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The History of WICD, Champaign, IL
  Page 1
The WDAN-TV Years 1953-1959
  Page 2
The WCHU, WICD Years 1959-1966
  Page 3
WICD, Channel 15 Early Years, 1967-1978
  Page 4
WICD, The Plains TV Years, 1978-1994
  Page 5
An Era of Change for WICD, 1995-2004
  Page 6
The WICD ABC Years 2005-2015

This could be your ad.....e-mail for more information!

WICD, Channel 15, Champaign, Illinois
Page 2: The Plains Television/WCHU-TV/WICD-TV Years (1960-1967)

Here's an ad in a TV Guide from 1958 announcing the new WICS broadcast tower which made the prospect of adding a satellite television station in Champaign a possibility.  It would "infringe"on the Champaign-Urbana market and WCIA.  It wasn't for another 6 years before WCIA would do likewise and add W-49-AA to broadcast WCIA's signal in Springfield.  WCHU would re-broadcast the off air signal of WICS from it's 800 foot tower east of Springfield near Mechanicsburg, Illinois.

WICS-TV originally went on the air in 1953 with studios at the LeLand Hotel in downtown Springfield and transmitter sight located at the WCVS radio transmitter sight on South Fourth Street in Southern View, a suburb south of Springfield.   The original broadcast antenna for WICS was located on top of a 400-foot self supporting three legged tower which served as the antenna for WCVS radio.   A new 900 foot tower/transmitter sight at Mechanicsburg, Illinois completed in 1958 made it possible to construct a satellite station in Champaign, Illinois.  That satellite station,  some 90 miles east, would rebroadcast WICS-TV and bring Champaign-Urbana television viewers NBC programming from a primary NBC affiliate. 

Construction on WCHU began in November of 1958, and the station originally went on the air in September of 1959  as a low power UHF station and a translator of WICS.  The original coverage of area of WCHU was estimated to be no more than 15 miles from the transmitter site at the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign.  The power output on the new WCHU was 5.5 kilowatts visual and 2.96 kilowatts aural from a short antenna mounted on top of the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign, the corner of Neil and University.    WCHU was to receive an off air signal of WICS for rebroadcast from a receiver also located on the roof of the Inman Hotel.  It didn't take long to see that the assumption of getting an airable signal from WICS all of the time was a mistake.  Weather conditions, the time of day and other bouts of interference from the downtown area contributed in a less than reliable signal from WICS.  

WICS beginning in 1958 was on it's 900-foot tower at Mechanicsburg broadcasting at 500 kilowatts.   To expect a good broadcast quality signal all of the time from 90 miles was a stretch even in the best of circumstances.  The receiving antenna on top of the Inman Hotel was a large parabolic style antenna with signal amplifiers, but it just didn't work.  Later in the year an application was filed for, and permission was granted by the FCC for the construction of a receiver on the north west side of Champaign along U.S. 150.  This receiving antenna would be on a 150-foot tower which would receive WICS then microwave the signal to the studios at the Inman Hotel.  

On September 13th, 1959 WCHU was ready to expand it's broadcast day with the construction completed on the microwave link from it's new receiving antenna north west of Champaign.   

The full page ad in the Champaign-Urbana Courier which announced the "Broadcast in Earnest" of WCHU, Champaign-Urbana's first UHF TV Station.  This was in October of 1959, when the station originally signed-on with a limited schedule on April 25th, 1959.

(Urbana Courier)

It was reported the station now began to broadcast "in earnest."  A special insert in the Champaign-Urbana Courier the following month featured the programming and details on the future plans of the station to include some local origination with a newly constructed studio on the second floor of the Inman Hotel.

The original staff at WCHU included Vice President Milton Friedland who was with WICS since 1953 and would oversee the operation at WCHU as well.  Jerry Merrit was Chief Engineer and Jack Hoskins was Program Director.  All of those personnel would be located at WICS.  At WCHU the staff consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Eskew.  Mr Eskew was from technical services at WICS and would oversee the new station in Champaign.  His wife was a former Traffic Manager and would serve as Office Manager at the station.  Meanwhile Jerry Dodds was serving as Account Executive and Bob Daniels was serving as Announcer.  Other Engineers on staff included Roger Thorp and Glen Horton.

