The History of WAND, Channel 17, Decatur, IL

1966-Present

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

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

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

The 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!

WTVP Becomes WAND

On December 23, 1965, Frederick Gregg Jr., President of LIN Broadcasting, announced the future expansion of WTVP.  The announcement also came with the announcement of the ownership change of WTVP to the Nashville, Tennessee based company on December 15, 1965.  The purchase price was listed as $2-million.

The $800,000 expansion plans would involve a power increase of almost “five-fold” and a doubling of the height of its tower.  The plans also included the conversion to a color TV studio and color broadcasting which would begin during 1966.  The W-70-AF translator wasn’t included in the briefing, but according to the Urbana Courier, “others familiar with the station’s capabilities feel it can be eliminated.”

In late 1965, WTVP was stated as having a Grade B signal over 45% of Champaign-Urbana.  With the tower/antenna and transmitter upgrade, it was felt that WTVP would have a Grade A signal over the Twin Cities.

In February 1966 a press release read that all TV owners should be able to receive ABC programming from WTVP by May of that year.  The final engineering plans were completed and submitted to the FCC for approval.  WTVP Station Manager Len Carl stated that the station upgrade would include a new 1-million watt transmitter to be located near Argenta, Illinois.  Some communities, which would now be included in the coverage area, were to be Melvin, Loda, and Rankin to the north, Ashland to the west, Danville to the east and Mattoon to the south.  It was also revealed on February 10th that WTVP would become WAND on the following Monday.

The plans began for the building of a tower and transmitter that would eventually be destroyed by an ice storm.  That weather-related event would ultimately bring down the 1,135-foot structure during the late 70's...more on that later.

In the meantime, the Macon County Zoning Board approved the construction of the tower and transmitter building on a one-acre tract of land located 2 miles northeast of Oreana, Illinois before the final FCC approval was granted.

Click on button to see the program schedule from the dates indicated above.

Before the new transmitter and tower were installed, WAND went on line on July 1st, 1966 with a new film chain with color capabilities, and color VTR’s.  It seems that WTVP had capabilities to broadcast the network in color as early as 1965.  Live studio color broadcasting was still being planned for October of 1966, several months in the future.

In August of 1966 construction was begun on the new tower for WAND.  Weather delays continued to plague the construction schedule for the new high-powered facility.  By August 16th, the tower concrete forms began to be placed and readied for the foundation of the tower.  The construction of the new concrete block style transmitter building was underway as well.  Stainless, Inc. was the manufacturer and assembly contractor for the tower (being the same company, which built the WILL-TV/FM tower just a few miles to the northeast of the WAND tower).

More on the WAND tower/transmitter below...

Recollections of "Davey's Locker" and "Captain Scotty"

During the 1950s and especially during the 1960s, local television included many local kids shows which would feature a unique host, a panel of local kids, games which allow kids to win prizes and a stable of four to five-minute cartoons. At WTVP/WAND during the '60s there was at least "Space Angel," " Dick Tracy's Crime Stoppers," along with "Davey's Locker" and "Captain Scotty."

Davey's Locker and Captain Scotty were created and hosted by Dr. John Douglas Davey. His son Jon Davey, who is now a professor at a Midwest university passed along some information about the life of Dr. Davey.

 

Dr. Davey was born in Northern Rhodesia where his parents were missionaries there. He later was educated in Wales and graduated from Swansea College before moving on to Canada. He served in the Canadian Air Force during World War II, then went to seminary school.

After marrying he and his wife and family lived in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois.  Jon tells of attending six different grade schools.  Jon described his father's voice as having a deep resonance similar to James Earl Jones with a “touch of (an) English accent and a great cutting vocabulary.” His son also tells of him going “back and forth between being a pastor and radio/TV/Newspapers.”

 

Also at WAND, he anchored the Noon newscast for a time but that was after he had already established himself as a kids show host and according to his son the move “didn't work."   After his time at WAND, he ended up at WMIX radio in Mt. Vernon, Illinois where he was station manager. He later returned to preaching, which took him to Hot Springs, Arkansas where he, Dr. John Douglas Davey passed away in 2002.

