The History of WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign, 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.”

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!

Building WCIA, Channel 3

Harry Y. Maynard, the general manager of WCIA from 1953-1954. Find out why he left WCIA after only a short stay in Champaign-Urbana in "Pictures on the Prairie." Click on the link above.

(photo Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine)

 

(Urbana Courier)

James Fielding was hired as a production manager but by late 1955 he would become an assistant secretary and treasurer of Midwest Television.

Robert Schaub joined the engineering staff at WCIA in 1953.  He was formerly at WSOY, Decatur.  Robert was the son of Frederick W. Schaub, vice president, and general manager of Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers, Inc. (the company was a part owner of Midwest Television).

The History of the CBS logo used after 1951 and seen on WCIA after the station signed-on in 1953. Charles Osgood has the story.

(YouTube)

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

A Selection of CBS
Shows from 1953-65

There are many many details about the early development of WCIA in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television." Some of the questions answered include:

 

  • What happened that brought WCIA Channel 3 on the air but not the other VHF allocations in central Illinois?

  • Why did WCIA have two different tower sites before one was chosen?

  • What technical challenges did WCIA face before even going on the air?

  • What east central Illinois competitive newspapers joined in co-ownership of WCIA?

  • What other broadcast facilities were part of the ownership group of Midwest Television?

  • What central Illinois event took place in Champaign to celebrate the premiere sign-on of WCIA?

  • Why was WCIA NOT the station which first broadcast a University of Illinois Basketball game?

  • Why did WCIA suffer from network video outages and how was the problem solved?

  • What local programming decision set the station as being the regional local television news "leader?"

  • Why did WCIA have to fight to retain its channel position, and why?

  • Who were the major personalities of Channel 3 during the era?

 

A Selection of DuMont
Shows from 1953-54
A Selection of NBC
Shows from 1953-58

WCIA Progamming for December 4, 1956 

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

A Selection of Syndicated
Shows on WCIA, 1953-1963

In November of 1954, WCIA would celebrate its one year anniversary by added network color capability.  On New Years Day 1955, WCIA would broadcast both the Rose Bowl Game from NBC and the Orange Bowl game from CBS in color. Find out what steps WCIA had to make to broadcast in color...along with how and why WCIA was probably the only station in the country to do so in "Pictures On the Prairie" available above. 

"Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" was an early version of "American's Got Talent" or any of the other recent day talent contest shows.  Some of the talents discovered on "Talent Scouts" included Pat Boone(and before you dismiss it entirely), The McGuire Sisters and even Johnny Nash(who had the hit "I Can See Clearly Now" which went to number one on the pop charts in 1972!).
(YouTube)

"Mama" was one of CBS' original shows having premiered in 1949.  It continued to be a part of the CBS schedule on Friday nights as an occasional series(having rotated with others) at 7 pm CT.  It starred Peggy Wood as "Mama" Hansen.  Dick Van Patten, the father on ABC's" Eight is Enough" was a child star at the time and starred in the role of the son, Nels.

(YouTube)

"The Lucky Strike Program starring Jack Benny" began on CBS TV while Jack was still starring in his long-running radio show.  This one had to be the model for Seinfeld many years later.  Many times it was a show within a show featuring a great supporting cast.  It ran from 1950 through 1964 on CBS and spent 1965 on NBC.  "The Jack Benny Show" was a Sunday night tradition for years on CBS radio and then on TV.  During most of it's run through the '50s, the show was only seen on alternate weeks and didn't go every week until 1960.  One note, CBS brought back several classic episodes of "The Jack Benny Show" as a tribute during the summer of 1977 and were seen on WCIA.

(YouTube)

CBS had a near monopoly on the Top Shows of the era.  Certainly, WCIA had the right idea when the negotiation for network affiliation was done.  Among the top-rated shows of the era included "George Burns and Gracie Allen" which ran on CBS from 1950 to 1958.   Many times George would turn to the camera and address the audience with a cigar in hand after some silly thing that Gracie would say.  This show also had the "show about nothing" formula and based many episodes on some little thing which happened to Gracie.  Sponsors included Carnation Instant Dry Milk which showed up many times as set decoration (product placement) in the sponsored episode.

(YouTube)

This is the intro/outro from the 1950's CBS Crime Drama, "Racket Squad."  It also aired in syndication during the 1950s on WCIA.

(YouTube)

Here is a complete episode of the classic CBS sitcom/Variety Show "The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny" as broadcast on CBS and WCIA in May of 1955.

(YouTube)

A 1957 local newspaper story (left) and another from 1958 (right) documenting the fight of WCIA to stay on VHF Channel 3.  This fight is well documented in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television History."