In July of 1960, the license holder for WCHU, WCHU, Inc., went through a name change.  The original corporation was dissolved which according to a newspaper account in the Champaign-Urbana Courier, would permit "the consolidation of interest by it's present company" Plains Television Partners.  By that time the Danville Commerical-News parent company Northwest Publishing was ready to dump it's local television property, WDAN-TV.   The ownership of yet another television station in the market was a natural to expand the reach of WICS.   This would allow WICS to  meet or exceed the coverage area of competitor WCIA in getting the ad dollars of regional and national advertisers.  With the change in the license holder name it would allow all three stations to operate under the Plains Television name.  Remember now, that Champaign's WCHU was a translator of WICS, and was an NBC affiliate.  WDAN-TV was operating as an ABC affiliate in Danville.  The idea of having ownership of more than one station, with separate network affiliation in the same market was unheard of at the time.  In spite of that, the press release stated that Plains having ownership of the two stations, WCHU and WDAN "would have no effect on the operation of the TV stations in Champaign or Danville."  That was a total un-truth.  The writing should have been on the wall, since the coverage area of both stations, had very little overlap, it should have been obvious that now both stations would be used as translators for WICS.

Late in 1960, the exact date is unclear, but Northwest Publishing, owner of WDAN-TV sold the station to Plains Television Partners which then renamed the station WICD-TV to become a satellite station of WCHU which was a satellite of WICS in Springfield.  The General Manager of WICD was Ralph Johnson.  The original WDAN-TV studios on North Washington Street in Danville after the sale, was leased from Northwest Publishing.  The original facility also housed the WDAN-AM studio and transmitter while the television station was located there.  Later during the early and mid 1960's Champaign's WCHU did originate local programming which was simulcast on WICD-TV, including local news, children's programming and local commercials.  

By August of 1960 it was announced that WCHU should be able to broadcast in color, perhaps by the time of the telecast of the 1960 World Series.  Milton D. Friedland made the obvious statement that "color is here to stay....RCA and NBC have made tremendous investments in developing color TV and will be transmitting every color show they have."  The investment in colorcasting at WCHU was in the $15-20,000 range.  Friedland went on to announce some of the shows that would be broadcast in color by WCHU including, "Jack Paar, Perry Como, Dinah Shore will all be in color."  By then, though, WICS had been broadcasting in color for three years.  Unfortunately, WICD, the Danville sister station would not be broadcasting in color....yet.   It's apparent that the vintage 1953 transmitter of WICD was not capable of being retrofitted to accomodate the addition of the equipment needed to colorcast.  I would assume that the investment in colorcasting for the Danville station was simply not financially practical as a complete new transmitter would have been required.

With the ability to broadcast in color, it must be said that the only programming which was broadcast in color came from NBC.  A very similar situation which exists today with the broadcasting of high definition digital video.  It was going to be 10 more years before the facility would be broadcasting local shows, other than movies, in color. 

Not one to be upstaged by the announcement of the telecasting of the more colorful NBC programming schedule, WCIA's August C. Meyer stated that WCIA-TV had been able to broadcast the network color shows since 1954.  He went on to say that CBS had a limited amount of color shows available.  Actually, CBS had  no regular color shows, and wouldn't have until 1966.  In fact, CBS was the last of the three networks to have a prime time schedule with any color programming.  This fact had to frustrate the owners of WCIA a great deal.  So much so, that they would be the first to broadcast their local news in color just a few years later.

Part of CBS reluctance to broadcast in color came from the fact that the color studio equipment had to be purchased from competitor RCA/NBC which were the patent holders of the technical color standards.  It all goes back to the early 1950's when the color TV standards were being decided by the FCC.  The CBS color system was reported to be better in quality, but was not compatible to the millions of TV sets which were in use even in the early 1950's.  The RCA/NBC system was compatible, and after many years and months of hagling by the technical wizards at both companies, the FCC made a decision, then overturned their decision to favor the RCA compatible format.  That set the stage in the reluctance of CBS to purchase equipment from the competitor.