 

So, the search continues to find any material, pictures or any TV show artifacts and souvenirs from any of the WAND kids shows. If you have any memories, personal photos your parents might have taken at the WTVP/WAND studios or any photos which would show the set, the host and kids, they would be a terrific addition to this website. You'll notice right now, there are none.

Pictures can be scanned and sent via e-mail to me. Digital pictures of objects can be taken, scans of any printed material can also be sent via email. Please go through your collection! Don't let this exciting time of local television disappear! Of course, you would be given contributor status.

 

I would also like to hear the story of your experience as a child participant. I'm looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Other Children's Panel Shows of the 1960s on Channel 17

Space Angel
Children's participation show themes revolved around whatever syndicated cartoon series was picked up to model it after. There was a period of time that "Space Angel" was presented. The episodic cartoon series was produced by Cambria Productions from 1962-64 and used the "Synchro-Vox" lip animated technique where nothing moved except for the lips of the characters. Voices were provided byNed Lefebvre(as Scott McCloud-"The Space Angel"), Margaret Kerry was Crystal Mace and Hal Smith was the voice of Scottish born engineer Taurus. It's believed that "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry based the character of "Scotty" on "Taurus." 

Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers
This Chester Gould based cartoon featured the famous comic strip character of Dick Tracy. It was produced by UPA from 1961-1962. For this one, the 5-minute cartoons would be interspersed with segments featuring local kids with activities which were based on the theme, "crime does not pay." It's unknown the exact dates this weekday installment ran on WTVP/WAND. If you were ever a participant in this series, I would like to include your story here on this site. Please contact me using the form on the Home Page!

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ABC Network Shows from
1965-1970

WAND News Late 1960s
By mid-1966, local newscasts were being listed in time slots which previously were being filled with syndicated programming.  The last year of Metromedia ownership eliminated all weekend newscasts and reduced the lengths of other weekday and weeknight newscasts.  Now under LIN  Broadcasting ownership, the trend was noticeably stopped.  As was indicated by the number of ads promoting local news on WAND, a new emphasis on the local news was beginning to take shape.  The black and white broadcasts of local news would join those other local stations already broadcasting in color.   WICS, WICD, and  WCIA had already begun broadcasting of its local news in color.

 

WAND's New RCA Antenna is a Monster
Further information on the subject of the antenna comes from the WJJY-TV web site.   The WAND antenna along with the antenna of the ill-fated Jacksonville, Illinois station
was manufactured by RCA.  The WJJY-TV antenna was slightly larger because of a higher power level but wasn’t used until August of 1969.  According to the site listed above “to gain such incredibly high power levels, WJJY-TV utilized an experimental antenna manufactured by RCA and only three were ever constructed.  Because the station operated on channel 14, the lowest possible UHF frequency, the physical dimensions of the radiator elements were very large making the antenna the most massive ever constructed for the commercial UHF market.”  “WAND-TV in Decatur, Illinois purchased the second smaller unit.  The third antenna remained unsold and stayed on the ground at the RCA test facility in Camden, New Jersey.  No one trusted such a large, heavy antenna.  Those fears would later be realized.” 

“The complete antenna (for WJJY-TV) was so massive that it had to be manufactured and shipped in three separate sections on three separate trucks.  Each part was lifted to the top of the tower individually and stacked by the tower riggers.  The average antenna weight for a UHF antenna at that time was between two and nine tons.  The RCA “Vee-Zee” panel antenna weighed in at 26-tons, not counting the transmission line, radome covers and mounting plates.”  The story of the antenna for WJJY would come to an end the same weekend as the story of the new antenna for WAND.  The
storyofthetower failure on the day before Easter 1978 is coming later on this site.

