The History of WAND, Channel 17, Decatur, IL

1953 - 1965

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.”

Click on gallery pages for more information about each picture.

(pictures from the Decatur Herald-Review and WAND, Carol Barnes)

The many details of the first 10 years of WTVP are ommitted here and told in great detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."  Order your copy today!

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 seen on that day, I give you three examples below.....

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ABC Network Shows from
1953-1956
Syndicated Shows seen
on WTVP 1953-1959
ABC Network Shows from
1957-59
Dec 5, 1958
Dec 8, 1958
Dec 9, 1958
Dec 4, 1958
Dec 6, 1958
Dec 7, 1958
Dec 10, 1958
Dec 5, 1958
Dec 5, 1958
Dec 8, 1958
Dec 9, 1958
Dec 4, 1958
Dec 6, 1958
Dec 7, 1958
Dec 10, 1958
Dec 5, 1958

The early years of WTVP were filled with many stories. Some include:

 

  • Filings with the FCC against another TV station for unfair competitive practices

  • A near catastrophic situation took place during antenna installation

  • Hiring twice as many employees than each of the other central Illinois TV stations resulted in a massive layoff

  • A walk-out by nearly a third of the employees

  • Sabotage on the WTVP transmitter after the walk-out

  • A high profile appearance of a celebrity went unseen after the sabotage

  • Several ownership changes took place during the first 12 years

  • One owner had roots with the former DuMont TV network

 

These stories and many others are included in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."  Order your copy now!

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

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

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

Here are a series of commercial and promos as broadcast on WFIL-TV from ABC.  It's probable that WTVP also broadcast these network promos as well.

ABC Network Shows from
1957-62

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.

ABC News was gaining strength in the early 1960s with daily 15-minute broadcasts with main network anchor Don Godard, and seen on WTVP in central Illinois.

A TV Guide® ad from 1964 with the news team at WTVP. Bob Billman(pictured without his toupee, Greg Liptak, Loren Boatman and Bill Wohlfarth.

 

(from the Doug Quick Collection)

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.

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

Syndicated Shows seen 
on WTVP 1959-64
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The Future of WTVP

In December of 1965, it was announced LIN Broadcasting would be taking ownership of the Decatur television station at a cost of $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 of power from a taller tower.  It was assumed it would involve an increase in height from its present location on South Side Drive in Decatur.  It would in actually involve a new 13-hundred foot tower located between Argenta and Oreana, Illinois.  RCA only manufactured three of the antenna type that would be used in the LIN expansion.  One antenna would later be used by another mid-Illinois TV station, WJJY-TV in Jacksonville, Illinois and 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 the conversion to a color TV studio and the ability to broadcast videotape, film and slides, 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 WTVP would become WAND, Channel 17 on February 15, 1966.  The relocation of the tower and power increase would take place 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

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
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

wand_tvg_todaytonightcolorful_07-67-modi

Click the image at the left

to go to the WAND 1966-2018 page.

Updated 11.16.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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