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The History of WCIA, Channel 3, Champaign, IL

1953 - 1965


Pictured left: The Midwest Television Application for Channel 3 posted in Broadcasting on July 7, 1952. Pictured right: The Illinois Broadcasting Company's application for Channel 3 was also posted on July 7, 1952. A ground-breaking merger would make Channel 3 a reality.

Midwest Television Applies for Channel 3 in Champaign....but They're Not Alone


This wasn't the first application for a television station in central Illinois, but it would be a very important one. In the July 7, 1952 edition of Broadcasting-Telecasting, it was announced that Midwest Television Company had applied for channel 3 in Champaign, Illinois. The proposed station would operate at a power of 100kw or 100,000 watts from an antenna height above average terrain(HAAT) of 700 feet. The applicant estimated a construction cost of $402,500 with a first-year operating cost of $228,500. The first year's revenue was estimated at $256,140. The transmitter and antenna would be located 2.4 miles northwest of Champaign's business center and would be manufactured by RCA, although the models were not specified in the application.

Midwest Television's principal owners were listed as August C. Meyer at 24.1%; M.S. Dyers at 28%(also a 40% owner of the News-Gazette and WDWS Radio); R.O. Derby at 5%; C. R. Meyer at 26%; and Helen M. Stevick at 13.7%(40% owner of the News-Gazette and WDWS Radio). August C. Meyer was an attorney on the staff of the News-Gazette, one of two Champaign, Illinois local newspapers.


Within the same edition of Broadcasting-Telecasting, another applicant for channel 3 would appear. The Illinois Broadcasting Company tried to stake a claim on the valuable VHF allocation with a proposal before the FCC which included 100kw power, and an antenna (HAAT) at 550 feet. The investment would include a construction cost of $338,260, the first year's operating cost of $338,250, and expected revenue was stated to be $261,760. The studio and transmitter were to be located near Florida and Vine Street in Urbana, Illinois. The transmitter was to be manufactured by DuMont Laboratories and the antenna was an RCA model.

The principal owner of Illinois Broadcasting Company was F.W. Schaub at 100%. Mr. Schaub was a vice-president of Decatur Newspapers Inc. owner of Illinois Broadcasting Company, and operator of WSOY Radio in Decatur, Illinois, and of the Urbana Courier newspaper.


With each owner making a legitimate request for the allocation of channel 3 in Champaign it became evident that the final decision would require possible hearings before the FCC, perhaps even a court case and several appeals by the losing group. This process could have delayed the construction of channel 3 for months, if not years. The delay may have also allowed for a third or fourth party to swoop in and capture the channel allocation.

Meanwhile, applicants for the many UHF allocations were being awarded grants and construction permits all across the country and throughout central Illinois. As you'll read later, other battles for VHF stations were underway and would continue for years. Two of the many battles throughout the country included two in central Illinois, that being the battle for channel 2 in Springfield and channel 8 in Peoria.

The prospects of Midwest Television of getting into the television business soon were not looking promising. That was when a unique plan was put into place by Midwest Televisions principal owner August Meyer. He would approach the competing group applying for channel 3 with an offer of a twenty percent stake in Midwest Television. Evidently, it was an offer Illinois Broadcasting could not refuse.

A new Midwest Television would come together with the listing of principals being: Mr. and Mrs.August C. Meyer holds controlling interest while Merrill Lindsey (representing the Illinois Broadcast Company) would hold 20%; Russel O. Derby 5%; J. A. McDermott 2.1%; and Reverend A. Ray Cartlidge (of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign). Reverend Cartlidge would take the seat on the board of directors at the request of Helen M. Stevick and her daughter Marajen Dyess Chinigo 20% (both of the Champaign News-Gazette and WDWS Radio). Mr. and Mrs. Meyer would hold the controlling interest at 52.2%.

On February 26, 1953, the FCC granted Midwest Television a permit to construct a television station on channel 3. This would be central Illinois' first and only commercial VHF station. There were some minor changes made to the new application which included the cost of the new facility stated to now be $423,278, operating costs during the first year were listed as $261,760 with a proposed first-year revenue at $270,890. The placement of the transmitter, tower, and antenna was also changed.


It was about this same time an application was filed for the community's first commercial UHF station on channel 21. The spokesperson for the filing company Phillip Zimmerly said he had “hoped to join WCIA-TV in the near future” and applauded the TV dealers in the Twin Cities to pitch the advantage of having both VHF and UHF tuners on their customer's newly purchased TV sets. There's more about the company filing for channel 21, its ownership, and its proposed station later as the name of Mr. Zimmerly would come up as a television critic and even as a part owner of another mid-Illinois television station.

Meanwhile, August Meyer speaking on behalf of Midwest Television stated that Channel 3 would be operational by the Summer of 1953. He explained that the construction of the area's first commercial VHF television station would be launched immediately and the work would continue as rapidly as the acquisition of equipment and material would allow. He also said that all four television networks had expressed interest in becoming an affiliate of WCIA. Just a few months later, WCIA would sign a contract to become the CBS television network's affiliate number 106.

In his statement, he also alluded to a fast track on equipment deliveries with the exception of the tower. It's not sure if he was referring to a controversy about the placement of the WCIA broadcast tower or if it was a legitimate problem with the delivery of the tower and/or the actual construction. In May a request was filed by WCIA requesting a transmitter relocation about a third of a mile north of Illinois Route 47 at White Heath, which would place the transmitting tower about 14 miles west of Champaign. The FCC granted the change in location the following week.

A couple of weeks after the WCIA approval, Decatur's WTVP, Channel 17 filed a protest with the FCC citing that the loss of its secondary affiliation agreement with CBS would create “economic injury” with the new UHF station. Prairie Broadcasting (WTVP) stated that the granting of the transmitter location change with the modification to the WCIA construction permit would seriously hinder the success of the Decatur station. WTVP charged that the move of the Channel 3 transmitter would place it much nearer to Decatur than the original proposal, enabling WCIA to cover Decatur with a “Grade A” signal.

Seeing that the protest could potentially hold up the construction of WCIA, while WTVP was already nearing completion and ready for a July or August sign-on, August Meyer backed down but not without getting something in return. The original transmitter site was for an 810-foot tower just south of Illinois Route 47 near Seymour, Illinois. After the FCC approved the move to near White Heath, Illinois, Mr. Meyer agreed to move back to the original transmitter site but with a broadcast tower of 1,000 feet! I assume that there was most likely an engineering study that showed Meyer that the increase in antenna height would make up for the slight increase in distance allowing WCIA to still deliver a “Grade A” signal across Decatur as well as Champaign-Urbana. A “grade B” signal was expected across Bloomington, Danville, and most of Springfield.


Upon the agreement, construction would finally begin on the tower and transmitter site and the studio-transmitter microwave link between the tower site and the studios of WCIA, located at 509 South Neil Street. The studio would be located in a former tire store at a land-locked location just south of downtown Champaign along the city's main north-south artery, between Springfield Avenue to the north and Green Street to the south.

Assembling the Staff of WCIA

During the construction phase of WCIA August Meyer had the task of assembling a staff. Along with overseeing the building of the studio/office facility, there were many decisions that could have been delegated to a group of trusted managers within the organization. It was important to bring in a strong experienced general manager who would begin the process of hiring a management team.

