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The History of WAND, Channel 17, Decatur, IL

1953 - 1965

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Last to File, First to Go

In late October 1952, Prairie Television Company applied to broadcast on channel 17 from Decatur, Illinois. The application included a proposed power of 18.03 kW output from an antenna atop a tower at 352 feet above average terrain. The cost of the proposed TV station would be $184,000. The official address of the proposed station was 250 N. Water in Decatur.

Later, the owners decided to upgrade the station, beginning with a new studio facility, first built to house a TV station in Mid-Illinois specifically. About 1 mile and a third southwest of the Lake Decatur dam, a new site was chosen. About a third of a mile (actually more like 3/4 mile) west of the intersection of Illinois Route 47 and U.S. 51. The location for the studio, tower, and transmitter point would be located on a rural road, on the north side, of what was called Southside Drive. 


That upgrade would put the construction cost of WTVP at $250,000. A much taller tower was planned to top out at 600 feet, with a power output of 17 kW to give the station a range of 40-60 miles.

Prairie Television was owned by William L. Shellabarger, the previous owner of Shellabarger Mills, Inc., a grain elevator and soybean processing business in Decatur. He had just sold his business to the Ralston-Purina company.  Minority ownership included the station's manager, Harold "Harry" Cowgill, and David S.l Shellabarger.

 

Harold “Harry” Cowgill was a Decatur native and a graduate of the Decatur schools and of Washington University. He entered government service as an employee of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1929. He moved to a position with the FCC in 1935, then joined the law firm of Segal, Smith, and Hennessey in 1944. In 1952, he left the firm as general manager of his hometown television station, WTVP. David Shellabarger, brother of William, was a supervisor of investments and secretary and a manager of Shellabarger, Mills, Inc..

On December 16, 1952, it was announced that Prairie Television was granted to operate a television station on channel 17 in Decatur. In an interview with the Decatur Herald, Shellabarger stated that the station would be built for a $250,000 investment. He also stated that the original plans for a 350-foot tower were already modified to be 600 feet. The 17kw power output would give WTVP a range of 40 to 60 miles from the transmitter point south of Decatur. In December of 1952, Prairie Television placed an order with RCA for most of the needed broadcast equipment inventory.

The staff of WTVP was beginning to take shape under the guidance of general manager Harold G. Cowgill. In an interview, he said he hoped to pick up network programs from a microwave link currently under construction between Chicago, Peoria, and St. Louis. The microwave link would include a series of towers and an antenna, which would take it west of Springfield. From a repeater there, it would be microwaved to another link, taking it to the studios of WTVP. He also continued, “TV stations, unlike radio, do not need to contract for the exclusive use of one network.”

 

By March of 1953, a change in ownership name would take place to change the company's name to Decatur Prairie TV Company. It would also change the share amount of William Shellabarger from 80% to 68.25%. The 10% share of Harold Cowgill would fall to 5% with the change in stockholders. Others taken into the company included Lucien W. Mueller, chairman of the board of the Meuller Company at 5%, while his wife Clarabell would pick up a 1.25% stake in ownership. The president of Wagner Malleable Iron Company, John A. Wagner, would also own 2.5% of Prairie's stock. The others, William and David, the two Shellabarger brothers, Harold Cowgill, Lucien Mueller, and John Wagner, would make up the company's board of directors.

 

Other minor stockholders included Mrs. Gladys L. Burns, widow of W.W. (Bill) Burns of Bill Burns Chevrolet Company at 2.5%; W. Curtis Busher, president of Emerson Piano House at 1.25%; Thomas W. Samuels, a Decatur attorney at 1.25%; Dr. A.C. Simon, a Decatur Physician at 3%; Mrs. Willetta G. Simon, wife of Dr. Simon at 2%; Harvey E. Steinhoff a vice president of Wagner Malleable Iron Company at 1.25%, J.L. Tallman, Decatur Cadillac dealer at 2.5% and W. Meredith Weck, treasurer of Haines & Essick Company(a Decatur department store) at 1.25%.

I assume that with the change in plans of a downtown studio and building a top-mounted antenna, the construction of a TV facility south of town along with a tall tower would necessitate additional building capital. Suddenly, the plans of a $250,000 television station doubled to half a million dollars.

Also in March, it was announced the hiring of a chief engineer, 28-year-old James C. Wulliman, originally of Tuscola. He arrived in Decatur from Connersville, Indiana, where he was an engineer at WCNB AM/FM for five years. Before that, he did broadcast engineering for the military and engineering at WDZ Radio in Tuscola. Other management team members included Paul Taff as program director and Downey Hewey as sales manager. Downey Hewey was suggested to Harold Cowgill and supported by his experience at WSOY as a 25-year-old sales manager. He previously worked in radio sales at WJBC in Bloomington, Illinois, and WDWS in Champaign, Illinois.

 

Also a member of the original staff, meteorologist Loren Boatman. Mr. Boatman, a science teacher at Lakeview High School in Decatur, would use the opportunity as a station weathercaster to teach earth science to his class by installing a weather station at the school. From there, the class would contribute weather information for use by Boatman. A short tower to support a variety of weather instruments was placed on the school's roof. It would connect to the classroom by cable and a series of weather dials monitoring winds, barometric pressure, and temperature. Even though a weather station was installed at the school, another similar setup was also in place at WTVP. “Boats,” as he was called, would continue to teach at Lakeview for many years while serving as Channel 17 weathercaster.

 

In late May and early June, the call letters of the new Decatur TV station were announced as WTVP. It was said to stand for TV(easy...television), then “P” for Prairie(the name of the company). It's quite a coincidence that TVP is the name of a product in the soybean processing industry, an industry very important to the Decatur area!

 

May of 1953 was the month the transmitter arrived from RCA. By June, the studio facility itself was reported at 95% complete, and the tower erection was taking place, having just over 100 feet of its planned 550-foot structure completed. The remaining 52 feet would be the antenna, taking the total to 602 feet. When the tower was completed and the transmitter in place, the wait was on for the arrival of the antenna, which wouldn't occur for several more weeks. The original sign-on date in late July was becoming more and more unlikely.

 

Other than the delay in the arrival of the antenna, the pieces of the puzzle were quickly falling into place with the assignment of George W. Clark, Inc. as the national sales representative for WTVP. In June of 1953, WTVP signed to be an affiliate of the American Broadcasting Company, making Channel 17 ABC affiliate number 116.

 

In July, the news was eventually released that the initial sign-on date of WTVP would be delayed as RCA could not deliver the antenna for the station on time. WTVP planned to sign on with a test pattern on July 14, 1953, with commercial programming to begin on Thursday, July 16, 1953. Despite a seemingly well-organized effort to achieve the projected sign-on, the air date would be later than planned.

