The History of WICD, Channel 15, Champaign IL

1967-2015

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 WICD and WCHU 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!

WICD, Channel 15, Champaign
NBC

 

In 1966 construction began on a new television transmitter and tower facility which would combine the transmitters of Channel 33 WCHU and Channel 24 WICD on channel 15.  The original allocation for channel 15 was moved from Bloomington, Illinois. WBLN went dark several years after its initial sign-on, then eventually for the last time in 1958. (See the History of WBLN and in my book "Pictures on the Prairie" for more)  It was going to be another nine years before another station would be broadcasting on that frequency, but this time from Vermilion County, Illinois.

in January 1967 WICD-TV on channel 15 was to go on the air, but an ice storm toppled the new tower built to support the new antenna.  This was during the James T. Kelly management period.  After rebuilding the 1300- foot tower, re-building the transmitter building and re-installing a transmitter the station finally got on the air in July of 1967.  The studios remained in the Inman Hotel until 1978, when the studios were moved to the sight of a former S&H Green Stamp store and slot car track at the Country Fair Shopping Center on Champaign's west side.

New WICD Tower Fails During an Ice Storm

Pictures above show the initial tower from the fall and winter of 1966-67.  Pictures include:  A tower section is being hauled to the top of the tower. An engineer checks out a coaxial connection for the antenna. A view from inside the tower, all 1338 feet of it. The transmitter building with the tower from the site.  It was on January 26, 1967, the tower and antenna would fall damaging the transmitter building and contents along with at least one vehicle.
(pictures from WICD-TV)

On January 31, 1967, WICD, Channel 15 was to sign on the air from its new 1338 foot tower between Homer and Fithian, Illinois.  Unfortunately, an ice storm overloaded the tower with several feet of ice, adding tons to its overall weight.  It wasn't long that the extra weight, snapped guy wires causing the lower levels of the tower to buckle and fall over the transmitter building and what was probably some poor engineers vehicle parked under it.  It took over 7 months to clean up the damage, and replace the earlier tower with another one, along with more guy wire supports. The farmer who owns the adjacent land, still occasionally turns up some hunk of metal from the tower which fell almost 40 years ago!   The delay of the premiere of WICD, Channel 15 necessitated the continuation of the use of the WCHU, Channel 33,  WICD, Channel 24  and Channel 75 transmitters

The "Certificate of Toppled Towers" was a joke certificate that read, "This certificate entitles you to be an exclusive member of the Toppled Tower Club.  This award is given only to those organizations which are unconditionally qualified."  It was signed by James T. Kelly, WCHU Station Manager, Charter Member.  Unfortunately, by 1978 WAND also qualified. 
(WICD)

Mr. Milton D.l Friedland, the general manager of WICS/WICD was featured in a TV Guide® ad announcing the plans to reconstruct the fallen tower in early 1967.
(TV Guide®, Doug Quick Collection)

At long last, all of east central Illinois would be able to see NBC programming in color.

Channel 15 Becomes a Reality

After the second of two broadcast towers was completed in July 1967, Channel 15 went on the air at nearly a million watts of power.  Finally, viewers in the Danville area were able to see NBC shows in color!  Also, viewers from Mattoon to Watseka, from Monticello to Crawfordsville were now able to see NBC programs in the clear.  The first goal of the future growth of WICD was complete.....but it would take about ten years before the next facility improvement would move WICD from downtown to Champaign's west side.   Finally, WICD was a full-fledged TV station!  

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NBC Shows from 1967-1980
1966-1980

NBC Week from 1967, was a week-long event in September of 1967 in which all of the new shows of the season would premiere. For many in east-central Illinois, this was the first opportunity to see NBC programming on the new WICD, Channel 15.
(YouTube)

Here is a montage of NBC promos from 1966 to 1968.

(YouTube)

NBC daytime from 1967 as seen on WICD.
(YouTube)

This is from NBC Week 1968, which took place September 15-21, 1968 and see on WICD, Channel 15.
(YouTube)

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

Many might remember the "Acri Creature Feature" which ran late Saturday nights. It was hosted by Chuck Acri a business man who also ran a home improvment company in the Quad Cities. This popular horror movie feature was produced at WQAD, Channel 8 in Moline, Illinois and was syndicated to KCRG-TV(Cedar Rapids, Iowa), along with WEEK-TV(Peoria) and across central Illinois on WICS and WICD. 

