The Early History of St. Louis Television

1947-1963

In 1953, across the prairie of mid-Illinois brand new television sets began to flicker with pictures from St. Louis, Peoria, Decatur, Springfield, Champaign, Bloomington and Danville. Local entrepreneurs invested their lives and fortunes in a new industry hoping to attract advertisers and capture viewers in each of those cities and rural areas to the images and sounds they would broadcast. 

Each new television station owner had different obstacles to overcome, some achieved success, while others failed.Competition brought on many legal challenges between stations and owners. Television careers began, on-air personalities became local celebrities while other broadcasters worked behind the scenes. 

This book is the story of those entrepreneurs, managers, sales representatives, studio engineers, on-air personalities along with politicians, the FCC, even the legal system all the way to the Supreme Court. It's a detailed story of a budding local industry during television's golden years, the first years we saw “Pictures on the Prairie.”

The early history of the St. Louis heritage stations are told in great detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."  This webpage is meant to be a supplement to the chapters of the book and includes many videos from the era for each station. For more history of the St. Louis TV and radio stations I would recommend you visit St. Louis Media History Facebook page and website.  

StLouisMediaHistory.png

KSD-TV, Channel 5, St. Louis, MO

 

St. Louis' First Television Experience

When KSD-TV went on the air in February of 1947, the station began a VHF television station monopoly in the St. Louis market nearly ten years.  It remains the station with the longest affiliation period with a network (NBC) than any other heritage station in the country. Over those early years, the public was seeking even more television service.  In fact, by April of1952 the St. Louis Board of Alderman filed a petition with the FCC that St. Louis be given first priority when the “freeze” is lifted and the FCC begins to processing applicants for TV stations.  At that time St. Louis had 372-thousand television sets (virtually all with VHF only tuning) and only one station.  Even the owner of KSD-TV, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch added their name to the request, which was more than likely done as a public relations move.

 

There was already a list of applicants for the channel allocations which were designated before the 1948 “freeze” took effect.  The list over the years included many of the St. Louis media companies, from radio, newspaper and even churches, nightclubs, theater and hotel owners.  Among those were KWK, KMOX(CBS), WEW, WIL, KXOK, KFUO, the St. Louis Amusement Company, 220 North Kingshighway, Inc., the New England TV Company, Meredith Engineering Company, Empire Coil Company, Ozark Television Company, KSTL(Broadcast House, Inc), Signal Hill Telecasting Corporation, Donze Broadcasting Company, Belleville Broadcasting Company, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Cecil W. Roberts(owner of Missouri radio stations KREI, Farmington, KNEW Nevada, KCHI Chillicothe, and Kansas radio station, KCLO in Leavenworth).  There were three VHF and three UHF channels available.  One of those VHF channels was set aside for educational broadcasting.

The original list of allocated channels in St. Louis included channel 4, 5, 9 and 11.  KSD-TV held channel 5 since 1947 and channel 9 was set aside for educational use.   There were also allocated channels just outside the city of St. Louis.  Among those channels were 42 and 54 in Belleville, 40 in Clayton, Missouri and 14 in Festus, Missouri. 

 

As you can see there were many more applicants than there were for the few channels available.  Over time many of those prospective owners would receive their gift of an allocation, a couple of those applicants would receive the supreme gift of a VHF channel, others would receive a UHF channel.  Several would develop those television outlets and would go on the air to broadcast...at least for awhile while others would be granted a channel and not broadcast at all.

 

The first regular scheduled broadcasting of KSD-TV began on February 8, 1947, although there were reports of programming occurring during the previous months.  According to Broadcasting magazine, KSD-TV claimed to the first newly equipped postwar television station to go on the air, plus the first being operated by a newspaper.  One of the first people featured in the first broadcast was former St. Louis Cardinal catcher Joe Garagiola being introduced by Post-Dispatch sports editor J. Roy Stockton.

 

The first week of broadcasting was to include 25 hours of programming for what was called, in tribute to Thomas Edison, Edison Centennial Week.  A total of 51 programs were presented primarily between Noon to 3:30 pm Monday through Saturday, with some evening broadcasts.  To help in the financing of the first broadcasts 13 advertisers had signed on to have their commercials air during the premiere week.  The sponsorship list included: Shell Oil Company, Bulova and Elgin Watches, Union Electric Company, Hyde Park Beer, Bemis Bag Company, Trimfoot and Rhythm Step Shoes, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, Botany Ties and Monsanto Chemicals.