That general manager would be Harry Y. Maynard who was appointed to the position in June 1953. During the previous five years, he was the sales manager of KTLA(TV) in Los Angeles. His experience in the advertising field would come to be a major advantage for the station. Even before Maynard was in broadcasting, he was on the staff of radio production at the advertising agency of Batten, Baren, Durstine, and Osbourn in Hollywood. His experience in the entertainment industry included a position as staff assistant director with Warner Brothers, Paramount, and Selznick film studios. It was quite a resume for a man who was in his mid 30's.

On the personal side, Mr. Maynard was a graduate of the San Jose State Normal College and a Marine in World War II. His wife was the former Joan Cosgrove. He and his wife were parents of three daughters: Mary Sue(12 years old in 1953), Julie Ann(10), and Sally Joan(8).


Mr. Maynard assembled a management team and staff which included: James Fielding as production manager, Fred A. Sorenson as news editor, Lou Martz in sales, Martha Meyers as office manager, George Pienderleith as a film director, Allen Doyle, Kenneth O Fristoe, Carle W. St. John, Nancy Hill, and Jerry F. Drakeas as members of the engineering staff, Robert Myer as assistant chief engineer, M.D. Hunnicutt Jr. as chief engineer and one more familiar name was also part of the engineering staff. Robert Schaub, son of Frederick W. Schaub, vice president and general manager of Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers, one of the principal partners of Midwest Television. Formerly Mr. Fred Schaub was on the staff of WSOY Radio in Decatur, another of the Lindsay-Schaub properties. Others on staff included Guy Main as commercial manager, William Stinson as art director, John Ketterer as music director, and Leonard Davis as publicity director.



The listing of WCIA from the 1953 edition of the Broadcasting Yearbook. (Broadcasting-Telecasting Yearbook)

Obtaining a link to the Network


As was stated earlier, if Channel 3 had actually been contacted by all four networks, that being ABC, CBS, DuMont, and NBC, it seems logical that the dominant television network would probably make the best offer to the obviously dominant VHF station in the region. The relationship that WDWS had with CBS Radio as an affiliate may have brought about the choice of WCIA's primary network affiliation.

In that era, the role of network radio was still quite strong. The CBS Radio network was still programming a full slate of entertainment and news programs for its radio affiliates. Many of the entertainment stars of that network would become headliners for its television equivalent later. With at least 20% of the ownership of Midwest Television being with WDWS Radio, it's logical to assume the influence it had with CBS.

With the signing of WCIA as an affiliate of CBS, it became necessary to now try to get the network signal to the TV station. This would proven to be a difficult and expensive task.

The location of the nearest A.T. & T. coax carrying CBS ran through Danville. That was the location of the nearest switchboard which would allow WCIA to link to the video signals coming from CBS in New York. The ultimate problem was getting the signal from Danville to Champaign and the studios of Channel 3.


That problem would be solved by the construction of a microwave network which would be originated at the Telephone office in downtown Danville and beamed to a repeater tower with a receiver and transmitter near St. Joseph, Illinois north of U.S. 150. The twin-legged tower was constructed by A.T. & T. and would be leased to WCIA. That microwave tower includes two reflecting screens at the top of the tower, one of which would reflect the signal to an antenna on top of the service building at the foot of the twin towers. A receiver/transmitter would then resend the signal to the other reflector on the other side of the twin tower which would direct the signal westward to Champaign.


In Champaign, a receiving antenna was erected on the top of the Inman Hotel, which was one of, if not the tallest buildings in Champaign-Urbana at the time. From there the signal was cabled to the WCIA studios a few blocks away.


Top: The microwave dish at the top of the First National Bank Building (later Breeze Tower) in Danville from 1966.

Bottom: The receiver microwave dish at the Inman Hotel roof would feed a cable of the network to the WCIA Studios just a few blocks to the south at 509 South Neil Street

This CBS network setup would be used for a number of years before a direct cable coax was connected to WCIA. During its years of use, though, it would prove to be a technical nightmare for the station's engineering staff and probably for A.T. & T. as well. Keep in mind, electronics of the time used vacuum tubes as it was well before the development of transistors and solid-state electronics. Each individual component in the network had to operate within acceptable tolerances.

Outside of A.T. & T., it appeared the receiver/transmitter repeater near St. Joseph would bear the brunt of the blame when it came to technical problems. The temperature and humidity extremes of east central Illinois during the summer and winter would surely affect the operation of the electronics located there.


As there was only one channel of video being networked from Danville to Champaign, any additional video feeds would have be to manually switched by A.T. & T. engineers in Danville or maybe Chicago. This would come into play once WCIA would become a secondary NBC affiliate. The audio was received on 8,000-cycle phone lines, much like network radio was for radio stations.


WCIA Before Sign-On

Even though the initial goal was to have WCIA up and running, and on the air by the late Summer of 1953, it was not to be. Like other new television stations across the country, there were many unforeseen problems that would bring delays to every construction schedule.


Equipment manufacturing and delivery delays were frequent. As I describe the onslaught of the lifting of the “freeze” as being a gold rush, the equipment manufacturers, the major ones being RCA, General Electric, DuMont, and Collins, were being inundated by orders from these early pioneer broadcasters. To be able to equip several hundred stations with transmitters, antennas, video, and audio control boards, film projectors and associated film chain pieces, cameras, cables, and other behind-the-scenes electronics was quite a challenge of logistics for these manufacturers. Having equipment arrive at the final destination on time was a challenge for the contractors and each new television station.


WCIA was no exception, although, publicity about such construction hurdles was nonexistent coming from Midwest Television. It appears August Meyer understood the importance of public relations and how the public would perceive his new television station. It was important to him, the community, and his investors that everything appear to be moving along quite smoothly.

Remember, Mr. Meyer stated that WCIA would be broadcasting by the late Summer of 1953? It was also stated by the station's new general manager that a target date of September 1 was the goal. It appears that the change of location would delay the final construction of the tower/transmitter facility well past the original target dates. It took time for the FCC to get around to canceling the modification of the construction permit and re-approving the original location with a request for a higher transmitting antenna and tower. The FCC approval would take place on August 17, 1953, and a new completion date deadline was set by the commission for February 25, 1954. One thing was for certain, August Meyer was going to complete his television station long before that FCC deadline and the expiration of the construction permit.

After the FCC approval, construction could resume, the equipment could be re-ordered, and factory installers and tower assembly crews could be scheduled. But, this was only approved to “get on the list.” Actual work was still several weeks away from proceeding. Arranging for tower crews could be frustrating depending on the weather at any one location where the crew was to work. As any broadcaster knows, tower crews get to you when they can and only whenever they want.

It would be safe to assume it was a tense situation in late August as the race to go on the air was reaching a climax at several stations across mid-Illinois. WEEK in Peoria had already gone on the air in February of 1953, WTVP in Decatur was on the air in August and WICS in Springfield was targeted to go on the air in late September. August Meyer with Midwest Television, WCIA was going to be the central Illinois prestige station. WCIA wasn't going to be the first, but it wasn't going to be the last either. When it went on the air, the entire region would know it.


The most obvious indication that WCIA was coming soon was the construction of the broadcast tower near Seymour, Illinois. The actual channel 3 antennae was 121 feet in length while it was on the ground and 121 feet tall when it was finally lifted to the top of the 800-foot tower. The antenna was connected to the transmitter by 880 feet of coaxial cable. Most of the cable would be on the tower with 80 feet of the total on the trough running from the tower to the transmitter building and inside to the transmitter.


