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Very Early Days of TV

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Peoria Television History

An Introduction to the background of Peoria Television History...and St. Louis....and Terre Haute....and the Quad Cities.

When the FCC “Freeze” was lifted in April of 1952 few knew that in many areas of the country, and especially here in central Illinois, that a war between broadcast investors and even between communities would break out. The battles were over whether a television market would become an all VHF, all UHF or would be intermixed between one or two VHF stations and a number of UHF stations.

The Chicago television market was considered at the time to be an all VHF market, which would allow viewers to receive all of their local television signals from the VHF band. This would eliminate the need for them to have UHF receivers and antennas. It would also give Chicago five television stations which would broadcast to a much larger geographic area at lower power levels than that of UHF stations. Other surrounding all VHF markets included Indianapolis, Hannibal-Quincy, Terre Haute, Indiana, St. Louis and the Quad Cities.

It also set up a number of all UHF markets in other areas. But, it also allowed a mixture of VHF-UHF stations in areas which may have already had VHF stations. In central Illinois the TV markets of Peoria was to be intermixed with 1 VHF commercial station, 1 VHF non-commercial (educational) station and number of UHF stations, but a contest between at least three other prospective companies kept the VHF commercial license from being issued right away.

The Central Illinois set up

Springfield, Illinois also was granted an allocation for a VHF commercial station at Channel 2 and very similarly, there were at least three groups battling for the license in the intermixed VHF-UHF market. Meanwhile Champaign, Illinois was granted an allocation for Channel 3 and just like the other two markets, there was a prospective ownership battle.

This is when an incredibly smart business maneuver gave Midwest Television the license for Channel 3. August Meyer wasn't about to risk everything on an “all or nothing” battle. He went to the other competing companies and offered them part ownership in his company and they agreed. This eliminated the ownership contest and the FCC gave the allocation to Midwest Television. The act of keeping central Illinois as a 1 VHF commercial station, 1 VHF non-commercial plus a number of UHF local stations, kept the central Illinois intact as one market which is now known as the hyphenated Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana market. See more about this incredibly smart move in the History of WCIA.

ABC wants/needs VHF affiliates

Meanwhile the other ownership battles raged. At the same time, it became obvious that the Quad Cities and St. Louis did not have enough channels allocated to give those markets VHF service to the new and fledgling ABC TV network. St. Louis had channel 4 and 5 allocated. (Adjacent channels were only allowed in same markets between channel 4 and 5 as well as 6 and 7 because there is frequency spectrum padding between the two adjacent channels) The Quad-Cities had channel 4 and 6.

The FCC was getting pressure from Congress to make sure that viewers would have the largest choice of TV channels possible and all three networks would have VHF channels from which to call home. This created a problem among those two markets, but it became apparent that by moving those two allocations from Peoria to the Quad-Cities, and channel 2 to St. Louis the problem would be solved.

Terre Haute gets re-aligned

By 1964 another channel 2 allocation was also awarded to Terre Haute, Indiana. This would become WTWO, Channel 2, Terre Haute's NBC affiliate(and secondary ABC affiliate along with WTHI) in 1965.  Earlier, after the “freeze,” in February of 1954, Terre Haute also picked up the allocation for channel 10 which was taken away from Bloomington, Indiana. WTTV changed frequency from channel 10 to channel 4 at that time. Channel 10 would become WTHI-TV,Terre Haute, Indiana's CBS(and secondary ABC affiliate along with WTWO).  WIIL-TV, Channel 38 wouldn't come along until the April of 1973 and become Terre Haute's full time ABC affiliate(now FOX).

The Springfield to St. Louis Battle

A small UHF station, WTVI, Channel 54 began broadcasting in August of 1953. It was licensed to Belleville, Illinois, but broadcast from Alton, Illinois. In those early months WTVI was a CBS affiliate before KWK-TV, Channel 4 went on the air from St. Louis in July of 1954. After which, CBS moved its affiliation to the more desirable VHF station, leaving WTVI with DuMont. WTVI then picked up the primary affiliation with ABC and moved to St. Louis and channel 36 to the former home of WSTM-TV, which operated at channel 36 from October of 1953 to August of 1954.  That facility was located at 5915 Berthold in St. Louis.  Evidently, WTVI found it ideal for their use and moved right in becoming Channel 36, KTVI in 1955. 

One note on network affiliation during the mid 1950's in St. Louis, the lines of affiliation were very blurred.  In an August edition of TV Guide, KWK-TV(Channel 4) was listed as being CBS and an ABC affiliate.  Meanwhile, KSD-TV(Channel 5) was listed as NBC and CBS, while KTVI(Channel 36) was an ABC and DuMont affiliate.  Even after KWK-TV went on the air, as late as November 1954, WTVI(54) in Belleville was broadcasting CBS programming like "Person to Person" with Edward R. Murrow.