One can only imagine the work that was done to produce a menagerie of programs of various formats such as news, fashion, drama along with a quiz show which involved audience members were customers from a St. Louis department store. 

Pulitzer Publishing had already been a broadcast pioneer in 1922 when KSD Radio was established.  On February 3 and 4,  KSD-TV gave just a few television owners a glimpse of what was to occur with KSD-TV would begin regularly scheduled broadcasts a few days later.  Those lucky viewers saw street interviews, puppet shows,

 

KSD-TV Expands its Reach

 

By April of 1947, KSD-TV would be upgrading its temporary transmitting equipment with new state of the art RCA equipment.  That new equipment would include an RCA Model TT-5 transmitter, a new antenna mounted on a 550-foot tower giving the VHF station an effective radiated power of 20 kw along with expanded broadcast radius of 35 to 40 miles.

70th anniversary special as broadcast on KSDK, Channel 5 in 2017.
(KSDK-TV, YouTube)

1947: The History of 5 "On Your Side."
(KSDK-TV, YouTube)

From 1948, it's "To The Ladies" was launched on KSD-TV, Channel 5 for the several thousand who could actually watch..
(KSDK-TV, YouTube)

A 1947 edition of "Howdy Doody" The intro includes a group sing with the "peanut gallery." This also features Clarabelle and Buffalo Bob.
(KSDK-TV, YouTube)

KSD-TV, St. Louis

Early 1950s ID Slide, unknown source

1/23
1/70
A Selection of NBC
Shows from 1953-65

This is a priceless silent home movie of some behind the scenes activity at KSD-TV in the 1940s.
(YouTube and KSD-TV)

KSD-TV History documentary from the early years of being owned by the Post-Dispatch.
(YouTube and KSD-TV)

 

WTVI (later KTVI),
Channel 54 (later 36, later 2) Belleville, IL (later St. Louis, MO)

The Second St. Louis TV Signal

When the contest was taking place for the allocation of available VHF channels in St. Louis right after the lifting of the “freeze” in 1952, one prospective broadcast television owner was seeking another way to obtain the goal of a license.   Competing with other VHF applicants would involve having to wait perhaps a year or two, and investing more money, with a good chance of not obtaining the prize of the construction permit. That aggressive prospective owner-group was Signal Hill Telecasting Corporation which would take an alternative route for a television station, a permit for a station much lower on the demand scale, one on the UHF band from outside St. Louis.

In late October of 1952, Signal Hill Telecasting Corporation would file an application for channel 54 allocated to Belleville, Illinois.  The proposed station would broadcast with an effective radiated power of 220kw from a tower with a height of 593' located on hill on West Main Street in Belleville.  The plans for the facility would include a transmitter and antenna manufactured by RCA. The next month, in mid November, the FCC would grant Signal Hill channel 54.

The station would broadcast using one of the most powerful UHF transmitters built and its tower/transmitter would be located high on the Illinois bluffs, just 6 ½ miles east of downtown St. Louis. Sometime in the planning process, the RCA transmitter was changed to a General Electric transmitter model number TT-25-A.  This would 
be the same model of the transmitter used by two more future UHF stations in St. Louis, KSTM and KACY.

  

That transmitter/antenna combination stated in the construction permit would give WTVI, Channel 54 an effective radiated power of 220-thousand watts. Thestations antenna would be mounted atop a tower which would put the antenna 600 feet above the already highest point around St. Louis area. Material from the station stated that the stations signal would be easily received by viewers 50 or more miles around St. Louis in all directions.

 

WTVI Applies for Frequency Change to Channel 36


By early February of 1955, Signal Hill and WTVI would ask for FCC permission to change from channel 54 to channel 36.  This change in channel number and frequency would also include a move of the station from Belleville to St. Louis, and the former home of competitor KSTM at 5915 Berthold Avenue.
 

The request, when granted by the FCC, would allow the station to operate from that vacant facility within one week plus would double the power output to a potential 500kw.  With the change, the call letters of WTVI would follow the FCC guidelines of broadcast stations west of the Mississippi starting with a “K” call letter.  Since the abandonment of the call letters of KTVI in Idaho some months earlier, WTVI would then become KTVI.

 

WTVI Moves to St. Louis and Broadcasts on Channel 36

In March of 1955, WTVI was given permission to become KTVI, Channel 36.  One catch with the change from channel 54 to 36, the FCC would not allow a simulcast to occur between the two channels.  Signal Hill had to surrender the license for channel 54 at the exact time they began to broadcast on channel 36.  Why the FCC chose not to allow a simulcast for at least a week is unknown. The FCC delayed the approval for the power increase.

