item 1 >>> Now Playing… Santa’s Coming in a Whirlybird Xmas leftover…the last seasonal single Gene Autry recorded, 1959…a little goofy, but went good with figgy pudding…B-side was “Jingle Bells.”
item 2 >>> LQQK @ †h∆†!… Beanie and Cecil The wonderful intro the the Beanie and Cecil cartoon show…remember they were hand-puppets before that. Not for nothing, but what’s Lucy Van Pelt from Peanuts doing here?
item 3 >>> Baby Boom Boob Tubers…Today’s blog is dedicated to North Shore TV stations of the 1950s and 60s. But first, the backstory. Experimental TV broadcasts go back to the 1920s…at left is an ad from 1928…of course back then, you had to build-it-yourself! The first television sets went on sale around 1938, when NBC began test broadcasts in New York City, and they started regular commercial broadcasts in 1941. Very few people had TVs in those days of course, owing to the high cost and lack of programming. Most sets were sold to hotels and bars. WW2 put the breaks on everything…who knows how TV might have grown if not for the war. But by 1946, things were rolling again with the start of the 2nd TV network, DuMont, which also manufactured TVs. CBS and ABC entered the fray in 1948. You might wonder why the Mutual Broadcasting System, a radio powerhouse, never got into TV. Then as now FCC over-regulation made it difficult, but they tried, as did others, including, even way back in the 1940s, Paramount.
But the trouble with DuMont was it didn’t have radio network revenues to draw on, and it petered out in 1956. But not before producing some well-remembered programs, including Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living, Rocky King Inside Detective, and Arthur Murray’s Dance Party. Their biggest star was Jackie Gleason, who took over hosting The Cavalcade of Stars in 1950…the show featured Art Carney, all the Gleason characters we know and love, and even the Honeymooners sketches, with Pert Kelton as the original Alice Kramden. You know why Capt. Video and the game show Down You Go were mentioned on The Honeymooners? Because they were DuMont programs too! Gleason eventually took his show to CBS.
item 4 >>> TV Comes to New England …Experimental TV stations had existed in Boston for a long time…this excellent website has the fascinating story Boston’s TV roots . But the first regularly licensed commercial station was WBZ Channel 4, an NBC affiliate, on the air June 9, 1948. Within 2 weeks they were joined by New England’s 3rd TV station, WNAC Channel 7. (WNHC Channel 8 in Hartford…now WTNH…was the second, signing on 6 days after WBZ.) In those days, network affiliations, and the commitment to carry network shows, was more casual compared to today, and many stations had “secondary” affiliations, especially when there weren’t 4 stations in a market. Thus WNAC, while primarily aligned with CBS, carried many DuMont and ABC shows. That is until November 16, 1957…
item 5 >>> The Big 3 are Set…And what’s when WHDH Channel 5 began broadcasting, as an ABC affiliate, to great fanfare. Earlier that month, Walter Brennan, born in Swampscott, toured the North Shore promoting the new station. He visited the Sylvania plant on Sylvan St. in Danvers, where they told him they watched The Real McCoys, fuzzy picture and all, on Channel 10 out of Providence. Well, not any more! In 1961, they swapped networks, Channel 5 becoming CBS and Channel 7 going over to ABC. And to get you caught up……the old WHDH lost its license in 1972, becoming a completely new entity WCVB, trading networks back again to Channel 7…WNAC was renamed WNEV in 1982, then the new WHDH in 1990…and in 1996, Group W Westinghouse bought CBS, thus WBZ traded NBC to Channel 7 for CBS. BTW, today CBS/Westinghouse is owned by Viacom, which was originally the syndication arm of CBS…the child swallows up the parent!
item 6 >>> You Didn’t Have to be Catholic, but it Helped…WIHS Channel 38 signed on October 10, 1964. It was owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and apart from televising Masses, showed a lot of old reruns from the 50s, which I didn’t mind of course! The call letters are an abbreviation, today commonly thought to represent Iesus Hominum Salvator or “Jesus, Savior of men.” Actually, IHS was originally the first 3 letters of His name in Greek (they didn’t have J yet!): iota-eta-sigma…the Greek letter for E looks like our H. Now I don’t believe it was technically a sin for a Catholic family to not buy a UHF converter-box, but ours wasn’t taking any chances. Trouble was, if you weren’t Catholic, it was a significant expense just so you could watch old episodes of I Lead Three Lives and such…and the station was sold to Storer Broadcasting in 1966, the calls becoming WSBK, which was the company’s ticker-tape symbol on the Stock Exchange. But you’ll notice I didn’t say Channel 38 was Boston’s first UHF station…because it wasn’t.
item 7 >>> Ahead of Everybody’s Time…That honor goes to Channel 56. It broadcast as WTAO-TV, owned by WTAO radio (now WJIB) from 1953 until 1956. But lack of network programming, and the tiny number of sets that could receive UHF signals doomed the enterprise. Studio and transmitter were on Zion Hill in Woburn. WTAO made a brief reappearance in 1962-63, a 6-month test sponsored by the FCC. The dormant license changed its calls to WXHR (another radio station owned by the company, now WTKK) until it was sold to Kaiser Broadcasting and the Boston Globe in 1965. WKBG went on the air for good on December 21, 1966. In 1974, they bought out the Globe and changed the name to WLVI…the G in KBG had stood for Globe.
item 8 >>> Educational TV…May 2, 1955…WGBH Channel 2. November 25, 1967 WGHX…Channel 44. Yeah, they needed 2 stations because of all the content they were generating…did you know that to this day, Boston produces two-thirds of the national PBS programming? One interesting fact about Channel 44…its original license was as a commercial station, WJDW…the rights were donated by the owners to NET for Boston’s 2nd educational station.
item 9 >>> You Always Have Options…Remember when I said network affiliations were once a lot more loosey-goosey…so what happened back in the day if the Big 3
weren’t choosing to air the network show you wanted to see? North Shore viewers gritted their teeth and tried watching one of the outliers. You had WMUR Channel 9 from Manchester, New Hampshire’s 1st station in 1954…you porbably watched anyway if you really liked Uncle Gus…or he was a relative. WJAR Channel 10 out of Providence was New England’s 4th TV station, beginning in July, 1949. And WPRO Channel 12 also from Providence dated back to 1955…it became WPRI in 1967. If you could live with the snow and ghosts and what-not, God bless. And sometimes, I could…
item 10 >>> Everything Old is New Again…OK, it ain’t the same thing (above, from February, 1961) but if you absolutely have to watch WNAC, you can…from Providence, Channel 64…formerly WSTG, and before that, on channel 16 from 1953-55, WNET, which is now the PBS station in Newark. I know, I never mentioned WTEV Channel 6 out of New Bedford, which is now WLNE…cuz it’s my blog, gabeesh?
Shameless Plugs: The Mini-Series…
Other Daily blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com (the legendary Stolf’s Blog)
Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com
Audio samples coming soon…or just check the podcasts…twc-rr really blows…