This ad from a local TV store welcomed WCHU
to the air by encouraging viewers to check out
the DuMont TV's and the programming on WCHU which would include "a host of stars, 23 of America's greatest TV shows and 17 1/2 hours of top programming on NBC-33.

The landlord took out an ad in the Champaign-Urbana Courier to welcome
WCHU to the second floor
of the hotel and the antenna atop the Inman Hotel.

(newspaper ads/photos from the
Urbana Courier)

Here are people in charge, Mr. and Mrs Harry Eskew who were placed at the helm of WCHU.  Harry was formerly at "technical services" at WICS while Mrs. Eskew was the former "Traffic Manager" at WICS.  She would now be Office Manager at WCHU.

In 1961 the Local News on WICS and WCHU was called "At Your Service" and included the anchor team of Nick Alexander on news, Wally Gair on Sports and Jack Thorne on Weather.  The newscast originated at WICS and was simulcast on WCHU.   This is from an TV Guide ad published in 1961.  (Courtesy of J.R. Evans)

This is from a 1959 edition of TV Guide right after WCHU went on the air in Champaign.  The ID pretty much set the coverage area of both stations, listing WICS(at 1-million watts, on an 800 foot broadcast tower at Mechanicsburg) and WCHU(at 5.5 kilowatts, on a tower at the Inman Hotel) which only covered Champaign and Urbana.  The total broadcast radius of WCHU at the time was around 15 miles. 
(Courtesy of J.R. Evans)

During the late 1950's, the ownerships of WTVP and WICS petitioned the FCC for the elimination of WCIA's broadcasting as the only VHF station in the central Illinois market.  At that time, many TV markets were designated as either VHF(major markets) or UHF(smaller centralized markets).  WCIA continued to fight for years to maintain their dial position, threatening that a move to UHF would eliminate many square miles of their coverage area and seriously hurt the the stations economic success.  It would also have in all likelihood split the central Illinois market into two, leaving it with 2 small markets, instead of one geographically large market.  Being able to maintain one market brought more prestige to WCIA, more programming(which was owned by advertisers in the beginning), and higher local/regional/national ad rates.  It wasn't until 1962 that the threat went away by an act of Congress.  In what was good news for WCIA became a struggle for all other UHF broadcasters in the central Illinois market. 

The only way to even come close to competing against WCIA for national and regional ad dollars was for WICS to establish two stations to cover the market.  That set the plan during 1962 in motion for two full power UHF stations to cover the market by 1967.  That plan was announced when a request was submitted to the FCC in January of 1965.  In June of 1966 the plan was announced which would replace channels 24 and 33 with a full power station at channel 21 by 1967.

The control room at WCHU.  It simply was to insert local ID announcements, and perhaps a few local commercials at some point.  The transcription table(turn table) recorded and played back commercial messages.   There was also a Magnicord reel to reel

deck there as well along with the audio and video control boards.   See the same set up a couple of years later below.  The turn table apparently was eliminated from the control room.

Peter Gunn, the Blake Edwards creation starred Craig
Stevens, Lola Albright and Hope Emerson.   Edwards was also responsible for the Pink Panther movies later.  Peter Gunn was on NBC from 1958 to 1960, before it
went to ABC in 1960.

Sports was going to be a big draw in the pre-ESPN
world the selection was rather
skimpy.  It didn't
matter who
was sports.....and that's all
there is....

(ads from Urbana Courier)

The first version of "The Price is Right" was
hosted by Bill Cullen.  The announcer was Don Pardo who later became the announcer for "Saturday Night Live."