WSTM-TV was the St. Louis area DuMont affiliate and upon its demise, that affiliation was taken up by KTVI retaining its primary affiliation with ABC.  It's location on Berthold, actually at Berthold, Oakwood and Hampton in the Clayton-Tamm/Dogtown area of southwestern St. Louis also housed the broadcast tower and transmitter of Channel 36, later becoming Channel 2.  The tower at that location was quite a landmark during he 1950's.  In 1959, the upper part of the tower was toppled by a tornado which tore through that area.  The base of that tower stood for a number of years with signage identifying that location as the home of KTVI, Channel 2.  That location was the home of KTVI through February of 2009.  See more about WTVI(KTVI) including pictures on Others.

Two newspaper clippings of the controversy which took place when the allocation
for VHF channel 2 was moved from Springfield, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri.
This one involving alleged possible "dealings" which involved Sen Stuart Symington (D) from Missouri.
(clippings from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

The Peoria to Quad-Cities War and its aftermath

The channel 8 story in Peoria was a different story. The battle raged on through various court fights between all of the prospective ownership groups in Peoria (two of which were radio station owners WIRL and WMBD) and the FCC. The community leaders in the Quad-Cities obviously wanted channel 8, but so did community leaders in Peoria. In 1957, the FCC had determined that channel 8 would go to the Quad-Cities and would ultimately give that market its first ABC VHF full time affiliate. By 1957 when that FCC ruling came down, there were no less than eight groups of Quad-City investors who all wanted the channel 8 allocation there.  By 1958, three of the groups had withdrawn their application. In 1960, the license was awarded to Community Television Corporation, but by June of 1961, the FCC changed it's decision to award the license to Moline Television Corporation which consisted of a group of local owners. It's unknown why the FCC changed their 1960 ruling.

WQAD-TV became the Quad-Cities ABC affiliate when it signed on the air in 1963 under the ownership of Moline Television. In spite of other objections raised by the ownership of fellow ABC affiliate WIRL-TV, Channel 19 in Peoria, in that the coverage area of Channel 8 would overlap significantly across the market area of WIRL-TV. That dispute was settled by 1963.

When the initial FCC decision to move channel 8 to the Quad-Cities in 1957, one of the prospective groups in Peoria would wait only a few years and eventually purchase WTVH by the mid 1960's. Channel 19 would go through its first of many call letter changes and become WIRL-TV.

Also at that time, CBS was holding out to become the affiliate for Peoria's channel 8 which was not to be. In the meantime, they were splitting network time with WTVH which also was a primary ABC affiliate. When the third television license for Peoria was awarded on channel 31 in 1957, it was to be a CBS affiliate in the form of WMBD-TV. WMBD-TV went on the air New Years Evening 1958. This decision by CBS would devastate the finances of WTVH and would contribute to the stations third place position in the market for years.

Note:  This same Introduction is also used to give background on the St. Louis stations briefly covered in this website with other pictures.    

Central Illinois Coveage Areas in 1953

(Left) is a drawing published in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph in 1953 showing the differences in the coverage areas of the central Illinois TV stations.

Note, the large area by central Illinois' only VHF commercial station WCIA which actually touches the Peoria market.  Also the relatively small areas covered by the UHF stations, especially that of WICS in Springfield which didn't even reach half way to Decatur!  Likewise, WTVP didn't reach Springfield and just barely reached Clinton and Taylorville!

WBLN shared coverage with WCIA and WEEK for Bloomington.  Also, the differences between WTVH and WEEK's coverage areas were apparent and helped to establish the dominance of WEEK in Peoria for decades.

The coverage area for WDAN-TV was not shown as it played little to no significance to most of central Illinois.

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WEEK-TV, Channel 43(later 25) Peoria, Illinois

WEEK-TV was Peoria's first television station having gone on the air on February 1, 1953.   It was owned and operated at the time by West Central Broadcasting Company, based out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The Company also operated radio station WEEK, 1350 AM.  The new Peoria TV station went on the air as an NBC affiliate on channel 43.

When WEEK-TV came on the air, it was notably the first UHF station to go on the air in the Midwest.  Newspaper accounts in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph reported the station had many technical problems after going on the air, but it's signal was reaching many in the Peoria and Bloomington area with it's broadcast of 12,000 watts.  Compare that with WICS in Springfield on channel 20 which broadcast at 1,000 watts of power. 

The new Peoria station upon entering the elite group of local television broadcast pioneers would become an NBC and DuMont affiliate, as CBS would hold out for the potential of being the affiliate for Peoria's first VHF television station on channel 8.  WEEK-TV would have to settle with broadcasting NBC and DuMont programming via kinescope, as microwave service to deliver a live network signal would not be possible until the fall of 1953.

