love of Life (CBS) serial
11:30 am Search for Tomorrow (CBS) serial
11:45 am Guiding Light (CBS) serial
12:00 pm CBS News (CBS) anchored by Walter Cronkite
12:10 pm News, Weather
12:25 pm Date with Dianne
12:30 pm As the World Turns (CBS) serial
1:00 pm Our Miss Brooks (CBS) sit com
1:30 pm Art Linkletter's House Party (CBS) variety
2:00 pm Big Payoff (CBS) game
2:30 pm Bob Crosby Show (CBS) musical variety
3:00 pm Brighter Day (CBS) serial
3:15 pm Secret Storm (CBS) serial
3:30 pm Edge of Night (CBS) serial
4:00 pm Happy Home
4:30 pm Midwest Matinee-Sheriff Sid
5:00 pm Little Rascals-Captain Eddie
5:30 pm Cartoon Time
5:45 pm CBS News (CBS) Douglas Edwards

Saturday, May 18, 1957

8:25am   Inspiration Time-religion, unknown source
8:30 am  Captain Kangaroo (CBS) kids
9:30 am  Mighty Mouse (CBS) kids, animated
10:00 am Fury (NBC) adventure, kids
10:30 am Buffalo Bill Jr.- syn, kids starring Dick Jones
11:00 am Big Top (CBS) kids, circus variety
12:00 pm Lone Ranger (CBS) western adventure starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels
12:30 pm Junior Auction-source/format unknown
12:45 pm Baseball (CBS) Detroit Tigers meet the Yankees, called by Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner
4:00 pm  Senator's Report-syn, political public affairs
4:30 pm  Preakness States (CBS) horse racing, sports
5:00 pm Roy Rogers syn, western with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
5:30 pm Lassie-syn, drama with Tommy Rettig
6:00 pm Sky King-syn, off NBC network adventure
6:30 pm Sheriff of Cochise-syn, western starring Ronald Howard
7:00 pm Jackie Gleason (CBS) variety, comedy starring Jackie Gleason
8:00 pm Oh" Susanna (CBS) sit com starring Gale Storm
8:30 pm SRO Playhouse (CBS) dramatic anthology
9:00 pm Gunsmoke (CBS) western starring James Arness
9:30 pm Your Hit Parade (NBC) musical variety
10:00 pm Joseph Cotton-syn title of "On Trail" off NBC network drama
10:30 pm Date with the Angels-syn sit com starring Betty White and Bill Williams
11:00 pm Movie- "The Torch" (1950) starring Paulette Goddard
12:30 pm News, Weather

Sunday, May 19, 1957

8:55 am   Inspiration Time-religion, unknown source
9:00 am   Lamp Unto My Feet (CBS) religion
9:30 am  Look up and Live (CBS) religion public affiars
10:00 am U.N. in Action (CBS) news discussion
10:30 am Camera Three (CBS) news public affairs
11:00 am Let's Take a Trip (CBS) travel log, reality show
11:30 am Wild Bill Hickok (CBS) western starring Guy Madison
12:00 pm Heckle and Jeckle (CBS) kids, animated
12:30 pm Faith for Today-syn, religion
1:00 pm   Let's Look at Learning-syn, educational
1:30 pm   Mr. Wizard (NBC) kids, educational
2:00 pm   See it Now (CBS) news, documentary, seen via kinescope/film
3:00 pm   Ray Bolger-syn, variety starring Ray Bolger, George Gobel, Jeannie Carson and Bill Haley and the Comets
4:00 pm  Fifth Army Presents-syn, military
4:30 pm  Captain Gallant (NBC), starring Buster Crabbe, seen via film
5:00 pm  Beat the Clock (NBC) game-stunts, seen via kinescope
5:30 pm You Are There (CBS) historic recreations, anthology educational
6:00 pm Soldiers of Fortune-syn, starring John Russell
6:30 pm Jack Benny (CBS) sit com-variety, starring Jack Benny
7:00 pm Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) variety hosted by Ed Sullivan
8:00 pm General Electric Theater (CBS) drama anthology
8:30 pm Alfred Hitchcock Presents (CBS) dramatic anthology
9:00 pm Loretta Young Show (NBC) drama anthology hosted by Loretta Young
9:30 pm What's My Line? (CBS)  panel quiz
10:00 pm Frontier (NBC) western anthology, seen via film
10:30 pm News, Weather
10:50 pm Hollywood Half Hour-syn, unknown format/source
11:20 pm Evensong-religion, unknown source

Monday, May 20, 1957

6:00 pm   Superman-syn starring George Reeves
6:30 pm   News, Weather
6:55 pm   Close-up-public affairs
7:00 pm   Burns and Allen (CBS) sit com starring George Burns and Gracie Allen
7:30 pm   Talent Scouts (CBS) talent contest
8:00 pm    I Love Lucy (CBS) sit com, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez
8:30 pm    December Bride (CBS) sit com starring Spring Bryington, Harry Morgan
9:00 pm   Schlitz Playhouse (CBS) dramatic anthology 2
9:30 pm   Telephone Time (ABC) dramatic anthology sponsored by Bell Telephone, shown via film, 3
10:00 pm News, Weather, Sports
10:15 pm  Bob Cummings Show (CBS) starring Bob Cummings, Dwayne Hickman, Ann B. Davis, shown via film
10:45 pm  Movie "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947) starring Gene Tierney, REx Harrison

Tuesday, May 21, 1957

6:00 pm  Wild Bill Hickok syn western starring Guy Madison
6:30 pm  News, Weather
6:55 pm  Close-Up-public affairs
7:00 pm  Groucho Marx (NBC) quiz, starring Groucho Marx, via film from NBC
7:30 pm  Dragnet (NBC) crime drama, starring Jack Webb, via film from NBC
8:00 pm  To Tell the Truth (CBS) panel quiz
8:30 pm  Red Skelton (CBS-COLOR) variety, comedy, starring Red Skelton
9:00 pm  $64,000 Question (CBS) quiz
9:30 pm  Father Knows Best (NBC) sit com, starring Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, via film from NBC
10:00 pm News
10:15 pm This is Your Life (NBC) reunion, via film from NBC
10:45 pm  Silent Service syn, dramatic anthology, documentary style
11:15 pm  Movie "The Farmers Daughter" (1947) starring Loretta Young, Joseph Cotton

Wednesday, May 22, 1957

6:00 pm   Brave Eagle (CBS) western drama, starring Keith Larson, via film from CBS 5
6:30 pm   News
6:55 pm  Close-Up-public affairs
7:00 pm  Arthur Godfrey (CBS)  variety
8:00 pm  Millionaire (CBS) drama anthology
8:30 pm  I've Got a Secret (CBS) panel quiz
9:00 pm  U.S. Steel Hour (CBS) dramatic anthology
10:00 pm  News
10:15 pm  Jim Bowie-syn, western, off ABC network syndication, starring Scott Forbes
10:45 pm Movie "Brewster's Millions" (1945) starring Dennis O'Keefe

Thursday, May 23, 1957

6:00 pm   Rin Tin Tin-syn, western adventure, starring Lee Aaker
6:30 pm   News
6:55 pm   Close-Up
7:00 pm   I Search for Adventure-syn, adventure hosted by Jack Douglas
7:30 pm   Climax! (CBS) dramatic anthology
8:30 pm   Ernie Ford (NBC) variety
9:00 pm   State Trooper-syn-crime drama starring Rod Cameron
9:30 pm   Science Fiction Theater-syn, science fiction anthology
10:00 pm News
10:15 pm Rosemary Clooney[Lux Show starring Rosemary Clooney] (NBC) variety, shown via film from NBC
10:45 pm Jane Wyman[Fireside Theater] (NBC) dramatic anthology, shown via film from NBC
11:15 pm Movie "Friendly Enimies" starring Charlie Ruggles

Friday, May 24, 1957

6:00 pm  Sgt. Preston (CBS) adventure
starring  Richard Simmons, shown via film from CBS 6
6:30 pm  News
6:55 pm  Close-Up
7:00 pm  West Point Story (CBS) adventure, starring Jack Haley Jr
7:30 pm   Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC) sit com, starring Ozzie, Harriet, David and Rick Nelson 7
8:00 pm  Mr. Adams and Eve (CBS) sit com starring Howard Duff and Ida Lupino
8:30 pm  Count of Monte Cristo-syn, adventure starring George Dolenz
9:00 pm  Line-Up (CBS) crime anthology series
9:30 pm  Men of Annapolis-syn, adventure, ZIV produced program
10:00 pm News
10:30 pm Movie "Paris After Dark" (1943) starring George Sanders
12:00 pm News, Weather

Program titles in bold print are network origination
Program titles in italic are local in origination, all or in part from the WCIA studios with local talent listed. 