Schedule of Programming on WCHU, Channel 33 for  Thursday, September 14, 1961
7:00 am  Today  news, interview, variety
9:00 am  Say When  gamee
9:30 am  Play Your Hunch  game
10:00 am Price is Right  game, hosted by Bill Cullin
10:30 am Concentration  game, hosted by Hugh Downs
11:00 am Truth or Consequences  game, stunts, hosted by Bob Barker
11:30 am  It Could Be You (C) game
12:00 pm News- local news from WICS
12:15 pm George Rank-syn, dramatic anthology (syn-WICS)
12:30 pm Bernie Johnson- variety (from WICS)
12:55 pm News- local news from WICS
1:00 pm   Jan Murray  game, hosted by Jan Murray
1:30 pm 
Loretta Young  dramatic anthology
2:00 pm  Young Dr. Malone  daytime serial
2:30 pm  From These Roots  daytime serial
3:00 pm  Make Room for Daddy   off network syndication to network

3:30 pm  Here's Hollywood  
4:00 pm  Three Stooges-syn
4:30 pm  Kiddie Korner- local cartoons
5:00 pm  Bugs Bunny- syn, local cartoons
5:45 pm  NBC News-Huntley/Brinkley Report (NBC)
6:00 pm  News, Weather, Sports- (local news from WICS)
6:30 pm  Outlaw  western
7:30 pm  Bat Masterson  western, starring Gene Barry
8:00 pm  Bachelor Father  sit com, starring John Forsyth
8:30 pm  Ghost Tales (C) drama
9:00 pm  Grouch Marx  game, interview, hosted by Groucho Marx
9:30 pm  Lock-Up  crime drama
10:00 pm News, Weather, Sports- (local newscast from WICS)
10:30 pm Tonight Show  hosted by Jack Paar

NBC Network programming indicated in bold and underlined
(C)=Color telecast


"I started working at WCHU-TV as a cameraman in early 1963. I was a student at the University of Illinois pursuing a degree in Radio/Television. I was hired (after an “audition” of my camerawork) by Bob Lumpp, Program Manager (he also did our weather show “Window on the Weather”). I was subsequently engaged in “other duties as assigned” which included shooting and processing news film, building sets, driving the station VW bus in the (July 4) parade, etc. WCHU-TV was owned by Plains Television Inc. which also operated WICS-TV in Springfield and WICD-TV in Danville. WCHU-TV operated on UHF channel 33. 

"The production studio, control room and offices were located on the north end of the second floor of the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign. The production studio was unique because of the column in the exact center of the studio. That meant that the studio was divided into four “production” areas. One for news, one for weather, one for interviews and live cut-in commercials, usually done by Keith Page during the “Tonight Show”. (This space was subsequently used for the set of “Uncle Otto’s General Store” with my school buddy, Dave Otto). The last quadrant of the studio was for other uses like panel discussions at the “counter” that was there. The center column was used as a live-card stand, hanging space for mics and other gear and a place for the studio clock.

"WCHU-TV was a one-camera station (yes, one camera). The camera was one of the very earliest Image Orthicon units, a RCA TK 10-A. Being a cameraman there produced several situations involving quick moves to cards and sets like News to Weather. If the time had not been sold, these were masked by quick dips to black then on to the next set. Lightning camera moves became pretty normal. Another interesting move was to the “Window on the Weather” intro which started as a shot out the open window of the studio and then a smooth (kind of) dolly back and pan to the set and weather person. Also within the studio was an announce booth where Keith Page recorded the break copy and local commercials. There was also a bench with a Dage vidicon camera at one end and a bulletin-type board at the other on which we posted the closing prices for the stock markets (these pictures were pretty bad).

"Looking into the studio through a (cluttered) glass window was the control room. Access to the control room was through a door from the hall into the room that housed the transmitter. The antenna was on the roof of the Inman Hotel, as I recall. Through the next door you entered into the control room. To the immediate left was a rudimentary video switcher and director’s position. Next to that, was the main control area which consisted of camera control units for the studio and film chain cameras (CCU’s). This console was topped by a Gates audio board with a slide projector positioned above it. The projector was used to display images through the window and onto a screen in the news set. It usually worked pretty well. Past the control area and through another door was the projection room. It had slide and film projectors running into a kinescope (!) camera. Harry Eskew, Chief Engineer claimed to have enough negative news film, the kinescope polarity was switched to show a positive image from the negative film. It was switched back for film spots and break slides. To the right of the projection room was the (tiny) darkroom. Here we manually processed negative news film (DuPont 931A which was a reversal film that could be stopped at negative) since we did not have the equipment or chemistry to do the full reversal. We manually loaded the film on stainless steel wire racks that were about 2 feet by 3 feet with wire dividers at each end to keep the film from overlapping. Once loaded, the racks were immersed in standard negative film chemistry in deep narrow tanks built to accommodate the racks. It was not unusual to see Deke Kurtz run into the studio and hold a handful of film in front of the air conditioner there to dry it for editing and insertion into the newscast. There was a small editing area to the right of the chemistry tanks. That is pretty much the description of the technical areas of the station.