Buying into the New Medium of Television

Anticipation in the Decatur area was growing, even though most households did not and would not include a television set for several months, if not years. Polls were taken among 300 central Illinois TV dealers, and it was determined that 11,924 TV sets had been sold at the retail level. Of these, only 2,212 had UHF built-in receivers. Even though the number of sold sets was impressive, the small amount of UHF-equipped sets had to be discouraging to the early UHF broadcasters at WTVP.

Those who had made the minimum $200 investment in television ownership still had to make an additional $60 investment in an antenna, a mast(or tower), and coax. In contrast, a few had to invest another $50 in an antenna rotator to aim their antenna at the broadcast tower. To receive the UHF stations alongside those on the VHF band, a separate run of coax and a separate antenna was required, which would double the additional investment.

The low number of potential viewers was a major problem for those early television sales staff. The pressure was on to sell commercial time and show billings for the station; there were bills and people's salaries to pay as well. Sales manager Downy Hewey and his staff had their work cut out! Even though advertisers might have been excited about the new medium, it wasn't going to be easy to convince them to spend ad dollars on something which was new and untried. It was also obvious to most ad buyers that television viewership was going to be low at least for while. That applied to the local advertisers as well as the national/regional ad buyers and even the network.

The Fight Begins with WCIA

 

As you will see in the history of WCIA, all was not friendly between those early television pioneers in central Illinois. There would be many disputes between the stations in the future, but the first one came up in July of 1953 as WCIA, central Illinois' first VHF station, was being built. The original plan was for WCIA to build its 700-foot tower about 2.4 miles northwest of downtown Champaign. The application was changed later to place a tower/antenna about 10 miles west of Champaign, near Seymour, Illinois, just south of Illinois Route 10.

After the first amended filing, Midwest Television applied for yet another facility change that would place the broadcast tower 14 miles from Champaign on a high piece of ground just north of While Heath, Illinois. This would have located the station nearer to Decatur and certainly increased the signal levels into Decatur. However, realistically, the added signal strength probably would not have been that noticeable there. Where it would have been noticeable was in Springfield, Illinois. Not only would the signal level have been stronger, but the higher antenna would have secured at least a “B” grade signal into the Illinois State Capitol while maintaining a city-grade signal over Champaign-Urbana.

 

That action triggered a petition to the FCC against that transmitter/tower location change. Decatur Prairie TV argued that the tower location change of WCIA would result in financial hardship on Channel 17 and was an “invasion and encroachment” of the territory primarily served by WTVP.

This filing would have certainly delayed the completion date of Channel 3 if it was going to reach hearing status within the FCC. Any delay to the hearing would have probably set WCIA back weeks, if not months. It was reported that the foundation of the 1,000-foot tower was already constructed near White Heath, and concrete curing was taking place when the Prairie petition was filed.

 

In late July, before WTVP was even to go to air, an agreement between Prairie and Midwest Television would bring about a second chance in the tower location of WCIA. The original site near Seymour would be selected again but with some modifications to the license for WCIA. More about that later. Decatur Prairie TV and WTVP won the battle, but the war continued for years.

 

 

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Above are two illustrations of the routes involved in getting ABC programming live from the network to the local stations, including WTVP and WDAN-TV. 

(Broadcasting Yearbook 1953)

Click on gallery pages for more information about each picture.

(pictures from the Decatur Herald-Review, The Breeze Courier-Taylorville, The Urbana Courier and WAND, Carol Barnes)

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WTVP Employees August 1953

At the left are the employees of WTVP at the time of the first broadcast. Many of them lost their job in early 1954. Read why below.

(taken from ads shown above from the Decatur Herald-Review)

WTVP Studios Unique to Television in Central Illinois

 

As mentioned earlier, the studios of WTVP had the only television facility in central Illinois built to be used by a television station. The building was 118 by 89 feet and housed the entire station and its workings.

 

The actual on-air studio was the hub of all the station's various departments. It was laid out so that all paths led to the massive studio. The 53 by 36-foot studio was described as huge compared with radio studios in the area. It was designed to house all the hardware projected to be used by a local television station, such as sets, cameras, lights, and assorted gear. Still, it was also designed to accommodate audiences for local audience participation shows.

At the sign-on of WTVP, the studio had a permanent kitchen and a semi-permanent living room. The studio also included a client viewing booth. Overlooking the studio was the control room from which the director, technical director, and audio director would produce a local television show. Apart from the control room was the announcer's booth. The transmitter control was behind the control room, while on the opposite side of the building were the administrative offices of the president, secretaries, general manager, and sales. The news department and the program director's office were off the lobby, film editing, restrooms, dressing rooms, and engineering. The entire facility was air-conditioned.

ABC Network Shows from
1953-1956

There were no recordings made of any of the local broadcasts on WTVP during its first broadcast day.  Only a few of the network shows were recorded on kinescope for delayed broadcasts for some network affiliates. It would be impossible to identify the exact episodes broadcast on August 16, 1953, but to give you an idea of what type of programs were seen on that day, I give you three examples below.....

Syndicated Shows 1953-1959

Not Yet, But Soon

 

In late June 1953, the RCA transmitter arrived from the RCA factory in Camden, New Jersey. At that time, the studio building was nearing completion while testing of equipment was being installed and tested.

The 52-foot RCA antenna finally arrived at Southside Drive in early August 1953. It was brought in on a long bed trailer but would remain on the trailer for several days until arrangements could be made to have the tower crew there to install the antenna. During that time, the antenna itself became a public draw. Visitors to the station would have the opportunity to examine the antenna before it would be placed atop the 600-foot tower and become a Decatur landmark for decades. It was stated that the delay was due to the antenna failure of several tests at the RCA factory in New Jersey. When the antenna arrived, it was put through several “on the ground” tests and performed “perfectly,” according to the WTVP engineers.

 

In anticipation of the sign-on of WTVP and before a public open house was held, the station hosted a VIP Private Open House on Saturday, August 8, 1953, which about 500 persons attended. Bill Pownall and his Decatur advertising agency were hired to organize the VIP party. During the event, work was underway at the rear of the studios on the tower.

 

Earlier, during the afternoon of the VIP event, the time came to raise the WTVP antenna to the top of the station's 550-foot tower(with the antenna completing the 600-foot height). Hundreds of people watched as the crew hoisted the antenna from a wooden gin pole suspended from the top of the tower.

Slowly, the antenna rode a cable up the side of the tower, slowly and carefully, when several objectionable sounds were coming from the wooden gin pole. According to the tower crew, the gin pole appeared to be cracking under the weight of the antenna. A decision was made to slowly lower the antenna to the ground once again with the possibility of re-installing a new gin pole before the end of the day. Ultimately, another attempt would be tried on Sunday before the planned public Open House.