1 off network syndication being distributed by CBS
2 "Schlitz Playhouse" aired on Friday nights throughout it's run from 1951-59.  "Studio One" was airing on CBS at this time, but WCIA ran a film version of "Schlitz Playhouse" at this time period.
3 "Telephone Time" being an ABC show was also shown on WCIA, while on WTVP at the same time.  WTVP would show it at the time it came across the ABC network, Thursday 9pm, but shown delayed on the following Monday by WCIA. It also aired on other CBS affiliates at other times.
4 "Bob Cummings Show" was shown at this time on network film.  It evidently was a scheduling adjustment which forced the delayed showing of this CBS show
5 "Brave Eagle" was shown on Wednesdays by CBS at 6:30pm CT, since WCIA aired news at 6:30pm, it was shown via film from CBS the following week
6 "Sgt Preston of the Yukon" aired on CBS Thursday evenings at 6:30pm CT, when the WCIA news was airing.  WCIA would reschedule the show using a film of the show which included the original commercials.
7 "The Advetures of Ozzie and Harriet" was show on ABC, but contractual arrangements allowed the ad agencies representing the sponsors to utilize whatever station they chose.  In this case it was WCIA because of it's coverage area across mid Illinois.

Since this was early in the life of WCIA, many CBS programs were not contractually set up to air yet on Channel 3.  Some of the CBS programs not airing on WCIA that week included: "The Buccaneers," "$64,000 Challenge," "Robin Hood," "Studio One," "Name That Tune," "Phil Silvers Show," "Private Secretary," "Spike Jones Show," "Playhouse 90" and "Zane Grey Theater."  Other shows were not seen in the original CBS time slots and instead aired at later times.  Since video tape was not utilized yet by local stations to delay network programs, an arrangement had to be made with the network to ship a filmed copy of the show, complete with commercials to WCIA(and other local stations-as needed) for broadcast later.  Note, it's many of these films which were kept by the stations which have ended up being on VHS and later DVD collections of nostalgic programming or on You Tube. 

(TV Guide from the Doug Quick Collection)

WCIA Enjoys a Central Illinois Dominance

The years from 1955 through 1959 it was business “as usual” as WCIA continued to broadcast a highly rated CBS schedule of daytime and night time programming, as well as the best of NBC. Channel 3 had a virtual regional monopoly of television viewing across mid Illinois and west central Indiana.

What would end up being the best decision of August Meyer, or at least his management team, would be a plan to position the VHF station in such a way that would insure its dominance for decades! Keep in mind at that time, mid Illinois consisted of three different TV markets. Springfield was it's own market as was Decatur and Champaign-Urbana/Danville. Springfield viewers would lean toward watching WICS, Decatur viewers would go to WTVP, while Danville viewers would go to WDAN-TV. If WCIA aired its local news at the same time that the other central Illinois stations were airing their local newscasts, WCIA at best could possibly only expect to pull audience from the Champaign-Urbana area, and only a few from Decatur, Springfield or Danville.

This move by Midwest Television would bring news viewers from all three markets to WCIA with virtually no competition from the other local UHF stations. The solution, was simple but in some respects, risky. The decision was made once WCIA made a significant investment of regionalizing its newscasts to delay the broadcast of local news by 15 or 30-minutes. By the mid 1950's WICS, WTVP and WDAN-TV were airing their 15 or 30-minute local news at the “traditional” times of 6 and 10pm. WCIA would air its local news at 6:30 and 10:30pm. The major risk was the late night edition of news, as the question was “would people stay up until 10:45 to catch the very end of a regional newscast produced at WCIA. The answer evidently was “yes.”

By establishing WCIA as a regional television station it would build habitual viewing across mid Illinois. The decision for the newscast delay was pure genius! Television audiences move as slow as molasses in January...maybe slower. As households became used to watching WCIA the habit was handed down from generation to generation. It was even contagious from neighbor to neighbor and friend to friend. It seemed that no one in central Illinois could close out the day without their “fix” of news from WCIA.

WCIA would continue its 15 or 30-minute local news delay for its early evening newscast until 1959 and its late night newscasts seemed to appear at the “traditional” time of 10pm by 1962. By the very late 1950's or early 1960's, the decision to return to the more traditional news times was made. There may have been several outside factors making it necessary to move back to more of a 6 and 10pm news time.

One possible outside factor could have been the added Champaign-Urbana television competition. The change by Channel 3 to a 6pm evening newscast may or may not have been a reaction to new competition from the part time satellite of WICS now in Champaign, WCHU, Channel 33 which would air a local newscast at 6pm. That newscast would contain at least some elements produced at WICS in Springfield.

The change to a 6pm local newscasts could have been one from WCIA's arrogance. Once the “habit” was achieved of watching the presumably better production of local news, sports and weather of WCIA, there could have been enough confidence of maintaining enough audience across the market to give Channel 3 an edge in household numbers overall.

There may have been other factors, though. First NBC and ABC were producing programming to begin prime time at 6:30pm. There may have been fears of audience loss from competition against the other stations network fare. CBS would also begin to program the 6:30 to 7:00pm block in earnest with programming which would actually be more likely to attract an audience.

Before that time CBS would program Monday through Friday at 6:30pm with shows like the British import “Robin Hood,” games shows like “Name That Tune” and “Masquerade Party,” reruns of “I Love Lucy” along with “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” Several of those CBS shows would be picked up and aired on WTVP at 6:30pm. CBS would also begin to schedule hour long shows at 6:30pm, which brought about a change in the WCIA local news time, up 15-minutes, to air at 6:15pm, as most of the other stations would only air 15-minutes of local news at 6pm. By 1960 most of the central Illinois stations were airing 30-minute local newscasts taking away the benefit of the 15-minute delay for WCIA.

In 1960 most evenings prime-time viewing on CBS would begin at 6:30pm with one hour shows like “Aquanauts,” “The Witness” and “Rawhide.” By then it was necessary for WCIA to return to the 6pm newscast.

Even though by the early 1960's, all of the central Illinois television stations were airing local newscasts at the 6 and 10pm times, the habits created during those years in the mid to late 1950's, would establish the station as a regional news resource for mid Illinois for years.

The maneuvering of the WCIA local newscast times along with its VHF dial position, the vast viewing area of the station and its investment for a noticeably better television product would continue to influence the local news and entertainment preferences of many central Illinois viewers for decades!

WCIA Sales Ad
(from Broadcast-Telecasting)

University Ford-Champaign commercial
(from WCIA)
"The Little Rascals" with Sheriff Sid or Captain Eddie.
(from WCIA)
"Cartoon Time" with Scotty Craig.
(from WCIA)

A Threat Against WCIA on Channel 3

The first mention of a possible threat against Channel 3 and its channel on the VHF band would become public in March of 1957. The question was whether markets in mid Illinois were to be served by all VHF channels, all UHF channels or a mixture of VHF and UHF. Even though WCIA's dial position wasn't an issue in proceedings before the FCC at the time, the VHF-UHF channel question was creating controversy in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois.

The battle for those valuable VHF channels between prospective owners was bringing the protests of the markets UHF stations who were battling for their very existence against the possibility of a major VHF competitor signing on.