"At the corner of the floor were the station offices: Station Manager, Sales, Traffic, Program Manager, Reception, and across the hall …News. The newsroom had teletype machines from UPI and AP. A good deal of our news was “rip and read” with local stories interspersed. On the day Kennedy was shot, the bells on the machines rang constantly with breaking “flash” updates. I can still hear those bells. We stayed on the air 24 hours during the Kennedy coverage, doing local impact coverage cut-ins and sleeping, when we could, in a hotel room next door. These were exciting times to be in live TV that was sadly underlined by tragedy. We felt that, somehow, in a very small way, we were part of history.

"That’s a thumbnail sketch of WCHU-TV and my times there. By the way, we always referred to the station as “Television 33” and our phones were answered accordingly. Bob Lumpp, Program Manager, hated TV stations being referred to as “Channel 9”, etc. We signed off each night with the national anthem followed by Leroy Anderson’s “Trumpeter’s Lullaby”.

"This was considered to be a “shoestring” operation but I loved cutting my TV teeth there and I loved the people! I’ve included a set of photos of the facilities with captions as I remember. I’m also providing a (from memory) personnel roster. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did living it."

(c) Ted Sodergren 2016

Ted also included a number of rare valuable pictures which are included below.  I thank Ted so much for his valuable contribution to the history of WCHU.....when there is in fact so little of it being documented.

--Doug Quick

An RCA TK10-A black and white television camera.

Projectionist Joel Hartman loading the WCHU film chain with what appears to be a short length commercial reel of film.

"Deke" Kurtz editing news film.  The developing tanks are on the left.

This is the Television 33 (WCHU) News/Production "bus."  Charlie Anderson is shown shooting film to be used on the air.  Notice the billboard just above the VW van for the Television 33 new "weathergirl."

This was the WCHU news set at the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign.  The station had only one studio camera.....a 7-8 year old RCA TK41-A black and white camera.

Pictured here at the news set is Charles Anderson with the local news update on WCHU, with Ted Sodergren on camera.

A great picture of the WCHU control room with Gerry Probst.  Note the monitors labeled with "20" "33" and to the far right "24."  The video monitors included three Admiral table model TV sets which would have used the "off-air" tuners to monitor the three stations.  The  second monitor probably monitored the video before sent to the transmitter, with the one in the middle picking up the "off air" signal.  

The video switcher is directly in from of Mr. Probst with the Gates audio board model called  "The Yard" sitting on top.  The control room operator had to do both audio and video switching.  Also to the far right is probably the commercial scripts for live and recorded reads....done by the "booth announcer" and at the far left could have been he program log....and the list of phone numbers of other staffers and probably the main control of both WICS and WICD.  This equipment also being full of tubes and other heat producing electronics needed to have additional air conditioning....notice the wall unit at the upper right hand side of  the picture.

Pictured above is Charles Anderson and "Deke" Kurtz reviewing some news film through the film chain and watching it on the fourth upper monitor which is labeled "film chain."  This photo also shows the reel to reel tape with the continuity log for commercial copy.  Apparently, much of the "booth announcing" was pre-recorded on reel to reel tape for each days broadcast schedule.  There was another "Magnicord" reel to reel recorder/player which could be alternated  from one to the other as commercials switched.  The rack on the wall was probably reel to reel tapes with individualized commercial audio on them for playback.  

Also note the larger monitor just to the far right.  It appears to be an RCA color TV which was used to monitor the "color" off air signal of WCHU and it's broadcast of NBC color programming.
The television station license and various operators licences are displayed just above the control room door.  By the way, it appears the air conditioners exhaust was blown into the hall way.