 

Meanwhile, guests at the VIP event were shown the TV station building while entertainment was provided by Jim Ameche, brother of performer/actor Don Ameche. Jim Ameche was the star of “The Silver Eagle,” one of the syndicated TV shows on the WTVP program schedule. Other celebrities during the event included Chet Roble and “Studs” Turkel. “Studs” Turkel would, in the future, become an author, actor, historian, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. He was to begin a regular Chicago TV show the next week. At this event, he played the piano. Another local celebrity was Franklin Wait, chief writer for the “Welcome Travelers” radio and television shows. The wait was the son of Arthur Wait of Decatur.
 

The company responsible for the erection of the WTVP broadcast tower was the Electrical Tower Service of Peoria. The crew foreman was Jack Streamer. Streamer said raising the antenna from the ground to the top would take two and a half hours. Additional hours were needed to prepare for the raising after losing time on Saturday when the gin pole cracked.


The following day, work on raising the antenna would begin at 8 am with plans to have the antenna in position at the top of the 550-foot tower by 11 am. The following day would be used to install the transmission line from the RCA transmitter to the antenna up the tower. The three-hour window for the antenna raising was underestimated. The crew's problems were unknown, but it took much longer than expected.

 

Just a few hours after the work began on installing the antenna, the first of two public open houses was conducted. The first Open House would host thousands of central Illinois potential viewers to the studio from 10 am to 3 pm. Since the station wasn't officially broadcasting yet, those attending would be granted the opportunity to see themselves on closed-circuit television as part of the tour of the new television station and check out the work being done simultaneously on the tower. The tower crew interrupted the event twice as the building was evacuated as a safety measure while the antenna was installed.

 

It was reported that 10,000 people attended the open house and antenna installation. Among those, at least 7,000 toured the interior of the studios. Many observers were there all day watching the crew install the antenna, which took over seven hours. Six men were on the crew to install the antenna. An additional man was needed the next Monday to install the transmission line.

 

After successfully installing the antenna, the station contacted the FCC, which immediately permitted WTVP to go on the air with a test pattern via a telegram. After a couple of days of broadcasting a test pattern, the FCC would again review the engineer's proof of performance and obtain approval for regular commercial telecasting. WTVP met all broadcast standings in fine form after the gin pole was removed on Tuesday, August 11, and would go on the air with regular programming on Sunday, August 16. In the meantime, the station would broadcast an irregular schedule of the station test pattern.

The broadcast of the test pattern was getting some attention. Within twenty minutes of cranking up the transmitter with the test pattern, about 40 calls were received from viewers reporting good reception. Communities represented by those calls included Decatur, with those outside communities being Springfield, Tuscola, and Warrensburg. Paul K. Taff, WTVP program director, made the first live appearance on the station late Tuesday night. He appeared briefly to welcome viewers and invited them to contact the station to report how the reception was.

 

The next week, on August 16, 1953, a second open house was planned when Channel 17 would officially go on-air. The open house hours would be 9 am to Noon, so, as the event's advertising stated, “... so that the studios may be used in the afternoon for program rehearsals.”

 

During these early weeks of August, the WTVP staff was assembled and “on the clock” even though the station hadn't aired its first paying commercial! The stresses of management and ownership had to be tremendous.

Local Decatur Television Adds to the Economy

 

During this time, Decatur television set dealers reported a “slight” increase in sales and conversions of sets from VHF only to VHF/UHF in the past few weeks before Channel 17. One dealer, though, said his company had done more business in the last two weeks than in any other two-week period, but the increase was manageable. Other dealers anticipated more VHF to VHF/UHF conversions once the station began broadcasting a test pattern. One business owner said that Decatur TV owners were holding back to see how other people's reception was before adding a converter to their set.

 

A Decatur Herald article stated that R.R. Crum of Crum Distributing Company, a Decatur appliance wholesaler, was saying, “Television set sales were sky-rocketing all over the territory(central Illinois). Crum, the only TV set wholesaler in Decatur, went on to say that shipments had tripled since WTVP went on the air.

Central Illinois (or at least a part of it) Sees Local Television for the First Time

 

Following the second WTVP Open House, the studios at WTVP were most certainly busy. Rehearsals were taking place with what was to be a fifteen-minute formal grand opening for Channel 17 scheduled at 4:45 pm. The WTVP kick-off program was to feature Decatur Mayor Robert E. Willis for the 5 pm show. Willis would welcome Decatur's first television station. Most station officials would also appear, including Willliam Shellabarger, Harold Cowgill, Paul Taff, and James Wulliman.

 

Even though programming would be limited to the late afternoon and evening hours, general manager Harold Cowgill said that the daily broadcast of the station's test pattern would continue to allow television installers and technicians to adjust television sets. During that first evening of commercial broadcasting, among the reception reports was one from Champaign describing the reception as being “almost perfect.”

 

That first day of broadcasting was certainly an exciting day for those involved. Still, the reality was that less than 25 percent of homes had a working television, with only about 25 percent of those having the ability to receive UHF stations!

WTVP TV Program Listings

“Irreconcilable Differences” Take WTVP and Gene Autry Off the Air

On January 20, 1954, Gene Autry was booked for a personal appearance at Decatur's Kintner Gym. This appearance would attract hundreds of local kids and their parents to Autry's western show. The performance included songs from the famous western movie matinee idol and other performers, cowboy trick artists, and more.

After his appearance at Kintner, Gene Autry was scheduled to appear during a local telecast of a short March of Dimes Polio telethon produced at WTVP. Unfortunately, his appearance on Channel 17 also occurred while the TV station was facing a management crisis.

On January 20, 1954, WTVP didn’t sign on the air. It was said that “personnel and mechanical troubles” kept the station from going on the air that day and that WTVP was expected to return to the air within 48 hours. WTVP did return to air a telethon broadcast that evening, but it aired only the event's audio. This technical problem would force the station to call in an engineer with RCA to try to solve the problem.

This episode ended up being an earth-shattering event in the history of WTVP! It was announced that station general manager Howard Cowgill, chief engineer James Wulliman, and program director Paul Taff had resigned. The trio later told the press that they were asked to quit.

Newspaper reports in the Decatur Herald stated that in addition to the department managers, the “employment of two other employees had been terminated, one through discharge and the other by discharge or resignation. According to the newspaper report, Marian Bork, the station's continuity director, resigned, although a spokesman for the disgruntled employees said she was “discharged.” Mr. Shellabarger stated that Maureen Sullivan, the station artist, was discharged, and an outside artist would do her work under contract with the station.