The passive reflector for the studio-transmitter microwave system was installed at about the 300-foot level. The actual antenna was mounted on the top of the transmitter building and would point upward to the reflector. That would aim its receiving reflector to the transmitting reflector and microwave transmitter located at the rear of the WCIA studios at 509 South Neil in Champaign. The reason for using the reflectors, similar to the network repeater at St. Joseph, was simply to make servicing the electronics much easier in inclement weather.


M.D. Hunnicutt, WCIA chief engineer was confident of getting a test pattern on the air by Wednesday, November 11, 1953. Meanwhile, engineers of Raytheon Corporation which were the manufacturers of the studio-transmitter microwave checked out their equipment, and all was well. RCA engineers checked out their equipment consisting of the transmitter and antenna and pronounced that everything was working perfectly. It's assumed the broadcast went as scheduled. The initial test pattern broadcasts were to be in low power, 10,000 watts, and stepped up to 25,000 watts. It would eventually be at 35,000 watts which in combination with the antenna and height of the tower would give Channel 3 a total of 100,000 watts of effective radiated power, the legal limit for low-band VHF stations as authorized by the FCC. From that moment the countdown was on for an official sign-on the following Saturday.

As the station broadcast a test pattern, telephone calls and telegrams reporting great reception poured into the offices of WCIA from viewers throughout central Illinois and western Indiana. Most in Champaign-Urbana said viewing was good without the use of an outside antenna. Viewers reported receiving the station from Shelbyville, Springfield, Peoria, and Paris, all in Illinois, and in Lafayette, Williamsport, and Attica, Indiana. Even more impressive was the report of an Illini football fan on the way to Madison, Wisconsin to watch the Illini-Wisconsin game. He took a side trip by stopping in to visit friends in Freeport, Illinois, and reported the perfect reception of WCIA in Freeport! That's a 200-mile stretch.

The on-air signal of WCIA would make WCIA the 14th TV station on the air in Illinois. It would be the 8th VHF station in the state. Other stations on the air in the state up to that point included: WBBM(2) Chicago, WHBF(4) Rock Island, WNBQ(5) Chicago, WBKB(7) Chicago, WGN(9) Chicago, WGEM(10) Quincy, WREX(13) Rockford, WTVP(17) Decatur, WTVH(19) Peoria, WICS(20) Springfield, WTVO(39) Rockford, WEEK(43) Peoria and WTVI(54) Belleville.

All of the other operational television stations along with WCIA would get company soon with the addition of WDAN-TV(24) Danville, WBLN(15) Bloomington and WSIL(22) Harrisburg before the end of 1953.


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Harry Y. Maynard, the general manager of WCIA from 1953-1954. 

(photo Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine)

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

(Urbana Courier)


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)

(Urbana Courier)

WCIA Plans a Grand Opening Broadcast Party


A trade show professional organization was hired to organize and sell local participation in an exposition to be held in Urbana. This would acquaint potential areas viewers with the idea of having a television in their homes and acquaint them with WCIA. It was at this event potential viewers would be able to see how WCIA would be beaming entertainment, news, and educational programming to households throughout central Illinois and west central Indiana. This “Television Home Show” would take place on November 14-15, 1953 at the Urbana Armory. It was timed to coincide with the initial broadcast of WCIA.


As the chief promoter along with the News-Gazette and the Urbana Courier newspapers, the organizers invited over 30 local TV dealers showcasing 236 television sets. The dealers had already formed a trade group and would co-sponsor the event. At “The Television Home Show” dealers would showcase what television sets they sold and how they would service those sets later. The newspapers profited by selling ads to these dealers and repair shops “welcoming” WCIA to the air. The show would also show a glimpse of the television of the future with the display of two television sets with 30-inch screens!


To the credit of most of these dealers, it seems the sales pitch featured sets with both VHF and UHF tuners. There were also dealers for antennas and towers convincing those new TV set owners they had to invest in 30 to 50-foot towers and antenna rotators which could direct an antenna to some far distant city to bring in signals from Chicago, Indianapolis, and even St. Louis!

Demonstrations that would show visitors how they would look on television were performed on “closed circuit” broadcasts within the Urbana Armory. The television display would be sponsored and demonstrated by the University of Illinois Television-Motion Picture unit. Illinois Bell Telephone would also sponsor an exhibit showing how microwaves are used to broadcast television pictures over great distances. The planning undertaken by Midwest Television and the resources of its related newspaper media outlets would give the public an impression that WCIA “did it right...and did it big!”

WCIA Broadcasts the Community Arts Symphony Orchestra Concert

Harry Maynard, station manager soon after the sign-on of WCIA announced the presentation of a half-hour program featuring the Community Arts Symphony Orchestra for a 9:30 pm program to be broadcast on, Sunday, December 6, 1953. This would be one of the first “live” programs showcasing the community involvement of Channel 3 and what the future would hold for viewers. The 55-member orchestra was squeezed into the WCIA studios for the live music broadcast.

WCIA Adds the NBC Television Network

On December 4, 1953, WCIA announced it had signed a secondary affiliation agreement with NBC. It was arranged by August Meyer and announced upon his return to Champaign from New York. The first NBC broadcast would follow the following Saturday afternoon at 12:45 with the Notre Dame and Southern Methodist football game.

Mr. Meyer would also state that negotiations were underway to add a few NBC shows such as “The Voice of Firestone,” “Dragnet,” “The Dave Garroway Show,” “Ethyl and Albert” and “Television Playhouse.” Since the sponsors of many of the potential programs operated on quarterly budgets, some shows would not be able to add to the WCIA schedule until the next 13-week cycle.

Now WCIA would have to depend on precise patching of the proper feed at the A.T. & T. office to switch between the CBS and the NBC feed. With the addition of NBC, WCIA would now offer programming live from the two most popular networks although some of the NBC programs were shown on a delayed basis using film or kinescopes.

Later on December 21, 1953, NBC would celebrate the FCC approval of color TV standards with the “first authorized color signal” which consisted of the NBC chimes in the three primary colors. The first compatible color program would follow on CBS at 6:15 pm. NBC's first color TV program would follow at 6:30 pm. It's unknown if WCIA aired this celebratory programming, but if it did, WCIA would count as one of many other stations broadcasting the event in black and white.


DuMont is also a Player at WCIA


Channel 3 was also an affiliate of the DuMont Television Network as well. The only regular broadcast from DuMont appeared as a weekday 6 pm program, “Captain Video” popular with the kids (and Art Carney's character Ed Norton on the “Honeymooners”). There were also times that WCIA would air “Captain Video” by kinescope as the storyline did not follow the story of the live network feed in the listings of TV Guide. WCIA and most DuMont affiliates were only airing delayed kinescopes of its east coast live presentations.


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

"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.


"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 its run through the '50s, the show was only seen on alternate weeks and didn't go every week until 1960.  On 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.


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


This is newsreel footage of the 1954 IHSA boys basketball state tournament from Huff Hall at the University of Illinois. I present this as it shows the set up at the first IHSA television broadcast of WCIA, Channel 3.
(YouTube and IHSA)

"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!).

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 that happened to Gracie.  Sponsors included Carnation Instant Dry Milk which showed up many times as set decoration (product placement) in the sponsored episode.


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.


