The History of WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign, 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 WCIA are omitted here and told in great detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."  Order your copy today!

WCIA Images 1965-1980

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

A Selection of Local and Syndicated Shows 66-80

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

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WCIA Picks Up a Springfield Signal

After making several attempts to bring a full powered UHF station to Springfield to broadcast the signal of WCIA, it wouldn't be until 1967 for Midwest Television to gain such a station.  The allocation of channel 49 was moved from Jacksonville, Illinois to the Capitol City with the approval of a UHF translator for WCIA.  Even though it wasn't a full powered facility, W-49-AA would go on the air in 1967.  There's more on the history of Channel 49 below. The addition would give Midwest Television broadcast stations for Channel 3-Champaign, 31-Peoria, 71-LaSalle, and 49-Springfield.



WCIA vs. Cable TV

During the 1960s, and even though the 1970s, Midwest Television fought local cable systems to maintain a monopoly on CBS programming.  Cable companies in Paxton, Kankakee were two of the communities which border other TV markets and wanted to bring outside CBS signals into their communities.  One argument in favor was the many times in which WCIA preempted popular CBS programs to broadcast University of Illinois sports.  Many viewers complained that they had a right to bring in outside signals from Chicago to add to their station lineups.  This attitude toward cable TV as being "the enemy" virtually eliminated any cable TV advertising on WCIA throughout much of its history.

CBS Color

By January of 1966, CBS was broadcasting about half of it's schedule of programs in color, while NBC was virtually 100% color.  ABC was still just slightly behind CBS in hours being broadcast in color. 

There were several shows broadcast in color on CBS which had to convert from previous seasons of black and white programming.  Among those included "Gilligan's Island," "The Wild, Wild West" and the "Andy Griffith Show." 

As the network made the change to color, the promotional announcements for those shows would be promoted as being "...in color on CBS."


Each of the programs would be preceded by  the 10-second CBS color logo shown at left.  This was comparable to the NBC peacock and the ABC color logo used before each color program.

March 1966 WCIA Program Schedule from the St. Louis Post Dispatch

WCIA News 1964-1969

WCIA has enjoyed a special history when it comes to their local news product.  As it's described in some detail in "Pictures On the Prairie," whether it was intentional or just an accident, a decision was made to offset the broadcast times of the evening and late night broadcast times of the WCIA news. 

The other local heritage stations, for most of the time during the 1950s had broadcast local news at 6 and10pm.  It was also an era when the network news broadcasts were 15-minutes long most airing at 6 pm or 6:15 pm.  The local stations would then broadcast its local news at either before or after the network news at 6 pm or 6:15 pm.  The late-night local news would air from 10 to 10:15 pm, although there were also some broadcasts of 30-minute local newscasts at 10 pm. 

WCIA would air its local news at 6:30 pm and at 10:30 pm.  The reason, most likely, was to collect TV news audience across central Illinois in Springfield, Decatur, Bloomington, and Danville without any challenges from the local stations in each of those cities.  This would establish WCIA as a regional news service for many years to come....even after WCIA moved the broadcast times to the more traditional times of 6 and 10 pm in 1959.   During the 1960s and '70s, WCIA would have one of the largest single market shares of local news viewing in the country.

Another unique factor which helped make WCIA the central Illinois regional news station was the long-running news anchor staff.  The combination of Paul Davis, Tom Schoendienst (sports) and Mr. Roberts (weather) would carry Channel 3 to number one across central Illinois from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s.  Even though, WCIA was number one across central Illinois, the individual local stations in Springfield, Decatur would still have the largest news audience in their respective cities, WCIA would pick up enough audience from Champaign, Danville and the surrounding areas of central Illinois with minimal UHF TV service, to take it statistically to number one for many years.

In 1963 Robert D. McMullin was listed as WCIA News Editor (News Director).  Mr. McMullin is pictured at left from an unknown live broadcast on Channel 3.  He would remain as WCIA's News Director until 1967.  Paul Davis would take the reins of the Channel 3 News where he would continue through 1979.