The employees who submitted resignations were: James E. Crowell, news director; Dolores Ryan, women's director; Tony Parker, sports director; Richard W. Shaughnessy, host, and announcer; Charles H. Logan III, producer-director; LeRoy R. Scales, floor manager; Arthur Zahler, engineer, Nile M. Hunt, video supervisor; William R. Leonard, producer-director; Charles F. Marden, engineer; Leo C. Krenzel, engineer; Marie T. Crigler, secretary; Joseph S. Gravagno, engineer; Elinor Owens, traffic manager; John Boyd Buckstaff, producer-director; Edwin R. Pianka, transmitter supervisor and C. Louis Bumphrey, engineer.

James C. Wulliman later released a statement concerning the station being off the air on January 20, 1954. His statement told of a request from local TV dealers and servicemen to tell of the condition of the equipment of WTVP on the day in question. I would assume they had been hit by purchasers of television sets complaining of the lack of television service from WTVP, assuming it was because of the TV sets they purchased. The dealers just wanted to get the story from Mr. Wulliman to back up their assurances to their customers.

Mr. Wullman would go beyond the initial request to reflect poorly on the actions of Mr. Shellabarger after the walkout. Wulliman stated, “I checked the tower light(s) to comply with the FAA regulations, took all the operator's licenses to protect the men, and with the other engineers and several program staff members, I left the station at 11:35 am Wednesday.”

He continued, “During the afternoon, we returned with Mr. Cowgill to pick up some personal belongings and found an unlicensed man trying to get the transmitter on the air. Since I was not responsible for the equipment after 11:35 am I do not know what was disrupted by unqualified personnel in an attempt to get the station on the air.”

In that later interview with now former WTVP station manager Cowgill, he blamed “irreconcilable differences in views and positions” between himself along with Taff and Wulliman and Shellabarger. It’s also assumed that part of the problem between the station’s department heads and the company president was the number of employees, presumably hired by Cowgill and the department heads. The WTVP staff consisted of 47 employees, more than twice the number of staff members at WCIA or WICS! Obviously, the number of employees was excessive for a TV station with a broadcast day of fewer than 12 hours. Mr. Shellabarger, in an interview, said that the “stockholders thought we were tremendously overburdened by the expense of this large staff and wanted to reduce it.”

One can assume that many disgruntled employees were included in the firing, as many were on-air key people who probably would not have been cut from the payroll ordinarily. The only member of management who continued with the station was sales manager Downy Hewey, who was in New York making sales calls that week.

A few days later, Harold Cowgill appeared in the Decatur Herald headlines, saying he intended to file an application for Channel 23 in Decatur. He also said he could be on the air with the new station in as little as 90 days. His alliance with his former workers at WTVP was evident when he said he hoped that some of his former WTVP staff would follow him to his new station. There was never any indication that Mr. Cowgill ever made any application for channel 23.

Harold Cowgill would exit Decatur to become the Chief of the FCC Common Carrier Bureau in December of 1954. By May of 1957, he was named chief of the FCC Broadcast Bureau, succeeding Edward F. Kenehan, who resigned to join a Washington law firm.

On January 22, 1954, WTVP would resume its regular broadcast schedule without 20 former employees, including the station's general manager. Shellabarger would say he and other members of the board of directors had decided to trim the 47-person staff. He would say, “stockholders thought we were tremendously overburdened by the expense of this large staff and wanted to reduce it.”

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A relationship between Disney and ABC in the mid-1950s helped ABC achieve record audiences for programs at that time. “Disneyland” aired on ABC and featured news on the new southern California theme park designed and built by Walt Disney, but also some Disney-produced half-hour programs designed to attract a family audience with high-quality productions.

Warner Brothers entered the TV industry through ABC with several movie-quality weekly programs. The list includes “Cheyenne,” “Bronco Lane,” “Maverick,” “The Deputy,” “Lawman,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Bourbon Street Beat,” “Surfside 6,” “Colt 45” and others. The production of most of these shows was so complex that they couldn't be scheduled weekly, but they became one of several rotating series airing once every two or more weeks.

 

Most shows starred new and upcoming actors such as Clint Walker, James Garner, Efrem Zimbilist Jr., Van Williams, Peter Brown, Jack Kelly, and Connie Stevens. The actors' youth helped generate a younger audience base that would benefit ABC in another ten years and beyond. Those actors would also work at a much lower salary, keeping the production costs in check. The younger audience of the early baby boom generation would be attractive to advertising agencies.

By 1959, ABC was finally programming a daytime schedule of off-network reruns and game shows. In 1958, ABC began airing a weekday two-part version of “American Bandstand” hosted by Dick Clark. Parts one and two of the teen dance program would be separated by the game show “Who Do You Trust” hosted by a young Johnny Carson.

 

This was the network attached to not only WTVP in central Illinois but several other “less desirable” stations such as WBLN, Channel 15 in Bloomington, Illinois, WDAN-TV, Channel 24 in Danville, Illinois, and WTVH, Channel 19 in Peoria, Illinois as well as KSTM, Channel 36 in St. Louis, Missouri. The other stations' histories are or will soon be included on this website.

ABC Network Shows from
1957-59

Growing Up ABC

 

ABC was the upstart television network at the time. Even though the American Broadcasting Company can trace its history back to 1943, it wasn't until 1948 that ABC television went on the air with some big city affiliates in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and its stations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and later Los Angeles and San Francisco. During the freeze, ABC was losing money and near bankruptcy when a partner was founded in United Paramount Theaters, headed by Leonard Goldenson. After a long battle with the FCC, the merger was finally approved in 1953.

The network was in building mode from 1953 to 1960 and gradually became more of a contender with the other networks, but still was regarded as a third-place network. Despite its weak programmer position, the network did a 15-minute nightly news program that John Daley anchored during much of the 1950s. Even though the TV network would rely on the news department of its radio arm, ABC News would continue to grow into a full-fledged network source of world and national news by the mid-1960s.

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Is it Live or Kinescope?

The biggest obstacle for many early stations was receiving live network programming. For WTVP, it was particularly difficult. Being in central Illinois,  there was no network video coax nearby. The closest run was 80 miles to the east in Danville. Meanwhile, a microwave repeater system was being constructed from August to September 1953 by A.T. & T. to connect Chicago to Peoria to St. Louis. Its path would run south from Peoria to St. Louis, just west of Springfield. This necessitated a “leg” that would beam video via another set of microwave towers from a point west of Springfield eastward to just west of Decatur, then a short “hop” to the studios on the city's south side.