His characters were Vincent Hedges(a vampire), Emmit(the hunchback), Beauregard(the caveman) and Bertie and Bernie(the skull). The dog was Fang, the wonderdog. A website has all the details about the "Acri Creature Feature"

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

NBC's anchor team from 1956 to 1970. Here is one of their last installments. A black and white videotape of the news (including commercials) of July 31, 1970 (as recorded on WSM-TV Nashville, TN) seen in color on WICD, Channel 15.
(YouTube)

NBC News Watergate Reports as seen on NBC News in April of 1973..
(YouTube)

From January 3, 1973, an NBC promo for Adam-12, "Madigan" and "Search.".
(YouTube)

The 1978 Fall Season Premiere Special from NBC.
(YouTube)

The 1975-76 NBC Fall Season Premiere.
(YouTube)

WICD from the 1970s-80s

During the '70s and '80s, WICD-TV developed a local news presence with personalities including Ron Davis, Bruce Jakubowski, Geni Roark, Art Barron, Rich Porter, Demetria Kaye, Susan Rieke, Sandra Chapman, Mark Schanowski, and weathercaster Keith Page among many others.  Even though most of the programming was received from WICS-TV, WICD was during a good part of the time from the 80s into the early 90s owned separately from WICS.  WICD would often break from WICS to air its own programming, sometimes public affairs programs, but often times it would be syndicated programming from the library of then-current shows which were in-house at the time.  For a while in the 1980s, when WICS would air a local newscast at Noon, WICD would air the INN News which was a syndicated national news program for independent stations.

Also during 1986, WICD would lead the market to broadcast programming in 2-channel discrete stereo.  An upgrade in the audio chain would make it possible to broadcast NBC shows in stereo but also synthesize stereo for programs produced in mono.  

From 1986 to 1998, WICS was owned by Guy Gannett Publications while WICD was still owned by Plains Television Partnership through 1994.  The stations were operated as a "regional" network to simulcast most of the locally originated syndicated programming, but local news and local commercials were aired separately by each station.  

WICD would receive the WICS video channel and  "insert" it's own local programming over the WICS elements.  Of course, this led to missed cues, commercials which were cut to air another commercial and station ID's for WICS slipping through on WICD.  Of course, viewers of WICS saw no issues.

 

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

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

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NBC Shows from 1981-2005

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

From July 5, 1992, this is a complete newscast from WICD.
(YouTube)

Art Barron utilized his 8mm movie camera to record some behind the scenes shooting to be used for a promo series. It features Art Barron, Kathleen Quinn with brief appearances by Kieth Page, Beth Morgan, and Rich Porter. Courtesy of Art Barron.
(YouTube)

This aircheck of WICD is from 1983 and features a weekend presentation of "The Adventures of Superman." 
(YouTube)

This 1983 promo shows the Production room at WICD as background on a promo for Gallery as hosted by Geni Roark.
(YouTube)

This is from a newspaper ad placed around 1986, based on the use of the theme "Newswatch 15" and the logo. It pictures Keith Page, Kim Khazei, Art Barron and Mark Schanowski.
(Courtesy of Art Barron Collection)

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

The 1990 WICD Christmas Disaster
News-Gazette from Sunday, January 7, 1990
Early Januay 1990, Champaign News-Gazette

Thanks to Art Barron who shared these items from his collection.

The picture at left is from the first page of a direct mail piece which included station promotional information and coupons/ads from local, in this case, Danville, Illinois area advertisers. This is one of several produced by the station during the era.

To see the brochure in its entirity click on the button above to a link to the mail-out from the Spring of 1992.

The WICD, Channel 15 Anchors: desk L to R: Keith Page(weather), Kathleen Quinn, Jeff Friend and Dan Swaney(sports)  Standing L to R: Sandra Chapman, Beth Morgan(weather), Scott Andresen(sports), Deborah Linz.

(from WICD)

About the videos.... from these videos you'd think I was the only one working at WICD. Nothing could be further from the truth! These videos were saved by me on VHS tape long before there was a YouTube for my personal collection. Unfortunately, that's all I have. Had I known there would be something like YouTube and my website, I would have saved a better cross-section of material featuring all of the professional broadcasters of WICD at the time.  So, with no disrespect intended to all of my fellow workmates at WICD here are a sampling of what was going on at WICD at the time. If any of my former workmates would like to have some of their material included, I would GLADLY add it to this collection!