It was soon determined that the signal of WEEK had problems in the northern most region of the viewing area, and as many UHF stations of the era determined, that in order to "fill in" their designated signal areas, the use of lower powered translator stations were necessary.  In the case of WEEK, a translator on channel 35 was set up in La Salle, Illinois on channel 35 by November of 1957.  It was given the call letters of WEEQ-TV, which was an indication that it was more than the typical low wattage signal,  in the fact that it was given a call letter designation of a full powered TV station.  The timing of the translator assignment was just a few months before a new TV signal would be on the air in Peoria, WMBD. 

The next big change for WEEK occurred Friday, October 16, 1964, when the station moved from broadcasting on channel 43 to channel 25.  For the viewer, it placed the NBC affiliate in the middle of the dial between WTVH at channel 19 and WMBD at channel 31.   Remember, that this was well before digital UHF tuners, and viewers had to spin the slide rule indicator along the UHF spectrum on their TV to their desired channel.  Even though WEEK could rebroadcast color programming from NBC early on, it wasn't until September 10, 1967 that any local production was broadcast in color.  WEEK continues success in local news coverage in the Peoria-Bloomington-Normal, Illinois market.  In early March of 2009, WEEK and Granite Broadcasting took control of WHOI and is controlling the station under a local management agreement.

Here's a link to today's WEEK-TV.
WEEK-TV New Tower

(above): WEEK-TV's new tower pictured with its old tower in 1958.  The increase in height would increase the coverage area of Channel 43 in central Illinois.
(picture from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph)

"Coffee Time" was a mid day locally produced talk variety show originating from the WEEK studios hosted by Dick and Bev Vance.   This 1950's ad, along with the others pictured here appeared in central Illinois editions of TV Guide tm.  It was a sign of the times, appealing to the housewives who were home doing the cleaning, cooking and laundry. 

It was the early days of rock and roll, and local TV stations jumped on the bandwagon with their own locally produced TV teen dance party programs.  It only stands to reason, as local TV had shows for the housewives(left), the kids(cartoons and locally produced kid panel shows) and for adult men(sportscasts, along with network TV sports coverage).  While ABC had "American Bandstand" WEEK had the "Rock n-Roll Party" which aired on Saturday afternoons.  The WEEK version was hosted by station "work horse" Dick Vance.

"Mackenzie's Raiders" was a syndicated TV western starring Richard Carlson as the real life character of the old west.  It was produced from 1958-59 and was shown during those years on WEEK-TV.  Many times local TV stations were given blocks of prime time, as the network didn't bother to program against successful shows on the other networks.  Sunday nights at 9:30PM CT was dominated by "What's My Line" on CBS.  Neither NBC or ABC programmed that half hour of prime time, leaving the local stations to fill the time.
(TV Guide)

Here's the Sunday night news team, which probably looked a lot like the weekday news team.  Producing local news at the time, was much simpler and required less resources as today.  Many local newscasts were simply "rip and read" sessions, because the act of getting any local film footage wasn't done at the time.  Bill Houlihan was a fixture on Peoria TV over the next 50 years.
(TV Guide)

In 1962 the after school late afternoon lineup included the locally produced Captain Jinks followed by the Hanna Barbara cartoons in rotation Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear.  This ad also ranks it's full power Peru, Illinois translator, WEEQ, Channel 35 as being equal to WEEK.
TV Guide ad, courtesy of J.R. Evans

Sometimes when you review these seemingly well thought out
news logo mission statements they seem so silly today....
this rather sexist news logo mission statement "Men Who Know"
is from WEEK and 1965.

The ads above ran in TV Guide in August of 1965.

(above): "Portrait" was a syndicated bio series
with this one pre-empting the usual NBC series
at the time on WEEK.  The ad above ran in
TV Guide in November of 1968.

(below): Syndicated "The Mike Douglas Show" was
a musical variety/talk show which ran from 1961-1982. 
It was syndicated by Westinghouse Broadcasting
to local stations.  The ad below ran in TV Guide
in December of 1968.

"Cornbelt Country Style" a locally produced country
music program which has TV roots back to WBLN
in Bloomington, where "Uncle" Johnny Barton
hosted the production.  He is pictured in the
cowboy hat third from the left.  This show was also
airing on WAND in Decatur.  It's unknown where
the show was produced.

The ad above ran in TV Guide in February 1967.

(below): WEEK would air via Cardinal TV Network a number of baseball

games.  This one is from May of 1969 and advertised in TV Guide

This ad appeared for WEEK, TV-25 News from April of
1969...showing the river front of Peoria.  "Known for
Quality Coverage in Peoria and Central Illinois."
from TV Guide

(below): News 25 "Dedicated news people, working together."
Sandy Singer(weather) and Frank Bussone(sports).
This TV Guide ad is from May of 1976.

WTVH-TV, WIRL-TV, WRAU-TV, WHOI-TV, Channel 19, Peoria, Illinois
WTVH is on the Air

In November of 1953 WTVH(Channel 19) signed on the air
from Peoria...or Creve Coeur, Illinois with this newspaper announcement
from the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph...