When WTVP went to air in August of 1953, even though it was an ABC station, network programming was aired from either filmed productions or through kinescopes sent to stations that were on “live” on the network. The network and syndicators would “bicycle” kinescopes from the network from station to station. The station would usually receive the film by transport or using the area's bus lines to send and receive parcels. They would air the film and send it to another station in the loop. The station with a Kinescope affiliation would receive network shows a week or several weeks later than its original live network airing. Syndicated shows would be rotated at no set schedule, sometimes months after production.

Even though WTVP was affiliated with ABC, it didn't mean it would air the entire ABC prime-time network schedule. As mentioned earlier, being a primary network affiliate gave the station a direct line to each ad agency and an exclusive opportunity to air network programming. Still, it wasn't guaranteed that the station would broadcast a program. There were exceptions to this arrangement, often made by smaller local stations, which presumably had no chance of increasing network compensation and elected to take any ABC programming with no cash being exchanged. That made the network a free source of programming that enabled the station to sell advertising around the network programs. That was the situation at WDAN-TV in Danville and probably WBLN-TV in Bloomington. More on those stations later.
 

In reality, stations didn't pick programs. Instead, the advertising agencies whose products sponsored syndicated and network programs picked the stations from which they would buy "time." This allowed bidding where a station would perhaps lose a program to a competitor offering time on their station for less money. Agency buyers would have to consider the number of households reached by each station and justify a buy with the cost of reaching a thousand households. Surely, if the agency's goal was to reach the largest number of households, then WCIA was the most expensive choice. Still, it could also offer a better reach in total households and just maybe a cheaper cost per thousand households compared to the other stations....but if a buyer didn't have the budget for the higher rates, then the smaller UHF stations in the market would have to do. To get similar total households, a buyer might buy time on more than one station in the market, especially when there is no overlap of signals. That is one reason several programs were seen on different stations within the central Illinois market.

There were some examples, though, where an ABC program was placed with WCIA. “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” was one of ABC's successful series and one of TV's longest-running sit-coms. It was sponsored by a rotation of Coca-Cola and Kodak during the mid to late 1950s. It appears that the ad agency representing both sponsors was unhappy with the coverage area of WTVP and placed the show on WCIA instead. Since WCIA didn't have a direct network feed from ABC, Channel 3 would be forced to air a kinescope or film of the episode, complete with commercials, usually a week or so after the initial ABC network run. That was just one example of an ABC show being placed by the network on a non-ABC affiliate. Meanwhile, WTVP would air a syndicated filmed program in its place on the schedule.

From August through at least the first couple of weeks in October, WTVP would air any ABC programming via film. Still, in October of 1953, WTVP had the network live feed via that microwave system and would be on track to increase its importance to ABC and that much-needed network advertising compensation.

By October 1, 1953, it was now possible that Channel 17 could broadcast a live program from ABC through American Telephone and Telegraph facilities. It would involve a leg of microwave relays that would send the signals originating from national broadcast networks to Decatur and WTVP. In August and September of 1953, towers were constructed between a point west of Springfield and Decatur.

Another consideration for a live network feed was the cost. Exactly what WTVP was paying for a network line is unknown, but it was costly. For example, in Danville, WDAN-TV was just a couple of blocks away from the passing of a major coaxial line from Chicago to Terre Haute and Evansville, and that station's costs exceeded $4,000 a month! Network compensation might not come close to covering the cost of the line from A.T. & T.

WTVP and WDAN-TV weren't alone in the exorbitant costs of the network coaxial feed. Later in the mid-'50s, protests were filed with the FCC on behalf of television broadcasters against A.T. & T..

SHOCK THEATER

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WTVP Announces "Shock Theater" in 1959, 
(Decatur Herald-Review)

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ABC Network Shows from
1957-62
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WTVP station data as published in the 1955-56 Broadcasting Yearbook.

An ABC promo from the late 1950s as broadcast on WTVP.

(YouTube)

Guy Mitchell had several hit records in the mid to late 1950s and a TV variety show on ABC in 1957.  Here is the opening as broadcast on ABC and seen on WTVP.

(YouTube)

As broadcast on ABC in 1955, the opening of Disneyland live as seen on WTVP.

(YouTube)

"Cheyenne" retired after seven seasons of successfully rescuing a studio and network while revolutionizing American entertainment. With the support of William T. Orr and creator/developer Roy Huggins, Cheyenne became a popular one-hour drama that eventually dominated American fiction. This achievement made it a significant cultural icon. (Source: YouTube)

"Lawrence Welk's Talent Scouts" sponsored by Dodge from April of 1958

(YouTube)

From Season 3 of "Make Room For Daddy" as broadcast on ABC. This includes the original commercials for L&M cigarettes.

(YouTube)

The Army-McCarthy Hearings as broadcast on ABC

(YouTube)

Making Hay with McCarthy

Between April and June of 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings took place before the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations to investigate accusations between the U.S. Army and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The hearings were covered gavel to gavel on live television by DuMont and ABC.

ABC and DuMont had no daytime broadcast schedule of programs to preempt during the hearings. Hence, it was natural for the networks to achieve some viewership for themselves and their affiliates. ABC reported 54 stations broadcasting 78 hours of coverage between the start of the hearings in April through the third week of May.

Among those stations broadcasting the hearings across mid-Illinois were WTVP, WTVH, Peoria, and WTVI, Belleville (St. Louis). The network offered commercial time avails during the coverage to local stations as a bonus, and all local stations took advantage of the opportunity. At Channel 17, the Army-McCarthy hearings were sponsored by a local Philco TV dealer.

The Reality of Business and the Struggles of UHF Stations

In May of 1955, a national television industry report stated that 80 percent of all UHF stations were near bankruptcy. Not more than 12 or 15 UHF stations were making a true profit, and these were stations without immediate VHF competition. Richard P. Doherty, president of Television-Radio Management Corporation,  was quoted in an article for Broadcasting-Telecasting.

Doherty said that station incomes of 5 to 6 thousand dollars a month are “not at all uncommon for a considerable number of UHF operations.” When an additional VHF station goes on the air within a UHF market, the UHF station revenue drops at least 20-30%. When two come online, a UHF facility can lose 40-50%. In contrast, between 40 and 50 percent of new VHF stations “are either losing money or technically breaking even.”