The pre-NewsChannel 15 eras when the Plains TV WICD logos were still being used. I had to re-voice the station ID to remove the voice of former WICD station manager Joe Norris' voice from all material.
(YouTube)

The daytime schedule was changing on WICD in early 1995. So as a promotions director, what can I do to tell the story and alert viewers of the changes?  This is it.
(YouTube)

Here is a news sponsor billboard announcement from a newscast in 1995.
(YouTube)

This was produced after I started with the new anchor lineup after the NewsChannel 15 signature was adopted in February of 1995. I hired the same station voice I hired when I was with WDNL(D-102) radio.
(YouTube)

The Grand Opening of the Champaign Meijer Store included an entire day of live broadcasting from the new store. Doug Quick broadcast from every department in the store during the event.
(YouTube)

1995 The WICD Sign-On from 1995
(YouTube)

A half hour of Sunrise Today with Tamera Gibbs and Doug Quick from August 27, 1998.
(YouTube)

WICD Aircheck with a Saturday night from mid-December 1996 and includes the final block of the newscast to SNL.
(YouTube)

This was a video (not for broadcast) which was produced to show the promotional activity of WICD during my third year as promotions director at WICD, early June of 1998. It includes graphics from many of the "sweeps pieces" produced by the news department, as well as other promotional events and activities. 
(YouTube)

This was produced and edited by an unknown member of the news department featuring clips from "Sunrise Today" with Tamara Gibbs,  Jennifer Broeker and Doug Quick with anchor sub, Dave Ferguson. They come from the years 1998-2002.
(YouTube)

This is a Noon Newscast from November 29, 2000 anchored by

me and longtime weathercaster Keith Page. Watch for the NBC promos which aired during the newscast and for other WICD news personalities at the time. 
(YouTube)

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

The Guy Gannett Era 1994-1999​

Plains Television sold WICD to Guy Gannett Group in 1994, where a rebuilding process would begin, after several years of neglect.  It was during this time the number of employees increased under Station Manager Les Van, the news department gained many updates and the number of newscasts increased over time.

In February of 1995, WICD adopted the "NewsChannel 15" logo and the slightly modified news set was introduced.  The desk was replaced with a much smaller oval shaped unit which matched that of WICS.  The walls were repainted a rather neutral light green.   It wasn't until 1998 that the news set was repainted and remodeled into the bright blue background and "marble" looking columns.  The main anchors were Paul Donohue, Gwen Ellis(later Stacy Case), Scott Musgrave-sports and Keith Page(later Jerome Ritchey).  The morning news anchor was Ann Kirby later Jennifer Mitchell.  When a Noon newscast was added, it was anchored by News Director Grant Uitti and Angela Bettis was the weathercaster.  After Angela left, she was replaced by Doug Quick.  Later the WICS/WICD simulcast was eliminated for the morning news, and Tamera Gibbs(later Jennifer Broeker) and Doug Quick anchored.  The main anchors also changed to Eric Renderle and Tiffani Sargent.  Other anchors and/or reporters include Stephanie Abrams, Angela Bettis, Beth Brotherton, Melissa Blasius, Rob Elgas, Dave Ferguson, Tiffani Helberg,  Summer Jackson, Maureen Kocot, Demany Lewis, Dave Malkoff, Jennifer Mitchell, Karen Moe, Jack Penning and Julie Sisk. 

The station also benefited with the addition of two remote studio equipped vehicles which allowed the station to broadcast live from remote locations.  The news department also went through a complete remodeling during that time, with the addition of a computerized newsroom and the conversion of tape formats from MII to Beta.

It was also under the ownership of Guy Gannett that "Seinfeld," "Home Improvement," "Montel," and "Judge Judy" were added.   NBC was flying high with big audience numbers, and NewsChannel 15 benefitted greatly.  During the early years, WICD shared newscasts with WICS during the early morning news broadcasts.  Jennifer Mitchell did local news on WKIO(FM) as well as the cut-ins during the newscast, as well as the local "Today" show inserts.  Later, after "Home Improvement" was moved to 4:30 PM, the stations began a 5 PM newscast which was also shared with WICS.  Jerome Ritchey did the weather from WICD, while anchor Elizabeth Wooley was the anchor at WICS.  The show was broadcast on both WICS and WICD.  It wasn't until the early 00's, that WICD began to produce its own 5 PM newscasts. 

WICD also had radio simulcast agreements with a few local radio stations for it's newscast at 6 PM.  Radio stations included WDAN(AM)-Danville, WHPO(FM)-Hoopeston and WBCP(AM) in Champaign.  After having no promotions department for several years under Plains TV, the station began full-scale promotions of news product, special reports, topical promos for it's syndicated shows and scheduling NBC promos during non-network times as mandated by NBC.  The station was also making appearances of local events a priority as well including being at area county fairs, festivals, parades and sponsoring its annual benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation, "Beat the Pro."  WICD also increased its role in the community with the production of "Community Calendar" announcements and "Spotlight 15."

On a personal note, this covers the first years of my employment at WICD having joined in December 1994 as promotions director and eventually becoming weathercaster and news anchor/weather anchor.