Even though there was a UHF station in Danville, Champaign was not considered part of the Danville market....or more likely Danville wasn't considered part of the Champaign market. The coverage area of WDAN-TV, Channel 24 in Danville just barely reached the Twin Cities of Champaign-Urbana.

Another factor was that WDAN-TV didn't go on the air until after WCIA did. August Meyer's quick action of offering the competing applicant a share in his company in exchange for withdrawing its application gave WCIA a jump and allowed the station to establish itself as the first EAST central Illinois TV station.

It would just be a matter of time before central Illinois' UHF stations would challenge the VHF channel being held by WCIA. On July 26, 1957 a story was published in the Champaign-Urbana Courier told of a nine-point petition to the FCC filed by Plains Television on behalf of WICS and Prairie Television for WTVP.

The Plains Television/WICS petition wanted the allocation of channel 3 eliminated for Champaign for the reason that WCIA was the “sole commercial VHF television located in the “heart of a UHF area.” Plains Television said the deletion of channel 3 was necessary to protect the effectiveness of the FCC's recent action to eliminate channel 8 in Peoria.

WCIA refuted those claims by Plains Television. WCIA stated Channel 3 was outside of the central Illinois UHF area and that elimination of the VHF channel was not necessary to assure survival of UHF service in central Illinois. Midwest stated that the elimination would be “an inefficient use of an important VHF frequency” and would “deprive significant numbers of people of service, particularly residents of small communities and rural areas...” Plus, those areas “served by WCIA (had a) very low proportion of sets (which) can receive UHF signals.”

Midwest would wrap up their response with the statement that WCIA should not be put to the “burden and expense” of a proceeding before the commission “on the basis of the flimsy showing made in the petitions of the Springfield and Decatur interests.”

One of proposals proposed awarding the channel 3 allocation to the University of Illinois and moving the current U of I allocation currently at channel 12 to other communities. The proposals of the UHF stations were based on the idea that giving the U of I channel 3 would be a benefit to the educational television service. Mr. Meyer would shoot back a response declaring the U of I was “operating a commendable television station on channel 12 and has not requested or suggested a change.....WCIA came into being through a desire to protect the interest of the University and at the same time provide commercial television for a large area that was without it until we went on the air.

He went on to say that the original plan of the FCC was to only have one VHF station assigned to Champaign-Urbana. It was originally designated as an educational channel. Mr. Meyer would tell the story, “Commercial interests could have challenged this, ear marking (the VHF channel as educational) and (leaving) the University without any channel.”

WCIA Programming from
December 4, 1956
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

He goes on, “It was the present ownership of WCIA who engaged consulting engineers and successfully demonstrated to the FCC that allocations could be changed in 11 states so channel 12 could be allocated for educational use and channel 3 assigned to 'commercial operations.' The U. of I. Athletic department desires commercial sponsorship of its games and this would be impossible on a non-commercial educational station regardless of the channel. Results of all this cooperation would be wiped out if the Springfield and Decatur stations should succeed in their current efforts. What they are asking is that the University station be left isolated in the VHF band. With no commercial VHF station with good programming to cause people to keep VHF antennas up this would be almost a death blow to the audience of the University station and this fact is well known.”

The newspaper account of the WCIA reaction to the petition also included what the UHF stations were urging in regards to the channel 3 allocation. One totally preposterous idea mentioned in the account was a suggestion to move the allocation to Fowler, Indiana! Fowler is a very small community located in Benton County with no business base to support any kind of television service. The closest larger community would Lafayette, Indiana, 25 miles to the south east of Fowler. This would virtually reallocate channel 3 to Lafayette, Indiana or perhaps even Danville, Illinois.

Meyer would explain that WICS is controlled by New York and Chicago interests, which have been seeking to move channel 3 from Madison, Wisconsin to Rockford, Illinois. This request had already been denied by the FCC. Plains Television was the owner of WTVO, Channel 39 in Rockford and was seeking a VHF channel for its station there. He also would bring up Plains Television's permit to operate a UHF channel 33 for Champaign-Urbana but so far Plains “has made no effort to get started.” He also described Channel 33 as merely a satellite for WICS.

William Shellabarger, of Prairie Television and WTVP predicted that WCIA would eventually become a UHF station or its existence as a VHF station would drive the UHF stations off the air since they wouldn't be able to compete for viewers and advertisers. The WTVP petition also sides with a local group, the Champaign-Urbana Council for Better Radio and Television. Meyer would state that the group was established by a University of Illinois professor, who was the head of an organization which failed to develop a television station on channel 21 after obtaining a construction permit to do so. He asked, “Is it possible he is still seeking personal gain rather than serving the interests of the public or the university from who he receives his pay?”

The UHF petitioners also claimed that many TV stations would spring up after de-intermixture, but Mr. Meyer would say they are “ignoring the economic facts of life.” He would continue, “Good programming costs money and a good market is required to support good programming. The area of a given market that can be covered by a television station is directly related to the transmitter, power and antenna height and also to the assigned channel.”

With the petitions filed by WICS and WTVP, WCIA would organize the first public relations campaign to enlighten their viewing audience on the downside of a possible VHF to UHF conversion. It was important to show the costs to everyone, not just the viewers in the fringe areas who would lose WCIA. This campaign would include the mention of $6-million dollars in total viewer expense that would be required investments by viewers to continue to receive WCIA.

WCIA, according to their report, had an audience in 33 counties which are wholly or partly outside of what is known as its Grade B area and in those areas less than 50-percent of the households were equipped currently to receive UHF broadcasts. The station had done its homework. Other numbers presented include the 432,000 people in those fringe areas in 140,976 homes, with only 17,823 equipped to receive UHF broadcasts!

The station went on to bring up other factors to show that if UHF stations were to be developed in smaller communities in those fringe areas like Mattoon, Streator, Kankakee and others there would be extensive overlapping with existing VHF and UHF stations throughout the Midwest. The WCIA campaign would declare that the station “exists only because its owners recognized that there is a substantial area of small and rural communities which would not have effective television coverage unless a VHF television station was allocated to Champaign.”

By the end of 1957, the FCC would unanimously deny the petitions of the other central Illinois television stations to deintermix Champaign-Urbana and central Illinois. The FCC would state that Champaign-Urbana was not predominately a UHF community and that surrounding UHF outlets did not provide even grade B service to the twin cities. The Commission would also say that if channel 3 was deleted a “significant” number of people now receiving television would lose television service.

At the same time, the FCC handed down some other decisions concerning other Channel 3's. The channel 3 allocation was granted to Harrisburg, Illinois and gave WSIL-TV, Channel 22 permission to broadcast on channel 3 until the outcome of a hearing for that channel would be decided. The FCC also denied a petition by Sarkes Tarzian Inc.(owner of WTTV, Channel 4 in Bloomington, Indiana) a request to grant channel 13 to a community just to the east of Harrisburg, Illinois, Carterville.

It was also at that time the FCC denied a specific petition by Plains Television(WICS) and Prairie Television(WTVP) to deintermix Champaign-Urbana by deleting channel 3 and not proposing that channel 3 be reassigned to any specific community. That alternate proposal of Prairie/WTVP to reserve channel 3 for educational use and move channel 12 to (Fowler, Indiana) Lafayette, Indiana for commercial use and add channel 64 to Champaign-Urbana was rejected by the Commission. WTVP also sought to change WCIA to channel 21, 27 or 33.

The final statement from WCIA on this episode read, “All of us at WCIA are gratified by the commission's order. It means we can continue our efforts for better television service to Central Illinois and Western Indiana.” It appeared that WCIA was in the clear to broadcast on channel 3 for the duration. Unfortunately, a move to delete channel 3 from Champaign was going to happen again later.  See below for Part 2...