Those statements above were certainly true when it came to central Illinois broadcasting. That pressure from newer VHF stations would have meant certain death to stations like WTVP and WICS in Springfield if the proposed WMAY-TV (see the chapter with the history of WICS) was to ever go on the air. WTVP and WICS would put up two independent fights to eliminate the allocated VHF channel 2 threat in Springfield. WTVP stayed out of the fight until June of 1955, as a petition was filed with the FCC for a rule-making proceeding to decide to move channel 2 from Springfield. The petition, though, wasn't specific regarding what to do with the allocation for channel 2. WTVP saw that if channel 2 in Springfield had become a reality, it would have brought about the demise of both WICS and WTVP. Decatur could have ended up with no local full-service TV station, much like what would eventually happen with Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

While most petitions filed against the issuance of granting channel 2 made suggestions to move it to St. Louis, this request by WTVP and Prairie Television was open-ended. Prairie Television did “graciously” suggest moving Decatur's only other allocation at channel 23 to Springfield to take its place. How nice it was for them to try to move the only opportunity for television competition in that market to Springfield. That idea would never be approved, as UHF channels in the same community were never meant to be closer than six channels apart. Springfield already had an operating UHF station at Channel 20, WICS.

In October of 1955, WTVP could have faced additional television competition of the worst kind. A proposal was placed before the FCC that would “drop in” many possible VHF stations in select markets nationwide. The list included Bloomington, Illinois, with channel 6; Peoria, Illinois, with channels 10 and 13; Galesburg, Illinois, with channel 11; Cairo, Illinois, with channel 8; and Decatur with channel 7. The list would include two proposed “drop-ins” that would pass in future years. Harrisburg, Illinois, would be granted an allocation for channel 3, and St. Louis would be granted channel 2 by the decade's end.

Other FCC issues of the era included a protest by WTVP on a proposed change in FCC rules, which would allow stations a duel city legal identification whether or not a station had a facility in a secondary market. Previous rules would require a separate studio in each community to be included in a legal ID. WTVP was one of the few stations objecting to that proposal, more than likely based on the fear of WCIA obtaining a duel identification for its station in Champaign, Illinois to include Decatur.

A Possible Competitive Threat

During the Winter of 1956-1957, a competitive threat to the exclusive situation held by WTVP in Decatur was made. This was in the form of an application filing for Decatur's only other allocation at channel 23. Keith Moyer's apparent first attempt at television ownership was made with the filing for a grant for a proposed UHF station, the second in Decatur.

This application also included a waiver of the FCC rule requiring the location of a station's main studios within the assigned cities' city limits. His proposed station would place the studio/transmitter 2.6 miles south of Decatur. He proposed a station with 20,900 watts broadcasting from a tower at 359 feet. His station would include a construction cost of $89,010 and a first-year operating cost of $96,000.

Mr. Moyer's investment and stated costs were quite a bit shy for what it would take to construct a television station in central Illinois, even in those days. He did have enough broadcast experience to know the situation, although the future would not be kind to his interest in developing television stations. He was the developer of television station WJJY(TV) Channel 14, which would result in a legendary failure ten years later in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Keith Moyer owned radio stations throughout the Midwest and beyond during the 1950s. One of his first properties was WTIM Radio in Taylorville, Illinois. He and his brother Roger Moyer would hold interest and outright ownership of several local radio stations. Among the call letters up to that point, radio stations he had been part of include WBBA, Pittsfield, Illinois; WTAY, Robinson, Illinois; and WMMA in Miami, Florida.

My first broadcast job was at one of Mr. Moyer's initial radio properties, WTIM, in Taylorville, Illinois. By 1974, when I started there, the station had changed hands and was owned by another group of investors.

It's unknown what happened to that application for channel 23, but the FCC never granted it. It may have been pulled from consideration by Moyer or rejected by the FCC as not a legitimate application. There appears to be no record of any action taken by the FCC.

WTVP and Prairie Television Get New Owners

In early April of 1958, William Shellabarger and his other stockholders had had enough of the television business. Through contacts with a Chicago advertising agency, Tatham-Laird, one of the media directors, George Bolas, assembled a group of investors who would take the TV plunge and purchase Prairie Television Company and WTVP.

The group also included a couple of board members of one of the ad agency's clients, the Campbell Soup Company. Gilbert and W. C. Swanson were included as major stockholders of the station. The Swanson brothers were already well known, or at least their name was, as it was the brand name of the frozen dinner division of the soup company.

The new group would purchase the business and television operation and lease the land and building from Shellabarger. The new owners would purchase WTVP for $200,000 for stock and debentures, plus pay a lease at $20,000 a year for five years with the option to buy the building and property for $225,000. Bolas would own 30%, with both Swansons owning 15% each. 40% would be owned by other minor stockholders not named in the original application. The FCC approved the change in ownership on May 28, 1958.

The previous station general manager, Ben K. West, would continue in that position under the new ownership. By July, the company would elect officers and directors of the board. The meeting would also include a famous star in a banquet to celebrate the new board. Phil Harris, of the Jack Benny Show on the radio during the 1940s and very early 1950s's would be a guest on the board.

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In early 1958, William Shellabarger and his other stockholders worked out a deal with George Bolas, one of the media directors at an ad agency, Tatham-Laird of Chicago to selling WTVP to Bolas and a number of other investors. The group included a couple of board members of one of the clients of the agency, the Cambell Soup Company. Gilbert and W.C. Swanson were included with other stockholders. They were already well known, at least the name was as they were the original owners of the frozen dinner division (Swanson TV dinners) of the soup company. 

After the July meeting to vote on officers of the new Prairie Television Incorporated, WTVP, the list of officers and stockholders was announced. Officers and directors included: George W. Diefenderfer(stockholder); W. Clarke Swanson(of Swanson Frozen Foods, Division-Campbell Soup Company, director); George A. Bolas(media director of Tahan-Laird Incorporated-Chicago-president); Ben K. West(general manager and vice-president); David A. Preston(stockholder). Gilbert Swanson(of Swanson Frozen Foods, Division-Campbell Soup Company, stockholder); Robert T. Mahar (member of the Chicago law firm of Osborne, Scheib, Hogan and Mayer, treasurer) W. J. McEdwards (NBC Central Division TV network sales-secretary); Philip Zimmerly (Champaign, Illinois attorney) and Arthur E. Tatham (board chairman, Tatham-Laired Incorporated, director).

 

As a side note, remember the name of Phillip Zimmerly. He was a Champaign attorney who would file for channel 21 in Champaign at about the same time that Midwest Television filed for channel 3 (more in the History of WCIA). Years before, the FCC granted a UHF-TV station permit for Champaign to a group led by Mr. Zimmerly, but the proposed station was never initiated, and the permit was turned back into the commission. After all those years, Phillip Zimmerly would finally own, or be a part owner, of a television station.

It appears in retrospect that the change in ownership was not necessarily a pleasant phase for WTVP or its employees. When the sale took place, the new owners took over a station seemingly in position for growth. Instead, a business austerity program temporarily reduced the number of hours of operation for the station, production of local programs (other than local news) would end, and many long-time employees would leave (such as Kim Wilson, who would go to WICS).