 

Pictured at left is a 1960s picture of the WTVP/WAND studios and broadcast tower. The tower described above would replace the broadcast function of the tower pictured here, Over 60 years later this broadcast tower still stands at the WAND studios, although its only use now is to support the studio-transmitter link microwave antenna. 
(picture courtesy of Carol Barnes and WAND)

 

 

Here is a selection of ABC promos from 1962-1964, all seen on WTVP. It includes "The Tycoon," "Stoney Burke," "The Sunday Night Movie," "The Price is Right" and "The Patty Duke Show."
(YouTube)

The ABC daytime schedule included a number of daytime dramas. Here is a 1964 promo with a sample of each one, all seen on WTVP/WAND.
(YouTube)

A group of ABC promos from 1964 featuring the shows "The Addams Family," "The Flintstones," and "The King Family." All seen in prime time on WTVP.
(TubeYou)

ABC promo selection from 1968-1971 includes "The Mod Squad," "Room 222," and the "King Family." All seen on WAND.
(YouTube)

More ABC promos from 1967-1971 including that for "Peyton Place," "It Takes a Thief," "Marcus Welby M.D.," "The Partridge Famly," and the "Courtship of Eddies Father." All seen on WAND.
(YouTube)

1966-1970 Promos selection from ABC featuring "The Music Scene," "The Immortal," "Marcus Welby M.D.," The Young Lawyers," "Batman," "The Brady Bunch," "The Odd Couple," and  "The FBI." All Seen on WAND.
(YouTube)

"The Flintstones" and "Jonny Quest" were the only two regularly scheduled shows airing on ABC and WTVP which were broadcast in color in 1965-66. Here is a sample of "Jonny Quest" in a color promo from 1964.
(YouTube)

WAND becomes a Big Central Illinois Broadcaster
On October 3rd of 1966, WAND General Manager Len Carl announced that the new WAND transmitter and the antenna was to be operational on Wednesday, October 5th.  It was also stated that the translator for WAND, W-70-AE would be taken off the air from its location in Champaign, since it was projected that WAND would throw a class A signal into the Champaign-Urbana area. It also appears that after tests were conducted about the signal strength of the new transmitter and antenna, the translator would be moved to Danville.  Channel 70 would be used to “fill in” the signal to a populated area which was located just inside the coverage area but had a questionable ability to receive the signal from channel 17.  Channel 70 was able to get a class A signal over Danville along with the channel 17 class A signal over Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign-Urbana.  The achievement gave WAND the ability to pitch it’s a 100-percent class A coverage area to buyers of national and regional advertising.  This was necessary in order for the station to maximize potential households reached and hopefully WAND’s ratings.  This new situation would increase the chance to pick up its share of that all-important advertising market.

There was a delay in the initial broadcast from the new site, but it was only for a couple of days.  On Saturday morning, October 8th, 1966 at 6:40, WAND began to broadcast its 2-million watt signal from its new tower and transmitter located near Argenta, Illinois.  Reception reports were favorable for the most part from all over the area.  The only exceptions were complaints from viewers in Decatur, who failed to compensate for the new transmitter location and to re-direct their antennas toward the new broadcast site.

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Syndicated Shows seen on WTVP/WAND 1965-69
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ABC Shows from 1971-1990

ABC Mini-Series

At the Least WAND is on the Air
Central Illinois experienced an ice storm on January 26th of 1967, which caused the collapse of the newly constructed1,335 foot tower of WICD between Homer and Fithian, Illinois (See WICD).   This may have coincided with an ice storm which affected WAND as well.  I remember an ice storm, from about that time, which took WAND off the air with a power failure and/or damage to the stations studio-transmitter microwave link.  WAND scrambled to return to the air with a temporary arrangement which caused them to abandon their studio and move to the newly constructed transmitter building at the tower near Argenta, Illinois. I assume either that location had power, or a
back up generator was used to keep the station on the air.  Unfortunately, there was probably no switching equipment, or a network feed to keep the station with the look of normal programming.