Fred Sorenson  publicity picture from 1954
(from WCIA)

Fred Sorenson

WCIA's First Anchor Man

Fred Sorenson was the first news anchor at WCIA. He would begin when Channel 3 went on the air in November of 1953 and continued to September of 1955. He was hired from WKRS in Waukegan, Illinois where he had been since the station went on the air a few years before. Mr. Sorenson was a native of Ohio and a graduate of Ohio State University. He had no previous TV experience, having worked in radio as an assistant manager at WKRS.

He would leave WCIA in May of 1955 to take a job with KTAR Radio/KVAR-TV in Phoenix, Arizona. His leaving would also bring about the resignation of his wife, Edith Bindle Sorenson from the University of Illinois. She was in the headlines during his time at WCIA, as having gone through the U of I in 18 months and receiving a bachelor's degree in economics and had already completed a substantial amount of work toward a master's degree. Mrs. Sorenson was a native of Germany and because of her high school training, it qualified her for admission as a junior after passing a number of proficiency examinations.

His separation from WCIA would only be temporary. His tenure at KVAR-TV would be short, as he would return to WCIA in June of 1957.

On June 17, 1957 Fred Sorenson would fall back into the role as news anchor at WCIA. His temporary replacement, Robert Brown, would return to his former employer WMAY Radio in Springfield, Illinois.

Mr. Sorenson's second tenure at WCIA would be short. In June of 1958, it would be announced he would be leaving once again, this time to become general manager of WKRF in Waukegan. His new station was described as being an “independent” 1-thousand watt directional AM station which employed 25 full and part time people. He has plans to do a “small amount of sports broadcasting” along with his administrative duties. His wife, Edith and his children would remain in Champaign at their home at 1202 West University in Champaign to join him in about a week.

The WCIA, Channel 3 Battle-Part 2

Plains Television/WICS in Springfield demanded a revisit to the deintermixture controversy in central Illinois in June of 1958. WICS had charged “arbitrary and capricious” action against the FCC decision of December 1957 and demanded reconsideration by the FCC. Plains in its statement said that the terms of the recent order was “inconsistent with the announced policy on selective deintermixture.” WICS claimed denial of “due process” which could take the issue to the federal courts if it is not resolved to the satisfaction of the UHF stations.

Attorneys representing the Springfield UHF station said the FCC made the decision without any discussion “regarding the policy of equalizing competitive opportunities.” The statement said that the FCC “correctly replied upon” in the cases of Peoria and channel 8, Springfield and channel 2 and similar situations in Evansville, Indiana and Fresno, California.

By this time Plains Television had been granted a construction permit for channel 33 in Champaign which was to have the call letters WCHU. Because of the ruling, the attorneys stated, the company will proceed to construct channel 33 but with “lesser facilities initially than specified in its present permit.” This downgrade of the proposed facilities of WCHU would ultimately do more harm to Plains Television and would set the stage for the lack of success for its own station for decades afterward. It appeared to be a perfect example of “cutting off your nose to spite your face!”

Plains Television's attorneys reminded the Commission that two days after the issuance of the ruling in the Champaign-Urbana case there was another decision in the United States Court of Appeals upholding the legality of the FCC's program of “deintermixture.” They stated that the decision in the channel 3 matter was inconsistent with the interim policy of selective deintermixture and resulted in a failure to apply uniform principles to this case.

Attorneys for WICS stated the same arguments as before about the VHF station having a “depressing effect on UHF” and the existence of WCIA constituted a monopoly which restricts effective competition.” Plains Television stated the FCC failed to give adequate consideration to those arguments and didn't view the evidence in support of them.

Plains Television responded to claims made by Midwest Television President August Meyer that the forced change of WCIA to UHF would not bring about additional TV service in other communities like Mattoon, Streator or Kankakee because the economics didn't support the additional television stations in those communities anyway. Plains said that the removal of the VHF channel would “stimulate establishment of additional outlets in Champaign and elsewhere. This would in turn lead to improvement in quality and quantity of programming available to the public and enable more local and regional advertisers to use television in the Champaign-Urbana area.”

Christmas time 1958 WCIA would receive notification that the FCC had denied the petition filed against WCIA by Plains Television against Midwest Television and WCIA. Plains had proposed the renewal of the WCIA broadcast license be conditioned on a move to UHF channel 64. This laughable proposal was rightly denied by the FCC.

It appears that for the time being, once again, WCIA was safe at home on Channel 3.

WCIA Looks to the Future and a Larger Facility

In the midst of what appeared to be an untouchable dominance in the market, Midwest Television would make the decision to purchase a plot of land on South Neil Street, just a few blocks from its current location, in order to build a television production campus. The 35-acre plot was purchased in June of 1957 from Park and Trade, Incorporated and was L-shaped and wrapped around 11-anchor plot, the home of WDWS Radio, at the corner of U.S. 45 and the township road known later as Windsor Road. The property purchased by Midwest would include 755-feet of frontage on South Neil (U. S. 45) as well as 468-feet of frontage on the township road (Windsor Road).

Park and Trade, was a company owned by a number of unnamed business and professional investors which purchased the land from the Ross R. Mattis estate. Their intention was to develop the land as a site of a south Champaign shopping center. However, the project did not materialize. With the sale of the land to Midwest Television, the Park and Trade, Incorporated was dissolved.

Its also unknown what kind of a structure at the new site would have replaced its land-locked studio, the former tire store located at 509 South Neil Street. The time table of the construction and completion of such as broadcast facility was never announced.

In September of 1958 Midwest Television would purchase an additional 11-acres of land adjacent to the original 35-acres purchased in June of 1957. The additional acreage was the site of the Breezeway Motel, owned by George F. Breeze. The original purchase was L-shaped and extended behind the motel. An agreement would allow the the motel to operate for the next several months before being taken over by Midwest. James Fielding, assistant secretary-treasurer of Midwest Television announced that preliminary consultations with architects have been held for the planning and designs of a much larger and new facility to house Midwest Television and WCIA.

Unfortunately, the move to a new, larger and more modern studio/office center was not to take place. The reasons are unclear but there were some outside factors which may have made the investment of a new building very risky. One factor was the attempts of the central Illinois competitive stations/companies to have the FCC pull its VHF channel and make WCIA move to the UHF band.

This action would have severely damaged the successful business model of the station. By reducing the reach of WCIA and its ability to attract the vast numbers of viewers across mid Illinois and western Indiana with making it a UHF station it would no longer be able to charge top dollars from national, regional and even local advertisers. The income of the station would have been reduced significantly.

Another factor in not building the new WCIA facility in 1960, was the cash out-lay Midwest had to make with the purchase of a television-radio property in Peoria, Illinois. WMBD-AM/FM/TV would be purchased by Midwest Television which would help to create a broadcast empire of television stations throughout mid and north-central Illinois.

In 1963, Midwest would expand even more with its purchase of KFMB AM/FM/TV in San Diego, California. More on that purchase later.

It seemed that with the number of battles taking place between Midwest Television and the FCC and its local competition along with its need to invest in other properties made the investment in a new WCIA studio/office a low priority issue. In fact even by 1962, the plans for a new WCIA facility appeared to have been scraped.

(top): WCIA front parking lot at 509 South Neil
(picture from Ed Mason Collection)
(middle): WCIA front studio parking lot.  Note the picture is incorrect in its's actually from the mid 1960's as the vehicle at right front is a '63 Ford.
(bottom): Main studio building in the mid 60's
(from WCIA)

So, what to do with several acres of land along U.S. 45 just south of an ever growing Champaign? One use would be to utilize the land for the construction of a microwave repeater by Midwest Television. This microwave tower would be a part of the extensive microwave system which would link the facility at WCIA to its sister station WMBD-TV in Peoria.

Another use of the 46-acreage would be to build a simple 18-hole golf course. In keeping with the WCIA, Channel 3 theme, they called it “The Par 3 Golf Course.” It would operate for years until the value of the property climbed to such an extent it was sold to developers.

Another program schedule is coming here soon....