For a profile on the legendary Mr. Roberts, go to my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television. Mr. Roberts was probably the first central Illinois television superstar!  My book is available with information on he Home page.

 WCIA Stats 1969

Power 100 kW visual, 20 kW aural, antenna 940-feet
Studio: 509 South Neil Street, Champaign, IL
Licensee: Midwest Television
Network: CBS
National Sales Rep: Peters, Griffin, Woodward
Rate: $1,300
Color: Network, slides, film, tape
August C. Meyer, president
Clara R. Meyer, vice-president
Guy F. Main, executive vice-president
James Fielding: director of operations
Robert L. Meyers, assistant to the president
Gerald  P. Johnson, sales manager
Darrell Blue, program director
John T. Ketterer, film buyer
William J. Helms, production and sales manager
Paul Davis, news director

Washington attorney: Mckenna & Wilkinson
 

(from Broadcasting Yearbook, 1969 edition

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

The CBS Morning News from May 8, 1968
(YouTube)

A number of CBS promos from the 1970s and 80s as seen on WCIA during the period.
(YouTube)

"To Tell the Truth" was one of several Goodson/Todman produced game shows. This is one of only two surviving color episodes as seen originally on CBS and WCIA.
(YouTube)


"Soulside"

 

was produced by WCIA as part of their public affairs commitment to the community during the late 1960's and early 1970's.  It dealt with issues of the Black community of Champaign-Urbana and Central Illinois.  It was originally hosted by former NFL player, actor, artist Harold Bradley Jr.  "Soul Side" was a 30-minute show which aired at seems at various times on the WCIA schedule, including Sunday at 6 PM, as well as weeknights during prime time at various days and times.  Some of the subjects touched on were housing, jobs, health issues, politics, music, culture, lifestyles and more.  Included here are a few of the posters produced by the Art Department at WCIA during the time of the shows airing.  Other hosts included Beverly Murray, Tom McDaniel, Quentin Bradford and Anne Franklin.   It's also noted just how progressive the production and subject matter was for central Illinois television at the time.  It's the dedication to the community and the efforts of WCIA and it's staff members during its history which gives the station the reputation it has enjoyed over the years.  The posters above are just a few of the many pictures which were submitted to this website.  If you have a particular request for any "Soulside" program you might remember, but not featured here, e-mail your request.  I may have it on file.

Many thanks, toJohn Steege(son-in-law of Harold Bradley Jr.) who
contributed the reproductions of the original posters from "Soulside" on WCIA. Also, thanks to other Harold Bradley Jr. family members,
Oliver Bradley as well as Kevin and Michaela Brown,  who contributed information about "Soulside" and "Close Up" which also featured the efforts of Mr. Bradley.

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

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

Movies on WCIA, Channel 3

Clip from CBS Evening News from Vietnam War-1970
(YouTube)

One of the original recordings of "The New Price is Right" from 1972.
(YouTube)

CBS Promo Montage from the 1960s and 70s all seen on WCIA
(YouTube)

The resignation of Nixon, CBS Coverage from August 8, 1974
(YouTube)

1977 Fall Season Premiere Special
(YouTube)

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

WCIA/WMBD-TV News late 1970s

How many of these former WCIA and WMBD people do you recognize?
Top row left to right: Paul Davis, John Slattery, Mary Sue Krugar, unknown, unknown, Ann Anderson, Orrin Benjamin, unknown, Joe Rex, Carl Caldwell, Duane Wallace, Bob Larson :
Middle row left to right: Larry Wood, Colleen Callahan, Dave Shaul, unknown, Mr. Roberts, Dick Adams, Jack Margraves, Don Wilcox, Bruce Asbury and Sally Larvick.
Bottom Row left to right: Unknown, Steve Williams, Mike Stanton, unknown, Diane Barber, unknown.

