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!

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Click on gallery pages for more information about each picture.

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

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
Our Miss Brooks
Our Miss Brooks

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Amos 'n Andy
Amos 'n Andy

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Roller Derby
Roller Derby

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Our Miss Brooks
Our Miss Brooks

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Syndicated Shows seen
on WTVP 1953-1959
ABC network logo late 1950s
ABC network logo late 1950s

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Maverick
Maverick

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Mike Wallace Interview
Mike Wallace Interview

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ABC network logo late 1950s
ABC network logo late 1950s

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ABC Network Shows from
1957-59
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SHOCK THEATER

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

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In early 1958, William Shellabarger and his other stock holders worked out a deal with George Bolas, one of the media directors at ad agency, Tatham-Laird of Chicago to sell WTVP to Bolas 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 ande 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. 

Shock Theater 1959
Shock Theater 1959

from Decatur Herald-Review

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Lawrence Welk Show
Lawrence Welk Show

from Decatur Herald-Review

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WTVP Ad
WTVP Ad

from Decatur Herald-Review

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Shock Theater 1959
Shock Theater 1959

from Decatur Herald-Review

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ABC Network Shows from
1957-62

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

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.

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

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I had the pleasure of working with Marty Roberts at WTAX in 1976. I had no idea of his history at the time. Here he is pictured with his wife, hosting "Marty's Dance Party" for Pepsi on WTVP in 1958. The card was sent out to partisapnts of the teen dance program.

(card from members of the Marty Roberts family)

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.

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WTVP 1963-1103 Decatur Herald

WTVP indirectly had a reason to be proud as the station was now the only central Illinois ABC affiliate. Unfortunately, the station only had signal enough to cover Decatur, with a "B" grade signal in Springfield, Lincoln, Taylorville with fringe viewership in Champaign and Mattoon.

(Decatur Herald)

Metromedia steps in...

In January of 1960, after the George Bolas and the Swanson Brothers purchased WTVP, it was announced that Metropolitan Broadcasting (which had already purchased WTVH in Peoria) would purchase WTVP, Channel 17. 

Metropolitan would take control of the station on September 29, 1960. The final sale price was $570,000.  Metropolitan brought a cash infusion to the facility, bringing the capability to record and playback programming on video tape and eventually broadcast network color for the first time in the fall in 1965.

Metropolitan also brought an extention to the signal of WTVP with the addition of a low power translator station to Champaign, W-70-AA broadcasting from a short tower near the now intersection of I-57 and Olympia Drive. The tower/transmitter were removed a number of years ago, after the relocatoin of the Channel 17 transmitter/tower near Argenta/Oreana in the late 1960s.

The story of what Metropolitan (called Metromedia after 1961) brought to WTVP is explained in detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" available on the Home Page of this site.

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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. 

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

This is the pilot for "The Rebel" starring Nick Adams that aired on ABC from 1959 to 1961. This half-hour western was introduced with a theme song sung by Johnny Cash, which was a Top 40 hit durng the era. 

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

Buffalo Bill, Jr.
Buffalo Bill, Jr.

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The Mighty Hercules
The Mighty Hercules

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Hopalong Cassidy
Hopalong Cassidy

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Buffalo Bill, Jr.
Buffalo Bill, Jr.

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Syndicated Shows seen 
on WTVP 1959-64

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 of the benifits of being owned by Metropolitan (Metromedia) was it brought access to New York programming from WNEW-TV, Channel 5.  Among the shows shared with WTVP included "The Soupy Sales Show" and "Wonderama."
(picture from the Doug Quick Collection)

Tribute to TV pioneer Sonny Fox, who famously hosted NY childrens' show "Wonderama" from 1959 to 1967. Today, as an 84 year-old executive, Mr. Fox advises developing countries in the use of radio and television drama to educate populations about social, health and environmental issues.

(Text and video from YouTube and Barry Mitchell)

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.

ABC 1964-65 MON
ABC 1964-65 MON

from TV Guide

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ABC 1964-65 TUE
ABC 1964-65 TUE

from TV Guide

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ABC 1964-65 FRI
ABC 1964-65 FRI

from TV Guide

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ABC 1964-65 MON
ABC 1964-65 MON

from TV Guide

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From 1964. The ABC promotional ads published in TV Guide.

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The top photo is one of the former Dumont Television Network traveling studios from WNEW-TV, Channel 5 in New York.  It was sent to WTVP for use during the reorganization of the former DuMont Television Network to Metropolitan Broadcasting. On the second photo, it's included with other station vehicles, long before ENG (electronic news gathering) became a reality.   

(pictures from WAND and Carol Barnes)

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

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Click the image at the left

to go to the WAND 1966-2018 page.

The History of WAND, Channel 17, Decatur, IL

1953 - 1965

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!

In late October 1952, Praire Television Company filed an applicaton to broadcast on channel 17 from Decatur, Illinois. The application included a proposed power of 18.03 kW output from an antenna located atop a tower at 352-feet above average terrain. The cost of the proposed TV station would be at $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, the first such facility built to specifically house a TV station in Mid-Illinois. A new site was chosen about 1 mile and third south west of the Lake Decatur dam, and about a third of miled (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. Shedllabarger, the previous owner of Shellabarger Mills, Inc. a grain elevator and soy bean processing business in Decatur. He had just sold his business to the Ralston-Purina company.  Minority owership included the station's manager Harold "Harry" Cowgill and David S.l Shellabarger.

A flood of local investors were needed for the station's upgrade, and at that time, the name of the company was changed to Decatur Prairie TV Company. The complete list of local owners are recalled in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."

Production Meeting at WTVP
Production Meeting at WTVP

l to r: John Buckstaff (assistant director), Lee Scales (film director), Wm Leonard (producer), Bill Heyduck (property mgr), C.H. Logan (producer) and Elinor Owen (traffic)

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A WTVP studio camera
A WTVP studio camera

A WTVP engineer checking out the workings of the RCA studio camera

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WTVP Control Room
WTVP Control Room

Unidentified WTVP engineer at rack panels of equipment.

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Production Meeting at WTVP
Production Meeting at WTVP

l to r: John Buckstaff (assistant director), Lee Scales (film director), Wm Leonard (producer), Bill Heyduck (property mgr), C.H. Logan (producer) and Elinor Owen (traffic)

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Here is a variety of pictures taken from the early days of WTVP. They have been provided by the Decatur Herald-Review, WAND and by private collectors.

Hold curser on each picture for a desciption, or click on the pictures to open up larger window with descriptions. 

WTVP studio floor plan
WTVP studio floor plan

studio is a 118'x87' single floor building housing all of the operations of WTVP

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WTVP studio
WTVP studio

WTVP in 1953 built the only TV facility which was meant for television broadcasting in central Illinois

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WTVP studio floor plan
WTVP studio floor plan

studio is a 118'x87' single floor building housing all of the operations of WTVP

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