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


WCIA Expands Its Broadcast Day


WCIA was gradually expanding its broadcast day within a very short time. On December 7, 1953, WCIA would sign on at 5:30 pm instead of 6 pm, then the following week sign on would be moved another half hour ahead to 4:30 pm. The schedule would be filled by two DuMont programs, “Captain Video” and “Marge and Jeff.” “Marge and Jeff” was described as being “a home situation comedy for the entire family.” The addition of “Better Living” to the WCIA “live” in-studio production would help to expand the schedule once again beginning on December 14.


By the end of December 1953, WCIA extended the broadcast day once again. From a sign-on each weekday afternoon at 4:30 pm, the daily sign-on was moved to 2 pm. The additional broadcast time would include an afternoon film feature “at 2 pm, followed by the game show “On Your Account” with host Wynn Elliott would air at 3:30 pm would come from NBC. “Better Living” would air at 4 pm.

A Selection of Syndicated
Shows on WCIA, 1953-1963
A Selection of DuMont
Shows from 1953-54
A Selection of Syndicated
Shows from 1953-62
A Selection of NBC
Shows from 1953-58
A Selection of CBS
Shows from 1953-65

WCIA Programming for December 4, 1956 

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

WCIA Goes Full Time

In March of 1954, August C. Meyer, president of Midwest Television announced that WCIA would go “full time” with a sign-on at 7 am beginning on Monday, March 15, 1954. On that date, CBS would begin a morning news/entertainment program called “The Morning Show.”

“The Morning Show” would be hosted by Walter Cronkite and Charles Collingwood. Although it wasn't stated in the WCIA press release, “The Morning Show” was an obvious attempt by CBS to counter-program NBC's “Today with Dave Garroway.” Just like “Today”, it would include live entertainment, film and news pickups, weather and news updates even something for the kids. CBS didn't have J. Fred Muggs, the “Today” chimp, but it would have the Baird Puppets to attract the kids.

We're Experiencing Technical Difficulties....Please Stand By

Early television stations would many times experience some sort of technical problem. Those would include everything from a film break at a previous splice to complete transmitter failure. One problem that WCIA experienced was one unique to its operation and connected to the microwave relay for network programming.

On Sunday, June 20, 1954, WCIA lost its network video for an entire evening and for most of the following day because of the failure of the A.T. & T. microwave relay near St. Joseph, Illinois. The audio was still broadcast, as it normally came to the station's control room from a broadcast telephone audio line. It's assumed that a “technical difficulties” slide or graphic filled the video part of the CBS programming. The only “real” video seen for that period was that which originated at the studios including local newscasts and two NBC shows which were on film (kinescope), including “Dollar A Second” and “Television Theater.”

This loss of network was to be a constant issue for Channel 3. So much so, that the station sought out the help of a higher authority: CBS. CBS would later protest the frequent failure of the microwave link to A.T. & T.. Since CBS was a fairly big customer of the phone company, A.T. & T.would eventually come up with a solution.

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A Change at the Top...”I came here for the waters...I was misinformed.”

Like the great line from the Bogart movie “Casablanca”, it was also applicable when it came to the story of the resignation of Harry Maynard from WCIA. In June of 1954, he would resign from being general manager at WCIA after one year of holding that position.

He and his family would leave their home at 1104 West Park in Champaign to move back to southern California. He made a statement in the News-Gazette as to the reason for the resignation being that the climate of east central Illinois had not been agreeable to his family's health, so they would return to California.

One can only speculate on why Mr. Maynard left WCIA. Was it the central Illinois climate, or was it the apparent forcefulness of August Meyer? August Meyer seemed to be the constant spokesperson for Midwest Television and WCIA with only a few minor programming announcements being made by Mr. Maynard. Was the personality of Mr. Meyer overwhelming to Mr. Maynard?

Mr. Maynard's leaving WCIA, if it did create a hole in the management team, it was soon be gradually filled by Guy Main. Mr. Main evidently wasn't the flamboyant personality or egotist that Mr. Meyer was, which may have made him the ideal person to fill Mr. Maynard's position.

WCIA Promotes from Within

New positions for two members of the management team at WCIA were announced in August Meyer in mid-October of 1955. Guy F. Main, the former sales manager would be promoted to vice president and director of sales for Midwest Television.

James F. Fielding, the production manager was named assistant secretary and treasurer of Midwest Television, Incorporated. In spite of his promotion, he would continue to be in charge of all station operations with the exception of sales and engineering. Both Mr. Main and Mr. Fielding had been with WCIA since the station went on the air in 1953.

WCIA Scotty Craig

Scott Craig is a retired television producer/director/writer. He began his career in broadcasting in 1957 as a radio disc jockey and two years later broke into television in Champaign, Illinois at WCIA. He went on to work for NBC and CBS-owned television stations in Chicago.


In 1975 he formed his own television production company in that city and produced hundreds of documentaries for local and national broadcast venues as well as for the home video market. His programs appeared on CBS, NBC, Turner, Home and Garden, Fox, and others. His productions for PBS total more than twenty titles including “Lost in Middle America,” narrated by Hal Holbrook; two installments of Frontline; the highly acclaimed, award-winning thirteen-part series, “On the Waterways,” hosted by Jason Robards; and the Peabody Award-winning special, “Studebaker: Less Than They Promised.” From 1998 until 2004 Craig produced two series for HGTV:

“The Good Life,” about people who completely changed their lifestyles; and the popular “Extreme Homes,” showcasing some of the world’s most unusual domiciles.

Scott Craig and his work have won more than 100 prestigious awards, including a George Foster Peabody Award, a National Emmy, and thirty-two Emmys from the Chicago Chapter of the Television Academy. As a result, it is believed that he has won more Emmys than anyone in the history of the Chicago Television Academy. His programs were honored by the Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta Film Festivals, as well as the Film Festival of Italy.


Craig holds a BA from the College of Wooster, and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He lives in Leland, Michigan, with his wife, Carol Bawden.

Scott Craig

WCIA Celebrates Its First Year Anniversary in Color

By August of 1954, CBS affiliates in 81 markets were planning to be color ready, at least to broadcast what few color CBS television shows were being planned. Among those in the area included WEEK-TV, Peoria; WTHI-TV, Terre Haute; KWK-TV St. Louis, but WCIA was not one of least not yet.


In November of 1954, WCIA would celebrate one year of being on the air. Even though there was talk of some kind of a televised celebration of the fact, according to August Meyer, the staff was simply too busy doing its job.

In a story published in the Champaign-Urbana Courier, the station during its first year of operation would receive reception reports from Cuba and New Brunswick, Canada. During the first year, WCIA would also expand its broadcast day within its first year of operation. This was something the central Illinois competition would take several years to achieve.

Now, the station's new goal was the installation of equipment to allow for the broadcast of color programming from CBS and NBC. This upgrade in service would include changes in the coaxial cable from Chicago to Danville. Modifications would be made in the amplifiers located at seven-mile intervals along the coaxial route. According to the Champaign-Urbana, Courier adjustments had already been made in the A.T. & T. microwave system which runs from Danville to Champaign.

WCIA Chief Engineer Robert Myers stated that much of the 1953 equipment such as the RCA transmitter was designed to be adaptable to the additional equipment needed to broadcast color. Midwest Television President August Meyer said earlier in November that even though the exact date of the first color cast was “elastic” it would definitely occur before Christmas.

Interestingly though, August Meyer made some predictions about television in 1954 that now appears to be true. He said many more improvements can be anticipated when it comes to television technology. He predicted television sets “would be the size of a cigar box and the screen as big as your living room wall” in the future.