"WTVH Operates 1 kilowatt Transmitter
Channel 19 Outlet One of Two in Peoria

Television station WTVH of Peoria, operated by the Hilltop Broadcasting Station, is one of two ultra high frequency stations now broadcasting in Peoria.

Channel 19 station is owned and operated by Hugh R. Norman. A former newspaper man, Mr. Norman bought radio station KSTT in Davenport, Iowa in 1946. Continuing to own that station, he opened WTVH-AM in Peoria in September of 1952. He operated the radio station as a 24 hour music, news, and sports station in Peoria.

Mr. Norman is the son of Mrs. G.H. Brinegar, 303 W. Willow Street, Normal. The Normans were married in Bloomington in 1929. Mrs. Norman's father taught at ISNU several years before his death in 1933.

Tower at Creve Coeur

Operating on a much lower power than its TV companion in Peoria, WEEK, WTVH-TV put a test pattern on the air August 20 and began commercial operation October 12 at the studio and transmitter site in Creve Coeur on the bluff overlooking Peoria.

WTVH, directed by Don Roper, production manager, is equipped with a 1 kilowatt RCA transmitter with an effective radiated power of 25,000 watts. Bloomington-Normal reception as been poor, but communities nearer Peoria in the Bloomington trade area have reported improving reception.

Program Schedule

Currently WTVH-TV goes on the air Monday through Friday at 5:30pm and runs until 11pm or midnight. Saturday the hours are from 4:45pm to midnight and Sunday from 12:45 to 10:30pm.

The network affiliation, at present, is ABC under a station contract and working agreement for certain shows with CBS and DuMont.

WTVH was Peoria's second TV station having signed on nine months later, in November of 1953.  The station was a project of Hilltop Broadcasting, in which part owner was the Peoria Journal Star newspaper.  WTVH's studios were located in downtown Peoria at 234 North Madison Street.  It's transmitter was located on the east side of the Illinois river at Creve Coeur.   WTVH was one of the original twenty ABC affiliates but by the mid 1950's, the station became a rather prominent a CBS affiliate while ABC was relegated to secondary statis.   It's also indicated the station also aired programming from DuMont until that networks shutdown in 1955.

In mid 1954 a new managment team was announced by Hilltop Broadcasting President Henry P. Slane.  The lineup included Edward G. Smith, general manager; Robert L. Jawer, assistant general manager and sales manager of WTVH AM-TV; John Leslie, local sales manager; Robert G. Holben, production manager and Donald G. Roper, program manager.  It was also announced that by October of 1954, WTVH-TV was expected to raise output power to 225,000 on a new tower, transmitter building and a new 12.5kw RCA transmitter.

By the mid 1950's, CBS needing a temporary affiliate in Peoria contracted with WTVH, at least until channel 8 could go on the air and become Peoria's first VHF station.  That would give CBS absolute dominance in central Illinois having the only two VHF affiliates in the region (along with WCIA).  In 1957,  the FCC moved the allocation for channel 8 to Moline in the Quad-Cities, which gave Channel 19 at least a chance of continuing with CBS.  At that time ABC was made a secondary affiliate with CBS being the primary network of WTVH.  Behind the scenes though, it appears that one of the major groups of investors vying for the channel 8 allocation would re-apply for the last remaining UHF allocation on channel 31.  They already had ties with CBS, as WMBD radio was a long time CBS affiliate.  The FCC granted WMBD the license for Channel 31 and signed a long term affiliation contract with the station to become a CBS station.  WMBD went on the air on January 1st, 1958 as Peoria's full time CBS station.  Interestingly enough, though, many CBS shows would still show up on WTVH for months until individual contracts ran out on those CBS programs.

Even though Midwest Television would not purchase WMBD(AM, TV) until 1960, it seems possible, in my opinion, that the strings of the radio broadcasting company which put WMBD-TV on the air, were possibly being pulled by August Meyer from Champaign, with the anticipation of future ownership of WMBD.  This would hinge on the FCC allowing the signal overlap of like owned stations, which obviously it allowed by 1960.

Based on TV Guide programming and local news items during late 1957 into 1958,  it seems that WTVH went through a very trying time.  Local newscasts were eliminated, with the probable lay-offs of many staffers.  The broadcast hours of operation were also cut considerably on the weekends.   The downturn of the stations economic health probably had a lot to do with the loss of the CBS network revenue stream which it would lose in 1958.   ABC stations didn't have the reach of those early stations which snatched up affiliations with CBS and NBC.  The amount of network revenue from ABC was most certainly not the level of what was being brought in by CBS.  