 

A major promotional campaign was designed and undertaken which would be a $60,000 investment for the new Channel 36.  It included ads on all of the St. Louis media (excluding competing TV stations of course) both daily newspapers (Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch), all major radio stations, outdoor, taxi and bus cards and other public vehicle ad cards.  The campaign was designed to coincide with the opening of the St. Louis Cardinal's season on April 12, 1955.
 

The big changeover occurred on April 9, 1955.  The channel 54 signal would be turned off, at the same time the channel 36 signal was turned on.  With the change, KTVI projected an increase in “circulation” or households tuning into the station at least once a week, from 317,200 homes to 450,00 homes by the end of the 1955 baseball season.  Then anticipated another increase of 20 to 25 percent with the power increase from 250kw to 500kw when the FCC approved the power increase.

 

KTVI Begins to Work to Secure Channel 2 from Springfield
 

In early January of 1956, KTVI, Channel 36 requested the FCC to change the allocation of channel 2 from Springfield, Illinois to St. Louis, and add another channel 2 allocation to Terre Haute, Indiana.  Signal Hill also requested that channel 2 in St. Louis be assigned to KTVI. 

Such a move would give St. Louis three major network affiliates on VHF television stations to equalize the playing field as far as potential viewers as well as for advertising sales.  This would also secure ABC for KTVI at the preferred lowest dial position. 

This would begin a complex series of events and controversial maneuvers to move KTVI to channel 2, taking the allocation from Springfield, Illinois. The story is told in fine detail in my book, "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television." Details above on how to obtain your copy!

 

 

KTVI's version of Romper Room with a contest to award a pony. This evidently was an out-take for a contest promo from the early 1960s.
(YouTube)

Here's another Romper Room video tape of Miss Louis conducting class probably from 1963.
(YouTube)

This was a Stag Beer commercial produced by KTVI to be used in the "Charlotte Peters Show" produced at Channel 2.
(YouTube)

WTVI, Channel 54, Belleville, IL

Newspaper story of WTVI sign-on from 1953

1/33

From KTVI's "Party Time" here is Ike and the Rhythm Kings before he was a part of "Ike an Tina Turner."
(YouTube)

The Charlotte

Peters show

One of the long time KTVI daytime shows was "The Charlotte Peters Show" Part 1. Some of the early clips were from broadcasts on KSD-TV.

(YouTube)

Produced in 1960 by KTVI, The City Fights Back is a public affairs documentary program that explores the city’s urban renewal project and the metamorphosis of the Mill Creek Valley area. Written, Directed and Produced by Bill Leonard and hosted by Bruce Hayward, Director of Public Affairs.
(Missouri Historical Society, YouTube)

Here is a taste of St. Louis with the appearance of St. Louis' Chuck Berry on ABC's American Bandstand, which would have been seen on

Channel 2.
(YouTube)

1/36
ABC Network Shows from
1957-62
 

A complete newscast from 5 pm, November 5, 1985.
(YouTube)

KWK-TV (later KMOX, later KMOV), Channel 4
St. Louis, MO

KWK-TV St. Louis April 1954

A celebration on getting the permit to operate Channel 4. Lambert Field, St. Louis, courtesy of Shannon McFarlin

1/37

The First Hearings for Channel 4

 

The first FCC hearings for the permit to operate on channel 4 in St. Louis took place in Washington on December 31, 1953 where testimony would be heard and considered from all of the applicants including that of the ownership o KSTM-TV which was already operating on UHF channel 36.  KSTM-TV was hoping to add its name to the list of applicants by petitioning the FCC to consider moving the allocation to East St. Louis.  Broadcast House was seeking favor for its application by taking on another East St. Louis local investor, the local newspaper, The East St. Louis Journal.

 

The other applicants were St. Louis Telecast, Incorporated, the St. Louis Amusement Company, CBS, Inc (KMOX Radio) and 220 Television Incorporated. 

 

Before the hearing, St. Louis Telecast would protest the application of CBS, Incorporated because of its ownership of KMOX Radio, and the new multiple ownership rules which were taking legal effect on January 4, 1954.  This would limit TV station ownership to five outlets for a single entity.  However, a grandfather clause would allow CBS to continue to seek out the television permit, if was to give up another interest in the event of the grant.  This sacrifice of a property would not necessarily be limited to St. Louis.