By November 15, the first year anniversary of WCIA, with only a few viewers in locations to witness the first broadcast of color TV, the initial color-cast premier went without a hitch. As far as what's known, there were only three color television sets in Champaign-Urbana with one being at WCIA. That's where station officials witnessed the initial color broadcast, then a few made the short run to Dillayou's Appliance Store at 335 North Walnut were another color television set was on display and being watched by over 200 people. They would also travel to the third receiver, also at a television retailer, Downtown TV at 32 East Chester Street. A spokesperson at WCIA described the event as going “beautifully!”

The first regular color broadcast was of CBS' “Best of Broadway.” Another color broadcast was scheduled the next evening, “Ford Theater.”


In March of 1955 it was reported that WCIA joined the list of WBBM, Channel 2, Chicago; WNBQ, Channel 5, Chicago; WEEK-TV, Channel 43, Peoria; WTVH, Channel 19, Peoria; WGEM-TV, Channel 10, Quincy; and WHBF-TV, Channel 4, Moline, all which could pass network programming in color.


It was the goal to color-cast the Rose Bowl game from Pasadena, California, and the Orange Bowl game from Miami, Florida both on New Year's Day. Mr. Meyer said that WCIA was probably the only station in the U.S. to broadcast both games in color. One game would come from CBS and the other from NBC, and even though there were probably a handful of stations broadcasting both games in black and white, WCIA would air them both in color. Meyer also stated that Channel 3 would be the first VHF station downstate to broadcast in color. That wasn't a very bold statement since there were only four other VHF stations in downstate Illinois.

WCIA Prepares for Battle

It seems that WCIA tried to “fly under the radar” when it came to the de-intermixture controversy in many TV markets across the U.S. UHF stations were facing failure because of the dominance of VHF stations in their markets, and it was getting the attention of the FCC and congress.

In central Illinois, there were two major de-intermixture issues on proposed stations not even on the air. The channel 2 allocation is in Springfield and in Peoria with channel 8. WCIA would eventually be brought up as a target for de-intermixture.


WCIA would soon have to defend its VHF channel among its UHF competition and the FCC. In February of 1956, the responses to a questionnaire sent by the FCC to television stations concerning TV allocation problems were released. Most UHF stations wanted VHF stations to reduce power to give them similar coverage areas of UHF stations, while other responses were unrealistically in favor of the FCC allocating additional VHF channels in those communities which would be presumably assumed by current UHF stations.

WCIA responded by opposing any future mixing of UHF and VHF channels in individual markets but advocated the maintenance of the “status quo” in regard to mileage separations among VHF stations. In regards to another issue, WCIA would oppose a plan by CBS to include Champaign-Urbana in the Terre Haute, Indiana market.

One FCC proposal got the attention of a WCIA competitor. In May of 1956, the FCC was reviewing responses to a proposed rule change on multiple-city station IDs for Television stations. Most stations favored a dual city ID. A pole was taken by the FCC which was instigated by WVEC in Hampton-Norfolk, Virginia, and WDSM-TV in Superior, Wisconsin-Duluth, Minnesota. Both stations were seeking to locate studios in both cities in the ID. WDSM was stating that stations should be able to utilize dual city IDs where sufficient community interest existed.


Among the stations publically disagreeing with the proposition was WTVP in Decatur. It was obvious that Prairie Television/WTVP anticipated WCIA taking on multiple city IDs, such as Champaign-Urbana-Decatur-Danville.

WICA Local News Reaches Central Illinois

The first WCIA news anchor was Fred Sorensen. He also served as news editor (news director) for Channel 3. Those early newscasts included watching the newsman read wire copy with reports of local news. It was much like “radio with pictures” as no film or video was available. The newsman readings were only broken up by an occasional snap-shot picture of some news event.

The first weathercaster was a man who would be a legend at the station. Wyndham “Mr.” Roberts would begin his career on November 15, 1953, at WCIA where he would continue well into the early 1980s! Mr. Robert's “Weather Vane” would update central Illinois viewers with the latest forecast. The weathercast including commercial sponsorship was around 4-5 minutes. According to the schedules at the time, his only daily weather cast would occur during the late-night broadcast of news. There's more about Mr. Roberts later.

Jack Prowell was the station's first sportscaster. Similar to the reading of the news, sports were equally without video footage and only included descriptions of contest results. Sportscasts, like weathercasts, were usually only around 5 minutes as well. Jack's tenure at WCIA appeared to be a short one. Later in 1954 sports were also being handled by Mr. Sorensen.

The length of most local newscasts on WCI0A varied anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for the early evening cast which ran at 6:30 pm. The 10 pm news ran for 15 minutes and was followed by the “Midwest Marquee” which was an umbrella title for the late movie.


The newscast, sportscast, and weathercast sponsor's logo would be prominently displayed on the front of the news desk of the appropriate broadcast desk or on the weather maps. News sets were very simple, consisting of a table, chair, and a background world map. Weather graphics were non-existent but a wall display of the various readings like temperatures, barometric pressure, and wind direction/speed was simply written in chalk in the designated spaces. WCIA did have a rather different weather map display. More later.

Those in-studio presentations would include the use of two studio cameras each manned by an operator, an audio microphone boom operator, and a floor director to communicate information as to the correct camera to look into as well as to communicate the timing of the production. An IFB or intercom between producers and the talent, or a TelePrompTer was non-existent at the time.


In 1955 a sportscaster would join the WCIA staff and would continue to be with Channel 3 well into the 1960s. Red Schoendienst would take over the role of sportscaster making him, along with Mr. Roberts, another of the best-known central Illinois early television personalities.

A Change at the Top...”I came here for the waters...I was misinformed.”


Like the great line from the Bogart movie “Casablanca”, it was also applicable when it came to the story of the resignation of Harry Maynard from WCIA. In June of 1954, he would resign from being general manager at WCIA after one year of holding that position.

He and his family would leave their home at 1104 West Park in Champaign to move back to southern California. He made a statement in the News-Gazette as to the reason for the resignation being that the climate of east central Illinois had not been agreeable to his family's health, so they would return to California.


One can only speculate on why Mr. Maynard left WCIA. Was it the central Illinois climate, or was it the apparent forcefulness of August Meyer? August Meyer seemed to be the constant spokesperson for Midwest Television and WCIA with only a few minor programming announcements being made by Mr. Maynard. Was the personality of Mr. Meyer overwhelming to Mr. Maynard?


Mr. Maynard's leaving WCIA, if it did create a hole in the management team, it was soon be gradually filled by Guy Main. Mr. Main evidently wasn't the flamboyant personality or egotist that Mr. Meyer was, which may have made him the ideal person to fill Mr. Maynard's position.


Photos above of WCIA Newscast with Fred Sorenson as news director and anchor, and weathercasters Mr. Roberts

WCIA Promotes from Within

New positions for two members of the management team at WCIA were announced by August Meyer in mid-October of 1955. Guy F. Main, the former sales manager would be promoted to vice president and director of sales for Midwest Television.

James F. Fielding, the production manager was named assistant secretary and treasurer of Midwest Television, Incorporated. In spite of his promotion, he would continue to be in charge of all station operations with the exception of sales and engineering. Both Mr. Main and Mr. Fielding had been with WCIA since the station went on the air in 1953.

WCIA's August Meyer Testifies Before the Senate Commerce Committees


In June of 1956, Congress was investigating the relationship between television networks and their affiliates. The Senate Commerce Committee was conducting a hearing with a cross-section of CBS outlets in various size markets, VHF and UHF, and in one, two, three, or four-station-size markets.