Instead, the engineering staff had wired in a camera, maybe a studio camera, along with a couple of microphones wired into the transmitter to broadcast on-
going news and ice storm reports and weather from inside their transmitter building!  WAND also used a 16 mm movie projector to show movies, cartoons and syndicated programming on the wall of the building and simply stuck a mike in front of a speaker of the projector.  The shows were “video jocked” by on-air staffers, of which I remember Bob Billman and Bill Wohlfarth doing at least one shift.  The two VJ’s would sit at a table with chairs and when it was time to go back to “programming” you could hear the projector startup and the studio camera would pan up to the wall and then focus in on the projected image of a movie, or whatever program on the wall. 

This was the arrangement for at least a couple of days as the station would show countless old westerns, cartoons and other movies and programs which came from the WAND film library.  I also remembered being disappointed when the station regained power and once again resumed normal broadcasting.  I was so impressed with the way the staff handled the situation and the ingenious way they solved a problem which would probably take most stations off the air during that period of time.  I wonder how stations now would handle such an event, as most wouldn’t have a library of programs to air in case of an emergency.

Romper Room Flashback

These pictures were contributed by Patty Spain-Smith who appeared on WAND's Romper Room in Apirl of 1971.  She is pictured above in the yellow dress. 

She says, "I would have been 6 years old.  It's so disappointing that there aren't tapes of this somewhere!  I would have loved to have been able to show my kids how I was a "TV superstar" for a day!"  

The Romper Room teacher was in all probability "Miss Jean" who was also featured in a Romper Room TV
Guide® ad in the early 1960's as well. 

(thanks to Patty Spain-Smith for her contribution)

WAND Celebrities 1970-1999

Dick Westbrook
Dick Westbrook was WAND News Director during much of the
1970's and 80's. He was also a sometime anchor, an anchor for
"Looking In," WAND's public affairs features which aired on weekdays.
It was the title of the station's midday newscasts with
various local interviews and local events. Westbrook was formerly News Director at WDZ(AM) in Decatur during the mid to late 1960s.

 

Jerry Slabe
Jerry Slabe is pictured from the mid-1970s.  His broadcast history began in Wisconsin and Illinois radio, eventually becoming part of the staff of the ill-fated WJJY-TV in Jacksonville, Illinois before moving to WAND in Decatur.  He eventually made the move to WCIA where he remained until the ownership change from Midwest TV to Nexstar.  His leaving brought quite a controversy to WCIA.  See the History of WCIA for more details.

 

Mike Cheever
Mike Cheever was the WAND Promotions Director /Manager from 1970 to 1984. He took the job after a short stint at WJJY-TV in Jacksonville, IL  Pictures: top left  Mike at the "Tales of Terror" set at WAND in which he starred as
Dr. Terror(pictured lower left in makeup), Mike behind the WAND studios, 70's.  There is another shot of Mike below on this web page from a TV Guide ad for the midday news program. He took many responsibilities at WAND including that of
an announcer, chief copywriter, producer, weekend weather, worked in audio control and in his words, "everything in between." He also kept an on-air presence with several features.  He was the host of "Looking In" the WAND public affairs program for a time, as well as playing the part of "Dr. Terror" on the Friday night movie series "Tales of Terror."  Mike also was the "voice" of WAND doing voice-over promotions for local programming, movies, topical promos, and public service announcements. Mike also was part of the midday news at
WAND and host of the "At Your Service" feature. 

Read the recollections of the late Mike Cheever when he contacted me several years ago by going to the button to the left.

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ABC News promo from 1969-1970 with anchor Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner as seen on WAND.

(YouTube)

ABC was, in my opinion, running a terrific promotional machine with the use of its many themes, along with idyllic "slice of America" visions of people and places along with "feel good" clips from its prime time shows. The graphics were trendsetting long before digital video was invented. Here is a sample of the fall premiere special from 1971-part 1 as seen on WAND.