In 1959 WTVH became a part of the company which it was previously associated as an affiliate.  When DuMont went out of business in the mid 1950's, the former pieces of the original company became Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation(see WTVP History).   With the ownership change to Metropolitan, WTVH picked up a central Illinois sister station in Decatur, WTVP.  It's seems to be a coincidence that the call letters were very similar, but many stations tried to work in the call letters "TV" into their names.  There's no indication that it was any plan of the owners, since they went on the air with different owners.  In fact WTVH stood for TV Hilltop which was the first owner of Channel 19.  WTVP stood for TV Prairie, which was the first word on the name of the company which put Channel 17 on the air in 1953.

During the early 1960's, Metropolitan Broadcasting went through another name change becoming Metromedia.   By 1965, Metromedia sold WTVH to WIRL(AM) radio bringing about a TV station name change.  WTVH became WIRL-TV, where it was co-owned by the 5,000 watt AM Top 40 station through 1973.  Back in 1958, WIRL-TV and it's part owner the Peoria Journal-Star failed in trying to obtain the license for VHF, Channel 8.   Eight years later, the group finally achieved its goal of TV station ownership, but on a UHF frequency.  WIRL-TV operated under that ownership until 1973 when it changed hands again.

Channel 19 was sold to Forward Communications when the call letters were changed to WRAU-TV in 1973.  In 1985 the call letters were changed to WHOI, which went with the theme of "Heart of Illinois."  Two years later in 1987, Forward Communications was merged with Adams Communications which operated the ABC affiliate to 1991, when it was sold to Brisette Broadcasting.  That ownership was short as in 1996 it changed hands again to Benedek Broadcasting which eventually filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  That company merged with Grey Broadcasting which sold the station in 2002 to Chelsey Broadcasting and later to Barrington Broadcasting Group.  On March 2, 2009 it was announced that WHIO would be operated by Granite Broadcastings WEEK-TV.  WHOI now operates under the control of WEEK, Channel 25. 

Here's the link to today's WHOI-TV

Visit my former co-anchor at WICD, Jen Christensen's blog site, News Anchor Mom.

"Stretch" Miller was broadcasting sports on WTVH in 1958. 

It was "Weather According to Hoyle" in 1958 on WTVH, Channel 19 in Peoria.

"The Les Crane Show" was a late night talker syndicated to go up against "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.  Needless to say, Les didn't do all that great and only lasted a short time.  This was during the Metropolitan Broadcasting area, later Metromedia.  Notice the font style was the same for WTVP, Channel 17 during the era they were co-owned.

ABC's corporate headquarters was nicknamed "Hard Rock" because of it's ownership of several major market Top 40 stations during the 1960's.  Here Channel 19 was owned by the local Top 40 station, WIRL-1290 AM.

In 1965 WTVH was running a late movie at 10:30pm Monday
through Saturday.  This was from the Metromedia ownership
years of Channel 19.
This ad is from May of 1965 and TV Guide.

In 1967, "Country Music Time" was broadcast on WIRL
(in color) at Noon weekdays.  It is unknown the source of this
program.  I assume it was syndicated.
The ad is from TV Guide from July 1967.

"Peoria's Only TV Women's Show" 
This hold back from the 1950's and early 60's was a local
production with Ann Lane.  The copy on the TV Guide ad read:
"Coffee Break with Ann's local, its live, Monday
through Friday, with a format covering a range of subjects as
varied as the interests of todays homemaker: cooking to finance,
jewels to judo, bridge to the Bible, hair styling to household hints,
make up to marketing.  If it's of interest to a woman, such as
antiquing, gardening, politics, stocks or remodeling, it's on
Coffee Break with Ann Lane, a show designed to interest
a woman every morning!"
This TV Guide is from 1969.

In spite of being called the "Good News Team" I'm sure
each newscast had its share of bad news, but with
smiling happy newscasters, weathercasters and sportscasters
viewers would find comfort....
Clark Smith, Rollie Keith, Lynne Morgan, Lorne Brown
and Mark Edwards brought the Peoria area
news at Noon, 5:30 and 10 weekdays and Sunday at 10pm.
This TV Guide ad is from 1971.

During the 1970's, Channel 19 was using
the call letters WRAU under the ownership of
Forward Communications.  This TV Guide ad is
from 1976.

Channel 19 was never without great graphics from what appeared
to be a pretty good promotions department.  The Channel 19
logo with WRAU was very stylish and contemporary.  Even
during the days of becoming WHIO the great "look" of
the graphics and logos continued.
(All ads above were from TV Guides of the eras.)

More to Come
More to Come

WMBD-TV, Channel 31, Peoria, Illinois

WMBD-TV, Channel 31, Peoria in 1965

On New Years Day, 1958, WMBD signed on the air as the CBS affiliate.  It's arrangement with CBS nearly put Peoria station WTVH-TV out of business(see above).  Channel 19 did retain it's affiliation with ABC, making it a full time affiliate with the young network, but not without severely affecting the operation.  