Here station program director and part time weathercaster Bob Lumpp does the weather at the original weather set at the WCHU studios on the second floor of the Inman Hotel.  The "Window on the Weather" would include a shot of the current weather conditions in downtown Champaign as viewed from the window.  Carol Fisher was the original "weather girl" of WCHU. 

Another control room shot of WCHU.

WCHU-TV Employee Roster 1962-1964 (as remembered by Ted Sodergren)

station manager: Jim Kelly
sales: Joe Norris
traffic: Shirley Eskew
program director: Bob Lumpp (weather announcer as needed)
weathercaster: Carol Fisher
chief engineer: Harry Eskew
control room engineers: Gerry Probst and Gene Euling
director/photographer: "Deke" Kurtz
news announcer/reporter: Charlie Anderson
announcer/interviewerer/booth announcer: Keith Page
"Uncle Otto" and production: Dave Otto
studio production staff: Ted Sodergren, Joel Hartman
receptionist/traffic assistant: Barbara Bluege

All text materials and photos contained in the section above have been used by permission.  They are owned by Ted Sondergren who has graciously allowed them to be included in this website. 

Popular NBC Shows Airing on WCHU and WICD from 1960-1966
"Wagon Train" "Ruff and Reddy" "Huntley-Brinkley Report"
"Bonanza" "Fury"
"The Today Show"
"The Ford Show"
"Mr. Wizard"
"Peter Gunn" "Play Your Hunch"
"Car 54, Where Are You" "Bachelor Father" "The Price is Right" "Dr. Kildare"
"Sing Along With Mitch"
"Hazel" "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color"
"Sheri Lewis"
"The Joey Bishop Show"
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents"
"King Leonardo"
"Perry Como"
"Truth or Consequences"
"It Could be You"
"Man from U.N.C.L.E."
"Tales of Wells Fargo" "Fireball XL5"
"The Virginian"
"The Tall Man"
"The Richard Boone Show"
"Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Show"
"Get Smart"
"Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
"Daniel Boone"
"The Rogues"
"I Dream of Jeannie"
"Saturday Night at the Movies"
"My Mother the Car"
"The Space Kidettes"
"Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In"
"The Dean Martin Show"
"Bullwinkle Show"
"The Doctors"
"Dennis the Menace"
"You Don't Say"
"The Monkees"
"Merv Griffin"
"The Sammy Davis Jr. Show"
"Occasional Wife"
"The Saint"
"Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" (annual special)
"Morning Star"
"90 Bristol Court: Karen"
"The Andy Williams Show"
"Another World"
"Accidental Family"
"The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson"

"Capitol Conference" was a weekly public affairs program hosted by WICS Anchor Douglas Kimball in 1960.  The studios were located at the Leland Hotel in downtown Springfield.  Click on the photo above for a larger picture. 
(Courtesy of J.R. Evans)

This is an ad from 1963 showing the WICS/WCHU/WICD news anchors.  Pictured from top left: UNKNOWN, Chet Huntley(NBC), Dale Coleman(WICS-News Director), David Brinkley(NBC), UNKNOWN, Douglas Kimball(WICS) and Wayne Cox(WICS). Click on the photo above for a larger picture. 
(Courtesy of J.R. Evans)

In 1962, the kids panel show hosted by long time central Illinois TV personality Kim Wilson "Popeye Fun Time" aired on both WICS and WCHU.  Kim Wilson had careers at both WICS and WTVP during the 50's and early 1960's. 
(Courtesy of J.R. Evans) 

The NBC Peacock as seen by those with color TVs on WCHU, Channel 33

The NBC Peacock as seen by those with color TVs on WICD, Channel 24

(above left): The opening page of local listings from TV Guide® when the listings for Channel 24, WICD were added to the lineup.  Even though Channel 24 had been broadcasting since 1953, the previous owners (Northwest Publishing-see page 1 of the History of WICD) chose not to have the station included.
(above right column): About a year after WCHU went on the air, the station was finally equiped to pass network the network color signal of NBC.  Unfortunately the transmitter of Channel 24, WICD was not compatible with the required installation of the color generator.