Congress was investigating the practices of unregulated television networks and how they interact with local FCC-licensed television stations. The committee's concern was that of a suspected monopoly of the station and its network along with the business practices that existed between the number one network and its local stations.

It all stemmed from an anti-network report filed with the FCC entitled “Network Monopoly Report” and written by Richard A. Moore of the Los Angeles independent television station, KTTV(TV). This brought about the actions of the Senate Committee.

During the hearing, one of the television station owners testifying was August C. Meyer of WCIA. He stated that any change in the current business relationship with CBS, including the status of its dial position being on the VHF band, would cause “irreparable injury” to Channel 3. He went on to say that his television station was relying on the current business model to ensure its success.

He said the regulation of networks “is not going to make a Santa Clause out of the advertiser. He is still going to invest his advertising dollars in the manner and the media which he believes will bring him maximum results.” He continued if regulation makes it difficult for the advertiser “he might take his advertising elsewhere and place it in other media.”

From the point of view of WCIA, he said, network option time and must-buys not only are desirable but essential. He said WCIA has developed non-network and local programming with a “strong network base” and that, “....allocations and other problems should not be confused with network operations.”


Other central Illinois CBS affiliates were represented as well. Representatives were testifying from KHQA(TV) Hannibal, Missouri; WREX-TV Rockford, Illinois; WTVH-TV Peoria, Illinois; WHBF-TV Moline, Illinois and KFVS-TV Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

A.T. & T. Offers a Solution to a Network Problem

As mentioned earlier, the setup to receive CBS and NBC from the A.T. & T. coax running north-south through Danville along with the microwave link from Danville to Champaign was becoming an increasing problem of reliability for WCIA. WCIA would enlist the help of CBS to pressure A T & T to solve the intermittent problem of network video dropouts.

By December of 1956 what was felt to be a solution was at hand. American Telephone and Telegraph Company would devise a new path for the network to take upon arriving at the WCIA studios. This new path would eliminate the use of “splicing into” the coax in Danville and would rely on a microwave link between Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The path of this microwave link goes through the Kansas, Illinois area in Edgar County, about 40 miles southeast of Champaign.

The phone company built a repeater tower at Ridge Farm, Illinois in far south Vermilion County, south of Danville, Illinois. Transmission from the Kansas tower along the main Pittsburgh to St. Louis route would go to the repeater at Ridge Farm where it would be beamed to another repeater atop the 12-story First National Bank building (corner of North Vermilion and Main Street) in downtown Danville. From there the signal would be beamed to the existing repeater tower near St. Joseph, near the Glover highway overpass. The St. Joseph repeater electronics had been completely re-equipped by A.T. & T..

For the final stretch, the signal would be beamed to the 150-foot tower behind the WCIA studios. A new 12 by 12-foot concrete block building was built to house equipment to receive the network feed, but would also serve as a home to the microwave equipment to send the station's final broadcast feed to the transmitter site near Seymour, Illinois.

WCIA chief engineer, Robert L. Myers reported “very fine service” from the new microwave pathway.

WCIA Enjoys a Central Illinois Dominance


The years from 1955 through 1959 it was business “as usual” as WCIA continued to broadcast a highly rated CBS schedule of daytime and nighttime programming, as well as the best of NBC. Channel 3 had a virtual regional monopoly of television viewing across mid-Illinois and west central Indiana.

What would end up being the best decision of August Meyer, or at least his management team, would be a plan to position the VHF station in such a way that would insure its dominance for decades! Keep in mind at that time, mid-Illinois consisted of three different TV markets. Springfield was its own market as were Decatur and Champaign-Urbana/Danville. Springfield viewers would lean toward watching WICS, Decatur viewers would go to WTVP, and Danville viewers would go to WDAN-TV. If WCIA aired its local news at the same time that the other central Illinois stations were airing their local newscasts, WCIA at best could possibly only expect to pull an audience from the Champaign-Urbana area, and only a few from Decatur, Springfield, or Danville.


This move by Midwest Television would bring news viewers from all three markets to WCIA with virtually no competition from the other local UHF stations. The solution was simple but in some respects, risky. The decision was made once WCIA made a significant investment in regionalizing its newscasts to delay local news broadcasts by 15 or 30 minutes. By the mid-1950 WICS, WTVP and WDAN-TV were airing their 15 or 30-minute local news at the “traditional” times of 6 and 10 pm. WCIA would air its local news at 6:30 and 10:30 pm. The major risk was the late-night edition of the news, as the question was “would people stay up until 10:45 to catch the very end of a regional newscast produced at WCIA. The answer evidently was “yes.”

By establishing WCIA as a regional television station it would build habitual viewing across mid-Illinois. The decision for the newscast delay was pure genius! Television audiences move as slowly as a parked car...maybe slower. As households become used to watching WCIA the habit was handed down from generation to generation. It was even contagious from neighbor to neighbor and friend to friend. It seemed that no one in central Illinois could close out the day without their “fix” of news from WCIA.


WCIA would continue its 15 or 30-minute local news delay for its early evening newscast until 1959 and its late-night newscasts seemed to appear at the “traditional” time of 10 pm by 1962. By the very late 1950s or early 1960s, the decision to return to the more traditional news times was made. There may have been several outside factors making it necessary to move back to the 6 and 10 pm news time.

One possible outside factor could have been the added Champaign-Urbana television competition. The change by Channel 3 to a 6 pm evening newscast may or may not have been a reaction to new competition from the part-time satellite of WICS now in Champaign, that was WCHU, Channel 33 which would air a local newscast at 6 pm. That newscast would contain at least some elements produced at WICS in Springfield.

The change to a 6 pm local newscast could have been one of WCIA's arrogance. Once the “habit” was achieved of watching the presumably better production of local news, sports, and weather of WCIA, there could have been enough confidence in maintaining enough audience across the market to give Channel 3 an edge in household numbers overall.


There may have been other factors, though. First NBC and ABC were producing programming to begin prime time at 6:30 pm. There may have been fears of audience loss from competition against the other station's network fare. CBS would also begin to program the 6:30 to 7:00 pm block in earnest with programming which would actually be more likely to attract an audience.


Before that time CBS would program Monday through Friday at 6:30 pm with shows like the British import “Robin Hood,” game shows like “Name That Tune” and “Masquerade Party,” reruns of “I Love Lucy” along with “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” Several of those CBS shows would be picked up and aired on WTVP at 6:30 pm. CBS would also begin to schedule hour-long shows at 6:30 pm, which brought about a change in the WCIA local news time, up 15 minutes, to air at 6:15 pm, as most of the other stations would only air 15 minutes of local news at 6 pm. By 1960 most of the central Illinois stations were airing 30-minute local newscasts taking away the benefit of the 15-minute delay for WCIA.

In 1960 most evenings prime-time viewing on CBS would begin at 6:30 pm with one-hour shows like “Aquanauts,” “The Witness” and “Rawhide.” By then it was necessary for WCIA to return to the 6 pm newscast.


Even though by the early 1960s, all of the central Illinois television stations were airing local newscasts at 6 and 10 pm times, the habits created during those years in the mid to late 1950s, would establish the station as a regional news source for viewers throughout mid-Illinois.


The maneuvering of the WCIA local newscast times along with its VHF dial position, the vast viewing area of the station, and its investment in a noticeably better television product would continue to influence the local news and entertainment preferences of many central Illinois viewers for decades!