NOTE:  Most, if not all, of the people pictured here, HAVE BEEN identified by others.  Unfortunately, I lost the e-mails that identified many of the unidentified here in a hard drive crash. So I ask again for your help!  ID some people here and send the names and their position in the picture, for example, Mr. Roberts is in the second row, picture 5. Send me your info on the comment section on the Home page.  Thanks to Justin West for his ID contributions!  There's still more that needs to be identified!

Paul Davis

Reporter, Anchor and News Director of WCIA

Fifteen-year-old Paul Davis began his broadcast career at WCRA Radio in Effingham, Illinois.  His mother was one of the first female news directors in broadcasting at the southern Illinois radio station.  He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Mr. Davis joined the news department at WCIA in 1960 and became news director in 1967.  During his time at WCIA, Channel 3 would be noted as having one of the highest audience shares for local news among all of the television stations in the country.  He would anchor the evening and late night newscasts from the early 1960's to 1980 and be a part of a legendary team of WCIA anchors including Tom Schoendienst (sports) and Mr. Roberts (weather-pictured below with Mr. Davis). 

Paul Davis was instrumental in the hiring of also legendary, Jerry Slabe, from WAND in 1978.  In 1980 Mr. Davis' 20-year tenure at WCIA would end with his move as news director at WGN-TV in Chicago. 

Paul Davis and Mr. Roberts of WCIA, Champaign discuss longtime rumors about them being related on the final newscast anchored by Paul Davis. This is from the late 1970s.
(YouTube)

CBS Programming 1981-1991 
(YouTube)

A Selection of Snydicated Shows from 1981-2000
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PM Magazine

PM Magazine was a syndicated concept light feature news magazine which included segments produced by Westinghouse Broadcasting as well as its affiliate partners.  Each station would have their own set of hosts who would introduce each segment and feature local sites as background.  Each location would tie-in to a particular segment featured in a show.  The series was broadcast Monday-Friday during "prime time access" or the period from 6:30-7pm (CT). 

At WCIA, the PM Magazine was its own department within the station and operated independently from the operation of Channel 3.  It was hosted during the 1980's by (top right picture): Steve Traynor, Suzanne Kaye, (picture low left) Carrie White and Van King-1987-89.  (picture low right): Carrie White and John Valenziono-1987-1989.  Not pictured here: Mike Caplin.   Mike Caplin is pictured in the TV Guide ads for PM Magazine below.

A promo for PM Magazine recorded on Saturday, February 13, 1982, from WCIA. It featured the hosts: Steve Traynor and Suzanne Kaye.

(YouTube)

This particular segment was introduced locally at WDAN Radio in Danville, Illinois.  It was shot in before the WDAN Gates SP8-10 automation system which was the operating system at the station in 1982. To see more about radio automation and how it worked visit the History of WDAN

(YouTube)

This is a complete edition of PM Magazine as recorded on September 19, 1983, on WCIA. The hosts are Steve Traynor and Suzanne Kaye. It was broadcast on the evening of the final episode of M*A*S*H on CBS.
(YouTube)

WCIA University of Illinois Basketball 1981 Broadcast from WCIA. Dave Shaul and Dan Roan of WCIA did the play by play/color.
(YouTube)

Saturday Matinee aircheck from 1981 featuring the movie "The Bank Dick" with W.C. Fields. Look for Ed Mason doing a commercial for Curtis Mathis TV/VCR's. Does anybody still have a "lifetime" membership to the Video Tape Club at a Curtis Mathis Showroom?
(YouTube)

WCIA Aircheck from "Star Trek" Broadcast in 1982. "Star Trek" from a 16mm print. This includes many promos from the era.
(YouTube)

WCIA's broadcast of "The Horn Blows at Midnight" starring Jack Benny during the late Show from 1982.
(YouTube)

Here is a topical promo segment for one of the worst episodes of "Star Trek" broadcast on WCIA on Saturday, February 13, 1982.
(YouTube)

WCIA "Reach for the Stars" promo from 1982
(YouTube)

WCIA aircheck from December 7, 1986, includes the first block of the WCIA News at Ten.
(YouTube)

This aircheck is from a Monday in December of 1987 and includes a news promo with Jerry Slabe.
(YouTube)

Jerry Slabe
News Anchor


Jerry Slabe, began his TV career at the ill-fated WJJY, Channel 14 in Jacksonville, Illinois after being a radio broadcaster in his native Wisconsin. After his time in the late 1960s and very early 70s, he would move along with fellow Channel 14 workmate Mike Cheevers to WAND, Channel 17 in Decatur. There he would be a reporter and eventually would become the station's chief anchor.