WMBD set up shop in what was the former Majestic Theatre, being built in 1906 but closed in 1946, on South West Jefferson in downtown Peoria.  The facility was put back into use during the 1950's by WMBD Radio Station owner John Fetzer and Charles Caley.  Before the FCC Freeze, it was reported that Fetzer had applied for and received a construction permit to broadcast a television station at VHF Channel 6.  The permit was rescinded during the Freeze when the FCC determined that Peoria would become an all UHF market.  It's not known why Fetzer and Caley did not immediately reapply for a UHF license.  WMBD AM-FM would not have a TV counterpart until January 1st, 1958. 

On the first day of broadcasting for WMBD-TV, WTVH broadcast CBS News Day parade coverage as well as football and Channel 31 didn't sign-on until 6pm that evening.   There were several CBS shows which would be broadcast for at least a few weeks on WTVH into the life of WMBD-TV.

The new CBS affiliate at Channel 31 was developed and owned by Charles Caley and John Fetzer of WMBD, Inc., the licensee of WMBD, 1470 AM radio.  WMBD was a longtime radio affiliate of CBS, which would make me assume that that relationship was what shifted the TV network to the newer station.  John Fetzer was a long time radio executive and was a part owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball team from 1956 to 1961, becoming the sole owner in 1961.  He also was rather ingenious in the development of radio and TV stations in Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan.  

(right): The WMBD studios located
in the former Majestic Theater on South
West Jefferson in downtown Peoria.
This photo was taken for the 20th anniversary
of WMBD Radio in 1957, right before
the sign-on of WMBD-TV on New
Years Day of 1958.

(photo from the Ron Moses Collection)

Here's what the former
WMBD studios look like
today on Southwest Jefferson Street
in downtown Peoria.

If you look closely you can still
see the support hooks from the
cables which supported the
marquis pictured above on
the decorative sections of
the column.

The doorway has been replaced by
a drive through to a garage.

(google earth)

In 1960, WMBD, Inc. was sold to Midwest Television, the license holder of WCIA(TV) in Champaign, Illinois for the sum of $1.85-million.  WMBD and WCIA were both CBS affiliates and shared a number of programming elements over the years.   Farm news, weather, even reporters and anchors were shared over the years, even into the 80's.  A microwave relay system between Champaign, Springfield and Peoria gave the stations a way to broadcast news from the state capitol in Springfield, operating a bureau out of the capitol building. The microwave relay also allowed simulcasts of farm news, weather and local news reports which would have appeal to both markets.  It's also been recorded that the stations shared broadcasts of "The Hop"(see WCIA History), Nightmare Theater(the late night 'creature feature') and other local programs.  Local color broadcasts of local news came on Sunday, January 22, 1967.  WMBD was the first Peoria TV station to broadcast local news in color.

In 1977, WMBD moved the studios from the run down, crowded home at the then deserted theater in downtown Peoria to the home of a former grocery story at 3131 N. University.   The TV stations of Midwest TV were sold to Nextar in 1999, while the radio stations WMBD and  WKZW(FM) were sold to JMP Media.  JMP was purchased by Triad Broadcasting which now also own former competition WIRL, WDQX, WXCL and WSWT.

Here's a link to today's WMBD-TV.    Here's a link to today's WMBD-AM and WPBG(FM)

In researching TV History as documented in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph, I came across this in an edition from late 1957, announcing the appointment of the WMBD Program Director:

"W.P. (Win) Baker has been appointed program director of WMBD-TV in Peoria. He is presently occupied with pre-planning and organization of the WMBD program staff and schedule. The station is scheduled to commence operations early in January as an affiliate of CBS."

Supplemental Information:  Larry King was a former member of the studio crew at WMBD-TV and eventually a director.  He also spent time at the other Peoria stations during his tenure in Peoria.  He contacted me with his recollections of the original studio at the former Majestic Theatre:

"Let me I remember the radio set up at the time I was there.  I you walked up the grand staircase from the front hall and you turned to your right there would ahve been the fledging FM automation in the first room.  Going a little further you would walk into the main AM control room.  On the left side was a larger room that was a studio for extra guests.  In the mornings Milton Bud and Bob Carlton were in there.  Bob ran the board and Milton was in the studio.  Behind the control room was another little studio that was also the record library.  John Lyon would practice his guitar in there during Cubs or Cardinal baseball games."

"If you turned to your left coming up the stairs was the door to the production control room.  And outside of the production control room was a very old wire service that ran sports scores.  We would come out of the TV studio during the 10pm news and check the wire to keep the sports guys up to date.  That (was) long before we had video from every sports game."

"When I first started as a floor director about January 1965, they were doing the TV version of street scene at Noon and later they would do the 6pm weather from on the street under that great marquee.  Charlie Tate was the camera man on the Noon block and a variety of the other engineers(Neil Burke who would later become the Chief, Yogi and Dale Bargeman) would dot he weather."