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." 

A Threat Against WCIA on Channel 3

The first mention of a possible threat against Channel 3 and its channel on the VHF band would become public in March 1957. The days of WCIA “flying under the radar” was now over. The question was whether markets in mid-Illinois were to be served by all VHF channels, all UHF channels, or a mixture of VHF and UHF. Even though WCIA's dial position wasn't an issue in the proceedings before the FCC at the time, the VHF-UHF channel question was creating controversy in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois.

The battle for those valuable VHF channels between prospective owners was bringing the protests of the market UHF stations who were battling for their very existence against the possibility of another major VHF competitor signing on. Peoria had already established UHF stations on channel 19, WTVH-TV; and channel 43, WEEK-TV. Meanwhile, Springfield had already established a UHF station at channel 20, WICS. Champaign had the advantage of not having an existing UHF station on the air at the time of the channel 3 grant to
Midwest Television.

Even though there was a UHF station in Danville, Champaign was not considered part of the Danville market....or more likely Danville wasn't considered part of the Champaign market. The coverage area of WDAN-TV, Channel 24 in Danville just barely reached the Twin Cities of Champaign-Urbana. Another factor was that WDAN-TV didn't go on the air until after WCIA did. August Meyer's quick actions gave WCIA a jump and allowed the station to establish itself as the first EAST central Illinois
TV station.

It would just be a matter of time before central Illinois' UHF stations would challenge the VHF channel being held by WCIA. On July 26, 1957, a story was published in the Champaign-Urbana Courier told of a nine-point petition to the FCC filed by Plains Television on behalf of WICS and Prairie Television for WTVP.

The Plains Television/WICS petition wanted the allocation of channel 3 eliminated for Champaign for the reason that WCIA was the “sole commercial VHF television located in the “heart of a UHF area.” Plains Television said the deletion of channel 3 was necessary to protect the effectiveness of the FCC's recent action to eliminate channel 8 in Peoria.

WCIA refuted those claims by Plains Television. WCIA stated Channel 3 was outside of the central Illinois UHF area and that elimination of the VHF channel was not necessary to assure the survival of UHF service in central Illinois. Midwest stated that the elimination would be “an inefficient use of an important VHF frequency” and would “deprive significant numbers of people of service, particularly
residents of small communities and rural areas...” Plus, those areas “served by WCIA (had a) very low the proportion of sets (which) can receive UHF signals.”

Midwest would wrap up its response with the statement that WCIA should not be put on the “burden and expense” of a proceeding before the commission “on the basis of the flimsy showing made in the petitions of the Springfield and Decatur interests.” One of the proposals proposed awarding the channel 3 allocation to the University of Illinois and moving the current U of I allocation currently at channel 12 to other communities. The proposals of the UHF stations were based on the idea that giving the U of I channel 3 would be a benefit to the educational television service. Mr. Meyer would shoot back a response declaring the U of I was “operating a commendable television station on channel 12 and has not requested or suggested a change.....WCIA came into being through a desire to protect the interest of the University and at the same time provide commercial television for a large area that was without it until we went on the air.”
He went on to say that the original plan of the FCC was to only have one VHF station assigned to Champaign-Urbana. It was originally designated as an educational channel. Mr. Meyer would tell the story, “Commercial interests could have challenged this, earmarking (the VHF channel as educational) and (leaving) the University without any channel.” He goes on, “It was the present ownership of
WCIA engaged consulting engineers and successfully demonstrated to the FCC that allocations could be changed in 11 states so channel 12 could be allocated for educational use and channel 3 assigned to 'commercial operations.' The U. of I. The athletic department desires commercial sponsorship of its games and this would be impossible on a non-commercial educational station regardless of the
channel. The results of all this cooperation would be wiped out if the Springfield and Decatur stations should succeed in their current efforts. What they are asking is that the University station is left isolated in the VHF band. With no commercial VHF station with good programming to cause people to keep VHF antennas up this would be almost a death blow to the audience of the University station and
this fact is well known.”

The newspaper account of the WCIA reaction to the petition also included what the UHF stations were urging in regard to the channel 3 allocation. One totally preposterous idea mentioned in the account was a suggestion to move the allocation to Fowler, Indiana! Fowler is a very small community located in Benton County with no business base to support any kind of television service. The closest larger
community would be Lafayette, Indiana, 25 miles to the southeast of Fowler. This would virtually reallocate channel 3 to Lafayette, Indiana, or perhaps even Danville, Illinois. Meyer would explain that WICS is controlled by New York and Chicago interests, which have been seeking to move channel 3 from Madison, Wisconsin to Rockford, Illinois. This request had already been denied by the FCC. Plains Television was the owner of WTVO, Channel 39 in Rockford, and was seeking a VHF channel for its station there. He also would bring up Plains Television's permit to operate a UHF channel 33 for Champaign-Urbana but so far Plains “has made no effort to get started.”
He also described Channel 33 as merely a satellite for WICS.

William Shellabarger, of Prairie Television and WTVP, predicted that WCIA would eventually become a UHF station or its existence as a VHF station would drive the UHF stations off the air since they wouldn't be able to compete for viewers and advertisers. The WTVP petition also sides with a local group, the Champaign-Urbana Council for Better Radio and Television. Meyer would state that the
group was established by a University of Illinois professor, who was the head of an organization that failed to develop a television station on channel 21 after obtaining a construction permit to do so. He asked, “Is it possible he is still seeking personal gain rather than serving the interests of the public or the university from whom he receives his pay?” That professor was Mr. Phillip Zimmerly the former
spokesperson of a group of investors in the former applicant for Channel 21.

The UHF petitioners also claimed that many TV stations would spring up after the de-intermixture, but Mr. Meyer would say they are “ignoring the economic facts of life.” He would continue, “Good programming costs money, and a good market is required to support good programming. The area of a given market that can be covered by a television station is directly related to the transmitter, power, and
antenna height and also to the assigned channel.”

With the petitions filed by WICS and WTVP, WCIA would organize the first public relations campaign to enlighten their viewing audience on the downside of a possible VHF to UHF conversion. It was important to show the costs to everyone, not just the viewers in the fringe areas who would lose WCIA. This campaign would include the mention of $ 6 million dollars in total viewer expenses that would be
required investments by viewers to continue to receive WCIA. 

WCIA, according to their report, had an audience in 33 counties which are wholly or partly outside of what is known as its Grade B area and in those areas, less than 50 percent of the households were equipped currently to receive UHF broadcasts. The station had done its homework. Other numbers presented include the 432,000 people in those fringe areas in 140,976 homes, with only 17,823
equipped to receive UHF broadcasts!

The station went on to bring up other factors to show that if UHF stations were to be developed in smaller communities in those fringe areas like Mattoon, Streator, Kankakee, and others there would be extensive overlapping with existing VHF and UHF stations throughout the Midwest. The WCIA campaign would declare that the station “exists only because its owners recognized that there is a
a substantial area of small and rural communities which would not have effective television coverage unless a VHF television station was allocated to Champaign.”

By the end of 1957, the FCC would unanimously deny the petitions of the other central Illinois television stations to deintermix Champaign-Urbana and central Illinois. The FCC would state that Champaign-Urbana was not predominately a UHF community and surrounding UHF outlets did not provide even grade B service to the twin cities. The Commission would also say that if channel 3
was deleted a “significant” number of people now receiving television would lose television service. At the same time, the FCC handed down some other decisions concerning other Channel 3's. The channel 3 allocation was granted to Harrisburg, Illinois, and gave WSIL-TV, Channel 22 permission to broadcast on channel 3 until the outcome of a hearing for that channel would be decided. The FCC
also denied a petition by Sarkes Tarzian Inc.(owner of WTTV, Channel 4 in Bloomington, Indiana) a request to grant channel 13 to a community just to the east of Harrisburg in Carterville, Illinois.