He left WAND after the Easter 1978 Ice Storms which destroyed the Channel 17 broadcast tower near Argenta-Oreana. Coincidentally enough, that same storm also collapsed the former Channel 14 tower as well. From WAND, he would move to WCIA as the lead anchor during the final years of the Paul Davis news director tenure. He moved into the role held by the long-serving Paul Davis quite well and would lead the central Illinois regional news powerhouse well through the remainder of the 20th Century.

During that time he would marry a reporter/anchor at WCIA, Marta Carreira. When the station was sold by Midwest Television, Nexstar conducted a purge of virtually all of the longtime regular reporters/anchors who presumably weighed down the payroll of the station. Mr. Slabe and Ms. Carreira were two who would lose their position at Channel 3.

The couple would not go quietly as both would battle Nexstar on demands that the new owner had made allegedly to get them to resist and gave the company reason to fire the couple.

The Slabes would challenge the action in court and by 2008 resulted in a judgment in favor of the former anchors. The Slabes received back pay, plus the dollar value of some of their other contract benefits during the period of time through the completion of their original contract.  The story was told in detail in the Jim Dey's column from the Champaign News-Gazette from Saturday, March 29, 2008.

Marta Carreira would go on to establish herself in a law career in the Chicago area, while Jerry Slabe retired.

WCIA News Over the Decades, 1970-2020

Late 1970s WCIA News Open
(YouTube)

Early 1980s WCIA News Open
(YouTube)

WCIA News/Weather Promo from Feb 13, 1982
(YouTube)

WCIA News Promo from 1982
(YouTube)

WCIA News Close from 1983
(YouTube)

WCIA News 1990s

WCIA News 2000-2018

Judy Fraser
WCIA Weathercaster


Judy Fraser's TV roots take her back to her home state of Wisconsin where she attended the University of Wisconsin and majored in speech communications. She worked at a local TV station there as weathercaster, program host and even under the "Romper Room" franchise as "Miss Judy." 

From there she would end up in Boston Massachusetts on WHDH, a CBS affiliate as host of "AM America." She also served as talent for a number of national commercials which were seen in many of the major markets in the Northeast and Midwest major markets.

She moved to WCIA in 1976 where she would be the heir apparent to WCIA's Mr. Roberts. She would serve as weekday weathercaster and often filled in for Mr. Roberts through the early 80s.

 

During the 1980s after the passing of Mr. Roberts, she would serve as the 5, 6 and 10 weathercasters for WCIA through the early 2000s. She would often serve as the face of WCIA and represented the station in the many community groups she was involved in and before many as a guest speaker.

She also served as the host of the MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon for many years broadcast on Channel 3.

 

WCIA's Central Illinois Sister Station, Channel 49, Springfield, IL
W-49-AA, WCFN, WCIX


W-49-AA went on the air in 1967 as a 100% simulcast of WCIA, Channel 3. It was to help to solve reception issues for viewers in Springfield when even the VHF signal of Channel 3 wouldn't deliver even a "B" grade signal to the central Illinois population center. Earlier Midwest Television applied for Channel 26 as a full powered UHF station to accomplish the same thing in response to WICS applying for WCHU which originally was to broadcast a full power UHF station on channel 21.  In the Spring of 1967 WICD, Channel 15 was proposed to sign-on with a full powered UHF station for east-central Illinois (replacing low powered WCHU(33) and WICD(24)). Channel 15 which would bring a competitor to WCIA.