CBS Shows Airing on WCIA 1959-63 (not already shown above)
"Person to Person" "The United States Steel Hour" "The Jack Benny Program" "Candid Camera" "Mister Ed"
"Video Village" "Dennis the Menace" "Wanted Dead or Alive" "Pete and Gladys" "The Defenders"
"Mr. Lucky" "Bringing Up Buddy" "The Judy Garland Show" "The Twilight Zone" "Lassie"
"My Friend Flicka" "The Andy Griffith Show" "This is CBS" "The Lucy Show" "This is CBS"
"Frontier Circus" "Love of Life" "Masquerade Party" "My Favorite Martian" "The New Bob Cummings Show"
"Hennesey" "Dotto" "Angel" "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" "Glynis"
"East Side/West Side" "CBS Reports" "Password"  
"My Three Sons"
"I Love Lucy" "Petticoat Junction" "My Sister Eileen" "The Lloyd Bridges Show" "The Beverly Hillbillies"
"The Dick Van Dyke Show" "Rawhide" "Father Knows Best" "Ichabod and Me" "Checkmate"
"Route 66" "Alvin and the Chipmunks" "Tightrope" "The Real McCoys" "The Danny Kaye Show"

Syndicated Shows Airing on WCIA 1959-63 (not already shown above)
"Adventures of Superman" "Border Patrol"
"Wild Bill Hickok" "WCIA" "WCIA"

Midwest Television Purchases

WMBD AM/FM/TV in Peoria

WMBD AM/FM/TV in Peoria became part of Midwest Television in 1960. Even though the WMBD-AM property has a long history in Peoria, the FM and Television properties were relatively new. The Television went on the air on New Years Day in 1958. It would become Peoria's full time CBS station with an ambitious plan for growth. Under the ownership of Charles Caley, WMBD Incorporated would put the station on a fast track to success and profitability from the studio location on South West Jefferson in downtown Peoria at the site of a former theater. The sale was announced in March of 1960 with the price of the three station combo at $1,850,000 for all assets with $229,000 payment over eight years to Mr. Caley for a consultancy agreement for an agreement not to compete in the market.

WMBD-AM broadcast regionally at a power of 5,000 watts on 1470kc, while WMBD-FM broadcast at 92.5 with a power of 2,500 watts (In December of 1963, WMBD would apply for a frequency change to 92.3 and a power increase to 36,000 watts). Channel 31, WMBD-TV broadcast at 678,000 from an antenna 670 HAAT.

The sale was finalized and approved by the FCC on June 15, 1960. The vote was 5 to 1 in favor of approval. FCC Commissioner John S. Cross cast the dissenting vote. The overlapping of the stations coverage area evidently posed no problem with the majority of the commissioners.

With the sale of WMBD to Midwest Television, a whole series of changes would unite WCIA with WMBD to create a television giant in central Illinois. The two stations would share resources across the board in sales and in programming. The national marketing of the two stations began immediately with a full page in ad in Broadcasting-Telecasting proclaiming “The Greater Illinois Market” and the “joining of central Illinois two leading TV stations join under the ownership of Midwest Television, Inc.” The ad would state that “together , they deliver more actual homes between 6am and 10pm that the leading television station in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Miami, Houston, Baltimore.” Also, “Together, they reach the important market areas of Peoria, Bloomington, Danville, Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and Springfield.”

The personnel of the stations were listed as President, August C. Meyer; Executive Vice President, Guy Main; WMBD-TV AM-FM, General Manager Hal Sundberg; WCIA National Sales Manager, Len Davis; WMBD-TV National Sales Manager, Mark Wodlinger.

In October of 1963, the Midwest Television stations would take on a new national representative. It was announced that Peters, Griffin, Woodword, Incorporated would represent the Midwest Television stations to national and regional advertisers.

In order to share resources with programming it would necessitate a way to electronically exchange and share live programming between the two stations. This was to be an early effort of centralizing and creating program content which could be used outside the originating area. It would take the expensive construction of a microwave repeater system between the two stations.

The creation of this large media giant in the backyard of WICS, WCHU and WDAN-TV was not lost on Plains Television. They had already lost the deintermixture fight, not only for central Illinois but also in Rockford. They would need to find something else to complain about....and they would find it later.

Don McMullin, WCIA news editor and anchor from the late 1950's when he left to go to WMBD-TV in March of 1960 as operations director.
The WCIA Weather-casters, from left to right: Scotty Craig, Mr. Roberts, John Coleman and Sid Perry.
The 10pm news was called "The Third Report" in 1960.   The man in the middle is Mr. Roberts.  I haven't been able to determine who the news and sports anchors are in the picture.  This could have been a weekend crew, but it's unknown for certain.  Anyone know?

WCIA would lose many employees as they would soon populate the staff roster at its new sister station WMBD AM/FM/TV.  Among those leaving to go to Peoria:  Don McMullin, Gene Robinson, John Coleman and several from behind the scenes. 

News anchor, Gene Robinson.  He was formerly with WDAN-TV and would go on to be general manager at WMBD AM/FM/TV by the 1970's.  He anchored the 10pm WCIA news from the late 1950's to March of 1961.
"CIA Reports" was an occasional news production which would feature detailed news reports of local interest.

Updating the WCIA News Desk from 1958-1963

Fred Sorenson would leave WCIA to return to Waukegan, Illinois.  He was replaced by Richard  L. "Dick" Wright for time from June of 1958.  Mr. Wright was also elected treasurer of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association in 1960.   Even with his election in the INBA, in December of 1960 he would leave WCIA and would take a  job with the Illinois Agriculture Association.

Don McMullin (pictured above left) would take over as news editor in December of 1960.   By March of 1961, Gene Robinson was named operations director at WMBD-TV in Peoria and would leave WCIA where he was the 10pm anchor.  McMullin was later promoted to news director at which time William Roberts was appointed news editor.   Later Bill Roberts would leave broadcasting for a law career and would later come a Ford County judge in Paxton.  Don McMullin would continue as news director at WCIA until he was transferred to WMBD AM/FM/TV in January of 1962.   Bill Roberts would become news editor at Channel 3 until leaving in 1967 when Paul Davis was made news director.  Paul Davis was already a reporter anchor at WCIA beginning in 1960.  He would also become the first WCIA anchor to appear in color.  More on that in Part 2 of the History of WCIA

Meanwhile, sports and weather seemed to be rather stable with Mr. Roberts doing weather at 6 and 10 every evening and
Tom Schoendienst as sports director.  Tom Jones began his career at WCIA as a weekend sportscaster.  More on Mr. Jones in Part 2 of the History of WCIA.  

NOTE: Part 2 of the History of WCIA.....coming soon!

Sheriff Sid    Versitility to the Nth Degree....and a Hero of the Kids

Sheriff Sid was one of my local TV heroes when I was a kid growing up in Taylorville.  I was thrilled to see him in person when he made a personal appearance at the Montgomery Ward department store in town  in the early 1960's. 

Sid "Sheriff Sid Perry" Fulkerson began his broadcast career at WVLN Radio in Olney, Illinois in late 1947.  He joined the production department at WCIA on April 3, 1954 where he worked behind the scenes in the day to day production of local television. 

He was one of the most talented and versatile local TV performer at WCIA having hosted a number of programs, aimed at a variety of viewers of different ages.  During his career at WCIA, he did everything form hosting children's participation shows to weather-casting weekday afternoons on the WCIA noon newscast.

According to Ed Mason who served as a projectionist, cameraman, producer, writer as well as commerical and progarm host(another versitile WCIA personality-more on Ed later), Sid hosted the following children's shows:  "Tinker Time," "The Sheriff Sid Show," "Merry Mix-Up" and "Cartoon Time" as well as hosting the "Midwest Matinee" and "Midwest Marquee."  He also had various behind the scenes studio responsibiliteis.  His hosting didn't stop he hosted weekend movies, did live commercials and other announcing duties.

One story as told by Ed Mason had Sid in the coffee room all decked out in his usual cowboy outfit, when August Meyer came into the room and asked, "Sid, just what is it you do around here?"  Mason goes on with the story, "Needless to say, Sid was devestated.  In my opinion Sid was probably the most talented on-air performer I encountered in my 30 years in the business!"