Marty Roberts host of "Marty's Dance Party" on WTVP

Back in 1976, I had the opportunity to work alongside Marty Roberts at WTAX. Little did I know about his past. I came across a picture of Marty and his wife hosting "Marty's Dance Party" for Pepsi on WTVP in 1958. The card was sent to teens who participated in the dance program and it came from members of the Roberts family.oberts family.

A "Lone Ranger" promo from 1959 as broadcast on ABC.

(YouTube)

WTVP Tries to Wage War Against WCIA

With the allocation of channel 2 in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1958, the holders of channel 10 in Terre Haute, WTHI-TV,  sought out the lower dial position and applied to move to channel 2. This brought about additional applications for both channels 2 and 10. Among the applications was one filed by Livesay Broadcasting. Livesay Broadcasting was a holder of WLBH Radio in Mattoon, Illinois. Seeing the prospect of additional competition in southeastern Illinois, WTVP and what was to be a future UHF TV station in Champaign, WCHU(TV) (sister station to WICS, Springfield) tried to intervene in the fight for channel 10.

At the same time, the two UHF stations had already teamed together to file a joint petition with the FCC to light a fire against WCIA. The stations petitioned the FCC to delete the channel 3 VHF commercial allocation in Champaign and reestablish it as an educational outlet. They proposed moving the current educational channel 12 to Lafayette, Indiana, for commercial use and allocating an additional UHF allocated frequency to channel 64. This would force WCIA to move from channel 3 to channel 21 or 27. More about this fight within the chapter covering WCIA.

WCHU even took its petition one step beyond the proposal in asking the FCC to condition the renewal of the broadcast license of WCIA on moving to the UHF band. The petitions filed by WTVP and WCHU were rejected by the FCC before the end of 1958.

1960 Brings Another Big Change for WTVP

By January 1960, Metropolitan Broadcasting had already purchased WTVH in nearby Peoria from Hilltop Broadcasting. The troubled Peoria station had just a couple of years before lost the opportunity to become a full-time CBS affiliate when WMBD-TV went on the air in January 1958. WTVH, in 1958,  was to become a full-time ABC affiliate for Peoria and would go through many cost-cutting moves to stay afloat, including eliminating virtually all of its local news products.

In October of 1959, WTVH would receive a lifeline called Metropolitan Broadcasting. The station would be added to the collection for $500,000. Metropolitan, formed by some of the “pieces” of the former DuMont Television Network, was buying television properties. WTVH was the third of the TV stations and the first UHF station purchased by the group.

Metropolitan already owned New York's WNEW AM/FM/TV, Cleveland's WHK AM/FM, and WTTG(TV) in Washington, D.C.. How WTVH would gain the attention of Metropolitan and why that company would be interested in ownership of the Peoria station is unknown.

Here is the first episode of "The Rebel" featuring Nick Adams. The show originally aired on ABC from 1959 to 1961 and is a half-hour western. The theme song, sung by Johnny Cash, was a Top 40 hit during that time. You can watch it on YouTube.can watch it on YouTube.can watch it on YouTube.

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From Jan 11, 1960, published in Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine

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From Feb 1, 1960, published in Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine

During the first week of January of 1960, there were reports that Metropolitan was extending another lifeline to another central Illinois troubled television station and closing negotiations to purchase WTVP, its second UHF property, and its fifth broadcast property. Just two years earlier, a group led by George Bolas purchased the station for $200,000 plus a $20,000 yearly lease and an option to buy the property and facilities for $225,000.

Two weeks later, the proposed sale of WTVP was announced. The application for the ownership change to the FCC was filed the first week of February 1960. The details of the sale included a sale price of $600,000.

While the station was awaiting FCC approval, Ben West, the general manager of WTVP under Prairie Television Company, would leave the station and become general manager of KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City. The new WTVP general manager, Robert King, was a former account executive at WFAA in Dallas, Texas, and more recently, general manager of KSWO-TV Lawton, Oklahoma. Mr. King would become Channel 17's new leader during the ownership transition.

In August of 1960, a new operations director was appointed at WTVP. He was Peter C. Kouris, a former producer-director for WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida.

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Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation Comes to the Rescue

There were many articles in Broadcasting during those early days of the growth spurt of Metropolitan. Each quarter, there seemed to be claims of income growth for the company and its acquisitions. In August of 1960,  Metropolitan claimed it would gross $ 40 million in 1960 and predicted $ 50 million in 1961.

The chairman and president of Metropolitan, John W. Kluge, spoke before the San Francisco Security Analysts Society and stated that the first half of 1960 was already $2.6 million ahead of earnings from the preceding year of 1959. He also said half of the income is expected from Foster and Kleisen, a West Coast outdoor advertising company acquired in early 1960. At that time, the legal purchase of WTVP was still pending before the FCC.

It was ten months in the making, but the FCC finally approved the sale of WTVP to Metropolitan Broadcasting on September 29, 1960. The final sale price was listed at $570,000. The sale price reflected what WTVP had become before the announced sale and during the transition period. The facility had been neglected and was experiencing great financial stress.

Before the end of 1960, another broadcast property would be brought into Metropolitan. KMBC AM/TV in Kansas City, Missouri, was purchased from Cook Broadcasting Company—the purchase price of that larger market property $10.25-million.

Here are a number of Warner Brothers Television programs from the 1960-61 season as broadcast on ABC and WTVP.

Syndicated Shows 1959-64

Metropolitan Brings New Toys to WTVP

With the purchase of WTVP, a major investment was made to bring the station up to date in technology with the market's addition of its first RCA Video Tape Recorder/Player. The tape machine was four rack panels wide and would record and playback black and white video from two-inch videotape reels.

This would enable the station to playback videotaped commercials and programming produced in the studios of WTVP and delay network programming when necessary. The quality of playback would be near the live quality and would add to the efficiency of the operation and its use of studio productions.

It was also during the time of primarily NBC's expansion in the use of color television. ABC was holding out in producing and passing color programming through the network for, as the president of ABC stated, for the public to demand it. The first color program aired by ABC was “The Jetsons” on September 23, 1962, but locally, WTVP wasn't ready yet for color. A couple of years later, the necessary equipment was installed at WTVP in 1965 to allow the station to pass network color when it became available.

Meanwhile, WTVP news would subscribe to “Telenews,” a news film service produced by the Hearst Metrotone News Service. This would allow WTVP to use newly gathered news films from national and world events, which could be used in local news productions.

WTVP 1963-1103 Decatur Herald

The WTVP station had a reason to feel proud as it became the sole ABC affiliate in central Illinois on November 3, 1963. However, its signal only reached as far as Decatur, with a "B" grade signal in Springfield, Lincoln, and Taylorville. The station only had a limited viewership in Champaign and Mattoon due to its fringe signal. (Source: Decatur Herald)

ABC News gained strength in the early 1960s with daily 15-minute broadcasts with the leading network anchor Don Godard seen on WTVP in central Illinois.