"My job was to get the weather board out on the street and have it cleaned off.  The weather board consisted of two Plexiglas maps that slid in and out.  The weather man stood behind the board and had to write backwards for the camera.  The guys that did the weather also were the afternoon talent on WMBD radio.  They would get off the radio and then do the weather.  A couple of the names I worked with were John Lyons, Bob Gregory.  Who could forget John Day reporter and weatherman?"

"Besides having to get the weather board on the street, another job of the floor director at that time, the weather had a live read for a beer company and a floor director had to do a live pour of beer to end the commercial.  Well, pouring beer wasn't my greatest job, but at least we got to drink the leftovers."

"I got to the station a little late because I missed working with Jim Jenson who went to Boston and New York.  I did a little time with Bob Jamison who ended up at ABC and it was great enjoying a sportscast (from) the late Bob Starr.  Don Heim took his place and then I think he went to Indy."

"Great real NEWS reporting was done from the WMBD News Room (along with) Joe Rex and Farmer Bill.  One weekend I was trying to break into the news business, so I was hanging around the news room when there was supposed to be a protest in one of the project areas.  This was in the 60's.  So I begged John Day if I could ride along in one of the great white station wagons with big letters creaming "WMBD NEWS."  (After arriving at the scene) nothing happened.  I think I am glad.  I think I really decided at the time that studio production was more in my line than sitting in a well marked car and waiting."

Larry King is now with Zmax Media Productions.  For details visit:

Above is a collection of TV Guide ads featuring some of the talent of WMBD in news, weather and being a master of ceremonies for the "Family Theater" presentation.  Notice the local newscast was just 15 minutes in 1958 airing at 6PM.  Joe Rex's weather window was simulcast weekends on central Illinois sister station WCIA in Champaign.  Names like Chuck Henson, Lloyd Ummel, Joe Rex, John Fisher, Jim Jenson were all a part of the talent package of WMBD-TV.

Above left is one of the early ads from 1958, promoting "Weekend World" with Jess Kennedy.  It was a 30-minute world, national and local  news roundup of the events of the weekend which ran on Sunday night. 

At the right is a TV Guide ad with the movie lineup of the week.
Both ads above from TV Guide

WMBD's "big difference in news" was the use of a microwave relay "network" which linked WCIA with WMBD and enabled the stations to exchange audio/video to further the coverage of central Illinois news. The station vehicles were parked at the front of the hotel on Southwest Jefferson in downtown Peoria, which was the site of the WMBD radio and TV stations.
Ad above from TV Guide

"First with local Color in the Heart of Illinois"  In 1964 WMBD installed
equipment to broadcast video tape and a color film chain
to broadcast 16mm prints of movies and TV shows.  It would
be another 3 years before local newscasts and productions
would be in color.  From TV Guide

"The Flintstones" were broadcast from the new
color film chain installed by WMBD in 1964.  The
ABC off network syndicated program aired on
many stations during the 1960's and 70's.
Supplemental Information:  Ron Moses was a director at WMBD-TV from 1965 to 1970, before moving east to direct at WPRI-TV in Providence, Rhode Island.   After finding this website, he related to me that "those five years were my happiest and most rewarding of my entire career and life."

He stated that the pictures and stories on this site "have brought back some wonderful memories...."  "I remember directing "The Hop," and loved seeing the original ABC net logo as being the "American Eagle."  He went on to say, "Bob Jamieson was my 6pm anchor until leaving for St. Louis, then to NBC.  In his later years, he was with ABC and I ran into him once when he was at our station covering the Rhode Island banking crisis in the early nineties....we were an ABC affiliate but returned to CBS when the network bought us at some point after that.  My station was bought and sold nine times during my 35 years there and I probably managed to survive as I never moved up into management."

"I did not know that Win Baker apparently started in Illinois TV production and programming(see above-Win Baker was the stations first Program Director).  "I know of him upon moving back east when he was a top executive at the Westinghouse owned WBZ-TV in Boston."

"You may be familiar with the name Barbara Novak who performed weather on WCIA-TV and then moved to Peoria where I actually taped a daily weather with her feed to WCIA on our reversible microwave.  By the time I got to Providence, Rhode Island she was Barbara Novak Marshall doing weather and/or news on WLVI-TV, Channel 56 in Boston...."

"Roger O'Neil was a news anchor and reporter at WMBD during my time there.  For many years he was with NBC as a correspondent...."   "He was also a producer at WMBD-TV for a time following the Jerry Bidle days when Dave Nicols was hired to be the 10pm news anchor.  I never crossed with Jim Jenson but ran into him in the early 70's when visiting WCBS-TV in New York...."  "I also ran into Paul Moyer who was anchoring weekend news at WCBS-TV before going to KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.  Paul was an anchor at WMBD-TV for part of the time I was there and I recall him anchoring "Weekend World" sponsored entirely by Caterpillar."