Sid would leave WCIA for a time beginning in July of 1959, when he took a TV job at KBAK-TV in Bakersfield, California, but he would later return to Channel 3 before leaving again in the mid 60's, when the trend for local TV shows directed at kids would begin to fade.  He would move with this family to Florida where he returned to his radio roots with ownership of a radio station.

(pictures from the Ed Mason Collection and WCIA)

Various scenes with Sid Perry, doing an impromptu art demonstration,  scenes from a commercial, putting on the cowboy boots!

Eye Witness: 
Priscilla Ziegler and her brother Steve are sitting in the firrst row at the far right.

"My brother Steve and I were only allowed to watch TV about an hour a day....and it was usually the Sheriff Sid Show.  We bugged our Mom for weeks and months to be allowed to go see Sheriff Sid and she finally relented.  She called the station and we had a date with Sheriff Sid!!"

"I know how excited Steve and I were to be meeting Sheriff Sid and being on his show.  When we got to the station, we waited out in the lobby until it was almost show time and then we were escorted back to the studio.  I don't remember what the show was about, but we watched cartoons and were entertained by several other characters.  At the end of the show each "guest" received a goody-bag filled with coupons, toys and candy."

"One of the coupons was for a trip to Joyland (an amusement park on North 45 in Urbana).  Another coupon was for Kelly's Potato Chips and I think there was one for Borden's Milk.  I don't remember what the others were for, but our trip to Sheriff Sid's show and seeing him in person was a treat beyond belief."

"We talked about it for days afterwards with all of our neighborhood friends and even though we had always played "cowboys and Indians" our being on the show made us that much more "knowledgeable" on the subject."

"My brother and I kept a scrapbook of that day with autographed pictures, mementos, ticket stubs, etc., but it was lost in a flooded basement around 1972.  It would be such a joy to see that scrapbook again and what memories it would bring."

"I wish Steve were still here to help me share our memories with you, but he passed away in 2002.  Just know that being on the Sheriff Sid Show was one of the best times of our childhood.  Thanks for the opportunity to share them with you."

Thanks to you, Priscilla!

"The Hop" was WCIA's answer to "American Bandstand."  Even though many local TV stations would try to duplicate the style of the teenage dance shows, even WICS and WTVP had their versions, the WCIA version still holds a special place in the memories of many WCIA viewers.

I get more inquiries about "The Hop" more than any other locally produced TV show.  To answer your questions:  No I have no access to any recordings of the "The Hop" and neither does WCIA.  This show was produced live and ALMOST no recordings exist, the exceptions are below.


(top left): an excerpt from "The Hope" hosted by John Coleman on WCIA
(mid left): Part 1 of a segment pre-recorded on kinescope for playback during
a particular installment of "The Hop" with Ed Mason
(bottom left): Part 2
Note that the music had to be eliminated from the video because of a copyright challenge.  Just imagine the playing of "The Hop" by Danny and the Juniors. Also, the audio is distorted due to a bad recording or deterioration of the audio track on film.  But having something is better than nothing when it comes to these priceless moments of local television!

Ed Mason replaced Coleman and remained as the host of the show until it was eventually canceled when it became more difficult to get kids to dance on TV. 

(video from the Ed Mason Collection and WCIA)

John Coleman
From Rock and Roll to the Weather

John Coleman hosted "The Hop" during it's first half beginning in 1960.  The show was modeled after WFIL and ABC's version of "American Bandstand."  See below for a segment of an opening to one episode of "The Hop."

It aired on Saturday afternoon at 5-6pm on WCIA as well as Peoria's WMBD-TV.   John would introduce each song, and would actually spin the 45 rpm records from the bandstand.  The picture in the upper right shows a glimpse of a turntable.

Local teens would appear on the show and dance to the hits.  Occasionally there would be an appearance of a nationally known singer or pop group.  John Coleman would host the show from 1960 to 1963 when his director, Ed Mason would take over as host.

Bill Roberts was a director at WCIA during the era, and he described John Coleman as being "bashful, scared looking guy who starred at the floor" to a confident and popular personality.

He began his weather career at WCIA doing the weather during the 6:30pm newscasts.  Bill Roberts tells the story of John's weather sponsor, Manhattan Coffee.  " As part of the commercial each night he held and sipped from a cup of coffee.  One night, he couldn't find his coffee cup.  (It is possible someone hid it.)  So he had to have his coffee from a paper cup form the coffee room.  (It was a paper cup.  This was before the days of Styrofoam cups.)  John commented on the air about having to drink from a paper cup because the stage crew could not find his coffee cup.  A couple of days later, a cup came in the mail from a woman who wrote a letter to him that she did not want him to without a cup.  He used that cup that night and read her letter.  That started an avalanche.  He got additional cups which he used with credit to the senders.  They began to increase in numbers.  He would use a new cup each night and credit the sender.....  We had to build a cup rack for the cups.  They filled a wall at the back of the commercial set."

John Coleman was also a co-applicant for a new radio station which was to be licensed in Rantoul, Illinois.   He would later withdraw his name from the list of investors because of his association with WCIA and Midwest Television.   That station became WRTL AM/FM.

When John Coleman left WCIA in the early 1960's, Mr. Roberts agreed to do the weather twice a day.  He would leave from his job at the Illinois Water Survey at 5pm and go directly to WCIA for his weathercast at 6:15pm.  John was replaced by Ed Mason on "The Hop."

John is probably more remembered as a weathercaster at ABC during "Good Morning America" during the 1970's and 80's and later at WLS-TV. He was also one of the founders of "The Weather Channel." 

"Captain Eddie"    Ed Mason   Taking the Kids from Cartoons to Rock and Roll

Ed Mason started at WCIA in November of 1954 as a projectionist, cameraman, director, producer, writer, host of various children's shows, commercial spokesperson, weather caster and in his words, “anything else that needed done at the time.”  He directed WCIA shows like  "Happy Home," "The Hop" and the evening WCIA news.  He wrote commercials, acted as talent both on camera and voice over for many commercials, he subbed for news, weather, was a performer on "Popeye's Circus" and "The Little Rascals" playing Captain Eddie, he produced and hosted "The Hop" and acted as host for the Schlitz Starlight Theater.  Later he would join the WCIA sales staff.

He did interrupt his tenure with WCIA.  In 1960 he left WCIA for a business opportunity as a partner in a company which acquired the Oklahoma franchise for Dog and Suds. What happened to Ed, happens to most broadcasters when they leave the business, in time, they soon go back.  Mason returned to broadcasting as a Producer/Director of news at KOCO TV in Oklahoma City. It didn't take long, though, for homesickness to set in. He directed the newscast on the evening of the Kennedy inauguration, left KOCO and returned to east central Illinois in February 1960.  He would leave broadcasting, but again just for a short time. He ended up being with Landrey Music in Danville. Landrey was a music store selling musical instruments, including pianos and organs. It was then he was approached to make appearances at WDAN-TV. It was after one of those appearances at Channel 24, when he returned to the store, that he found out it was going out of business. It only seemed natural he return to WCIA.

The second tenure at WCIA is probably the era for which he is most remembered. Along with being a director and producer, he also did even more on-air appearances as weather caster fill-in, commercial spokesperson and eventually the host of the popular teen dance program, “The Hop.”

When John Coleman was hosting “The Hop” the shots were being called by Director, Ed Mason. One Saturday morning Mason was contacted only to be offered the position of “The Hop” host....beginning that late afternoon. Being the host of “The Hop” also meant that you were the DJ for the show. The host cued the 45's and the LP's for playing on the air. According to Mason, Coleman had more experience as he had some background on radio and was used to cueing and playing records. Ed had to learn how to operate the turntables from the set, while hosting the show.