(YouTube)

Even in 1974, the ABC "slice of life" promos were going full speed and presenting ABC programming in a great light. The contemporary music soundtrack was spot-on in and light years ahead of the other networks. The premier show was narrated by William Schallert who was an anchor on many TV shows of the 1950s to the 1990s.

(YouTube)

Note the salute to the heritage ABC shows of the past in using the theme of "Still the One" from the 1977-1978 Fall Promo as seen on WAND.

(YouTube)

An Easter Disaster for WAND
Easter weekend and the Easter morning of 1978 in central Illinois was not your usual day of Easter church services and pastel Easter outfits.  Central Illinois was experiencing one of the worst ice storms in a number of years with damage to area trees, power lines, and structures.   The storm damage reports began on Good Friday with trees and power lines, then by Saturday afternoon and early Easter morning the list of damaged structures would include the loss of two TV broadcast towers in central Illinois. 

One was the former tower/antenna of WJJY-TV which was licensed to Jacksonville, Illinois during the very late 1960's and very early 70's.  This station went on the air from a sixteen hundred foot tower and the antenna located on the bluffs of the Illinois River near Meridosia, Illinois.  By 1978, the former TV station was history having left the air just a short time later in 1970.   WJJY-TV went on the air in 1969 broadcasting at 4.5 million watts of power from one of the three highest structures in North America.  WJJY went dark within two years and the broadcast tower was only a gravestone marking its short history.  Unfortunately, the tower was constructed using the typical specs for a much lighter antenna load.  This high powered TV station was using an experimental antenna which weighed much more than what was usual for any UHF station.  It was that extraordinary weight combined with the additional weight of solid ice which was said to cover the antenna and tower, some 3 feet thick,  which took it down in the pre-dawn hours of that Easter morning.

Photo 1- 5 above: The Easter weekend of 1978, a central Illinois ice storm claimed two central Illinois broadcast towers, coincidentally both supporting similar RCA broadcast antennas.  One tower in west central Illinois, west of Jacksonville took the former WJJY-TV 1,600 foot tower to the ground. The same storm also destroyed the broadcast tower of WAND. 

Photo 6 above: WAND Station Manager Barry Geoghegan holding a chunk of ice which contributed to the tower failure.

Photo 7 above: A picture of the ceiling and open roof, the result of an ice chunk which fell through the studio roof above the control room from the former broadcast tower behind the facility at South Side Drive.

(left): Ice falling from the South Side Drive tower which would be called back to service within days.

Coincidentally WAND was utilizing a similar antenna as WJJY did with its new transmitter location near Argenta, Illinois.  Even though, it wasn’t quite as large or heavy as the original antenna used by WJJY-TV, because of the frequency difference between UHF channel 14 and 17, along with the difference in power, didn’t require such an antenna, it was still, quite heavy and larger than most other antennas being used on top of similar towers of the era.  It was on that Saturday before Easter that the 11-hundred foot steel tower of WAND crashed to the ground.  It was reported that one WAND official had gotten a phone call shortly before 2 PM from a woman who said, “Oh my God, your tower just went down!”  The damage broke communication between at least one person, an engineer at the transmitter site, and the station.  When the tower fell, it evidently took the phone lines with it.  Debris was said to have fallen through the roof of the transmitter building, but the engineer on duty wasn’t injured nor did the transmitter receive any damage. 

The cause, obviously was the buildup of ice on the tower and antenna, but certainly the additional weight of the experimental antenna contributed to it’s own demise as well.  The scenario was very similar to the WJJY-TV failure of the next day, when it was reported that two guy wires snapped and allowed the tower to buckle near the top and fall, taking out the other guy wires and pulling the rest of the tower down with it.