"You may recall Don Hein who did sports at WMBD and Bob Gregory who did weather on WMBD-TV and a lot of radio on that station....both wound up at WLWI(now WTHR), Channel 13 in Indianapolis..."

Ron retired in 2005 and I wish him the best and thank him for his contribution to this web site....and thank him for his contribution of the WMBD studio picture from 1957!

Supplemental Information:
I also heard Tom McDonald who worked at WMBD-TV during the early 1970's.  He stated he was, "filling in for Bob Buck who replaced Don Hein."  He went on to describe his on-going 40-year career in New York City, now with NY1(a cable local news channel).  He is a sports anchor/reporter.  I look forward to hearing more about his time at WMBD.....thanks Tom!

(above right): "Everybody's Doing It, We Do it Better" was the slogan used by WMBD-TV in 1965. 
Pictured is Jerry Bidle(news anchor), Bob Gregory(weathercaster) and Bob Starr(sports).

(upper left): Weekend World newscasts at 10pm on
Sunday.  This is from TV Guide in 1964.

(above): "Everybody's Doing It...We Do it Better"
this rather suggestive news slogan was used
in TV Guides in 1965.
WMBD news
main anchors consisted of Jerry Biddle(left),
 Bob Gregory(center) and Bob Starr(right).

(left): This rather generic news ad for WMBD is from
1967, just after the station installed color broadcast
equipment(cameras, etc) to broadcast in color.
From TV Guide

Remember who ran for President in 1968...??  Richard Nixon, Hubert
Humphrey and George Wallace.  The winner?  Need I ask?


(far left): Perry Mason, a CBS off network
series was in syndication(still is) in 1969 and was airing in the late afternoons on WMBD-TV.

(center left): the 10:31 Movie ad from
TV Guide as advertised in 1971.

(near right): "Move Closer
to Your World" used by CBS and
WMBD-TV for local news in

Click on the two far right ads for
a larger view.

All ads from TV Guide

(Above): The news talent lineup of WMBD and WCIA from 1976. 
For the identities of the WCIA-WMBD news employees pictured go to History of WCIA.

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Evolution of TV Guide listings 1957-1980 for Peoria and Central Illinois

(Above): Listings in the Bloomington
Daily Pantagraph TV sections
showing TV stations from Chicago, Peoria,
Springfield, Champaign and Decatur.
This is from June of 1958.

(Above right): The TV Guide
Channel listings from 1957 showing
Peoria stations WTVH and WEEK.
Notice the early dial position of WEEK
at Channel 43...and the network
affiliation of each.  WTVH with primary
CBS and secondary ABC, while WEEK
was primarily NBC.

(Right): Peoria ads WMBD-TV as the
markets exclusive CBS affiliate.  WTVH
goes to primary ABC affiliation.  Also, note that WEEK was using a translator to
reach a signal into the LaSalle area.

(Right): TV Guide listings from September
of 1962, before the listing for WICD was
added to the schedule. 

This listings included the use of
translators by WEEK with WEEQ-TV, LaSalle, IL
WTVP was using W-70-AF, Channel 70 in Champaign and WTVH was using W-78-AC in LaSalle-Peru.  WEEQ was actually a full powered
translator-station, while the others were
at extremely low power with a range of
less than 12 miles.

(Right): TV Guide listings the following
week in 1962 included that of WICD-TV
in Danville, on Channel 24.

It was a full powered station which served as
mainly a translator for WCHU, which in
turn was a translator of WICS in Springfield.

WCHU/WICD only originated a few select
local programs and local news inserts at
the time.

(Right): Here are the listings for central Illinois
which omitted the Quincy market from
its local edition.

This is from 1964.

(Right): This listing from 1966 showed
the extensive use of translators to
re-broadcast the home station to area
beyond the reach of the originating stations
coverage area.

WEEK:  WEEQ, Channel 35, LaSalle, IL
WTVP:  W-70-AF, (70), Champaign, IL
WMBD: W-71-AE, (71), LaSalle-Peru, IL
WICS: W-75-AD, (75), Mattoon, IL

By 1980, higher powered transmitters used

by WRAU-TV(formerly WTVH) allowed
the discontinuation of its translator

Translator use was added by
WCIA: W-49-AA, (49), Springfield

The use of the translator for WAND in
Champaign was actually temporary as it was moved from Danville and installed in Champaign, because of the tower failure of WAND in 1978

(All listings are from TV Guide)

TV Guide(the Doug Quick collection)
KTVI-You Tube Posts
Bloomington Daily Pantagraph(through the Abraham Lincoln Library and the Danville Public Library)
Larry King for his contribution on details of working at WMBD-AM/FM-TV
Ron Moses for his memories of WMBD-TV and WCIA and his picture of the WMBD studios from 1957.

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

updated 12/30/2012
web master:  Doug Quick
copyright 2001-2012  Doug Quick