After the cancellation of “The Hop” Ed went on to direct, produce and during his last years there, he was also an advertising sales executive. He left WCIA in 1974,  joining the sales staff of WICD later in May of 1978.  He was appointed sales manger at WICD in December 1978.  He continued at WICD through 1990. Ed is still an active musician and plays local venues in and around the Champaign area. He also has been a major contributor to this website and the History of WCIA and is still known to many as "Captain Eddie.".

Captain Eddie is still one of my heroes!

Ralph Edwards would produce and host "This is Your Life" for NBC from 1952 to 1961.  WCIA would air kinescopes of the surprise testimonial program late nights during the late 1950's.

"Mr and Mrs North" was another NBC show which would be aired by WCIA after the live network run.  A film of the series would make the rounds to those secondary NBC affiliates sometimes weeks after its original air date. WCIA would air the series through late 1954.

Phil Silvers would star in "The Phil Silvers Show" also known later in syndication as "Bilko."  CBS would originally air the military comedy from 1955 to 1959.  One episode even included Danville's own Dick Van Dyke!

"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" starred Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver with Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus.  Other occasional co-stars included Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.  This popular series aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963 and for many years in syndication.

From 1957 to 1965, "The Danny Thomas Show" would appear on CBS after being on ABC from 1953 to 1956.  This was one of the longest running family sitcoms to date running through 1965 and even enjoying a resurrection in the early 70's on ABC. Along with Danny Thomas were the co-stars Marjorie Lord, Rusty Hamer, Angela Cartwright, Hans Conreied and Sid Melton.

Starring as "K-k-katy" was Ann Sothern in the "Ann Sothern Show" which aired on CBS from 1958 to 1961.  Her character was the assistant manager of a major downtown hotel in New York.  The cast included Ernest Truex, Jack Mullaney, Reta Shaw, Don Porter, Ann Tyrrell and Jacques Scott.

"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" was technically an ABC series, but the ad agency and sponsor would place the program independently with WCIA.  WTVP, even though an ABC affiliate, was left out of the "buy."  Instead the show was shown on WCIA guaranteeing a much larger central Illinois audience.  Coca-Cola and Kodak were long time sponsors of the popular long running sit com.

Kodak was also the sponsor of "The Ed Sullivan Show."  The long time variety show was hosted by newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan.

(all three TV Guide ads are from the
TV Guide collection of Doug Quick)

"Jack Benny" was a radio star before he went to television where he would gradually increase the number of shows he did under his own name as "The Jack Benny Program" or the "Lucky Strike Program."  Here is an ad for "The New General Electric Theater" which happened to guest star one of CBS' number one stars.

Eye Witness:  Over the years I have heard from many people who "were there" in those very early days of central Illinois television broadcasting.  Here is the story of Darrell Blue as he described his experience at WCIA.  He would begin his career at WCIA in 1958, then would go to WTVP in 1959.  In the early 60's he would go to WILL(TV) then soon after 1962 he returned to WCIA.   He would move up the ranks at Channel 3 to become operations manager by 1983.  During his 20 years at WCIA he would be involved in virtually every aspect of the on-air product of Channel 3.  See more about his experiences at WTVP by going to the History of WTVP.

"In my early years at Channel 3, I was a producer/director and directed almost all of the live shows including 'The Little Rascals,' 'The Hop,' 'Happy Home' with DiAnne, all newscassts, 'Sheriff Sid,' etc.  When I looked over the pictures on your site, almost every person was familier.  Chris Meyer, the son of Founder August C. Meyer and I were in the same class in school so I have a long standing relationship with that family."

"I looked over the pictures on our site to see if I might be in some of them.  The only one that I can identify for certain is the title card for 'The Late Show Way-Out' with Trebor.  (see below)  I co-produced the show with host Bob Shive and the title picture is my eyeball.  At the time, the photo department was looking around for someone with a bad-looking eye.  I had a terrible cold at the time, so my eye was chosen."

---Many thanks to Darrell Blue for his story!

Robert "Trebor" Shive

Going "Way Out" to Scare the Channel 3 Audience

"Way Out" was WCIA's Late Night Horror Movie host from the 1962-65.  It's host was "Trebor" also known as "Cousin  Trebor" played by Robert Shive.  Note that Trebor was Robert spelled backwards.

Most of the movies came from the Universal Studios catalog of "Frankenstein,""The Wolf Man," "The Mummy" etc.. although other titles remembered include "The Brain from Planet Arous."

When Robert Shive took over the roll of Trebor, he was only
about 20 years old  He was also an advertising account executive at WCIA.

"Way Out" aired on Thursday night at 10:30pm, and some memories also include a Saturday night midnight showing as well.

(above left: picture and video of "Way Out" from the Ed Mason Collection)
(above right: thanks to "E-Gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts")

Here We Go Again, WCIA Faces Another Threat to Its Position at Channel 3-Part III

Note: This sub-chapter narrative is a condensed version of the story and will be included in the larger body of work to come soon.

The deintermixture controversy in central Illinois would once again flare up with the spark being ignited by the FCC itself. An FCC plan to further deintermix some markets was proposed and placed before the commission at a special meeting on July 27, 1961. This plan developed by staff members at the FCC would include a “drop-in” of additional VHF stations with less than previously set standards of millage separation. There were also other plans in a 3-inch thick document which was previously non considered by the FCC because it was “too complex.”

Among the proposals in the FCC staff plan was the deintermixture of Champaign-Urbana-Decatur. It appeared the plan would eliminate channel 3 from the allocation table to be substituted by an unspecified UHF channel. Channel 12 being used by WILL-TV would remain the sole VHF station in central Illinois. The FCC commissioners agreed with the plan in theory, and felt it would have enough votes to pass the plan, but felt that initializing the plan would generate a barrage of opposition from stations, congress and would face an ultimate court test.

It didn't take long to hear a response to the FCC plan by August Meyer. He responded with, “I have instructed our attorney and engineer to prepare documents showing that the FCC is wrong in its proposal to remove the VHF channel from our area of Illinois. Thousands of people will lose their only good TV service.”

Famed Illinois Senator and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirkson (Republican) and FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow met in late September for an hour and a half the week before Congress would adjourn. Chairman Minow in talking with Senator Dirkson stated he and the FCC wasn't out to hurt existing stations facing a move from VHF to UHF. He also said the entire deintermixture plan would have been unnecessary if Congress would pass legislation requiring television set manufactures to equip television sets with both VHF and UHF tuners. It appeared that Chairman Minow was offering a deal that would help level the competitive playing field that existed between VHF and UHF stations, thereby eliminating the need for deintermixture in the long term. But it would also keep the power of the FCC intact and “save face” for the commission.

The Illinois House of Representatives would oppose the deintermixture plan and more specifically the WCIA Champaign channel 3 deletion as well as the deletion of channel 3 for WREX-TV Rockford . Both the House and Senate in Illinois were resolved to ask the U.S. Congress to pass a law forbidding the FCC to delete any VHF channels in Illinois. The resolution would say that deintermixture is not in the public interest and would deprive many in Illinois of TV service “especially in rural areas and smaller communities.” Other state officials would join in the protest as the Illinois Coverage TV Committee would be formed to oppose the deintermixture of Champaign and Rockford, Illinois. The co-chairmen were Illinois Secretary of State Charles F. Carpentier and State Auditor Michael J. Howlett.

The deintermixture parade started to pick up steam as complaints against the proposal would bring a deluge of mail to the FCC. Protests from local civic groups, individuals and local government bodies were all protesting the plan. Even in Connecticut, Senator Prescott Bush (Republican) registered a protest at the idea of removing Hartford, Connecticut's WTIC from the VHF band. The Illinois Maximum Coverage TV Committee announced it had collected more than 48,000 signatures of people in Illinois opposed to the changes in the VHF channels of WCIA and WREX-TV.