"Uncle Otto's General Store"
was the WCHU/WICD local children's show which ran on weekday afternoons on Channels 33 and 24.  Dave Otto was the star with the puppets of "Honk" and "Toot."  The puppeteer was none other than WICD's Keith Page in his early days of broadcasting.  Keith also supplied the voices of the puppets.  The show also included a studio audience of local kids and a mixing of Warner Brothers cartoons.  Shows like this one, helped establish the habits of the younger audience to watch local television stations.

Here's Keith Page from the early 1960's with what was probably a posed picture for a live TV commerical for TEEM soda.  TEEM was a 7-UP knock-off from Pepsi-Cola.  It was introduced in 1962.

Above are two scenes from "Uncle Otto's Talking Pictures" was broadcast on Sunday night at 10:30pm.  Even though Uncle Otto was the host of "Uncle Otto's General Store" which was for the kids, this WCHU/WICD feature included the Sunday night late movie hosted by "Uncle Otto."

This is Dave Otto with his puppet friends "Honk and Toot" who were voice and manipulated by Kieth Page, who would be a part of the Champaign television station through 2006 when he passed away.

Popular Syndicated Programs Airing on WCHU and WICD from 1960-1966
"The Three Stooges"
"I Dream of Jeannie"
"The Cisco Kid"

"Dobie Gillis"
"The Adventures of Superman"
"The Mike Douglas Show"

Here's Douglas Kimball in a closeup from the ad to the right.  He was actually in Springfield, but it appears that at least part of the newscast originated in Champaign with local news and weather

(from the Urbana Courier)

Here's the ad from a 1964 Urbana Courier newspaper which invited viewers in on "The Big Switch."  WICS anchor Douglas Kimball was the main anchor pictured in front of a WCHU microphone flag.

(from the Urbana Courier)

The 5 O'Clock report as broadcast on
WICS/WCHU/WICD and W-75-AD in the mid 1960's. 
Nick Alexander, Dale Coleman and Wayne Cox anchored the Springfield newscasts while Alan Crane and Joe Thompson did the Champaign-Danville newscasts.  Dale Coleman along with Al Pigg(see WTVP) and Kim Wilson had the distinction of spreading their careers at both WICS and WTVP during the 1950's and 60's. 
(ad from TV Guide®
and the Doug Quick Collection)

Local origination was split between WICS and WCHU/WICD and featured newscasters such as Douglas Kimball and the "Standard Oil News at 6PM and 10PM" from WICS-TV.  The need for local origination became obvious and the construction of studios were completed within the small confines of the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign. 

By localizing the WCHU product it could better attract a Champaign-Urbana audience to add to the audience of WICS in Springfield and help to the total audience of the NBC affiliates.  Local News at WCHU/WICD was provided by the Dunkel/Eaton Report which originated in both Danville and Champaign.  Dunkel was in Danville and Eaton was in Champaign.  It was a local version of NBC's  Huntley/Brinkley Report.

Children's shows of the era included "Clicka T. Clack and his Friends" and "The Funny Company" on WICS which included a panel of kids from the Springfield area and a staple of Warner Brothers cartoons.  At WICD it was Uncle Otto's General Store with David Otto. 

Keith Page, long time weather caster, began at WCHU as a puppeteer on Uncle Otto's General Store and alter egos of "Honk and Toot."  Keith was also a booth announcer at the station and pre-recorded all of the commercial station breaks, and became a weathercaster when weather "girl" Carol Fisher left the station in 1964.

In January of 1965 Plains Television Corporation filed with FCC for a license to broadcast on Channel 21.    That Channel 21 signal would have replaced those on Champaign's Channel 33 and Danville's Channel 24.  It would also eliminate the need for the translator at Channel 75 in Mattoon which re-broadcast WICS.  This new facility would be able to broadcast a signal with a 50 mile radius from a tower midway between Ogden and Fithian, 2 1/2 miles south of Interstate 74.  The station would have a maximum height of 1,349 feet with a power of 225 kilo-watts.  Plus, the new station would be able to broadcast NBC shows in full color to the entire area!

After a holdup, for an unknown reason, the filing finally was sent to the FCC for consideration during March of 1965.  A press release at the time said that if the FCC approved the license within 60 days, a new tower and facility could be operational by the fall of 1966.