 

This was a trying time for several central Illinois TV broadcasters as well.  WCIA, Channel 3 was off the air from Friday afternoon to around 10 PM on Saturday due to a power outage at the transmitter site.  WICD was on the air but had lost its microwave feed from WICS.  At that time, WICD did not have the ability to receive the NBC network from coax, and satellite reception was still quite a few years in the future.  WICD solved it’s problem of not receiving the network by quickly installing an antenna at the studio to receive the off-air signal of WTWO-TV, Channel 2 from Terre Haute, Indiana and rebroadcasting the network signal.  It’s interesting to note, though, that WTWO was suffering from a related problem of not receiving the network signal because of downed phone lines.  The Terre Haute station was receiving an over-the-air signal from the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis and was rebroadcasting that to its viewers in the Terre Haute area.  I remember a description of the WICD tower which said that the tower wasn’t straight up and down because of the ice load and had a rather “S” configuration under the ice load.

 

The additional weight of the ice was putting a great deal of stress on the guy wires.  I was at WDAN/WDNL in Danville at the time, and even though the Danville area didn’t get the full brunt of the ice storm, there was some ice build up on the 385-foot tower of WDAN and WDNL which was the former WDAN-TV and WICD tower pre-1967.  I remember seeing a bit of a sway, along with hearing some really strange noises coming from the newly formed ice sculpture.

No doubt about it, WAND was in deep trouble with no way to return to the air quickly, but the station did have one ace-in-the-hole that none of its competitors had.  That unique advantage was in the form of its former tower and antenna which stood at its studio’s back door.  The original WTVP tower could play a part of being a way to get WAND back on the air....and soon. The station had two alternatives to get back on the air, and only one way to solve its major problem and that was to rebuild the tower.  The alternatives they were faced with to get a signal on the air as quickly as possible were, to build a temporary tower at the Argenta site which would be considerably shorter than 11-hundred feet and limit it’s coverage area at least until a new tower could be built.  The second alternative was to use the existing original 600-foot tower and antenna behind the studio.  It would be a taxing two weeks before WAND would return to the airwaves.

In an April 1st story in the Urbana Courier, Dick Westbrook, WAND News Director reported that the station would be returning to the air by April 3rd broadcasting from its original tower.  He described what had been occurring during the last two weeks.  First, a plan was undertaken to broadcast from a temporary antenna placed at the 250-feet level of the existing tower.  Engineers were unsure how far the station would reach, and at that time, a decision would be made to perhaps utilize the station’s former antenna at the top of the tower later.  There was also a plan to purchase a used UHF antenna from a Channel 17 in Philadelphia in case the old antenna was unusable. Westbrook said by mid-April, if the old antenna was still operational, it would allow WAND to broadcast once again to the entire area.  This was a bit of an overstatement since the original antenna would not be able to handle any major power increases over what it was using before 1966. 

The total damage from the ice storm of Easter weekend 1978 was reported at 1.5-million dollars!  LIN Broadcasting had insurance enough to handle a loss of 1.2 million dollars.  It was also reported that the construction on a new tower would take another six to eight months to build, assuming it would be rebuilt at the site near Argenta.  There was also a consideration of another unspecified tower site.

By April 13th, WAND was once again broadcasting from its original tower and antenna located on Southside Drive on Decatur’s southwest side.  It seems that the original antenna abandoned in 1966, was still operational again in 1978.  During the cleanup and construction of facilities to contain a temporary transmitter at the studio location, plans were being made by LIN Broadcasting to create an even more powerful WAND to broadcast from an even taller tower!  T.J. Vaughn, Vice-President of Operations, stated that the company was “considering a substantial increase in the size of the tower and an increase in the power.”  Plans being considered included a 2-thousand foot tower and an increase of power to 3-million watts.  Obviously, talk of 2-thousand foot towers upsets the FAA which would need to approve of such a structure.  Ultimately, the FAA wouldn’t approve of such an obstruction to the flight paths of local aircraft, and the tower height of 13-hundred feet was all the governmental body was going to approve.  If there was going to be an increase in the coverage area of WAND, that increase was going to have to come from a power increase.