By the first month of 1962 the idea of all channel sets gets support from the FCC and Congress. Among the supporters Rep. William Springer who says he wants to introduce a bill of his own to support a lay mandating the future manufacture of all channel (VHF and UHF) television sets. Even though manufactures were opposed to the idea, most of not all of the TV manufactures were already producing all channel television sets and had been for years. In central Illinois and other areas of the country where UHF broadcasting had been the rule, TV dealers, from the early 1950's, had been offering sets equipped to receive all of the channels available and advertising them as well.

Meanwhile, the protest against the deletion of channel 3 from Champaign would ramp up across central Illinois and western Indiana. Viewers from the area flooded the FCC with petitions against the proposal. A picture was published in Broadcasting-Telecasting showing a portion of 21 large boxes used to air freight 523 petitions from “the undersigned viewers of Channel 3 in central Illinois and western Indiana.

The argument against deintermixture and the elimination of channel 3 would be supported by Illinois Senators Paul Douglas (Democrat) and Everett Dirksen (Republican). Both stated that deintermixture was not the best way to serve the rural areas of central Illinois and Setator Dirkson would go as far as call the act of deintermixture “illegal and contrary to the FCC's mandate to provide equitable distribution of services.” Most of the objections would state that the loss of service to areas as being the main concern.

In early March of 1962, published reports stated that the FCC was appearing ready to abandon the deintermixture plan, at least for now, providing the congress enacts the all-channel legislation. The basis for such a trade was proposed by Democratic Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas, chairman of the House Commerce Committee. Later in the month, the FCC would tell the House Commerce committee that the agency would agree to an indefinite moratorium on deintermixture of eight cities if the all-channel legislation is passed. The FCC also stated the commission feared congress would strip the FCC of some of its powers if they were to continue to pursue the proposed plan.

This was not the end of the issue, though, as nine UHF stations in some of the markets where the FCC had proposed deintermixture asked the FCC to make its decision permanent and “on the record.” Among the nine stations were WICS-Springfield, WCHU-Champaign and WICD-Danville. This according to a plan by the UHF stations would put the FCC in a bind, since it is the argument of those UHF stations the exchange plan of all-channel TV legislation and the stop on deintermixture was part of “ex parte” considerations making it illegal. The “deal” was reported to have occurred illegally during a meeting of Illinois Senator Dirkson and FCC Chairman Minow.

The group of UHF stations would cite a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the St. Louis-Springfield, channel 2 case which forbids the FCC from “ex parte” agreements or in other words, deciding on cases involving “conflicting private claims to a valuable resource.” The group also admitted that the all-channel legislation would help UHF stations compete in five or ten years, but it was not a substitute for deintermixture.

In early April, the House committee approved an all-channel bill. It reiterates the FCC moratorium on deintermixture, except in the Springfield-St. Louis and the Peoria-Moline cases. The committee calls the all-channel bill the “only practical” way of building UHF service, but adds a time table on the moratorium at five years. At which time, a second look would be needed to check the overall effectiveness of the bill and the competitiveness of those UHF stations in the select markets.

HR 8031 was passed by the House with a vote of 279 to 50 to be sent to a Senate committee to be discussed and later approved, to be voted on by the Senate. By June 11, 1962 the bill was signed by President Kennedy and the all-channel legislation was the law.
The FCC proposed a date of April 30, 1964 as the deadline for manufactures to conform to the all-channel law.

In early September the FCC would vote 5 to 1 to drop a proposal to change television stations channels from VHF to UHF. That vote would save WCIA at channel 3, as well as WREX at channel 13 in Rockford. August Meyer would respond, “It would appear that this order ends the deintermixture proceedings, and on this assumption I want to personally thank the thousands of viewers of WCIA who petitioned Congress to pass legislation that would remove the possibility of taking Channel 3 away.

“All of us here at WCIA are deeply grateful to our viewers for their support, and I want ot assure them that we are deeply conscious of our responsibility to serve them. We shall strive in the coming months and years, with increased dedication to provide our viewers with the best possible television service....
We shall continue to provide a balanced and varied program service that, taken all in all, is the best available on the television dial.

“We shall continue to provide a service of news and informational programs that is second to none. And, we shall welcome the criticism and comments of our viewers on the service we provide as warmly as we welcomed their support in the recent fight to save Channel 3....”

WCIA at 10 Years Old...
The Kennedy Assassination

(Above):  Here is how initial coverage of the Kennedy assassination was playing out on CBS.  This video covers the initial hours of uncut video from CBS and how it aired on WCIA.

On November 22, 1963 the world was just learning of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   The Channel 3 news was on the street getting central Illinois residents feelings on the story of the second half of the century.
In these series of pictures, Paul Davis was in downtown Champaign getting people's reactions.

The WCIA Honor Roll                                                                             Employees of Midwest Television/WCIA 1953 to 1963 
Here presented in no particular order are those
who have served at WCIA, job description/title, dates

August C. Meyer, President, 1953-
Guy Main, commercial Manager, vice-president               and Director of Sales, 1953-198?
James Fielding, production mgr, treasurer of                        Midwest Television, 1953-
Harry Y. Maynard, general manager, 1953-54
Vance Van Tassell, farm director, 1953-
Sidney Fulkerson(Sheriff Sid), 1953-1958, 1959-196?
Ed Mason, 195?-195?, 195?-197? *
John Coleman, 195?-1961
Robert L. Myers, chief engineer, 1953-54
Robert Brown, news, 1955-56
Fred Sorenson, news 1953-1955, 1956-1957
Don McMullen, news, 1960-1962
DiAnne Mathre, home economist, 1953-

Wyndham J. Roberts(Mr. Roberts), weather,                      1953-198?
Jack Prowell, sports, 1953-1954
Tom Schoendienst, sports, 1954-1971
William Helms, production-sales, 1953-198?
Gene Robinson, news, 1958-1961
Lou Mautz, Sales, 1954-55 *
Martha Meyers, office mgr, 1953-
George Pienderleith, film director, 1953-
Allen Doyle, engineering, 1953-
Kenneth O. Fristoe, engineering, 1953-
Carle W. St. John, engineering, 1953-
Nancy Hill, engineering, 1953,
Jerry F. Drakeas, engineering, 1953-
Robert Shaub, engineering, 1953-
M.D. Hunnicutt Jr., Chief Engineer 1954-
William Stinson, art director, 1953-
John Ketterer, music director, 1953-
Leonard Davis, publicity director, 1953-

Richard L. Wright, news, 1958-1960
William Robets, news, 1960's
Paul Davis, news, 1960-82 *
Joe Wamsley, engineering, 1960's
Jerry Johnson, ?  , 1960's
Nick Bridge, art department, 1960's
Robert Swisher, ? 1960's
Dale Fleming, engineering, 1955-196?
Robert Shive, sales/performer, 1960's
Tom Jones, sports/news, late 1950's-1980's
Darrell Blue, studio to operations mgr, 1962-82 *
* a contributor to this site
This list is by no means complete....if you are or know of a WCIA employee, sales, administration, programming, news or creative services....drop me an e-mail.
Include that persons name, title or job description and approximate dates of employment, if know.

Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine
The Urbana Courier Newspaper
The News-Gazette Newspaper
The Decatur Herald Newspaper
The Bloomington Pantagraph Newspaper
The Danville Commercial-News Newspaper
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Newspaper
TV Guides (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection
Danville Public Library
Champaign Public Library
Decatur Public Library
Urbana Free Library
You Tube
The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows
       by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
 Total Television by Alex McNeil

Bob Lee for the vast majority of the program titles screen grabs
Ed Mason and the Ed Mason Collection
Paul Davis
Bill Roberts
J. R. Evans
Downey Hewey
Wayne Brasle
The Doug Quick You Tube Channel
E-Gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts

Next:  Go to Page 2

The History of WCIA,Champaign
  Page 1
The First 10 Years
  Page 2
The Era of Strong Personality TV
  Page 3
Being on Top
  Page 4
The End of the Midwest TV era and Nexstar
  Page 5
The Digital TV Years

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updated 3/3/2016
web master:  Doug Quick
copyright 2001-2016  Doug Quick