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

The Sinclair Era 1999-2005

In September 1998, Guy Gannett family stockholders decided to sell off the company which consisted of various newspapers and television properties.  The stations in the group were sold off to Sinclair Broadcast Group, which sold off a couple of the seven Ganette properties to other companies.  The WICS/WICD pair were in transition and sold to Sunrise Broadcasting which was partially owned by a holding group which also owned LIN Broadcasting, owner of market competitor WAND.  The sale wasn't allowed by the FTC sue to duopoly rules (shareholders of LIN also were part of Sunrise), so Sinclair held onto the stations along with sister station KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Sinclair ownership continued with the NBC affiliation until September 2005.  The years of Guy Gannett ownership begins this era, as well as the sale of WICD (and WICS) to Sinclair in 1998.  This page also includes the "limbo" era in which Sinclair held the properties before deciding to hold on to a long time Illinois duopoly.  This page also covers the final years of affiliation to NBC prior to September 5th, 2005.
 

9/11, a date we'll remember for forever. Here was our Noon newscast as broadcast on that eventful day, showing how the Champaign-Urbana was prepared for the unexpected. Doug Quick was the anchor and introduced WICD anchors/reporters at various key locations throughout the area.
(YouTube)

It was the day after 9/11 in 2001. Doug Quick anchors the Noon Newscast on WICD.
(YouTube)

The Noon News at WICD from September 18, 2000, with anchor Doug Quick and Keith Page. Note Gus Gordon (WICS) doing a commercial for Stahl's Furniture. Also Doug Quick hosting a Spotlight 15 segment.
(YouTube)

This is a unique "behind the scenes" look at the studio during a segment of "Sunrise Today." It was created to be part of classroom demonstration presentations done by Doug Quick.
(YouTube)

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

WICD Network Switch to ABC

During the Summer of 2004, it was announced that WAND would become the markets NBC station.  This left WICS and WICD without a major network affiliation.  Later in the year, Sinclair signed the stations with ABC.  The switch was to take place on Labor Day of 2005.

The switch ended up being one of the most confusing things to happen to local TV since the advent of cable TV.  While the network programming would shift from one set of stations to another, the syndicated shows would remain on the original stations, with some shifting time slots.  

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

Behind the Scenes 2014
In mid-2014 work began on replacing the standard def production control and video output chain to a digital high definition system. First, a temporary on-air studio had to be set up to replace the former studio as it was to be torn down, and the existing room is prepared for the installation of a new studio. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of the operation had to be moved while newscasts were produced from the temporary air studio. From my standpoint, the weather computers had to be moved to another location, almost to the other end of the building near the sales offices, but not really close to the air studio. The temporary studio was really small and really hot as the equipment heated up the room that also included a wall with incoming sunlight contributing to the high room temperatures. 

Included in these pictures are the set up of the temporary studios which would be used for two months, the teardown of the old set and the building of the new set and technical equipment installation. 

Enjoy a unique look of some major behind the scenes activities of WICD during August-September of 2014. 

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

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

ABC Shows 2005-present

From the July 5th, 2013, 10 pm NewsChannel 15 News this features Jed DeMuesy, sports director.
(YouTube)

A.J. Bayatpour and Mike Lederer with "Fast Break 15" Friday night high school basketball feature. This is from February 3, 2012
(YouTube)

A behind the scenes view of Jenese Harris interviewing a guest about an upcoming event. This was during the 11 am Midday Show around October 31, 2013.
(YouTube)

Katy Kramer with a wintry forecast during midday Show in December 2014.
(YouTube)

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

The Demise of WICD, NewsChannel 15

No matter how hard to try to gain success there are sometimes outside influences can determine your fate. In this case, there were a number of hurdles placed on the path of WICD even before it went on the air which would determine its eventual outcome.  The WICD staff members from its history all the way through its last days were all hard-working professionals, those in front of the camera as well as those behind.  In 2015 ownership decided to pull the plug on the operation of WICD as a "full-service television station"  making it a satellite repeater for WICS.  Both stations, WICS and WICD are identified now as "NewsChannel 20" on all of its branding and promotional content, although WICD still is identified as "15" (its LCN) for those receiving it off-the-air or on satellite TV. A most confusing situation.

The east-central Illinois community relied on WICD to be an "alternative" television news source.  The reach of WICD had just increased with the addition of DISH® coverage throughout the market allowing more of the rural viewers to watch the station (WICD was never seen by DirectTV® viewers).  But, now the dominant central Illinois heritage TV station WCIA would no longer have head to head competition with WICD turning those former WICD viewers potentially into WCIA viewers during the typical TV news times for mornings and at 5, 6 and 10 each evening. For those in east central Illinois who didn't like WCIA, the only alternative would be WAND, which benefited with NewsChannel 15's demise.