 

With WAND being on low power, once again, WAND lost many, many households of viewing.  One way to increases the number of households able to view the station was to move the translator which was serving no purpose in Danville.  The translator in Danville wasn’t able to receive WAND with a constant off-air signal for broadcast anyway.  I remember watching WAND from the translator at the time, and the signal would drop in and out at random making viewing near impossible.  Moving the translator would take W-68-AA to Champaign-Urbana.  Once again, T. J. Vaughn made the announcement that WAND would return to the Twin Cities by way of the “translator.”  This time, though, viewers in Champaign-Urbana would receive WAND, not on channel 70 as it did before 1966, but would be watching on channel 68.  The translator found a new home on the new 21-story University Inn located near the heart of the Twin Cities.  This would allow the station to re-broadcast WAND and ABC to the viewers of Champaign-Urbana within a ten-mile radius.  The equipment was delivered on May 24th and by May 29th W-68-AA went on the air from Champaign-Urbana. 

It didn’t take long for the complaints to come rolling into the management of WAND.  It seems the signal for W-68-AA was not reaching all points equally around Champaign-Urbana.  The complaints seemed to be coming from viewers from the east and west of the transmitter/antenna.  Larry Katt, WAND General Sales Manager, stated that work was being done to rectify the situation and that a better signal was promised to the viewers of the area.  I assume that the problem was eventually solved.

WAND returned to the air from its original transmitter site at Southside Drive. Details above.

There were several delays in getting the tower built.  Besides getting governmental approval from the FAA, there was a matter of a power increase which took the FCC some time to approve.  There were also several equipment delays as well as tower construction delays as well.  The tower included more guy wires for support and a new transmitter building as well.

By March of 1979, WAND was finally back on the air with 5-million watts of UHF power at channel 17, on a 1,314-foot tower in the Argenta-Oreana area along I-72.


(TV Guide ad from the Doug Quick collection)

A commemorative plaque on what I would assume to be the replacement tower for the ill-fated tower that fell on Easter morning in 1978. When the station went back on the air it also increased power to 5-million watts ERP.
(Thanks to Tom Buckley-who contributed this very special picture)

(WAND Advertising from the Decatur Herald-Review)

This aircheck of ABC and WAND is from September 1982 with the presentation of the James Bond film "Moonraker." Includes promos/commercials and ABC movie graphics. Listen for Ernie Anderson's network voice overs.

(YouTube)

"Come on Along" was the ABC theme for the 1982-83 season. Check out this short ABC promo as broadcast on WAND.

(YouTube)

"Vegas" was part of ABC Late Night in 1982. Here is an aircheck from WAND. Watch for a local commercial for WNNS(FM), Springfield and voiced by Mike Cheever.  Also, there is a Perry Thomas commercial with the Decatur auto dealer on a horse.

(YouTube)

This is a short segment with an ABC promo for "T.J.Hooker," "The Love Boat," and "Fantasy Island" all voiced by Ernie Anderson and broadcast on WAND in 1983.

(YouTube)

This aircheck of WAND is from September 1985 with the broadcast of the historical documentary 45/85 produced by ABC News.

(YouTube)

This is, unfortunately, a poor recording of WAND which includes short news open and close with Julie Moore, Wes Sims from 1990(recorded earlier in the evening, this is a late night re-broadcast of the local news). Also includes Rick Zurak and Bob Murray. It also jumps to the final few minutes of the broadcast day ending with the sign-off.

(YouTube)

Here is a network station break from 1991 ahead of a presentation of "Twin Peaks" on WAND.

(YouTube)

WAND news open from a weekend in 1992 with Jerry Goodman, Lisa Kiava, and Mike Cleff. It's a short snippet with an obvious audio problem which brought about the insertion of a PSA to correct the problem. 

(YouTube)

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ABC Shows from 1991-2005

The Story Behind "The Switch"
During 2004 the beginning of a network affiliation shake-up began. In April of 2004, the NBC affiliation agreement with WICS/WICD(NBC) in the Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana market expired, along that of WKEF(NBC) in Dayton Ohio. NBC was involved in other business arrangements with LIN Television Corporation which owned OTHER stations in both of these markets.