 

Another Channel 4 Hearing

 

In late March of 1954 a hearing for awarding the allocation for channel 4 was back before FCC Examiner Claire W. Hardy.  This would involve the ownership of KWK Radio, KXOK Radio and Missouri Valley TV Corporation.  Missouri Valley TV Corporation was half owned by Stanley Hubbard's KSTP AM/TV in St. Paul, Minnesota.  In early April, talks were taking place before the hearing that would involve a  possible merger among the applicants.

 

It was those talks between the applicants which would open the way for the FCC to grant the second VHF station for St. Louis.  An agreement would bring about the withdrawal of the competing applicants, KXOK Radio and Missouri Valley TV with KWK being the surviving applicant with options being offered to the stockholders of KXOK and Missouri Valley. 

 

The agreement would create a company in which KWK-TV would be owned by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat at 23%; Robert T. Convey and Associates at 28%; KXOK Incorporated at 23%, KSTP Inc. (Missouri Valley) at 23% and various other investors would own 3%.   

 

It sounds simple but, this was a complicated agreement that would also force Elzey M. Roberts Jr. who was the president and minority stockholder of KXOK, to divest himself of his ownership of his company.  Meanwhile, C. L. Thomas, the general manager of KXOK, would purchase the AM station. 

 

The hearing that would announce the merger of the previous applicants didn't go quite as smooth as expected.  A protest of the merger was filed by WTVI based on the ownership of the Globe-Democrat in KWK-TV.  It was claimed by WTVI, that having newspaper ownership in two of the cities VHF stations would result in “concentration of control of mass media of communication” in the market.

 

The objection by WTVI was dismissed by the FCC as the Commission granted channel 4 to the new KWK-TV ownership group.   WTVI would not go quiet after the grant, by once again filing an application for channel 4 saying it was filed two days before the KWK merger took place and the application was re-filed.   WTVI claimed that the application was denied without a hearing. 

 

This would bring about an objection from Frieda B. Hennock, an FCC commissioner who was the only dissenter on the grant decision.   Her lack of approval would not change the final decision of the FCC.  The official grant for KWK-TV to operate on channel 4 was filed on May 7, 1954.

 

Despite of the official grant, WTVI would not be silent.  A petition would be filed once again to fight the merger of the applicants for channel 4 claiming that it was illegal.  The point was that each company would pay only part of the option value for what would be a $5-million dollar asset.  Signal Hill would claim that the operation of the station by KWK-TV would also create a duopoly contrary to FCC rules, that would cause economic harm to existing UHF stations in St. Louis.   Later, this case would end up with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.  The court would decide against the bid of WTVI, but also told the FCC not to issue a license to KWK until it had decided the merits of the WTVI appeal.  The FCC was approved by the court to issue a special temporary authority for KWK-TV to operate on channel 4. Read more about the History of KWK-TV and how it became KMOX-TV in an incredible story of broadcast history in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" available on this site.

A Selection of CBS
Shows from 1954-65

Get on board the S.S. Popeye with "Cooky and the Captain" with this clip on some early video tape of the KMOX-TV children's show.
(YouTube)

Here is a KMOX-TV report on the urban decline of

downtown St. Louis from 1965.
(YouTube)

In 1968 KMOX-TV moved to a new home. Here is a promotional video made to give viewers and clients a tour of the new facility and how the station works. 
(YouTube)

KMOX-TV produced this sales presentation tape which would go to advertisers and ad agencies dealing with the station. It's hosted by Thom Lewis of KMOX-TV.
(YouTube)

A Selection of CBS Shows from 1980-2018

This is a collection of various news opens for KMOX-TV from 1983 to the present.
(YouTube)

D.B.'s Delight was produced at KMOX-TV from 1977 to 1988. Here is a broadcast from October of 1984 hosted by Guy Phillips.
(YouTube)

KMOX-TV became KMOV on June 11, 1986.
(YouTube)

 

ST. LOUIS BROADCAST HISTORY Videos

Other St. Louis TV Hosts from all stations
(YouTube)

Frank Absher and KMOX history
(YouTube)

KMOX Radio history with my friend Frank Absher in an interview from St. Louis TV hosted by Steve Potter.
(YouTube)

Leo Tevlin, a contributor to this site was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. This was from March 7, 2016.
(YouTube)

Sources and Contributors:

TV Guide®

Frank Absher
St. Louis Media History Foundation

KTVI

KMOX

KSD-TV

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Broadcasting-Telecasting

Updated 11.16.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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