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

The challenge to WCIA once again came up with the FCC wanting to move WCIA to a UHF channel that would significantly impact the coverage area of the station. Here are a series of news stories from the Urbana Courier in 1961.  This fight is well documented in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television History." 

Since Springfield, Decatur, Bloomington, and Champaign-Urbana were all regarded as separate TV markets at the time, as each of the UHF stations had limited range, WCIA was the only station which could deliver a strong signal over the entire region. Add up the populations served by Channel 3 and sister station WMBD-TV for Peoria and it was comparable to market #45.

Here is a weather segment with John Coleman that was kinescope recorded at WCIA in 1958. Mr. Coleman was later at WMBD-TV in Peoria, was a founder of WRTL Radio in Rantoul, was one of the founders of The Weather Channel, a weathercaster on "Good Morning America," a weathercaster at WMAQ-TV in Chicago and later in life at KUSI in San Diego, California before retiring.

(YouTube)

"Mr. and Mrs. North" was another NBC show which would be aired by WCIA after the live network run.  A film of the series would make the rounds to those secondary NBC affiliates sometimes weeks after its original air date. WCIA would air the series through late 1954.

(YouTube)

"The Phil Silvers Show," or "Bilko" ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959 and seen on WCIA during it's run.  

(YouTube) 

"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" starred Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver with Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus.  Other occasional co-stars included Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.  This popular series aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963 and for many years in syndication.

(YouTube) 

Starring as "K-k-katy" was Ann Sothern in the "Ann Sothern Show" which aired on CBS from 1958 to 1961.  Her character was the assistant manager of a major downtown hotel in New York. 

(YouTube)

The Hop hosted by John Coleman and Ed Mason

 

"The Hop" was WCIA's answer to "American Bandstand."  Even though many local TV stations would try to duplicate the style of the teenage dance shows, even WICS and WTVP had their versions, the WCIA version still holds a special place in the memories of many WCIA viewers.

I get more inquiries about "The Hop" more than any other locally produced TV show.  To answer your questions:  No I have no access to any recordings of the "The Hop" and neither does WCIA.  This show was produced live and ALMOST no recordings exist, the exceptions are below.

WCIA's Saturday Afternoon Dance Party hosted by John Coleman, shown here. It was later hosted by Ed Mason. The theme music has been removed due to a copyright challenge. For more on this central Illinois teenage dance party show(no reference to the theme song)

(Ed Mason Collection and YouTube) 

WCIA's Saturday Afternoon Teenage Dance Party Program at the time of this kinescope was hosted by Ed Mason. In this segment, he is interviewing Margaret Whiting, who recorded several hits of the 1940s and '50s and was a frequent guest on TV variety shows of the 1950s. Part 1 of the interview is also available. It is one of the only kinescopes found of the program which ran from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. Due to a copyright challenge, the theme music has been eliminated from this video, as any mention here of its real title.

(Ed Mason Collection and YouTube)

"Way Out" was WCIAs creature feature movie series umbrella title which starred WCIA account executive Robert Shive.  His character "Trebor" was Robert spelled backward. Here is a kinescope clip.
(Ed Mason Collection and YouTube)

This is a complete WCIA, 10 pm newscast as broadcast in 1962. 

(Courtesy WCIA, Pete Barrett)

News coverage of the JFK assassination, starting with the interruption of "As the World Turns" at 10:00 during the first hour and ten minutes after the shooting occurred. For the next several minutes, the network alternates between the soap opera/commercials and the bulletin. Then at 17:43, the network stays with the bulletin and at 30:14 the news anchor appears. Starting at 40:00 came the first of many unconfirmed reports from a Dallas affiliate reporter that Kennedy was dead. Finally at 1:06:43, the news anchor makes the sad official confirmation that Kennedy died 38 minutes earlier.

On November 22, 1963, the world was just learning of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   The Channel 3 news was on the street getting central Illinois residents feelings on the story of the second half of the century.
In these series of pictures, Paul Davis was in downtown Champaign getting people's reactions.

(Courtesy of WCIA)

"The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on February 9th,1964.  The songs featured included: All My Loving, Till There, Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand.  On that first appearance, over 73 million people watched the Beatles.  During this show, most normal activities in America came to a standstill.  They appeared eight more times on "The Ed Sullivan Show" over the years.  They received $10,000 plus expenses for their mini-concert.

I remember watching the Beatles' appearances on WCIA/CBS during those dark days of 1964 after the Kennedy Assassination.  Never again will a popular music group have an impact on TV and America! --Doug Quick

WCIA Becomes More Colorful

Even though it appeared that WCIA was able to pass CBS and NBC live network programming in color in the mid-1950s, CBS aired very little programming in color after 1958.  It wasn't until 1965 WCIA added local capabilities to bring central Illinois color programming.  With this move, WCIA was able to broadcast movies, the network and eventually local news, weather, and sports along with any other locally produced programs.

