Early Days of Television in Mid-Illinois

This is a picture of my father installing a VHF television antenna on top of my grandparent's house in Taylorville, Illinois at around 1951.  The picture shows the antenna, based on the position of the house pointing to the southwest to receive the only TV signal available to them, that of Channel 5, KSD-TV.

Central Illinois Television pre-1953

Local Television was non-existent before July 1953, and even then it was limited in reach.  Local UHF stations in the early years didn't reach out much beyond 20-30 miles from the transmitter point.  VHF stations were a different matter.  When WCIA went on the air local television became a reality.  If a home TV set included a UHF tuner (at an extra cost) it would add the possibility of adding one or possibly two more stations, if it was lucky.

Central Illinois Television Mania

A typical television installation during those early days cost about $200 to $400 plus antenna, tower, cable, rotor, etc. adding another $150-$200 to the investment.  One thing for sure, your life wouldn't be your own after your purchase.  

If you had a television people would "pop in" to watch shows on many nights, especially when those "spectaculars" were shown and the popular shows of the era like "Milton Berle," "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and "The Toast of the Town, " not to mention the World Series and various boxing matches and wrestling matches.  

Many bars and taverns installed television which pretty much guaranteed a large number of viewers who would spend hours drinking before going home.  People
wouldgatheratstore fronts along Main Street if there was a television in the window.  It's hard to imagine anything today which would get so much attention!

Television dealers sprung up overnight, some were mom and pop neighborhood dealers in back rooms,
garages and small storefronts.  Others were already major department stores.  Television manufacturers set up franchises which would lock in certain brands to select dealers who also would provide service departments which would maintain those fragile early televisions.

IABC  presented "The Ruggles" live from Hollywood from 1949 to 1952.  It starred the movie character actor Charlie Ruggles.  It was performed live for the west coast stations from KECA-TV, while being kinescoped for airing the next week on the rest of the small ABC network. 

This NBC kids sci-fi series was broadcast from 1950 to 1952.  The episodes were 15 minutes long for most of it's run.


The Ed Wynn Show was the first variety show to originate from Hollywood.  It was done live in Hollywood, then kinescoped for airing the next week on the rest of the CBS network stations.

The Cavalcade of Stars had several hosts from the years 1949-1952.  Among the stars were Jack Carter (1949-50), Jerry Lester (1950), Jackie Gleason (1950-52) and Larry Storch (1951 and 1952 Summer Seasons). Jackie Gleason perfected the skit called "The Honeymooners" during his time on the DuMont Network Variety Show.


In 1948,"The Life of Riley" aired on just a few thousand TV sets in most major markets, starring  Jackie Gleason.  William Bendix had a very successful film career, and in spite of playing the character on the radio for several years, wasn't able to fill the role of  Chester Riley.  Gleason filled the roll, but the program was canceled after one year.  Those few viewers wanted Bendix as Riley, and by January of 1953, watchers of "The Life of Riley" got to see William Bendix play the bumbling husband on TV.  He also continued to play him on the radio for a number of years at the same time. Here is a video from the pilot episode with William Bendix from January of 1953. WICS wasn't on the air yet.


(right): The Champaign-Urbana Television Dealers Association, being led by WCIA introduced the new appliance to the Champaign-Urbana households by hosting a weekend trade show like an event at the Urbana Armory.  Each dealer had a booth in which they could display their models.  Television's with names like Arvin, Majestic, Hoffman, DuMont, Sentinel, Columbia, Motorola, joined brands known today like RCA, Philco, Zenith, Sylvania, Emerson and Admiral at the dealer's booths.  I would bet that most if not all were manufactured right here in the USA.  WCIA also gave a demonstration of just how attendees would look on TV by setting up a camera with a closed circuit "broadcast" within the confines of the Armory.  The event attracted thousands, with a newspaper account naming the east central Illinois and west central Indiana communities which were represented at the show.   It appeared that the advent of the TV age was coming into Central Illinois with a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement!

(Urbana Courier)

(above): Magnavox(upper left), Philco(upper right), Motorola(lower left) and RCA(lower right), were all well-known brands of TV in 1953....all American companies, all producing sets in America for Americans!

(Urbana Courier) 

(below): The regional grocery chain "Eisner's welcomed the age of television with offering a contest in which they would give away four TV sets to customers. WDAN-TV, Channel 24 would eventually serve the Danville, Illinois area and was the last of the heritage TV stations signing on Sunday, December 19, 1953.

(Danville Commercial-News)


This is my dad (left) and his brother (right) installing an antenna array at my house in what was probably 1958. It included 2-UHF antennas for receiving WICS(Springfield) and WTVP(Decatur) along with a VHF to receive WCIA(Champaign). It was also installed with the ability to be rotated by twisting the antenna mast at the base to redirect it to receive the St. Louis TV stations. 

Broadcast History Links


Television Throughout the Years

All ads were from various Pinterest sites.

Updated 03.03.2021

© 2002-2021 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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