After April of 2004, the affiliation agreements of all of the stations were extended on a short term basis but would terminate the WKEF agreement in September of 2004 and the WICS/WICD agreement in September of 2005.

The Decatur Herald and Review's Tim Cain speculated, “...NBC has reached its limit with Sinclair, dissatisfied with the corporation's cavalier attitude toward its programming, including not running some of it.” In reality, it was most likely a business decision between NBC and LIN Broadcasting which would link the two companies who were already partnered with other ventures. 

It was obvious that the affiliation switch was simply done as an "add-on" to a much larger agreement of an affiliation switch in Dayton and perhaps Dallas, Texas, two bigger markets and has some consequence for NBC. WICS/WICD had a record of outperforming other NBC affiliates when it came to local news and ratings.  NBC was set to lose in the switch here in central Illinois, but gain in other larger markets. It would seem logical that if WAND was to be an NBC affiliate that WICS/WICD would end up being with ABC. There was some speculation that FOX was a joker in the deck and could be teamed up with WICS/WICD at least among some people involved, but fortunately for WICS/WICD that was not to be.

It was also during this time, in March of 2005, that longtime former Director and eventually General Manager T.J. Vaughn retired to be replaced by Mike Johnston. Johnston was the former G.M. at WLFI-TV(CBS) in Lafayette, Indiana. Johnston was named to the post by LIN Television Corporations Scott Blumenthal. By May of 2005, the timetable was announced which would make WAND an ABC affiliate on Monday, September 5th, 2005(Labor Day).

Unfortunately, NBC was ending their run of good fortune. “Seinfeld” had already passed, “Friends” and “Frasier” were soon to end their runs and “E.R.” wasn't what it used to be. WAND was left to air a shell of the former NBC success and the former “Must See TV” became “Well Maybe.” There was one plus for WAND and that was with the Olympic coverage. Johnston also told a local civic group that WAND would offer a “brighter, more colorful look.”

Based on local press coverage with the Herald and Review, local viewers weren't happy about the change. Johnston addressed many questions at local functions including one for the local Chamber of Commerce. Columnist Tim Cain wrote, “Johnston will answer any complaints on September 5th 'the scheduled date for the switch' with a combination of patience, common sense and a sense of humor. While Johnston gives the impression of being slightly harried by the impending change, his station has produced a brochure(to explain the change).”

Among Johnston's comments about the future of TV, he stated that “The future of television is in localism. It's something no one else can offer. Eventually, I think, stations will break away from the networks.”

It was also at the network switch that WAND returned to brand itself as Channel 17 with the NBC Peacock on September 5th, 2005.

Peter Jennings anchored the ABC Evening News beginning in 1965-67, then 1983-2005 before his death at 67 from lung cancer.

 

WAND, Channel 17, becomes an Affiliate of NBC

The WAND sign-on announcement from 2009.

(YouTube)

A clip from October 7, 2011, the end of a 6 pm newscast on a Friday night

(YouTube)

A 60-year anniversary promo from 2013.

(YouTube)

WAND News at the Illinois State Fair, a 4 pm News broadcast from August 20, 2015

(YouTube)

 

Here is a recent picture of the WAND main studio and the lower sections of the original tower built in 1953. The original studios were built in 1952-53 and since has been added to with a number of offices across the front of the building.
 

The WAND main transmitter/tower is pictured here alongside the transmitter/tower of WBUI, Channel 23. The WAND tower is the closest one with the larger transmitter building. It was replaced in 1978-79 after the original one erected in 1967 was built. It was lost on Easter Morning, 1978 when a tremendous ice storm occurred across central Illinois.

 

(pictures from the Doug Quick Collection)

 

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
Tou Tube
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 screengrabs
Bob Wilcott for his many photo contributions on this page and other pages
Elmer Ruple and his source of many pictures of the 1950s into the 1960s
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
Tom Buckely

Updated 12.07.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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