Perhaps it was an agreement of some kind between the WICS and WCIA to limit the significance of the respective translator stations, but that's probably unlikely. I'm not sure why the channel 26 requests by Midwest Television for a proposed WCIA translator was never acted on, but later in the early-mid 1960s, the allocation for channel 49 was moved from Jacksonville, Illinois to Springfield, Illinois with the request to be used as a low powered translator WCIA.  It would go on the air in 1967, the same time period that WICD(15) would go on the air in WCIA's backyard.

Channel 49 would later be spun off as an affiliate of the new UPN network, then later as a MyTV network affiliate. It would program a number of info-commercials and off-network and original syndicated programming. It would also simulcast or serve as an extension to WCIA's local newscast with the broadcast of a morning show from 7 am to 9 am and for a prime-time half-hour newscast.

In the 2010's, a more aggressive branding approach was taken with a call letter change to WCIX. The station still programs prime time shows from the MyTV network.
 

Pete Barrett
WCIA Production Manager


Pete (pictured here with Doug Quick) is heading up the effort of maintaining and building the WCIA archive called "The Vault." He and his crew have created methods using new digital technology to convert film stock and videotape to digital images. That product is utilized in the production of news, online features and a weekly program which broadcasts segments of Channel 3's past.


 

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WCIA Studio Scenes 2018

A Selection of CBS Shows from 2000-2018

Let me introduce you to Gary Hackler, WCIA's general manager, Gary and I go back to our days in Danville radio working at competing stations during the 1980s. In 1994 he was in the sales department of WICD and helped me get hired at Channel 15 as a promotions director.
 

He later left WICD and moved to WCIA, first in the role as account executive and was eventually named station manager.

I'm proud of his career accomplishments over the years and also proud to call him a friend. Congrats Gary and thanks for allowing me to tell the story of WCIA in my book "Pictures on the Prairie" and here on Central Illinois On-Line Broadcast Museum.

      ---Doug Quick

The Future History of WCIA

I've always been a strong advocate for broadcast stations to maintain and document their heritage. Most do not. Most broadcasting stations deal in the here and now and do nothing to keep a public record of their history, their past local programming, news and other items which could be used for public record.

WCIA is the only station in central Illinois that not only has a respect for it's own heritage but is also in the process of expanding it by building a digital data base of all of the film, video tape and digital library of the past and present.

Gary Hackler, WCIA general manager, along with his production director Pete Barrett and other staff members have taken on the task of building the stations past record for viewing in the future.

You can access what they do by clicking on "The Vault" to see some of the work that is being done to maintain the history of WCIA.

WCIA Images 2019

In Memoriam

Robert Reese
Weathercaster

1962-2012

Dave Benton
News Anchor

1963-2015

August C. Meyer
Midwest Television chairman

1900-1991

There are more additions being planned in the future, including more video, and program schedules from the years 1968-present. Be watching for more coming soon

     ----Doug Quick

Click on "from the Vault" to see WCIA's archive webpage featuring many videos from central Illinois only commercial VHF station. 

(thanks to WCIA)

Sources:
Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine
The Urbana Courier Newspaper
The News-Gazette Newspaper
The Decatur Herald Newspaper
The Bloomington Pantagraph Newspaper
The Danville Commercial-News Newspaper
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Newspaper
TV Guides (1964-1969) from the Doug Quick Collection
Danville Public Library
Champaign Public Library
Decatur Public Library
Urbana Free Library

You Tube
The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows
       by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
 Total Television by Alex McNeil

Contributors:
Bob Lee for the vast majority of the program titles screen grabs
Ed Mason and the Ed Mason Collection
Paul Davis
Bill Roberts
John Steege(son in law of Harold Bradley)
Oliver Bradley
Kevin and Michaela Brown
Downey Hewey
Wayne
Brasle
WCIA along with Pete Barrett, Gary Hackler
Marvin Lee
The Doug Quick You Tube Channel
John Slattery(who was a reporter and weekend anchor from 1976-77, now at WCBS-TV, New York)
Tom McDonald who identified more WCIA/WMBD personalities pictured above

Updated 12.07.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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