For the Kids...

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"Davey's Locker" was a weekday kids participation locally produced show featuring a collection of local kids with activities separated by cartoons. Later it would become "Captain Scotty" and "Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers" (see the next page with the history of WAND).
(certificate above from Tom Barker)

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One advantage of being under the ownership of Metropolitan (Metromedia) was the availability of New York programming from WNEW-TV, Channel 5. Some of the programs that were shared with WTVP included "The Soupy Sales Show" and "Wonderama." (The image above is from the Doug Quick Collection, and the video is from YouTube.)

Tribute to TV pioneer Sonny Fox, who famously hosted the NY children's show "Wonderama" from 1959 to 1967. Irwin "Sonny" Fox passed away at the age of 95 in 2021 from Covid-19 on January 21, 2021.

(YouTube)

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W-70-AA went on the air to rebroadcast the signal of WTVP, Channel 17 for Champaign-Urbana viewers with antennas (as most viewers had at the time. 

(WAND)

Bob Billman, WTVP anchor, rode out the cut-backs of Metromedia on WTVP.  He suffered through reductions in local newscasts at 12:40 pm, 6:15 pm and 10 pm. All weekend newscasts were eliminated before the sale of WTVP to Lin Broadcasting.

The Future of WTVP

In December of 1965, it was announced that LIN Broadcasting would take ownership of the Decatur television station for $ 2 million.  It was also announced an expansion of the station to the tune of $800,000, a goodly sum in those days.  Among the planned improvements was an increase in power to a million watts from a taller tower.  It was assumed it would involve increased height from its present location on South Side Drive in Decatur.  It would involve a new 13-hundred-foot tower between Argenta and Oreana, Illinois.  RCA only manufactured three antenna types that would be used in the LIN expansion.  Another mid-Illinois TV station, WJJY-TV in Jacksonville, Illinois, would later use one antenna. The other would remain on the ground at Camden, New Jersey, at the RCA factory.  You'll hear more about the antenna in 1978.

The improvements also included converting to a color TV studio and the ability to broadcast videotape, film, and slides, and live studio and network programming in full color.  The increase in the signal would bring about the elimination of the UHF translator at channel 70 in Champaign-Urbana, as it was felt that the increase in power and the relocation of the tower would bring a Grade A signal to Champaign-Urbana as well as to Springfield, Lincoln, Taylorville, and other communities. 

It was also announced that WTVP would become WAND, Channel 17, on February 15, 1966.  The relocation of the tower and power increase would occur in October of 1966. 

Here presented in no particular order are those
who have served at WTVP, job description/title, dates

W.L. Shellabarger-president  1953-58
Harold Cowgill-general manager 1953-54
James Wulliman-chief engineer 1953-54
Paul Taff-program director 1953-54
James Crowell-news director 1953-54
Downey Hewey-sales manager 1953-54 *
Tony Parker-sports director 1953-?
Al Pigg-farm director/program host 1953-56, 195?-196?
Dick Shaugnessy-program host 1953-54
Dorothy Ryan-program host 1953-54
Kim Wilson-program host 1954-5?
John Buckstaff-floor manager 1953-?
Sue Sullen-receptionist 1953-?
C.H. Logan-producer/director 1953-?
B.C.Gennetis-bookkeeper 1953-?
William P. Burley-projectionist 1953-?
Lee Scales-film director 1953-?
William Leonard-producer/director 1953-?
Bill Heyduck-property manager 1953-?
Elinor Owen-traffic 1953-?
Ed Pianka-asst. chief engineer 1953-?
Nils Hunt-engineer 1953-?
Charles Marden-engineer 1953-?

Elton Stewart-porter 1953-? 

Bill Leonard-producer/director 1953-?

Maureen Sullivan-art director 1953-?

Helen Shellabarger-stenographer 1953-?Deloris Ryan-womens editor 1953-?

Marion Bort-continuity director 1953-?
Kity LeMar-secretary 1953-?
Steven French-acct executive 1953-?
Mary Wagner-receptionist 1953-?
John Crockey-local sales manager 1953-?
Bob Shade-news anchor 1954-?
Max Bolen-weathercaster 1954-?
Loren Boatman-weathercaster 1954-198?
Phil Petty-news anchor 1959?-1963?
Earl Hickerson-sports director 1954-1960
George A. Bolas-president 195?-(1958)-19?
B.K. West-station manager 1958-1960
Jack Kussart-program manager 195?-(1958)-19?
Hubert F. Abfalter-chief engineer 195?-(1958)-19?
Steve Pozhay-general manager 1954-1959
Robert King-general manager 1960-1961
Dale Coleman-news director 1957-63
Dave Lauerman-sports director 1960-1962
Wayne Semple-engineer 195?-196?
Dean Turmin-engineer 195?-196?
Calvin Coleman-acct executive
Bob Billman-news anchor late 1960's
Jim Clayton-news anchor/programhostmid 1960's

Frank Montagnino(Monte)-1955-58, 1960-62

Fred Straub-reporter 1960's
Pat Alee-reporter unknown
Bill Wohlfarth-sports mid 1960's
Elmer Ruple-engineer 196?-2013
Jerry Wiedenkeller-sales/promotion 195?-1959
Don Lindsey-sales, 195?- 196?
Gene Bell-sales, 195?-196?
Dave Silvestri 1961-?
John H. Bone-general manager 1961-
Bill Cecil 1954-1961 announcer/personality "Hugo"

* a contributor to this site
This list is by no means complete....if you are or know of a WTVP employee, sales, administration, programming, news or creative services....drop me an e-mail.
Include that persons name, title or job description and approximate dates of employment, if you know.

Sources:
Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine
The Urbana Courier Newspaper
The News-Gazette Newspaper
The Decatur Herald-Review Newspaper

The Taylorville Breeze-Courier
TV Guides (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection
Danville Public Library
Champaign Public Library
Decatur Public Library
Urbana Free Library
YouTube
The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows
  by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
Total Television by Alex McNeil

Contributors:
WAND-TV, Channel 17, Decatur, Illinois
Bob Lee for the vast majority of program titles screen grabs
Bob Wilcott for his many photo contributions on this page and other pages
Elmer Ruple and his source of many pictures of the 1950's into the 1960's
Carol Barnes
J.R. Evans
Downey Hewey
Michelle Eckes-Kaufman
Bruce Frey
Jim Wulliman
Marty Schopp for his contribution of "Marty's Dance Party"
Darrell Blue
Frank "Monte" Montagnino
Gary L. Prange

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