 

On August 19th, 1965 "The CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace" became the first network news program broadcast in color.  The same evening,  "The CBS Evening  News with Walter Cronkite" was the first half-hour network newscast broadcast in color, but wasn't regularly in color until January 31, 1966.

By 1965, half of the primetime schedule was broadcast in color.  By the fall of 1966, the entire primetime broadcast schedule was broadcast in color.  CBS was the last of the three networks to do so, in spite of being the first to broadcast in color in the early 1950s.  CBS suspended color broadcasting throughout the rest of the '50s into the early '60s mainly because CBS would have had to purchase equipment from RCA, the owners of NBC their competitor.

WCIA Remains at 509 South Neil

The decision was made to not develop the site proposed by Midwest Television in the 1950s on far south Neil Street, US-45 south of Champaign.  The site was developed during the early 1960s as Par Three Golf Course and Driving Range....and the Studio Lodge Motel. 

It appeared that at least for the foreseeable future, WCIA would remain at 509 South Neil in Champaign, the original studio location from 1953.  The picture at left is more than likely from the late 1960s or early 1970s.  The sign on the building stated "The station for central Illinois news."   

Power: 100kw vis, 50.1kw aur: antenna 940'
Studio: 509 South Neil, Champaign, Illinois
Licensee: Midwest Television Inc.
Network: CBS-TV 
National Sales Rep: Peters, Griffin, Woodward 
Rate: $1,200          Color: Network,
Video tape: RCA (2)
August C. Meyer, president
Clara R. Meyer, vice-president
Guy F. Main, executive vice-president
James Fielding, director of operations
Robert L. Myers, director of engineering
Gerald P. Johnson, sales manager
Leonard N. Davis, national sales manager
John T. Ketterer, film buyer
William J. Helms, production and sales service manager
Robert D. McMullin, news director
Washington attorney: Covington and Burling

(from Broadcasting Yearbook 1964)

Mr. Roberts with the weather
(WCIA)

Tom Jones with Sports
(WCIA)

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

(thanks to WCIA)

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

August C. Meyer, President, 1953-
Guy Main, commercial Manager, vice-president               and Director of Sales, 1953-198?
James Fielding, production mgr, treasurer of                        Midwest Television, 1953-
Harry Y. Maynard, general manager, 1953-54
Vance Van Tassell, farm director, 1953-
Sidney Fulkerson(Sheriff Sid), 1953-1958, 1959-196?
Ed Mason, 195?-195?, 195?-197? *
John Coleman, 195?-1961
Robert L. Myers, chief engineer, 1953-54
Robert Brown, news, 1955-56
Fred Sorenson, news 1953-1955, 1956-1957
Don McMullen, news, 1960-1962

DiAnne Mathre, home economist, 1953-

Wyndham J. Roberts(Mr. Roberts), weather,                      1953-198?
Jack Prowell, sports, 1953-1954
Tom Schoendienst, sports, 1954-1971
William Helms, production-sales, 1953-198?
Gene Robinson, news, 1958-1961
Lou Mautz, Sales, 1954-55 *
Martha Meyers, office mgr, 1953-
George Pienderleith, film director, 1953-
Allen Doyle, engineering, 1953-
Kenneth O. Fristoe, engineering, 1953-
Carle W. St. John, engineering, 1953-
Nancy Hill, engineering, 1953,
Jerry F. Drakeas, engineering, 1953-
Robert Shaub, engineering, 1953-
M.D. Hunnicutt Jr., Chief Engineer 1954-
William Stinson, art director, 1953-
John Ketterer, music director, 1953-
Leonard Davis, publicity director, 1953-

Richard L. Wright, news, 1958-1960
William Robets, news, 1960's
Paul Davis, news, 1960-82 *
Joe Wamsley, engineering, 1960's
Jerry Johnson, ?  , 1960's
Nick Bridge, art department, 1960's
Robert Swisher, ? 1960's
Dale Fleming, engineering, 1955-196?
Robert Shive, sales/performer, 1960's
Tom Jones, sports/news, late 1950's-1980's
Darrell Blue, studio to operations mgr, 1962-82 *

* a contributor to this site
This list is by no means complete....if you are or know of a WCIA 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 know.

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 (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection
Danville Public Library
Champaign Public Library
Decatur Public Library
Urbana Free Library

You Tube
The Complete Directoryto 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
J. R. Evans
Downey Hewey
Wayne Brasle
WCIA
The Doug Quick You Tube Channel
E-Gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts
Bill Cooke

Click the image at left to go to
the WCIA 1966-2018 page.

Updated 11.16.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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