The culture established at WICS by Milton Friedland set the tone of what diminished the value of the full powered east central Illinois major network affiliate for years to come.  It started during the very early days of introducing the Champaign TV station (then WCHU) as a low powered station. WCHU could only be viewed by those within a 15-mile radius and that established the culture of the station. It gave everyone associated at WCHU a "Cinderella" complex and would continue for years throughout its years with the call letters of WICD as well.  By rebroadcasting the less than dependable off-air signal of WICS during the 1960s and 70s it also brought substandard viewing to WCHU's viewers.

The Champaign-Urbana, Danville area, and it's strong agriculture, industrial, manufacturing base as well as a growing medical center, community colleges and of course the state's namesake, University of Illinois was evidently not enough to warrant a major investment in an NBC affiliated television property.   Plains TV didn't put their best product forward to compete with WCIA.  In fact, its very existence as a low powered facility denied many east central Illinois viewers NBC color programming during the years of 1960 to 1967, a situation which certainly created a public relations nightmare for the Champaign station during that era.

As WICD/NewsChannel 15 falls into history, I transfer the attention to its "offspring" WCCU as a FOX TV Network affiliate and the transfer of resources from Channel 15 to now Channel 27.  Local news continues, but certainly at a reduced level from that of WICD.  WCCU first went on the air with a locally produced weeknight newscast at 9 PM, then soon after a 5:30 PM newscast.  The morning news/variety/information programming from 7 to 9 AM is simulcast from WRSP (originating at WICS in Springfield).  The weekend 30-minute newscasts on Saturday and Sunday at 9 PM are also produced by WICS. 

WCCU/WRSP is taking a cue from WCIA in the mid to late 1950s when it broadcast local news in non-traditional times offset from its direct competition in the local metros under its massing coverage area.  This act set up WCIA as a regional news source which established it as central Illinois' leading TV news.  We see at least a hint of  FOX-Champaign meeting with the same success here in east central Illinois.

The future pages of WICD's history will be replaced by that of WCCU from 2015 to the present

 

Click on the photo for a description of what you're seeing.

(Photos from the Doug Quick Collection)

WICD, Channel 15 Repacking

The repacking schedule for WICD was moved earlier than most of the other stations in the market. The FCC auction which sold off the upper UHF frequencies to cell phone providers/networks has made it necessary for stations located above UHF channel 40 and many in the lower UHF channels to be moved to a new allocation arrangement freeing up those unused frequencies for auction.

The actual channel used by WICD since the original reassignment of digital TV broadcast channel was channel 41, while the "virtual channel" continued to be called "channel 15."  The date of "repacking" was to be early 2019, but by special arrangement, T-mobile which purchased the frequency space at channel 41 will acquire that frequency space on September 1, 2018. That requires that WICD be moved to its new broadcast home at channel 32 earlier than the other local stations.

WICD would need a new transmitter and antenna to achieve the necessary frequency move. Since the digital transition, WICD was operating on a "temporary" antenna located on the side of the tower structure, leaving the old analog antenna mast "dead" on top of the tower. Now a permanent replacement mast antenna would replace the older analog antenna which will increase the coverage area of WICD due to its increase in height at the tower, plus eliminate the "null" in the coverage area caused by the tower blocking the signal emanating from the "temporary" antenna. 

WICD will broadcast with a new improved state of the art transmitter, with a new transmission line between the transmitter and the new mast mounted antenna. WICD will broadcast with an effective radiated power of 1-million watts from a location on the tower at least 60-feet higher. This will improve the broadcast signal and video/audio quality of the station to exceed the quality and range of all of the other broadcast stations in the central Illinois market.  The improvement will increase the signal of WICD to include over 150-thousand more viewers!

 

The pictures on the left show some of the improvements as they were being made during the last week of August 2018. 

 

Sources:

Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine

TV Guide®
WICD-TV

Danville Public Library

Urbana Courier

Urbana Free Library

Bloomington Pantagraph

YouTube

"Total Television" by Alex McNeil

 

Contributors:

Bob Lee (Screen Grabs)

WICD-TV, Channel 15
TV Guide®
Larry Waters
Ruthie Harper
Dave Boyer
Jim Wnek
Rick Hurd
Lawrence Kohen

Keith Page
Ted Sondergren

Dave Boyer

J.R. Evans and his TV Guide© Collection

 

 

Copy of fox-illinois_logo.png

Click the image to the left to follow the continuation of the Champaign TV news department which previously were with WICD and are now with WCCU. 

Updated 12.07.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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