It was also at that time the FCC denied a specific petition by Plains Television(WICS) and Prairie Television(WTVP) to deintermix Champaign-Urbana by deleting channel 3 and not proposing that channel 3 be reassigned to any specific community. That alternate proposal of Prairie/WTVP to reserve channel 3 for educational use and move channel 12 to (Fowler, Indiana) Lafayette, Indiana for
commercial use and add channel 64 to Champaign-Urbana was rejected by the Commission. WTVP also sought to change WCIA to channels 21, 27, or 33.

The final statement from WCIA on this episode read, “All of us at WCIA are gratified by the commission's order. It means we can continue our efforts for better television service to Central Illinois and Western Indiana.” It appeared that WCIA was in the clear to broadcast on channel 3 for the duration. Unfortunately, a move to delete channel 3 from Champaign was going to happen again later.

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. 


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.


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


"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.


"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.


Future Sister Television Station Signs On

Peoria got a New Year's Day present in 1958 with the arrival of WMBD-TV, Channel 31. Even though at the time, WMBD was owned by another group of broadcasters, namely WMBD Incorporated. The group's owners were Charles Caley, John Fetzer, and Robert Runnerstrom. They were already owners of long-time Peoria radio stations, WMBD-AM/FM.

During the 1950s, the radio station was a typical medium market CBS Radio Network affiliate a designation not lost on CBS when WMBD-TV was seeking a network affiliation. It only seemed logical that the new Peoria station would take on the number one television network, CBS. Of course, that would mean big changes for the former part-time CBS affiliate, WTVH-TV. More on that with the history of each of those Peoria stations later in this book.

By early 1960 WMBD-AM/FM/TV would be purchased by Midwest Television making it a huge television empire across central Illinois!


WCIA Schools Central Illinois Viewers

WCIA chose to telecast meetings of the United Nations concerning a crisis in the Middle East in July of 1958. Many viewers were not happy. The fans of the daytime serials, game shows, and off-network reruns expressed themselves loudly and clearly. The viewer response was overwhelmingly against carrying the CBS-TV-originated coverage. What many viewers didn't understand was that the
network was preempting their popular shows, not WCIA. There were probably similar reactions from viewers of other CBS affiliates around the county. The one factor that makes it different when it comes to WCIA was how the station reacted to the viewer's response.

WCIA aired an editorial that in part said....” the phone calls we have received have been overwhelmingly opposed to the special news coverage. This reaction has indicated that.....viewers would rather indulge themselves in the entertainment of their regular afternoon programs that face the somewhat grim realities of the UN's attempt to keep the peace. No scenario writer could create higher
drama. It is the intention of WCIA to continue to broadcast these special news programs in the belief that no nation can be strong unless it is well informed.”

Before the end of the newscast which contained the editorial, WCIA reported it was necessary to call in extra help to “man” the phones and tabulate calls coming in from viewers congratulating the station on its policy statement. The station told of more than 120 calls were counted in the first hour following the newscast and the editorial. Over 200 calls were counted by noon the next day. Virtually all of the calls were in support of the programming decision of WCIA.

The editorial was repeated the following day during its newscasts, and over 900 calls were counted and an untold number of letters were received by Channel 3 later. From all of the phone calls, only 20 were received opposing WCIA's coverage.

Margaret Whiting on The Hop

WCIA Archive Pictures

These photos connected to "The Hop." It includes the first host, John Coleman, and the second host Ed Mason.

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" 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)


(left) Ed Mason publicity photo

(right): Ed Mason as "Captain Eddie" as he hosted the "Popeye Show" on Channel 3 during the late 50s and early 60s.

(Ed Mason collection)

wcia_1963-1216_FCC ruling on truce_broadcasting.jpg

"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)

Another example of the "war" that existed between Midwest Television and its competitor based in Springfield, WICS/WCHU/WICD.  This is from December 1963 and Broadcasting Magazine.

News coverage of the JFK assassination, starting with the interruption of "As the World Turns" by Walter Cronkite during the first hour and ten minutes after the shooting occurred. Around 40 minutes into the period came the first of many unconfirmed reports from a Dallas affiliate reporter that Kennedy was dead. Finally, after over one hour 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)

WCIA Archive Pictures

WCIA Production Manager, Pete Barrett over the last few years headed up a project to restore and catalog historical pictures, videos, and films from the history of WCIA. He has now allowed me to share the results of that project here at Central Illinois Online Broadcast Museum.

The photos at the left, are part of a release of photos from April of 2020. They include pictures from "The Bar None Ranch" a country music show from 1954. In this gallery, there are also pictures from "Country Crossroads." It was a newscast for homemakers and rural viewers broadcast during the mid-day.

Those below include the personalities that brought central Illinois the weather report every day, along with newscasts and the various special interest programming for the homemakers, and those who supported the news department and remote filming of news events.

The Beatles on Sullivan


"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 that 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.

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)

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."   

"Gunsmoke" premiered on September 10, 1955.  Here is a summary episode. The adult western started on the radio with William Conrad, but he was not considered for the role of Matt Dillion. John Wayne was but turned it down recommending James Arness.  Gunsmoke ran on CBS and WCIA from 1955 to 1975.


"The Danny Thomas Show" followed the initial title of "Make Room for Daddy." Here is the first mashup of "The Danny Thomas Show" with what was to become "The Andy Griffith Show"


"Wanted Dead or Alive" starred a young Steve McQueen as a bounty hunter in the old west. The series aired from 1958 to 1961.


"Have Gun Will Travel" aired on CBS and WCIA from 1957 to 1963. The western starred Richard Boone as Paladin. He was a wealthy trouble solver for those who played for his services.


This episode of "I've Got a Secret" aired on January 6, 1960, in primetime as it ran from 1952 to 1976. Hosted by Garry Moore through 1964, then Steve Allen for the rest of the run of the series.


Here is the opening theme of "The Perry Mason Show"  as broadcast from 1957 to 1974. This classic TV series starred Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Talman, and Ray Collins. 

A message embedded in a time capsule that would have been opened in 2015 from November of 1965. Here Don McMullin gives us a glimpse into 1965 and what was making news at that time. This was recorded during an open house that was underway at the WCIA studios.
(Pete Barrett, WCIA and YouTube)

Mr. Roberts with the weather

Tom Jones with Sports

WICA aired the above story on the death of former anchor/reporter and news director Paul Davis.



Doug Quick and one of several meetings with Paul Davis, here in 2019. He passed away in 2021. He was 82.

(Doug Quick Collection)

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

(thanks to WCIA)


Doug Quick and Ed Mason getting together on January 30, 2023.

(Doug Quick Collection)

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-

Lloyd Ummel, news dept, 1950s
Larry Campbell, "Ruffles the Clown" 1950s

Annalea Armstrong,    1964
John Colbalt, director, 1950s
Pete Duncan, news, 1960s

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,
Gerald "Jerry" F. Drake, 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-

Larry Bumpus, projectionist, 1960s

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 *

Scott Craig*

* 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.

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

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, Pete Barrett
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.

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