Finally in June of 1966 the announcement was made that what was originally Channel 21, would now be Channel 15, a joint operation of stations WCHU and WICD and would be on the air by late 1966 or early 1967.  It was promised that viewers would have better reception from the new tower which would be the tallest structure in Illinois and Indiana.   The tower site would be near Homer, 17 miles east of Champaign(actually Urbana), and would be 1, 345 feet tall and the station would broadcast a power of 55 kilo-watts(a little short of the original plan).  Sometime along with the filing, a change was made to the specs to include a high gain antenna with a corresponding increase in power to 1 1/4 million watts.  WCHU General Manager, James T. Kelly once again promised a stronger signal to the rural areas and many towns including Rantoul, Paris, Paxton, Charleston and Monticello.

Why was the broadcast channel 21 changed to channel 15?  It's unknown, but it was a wise decision ultimately.  Some of the factors could have been, since WCHU would received an off air signal of WICS at Channel 20, some co-channel interference would have been experienced.  Another reason could have been the confusion of viewers between the transmitter points who would have had a difficult time tuning each station in with the slide-rule UHF tuners prevalent on sets of the era.  The original allocation of channel 15 was set in Bloomington.   WBLN which operated at channel 15 during several years in the 1950's was no longer on the air, and the license appeared to have been surrendered to the FCC.  No other filing for the license was ever made.  The change to request channel 15 would eliminate much of the interference of the nearby stations, plus give the new station a much better lower dial position.  From a marketing standpoint the use of 15 and 20 made perfect sense while the call letters were similar for WIC....S for Springfield and D for Danville, which was the county seat for Vermilion County which hosted the transmitter and broadcast tower.

Since the FCC allocation table spaced UHF stations in the same metro areas at 6 channels apart, it seemed like more than a coincidence that 15 was 6 away from 21.  In fact the allocation table for Champaign-Urbana had 21, 27, 34, 40, 46, 52, 58 as possible channels for full power stations.  It many have been that the allocation for channel 15 was originally assigned to Champaign-Urbana.  In order to squeeze more channels in, it became obvious that not all allocations would be filled by most communities.  For example, Lafayette, Indiana had the allocation channel numbers 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48 and 54.  WFAM, which is now WLFI originally broadcast on channel 54 during it's early days, later going to the more preferable lower dial position of channel 18.  Meanwhile, the Lafayette allocation for channel 24, was moved to nearby Danville, Illinois where it was used by WDAN-TV and WICD from 1953 to 1967.

More on the operation of the new Channel 15 in Part 3: The WICD-TV Plains Television Years....

Merv Griffin
(above): Seemingly an example of bad programming judgement, or "it seemed like a good idea at the time!"  The managment of WICS/WCHU and WICD in an effort to sell more prime time commercial time, preempted the new science fiction show "Star Trek" to show the off network syndicated show "Laramie."  Well, at least "Laramie" was in color! (below): With the low power of both WCHU and WICD, neither station was able to reach much more than 25 miles from their home cities, leaving much of the area without NBC programming.  The Mattoon area was served for a short time in the mid 60's by a satellite translator W-75-AD, which rebroadcast WICS-TV.   It is assumed that Charleston was served by WTWO, the Terre Haute NBC affiliate, which was also a secondary affiliate of ABC.

Milton Friedland, Vice President and General Manager of the Plains Television Stations announcing in a TV Guide ad, that construction was once again underway on the new Channel 15 broadcast tower after an ice storm took the first one down early in 1967.  More about that in the next chapter of this site, Part 3.

thanks to Bob Lee for Network and syndicated show title screen grabs
TV Guide®
Kieth Page
Ted Sondergren

Page 3 is next...

The History of WICD, Champaign, IL
  Page 1
The WDAN-TV Years 1953-1959
  Page 2
The WCHU, WICD Years 1959-1966
  Page 3
WICD, Channel 15 Early Years, 1967-1978
  Page 4
WICD, The Plains TV Years, 1978-1994
  Page 5
An Era of Change for WICD, 1995-2004
  Page 6
The WICD ABC Years 2005-2015

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updated  11/4/2016
web master:  Doug Quick
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