The History of WDAN-TV, Channel 24, Danville, IL

1953 - 1960

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

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

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

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

The many details of the first 7 years of WDAN-TV 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!

  • What major media company has its television roots with WDAN-TV?

 

  • What was the motivation behind Northwestern Publishing to apply for a television station?

 

  • What occurred to cause a less than successful premiere of Channel 24?

 

  • Why did viewers have to invest a significant amount of money just to receive WDAN-TV?

 

  • Find out why a "special" affiliate arrangement with ABC forced WDAN-TV to broadcast the entire network schedule.

 

  • Many key staff members of the Commercial-News and WDAN Radio were called to contribute efforts to WDAN-TV. What roles did these people have?

 

  • WDAN-TV made an effort to shift the operation to a VHF station.  What happened to bring this about?

 

  • WDAN-TV produced many local television shows with local talent. What were the shows and formats?

 

  • Are there any recordings of local programs in existence?

 

  • Why did Northwest Publishing give up ownership of Channel 24?

 

Find the answers in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" available by clicking on the picture above.

The story of WDAN-TV is told in great detail in my book and includes many pictures which are not shown here.  It includes staff members, station information and what the studios look like today. What you're seeing here is meant as a supplement to the WDAN-TV story.

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A Selection of ABC
Shows from 1953-60

When WDAN-TV signed on December 19, 1953, the first ABC show featured was "Super Circus." Even though this was not the first actual installment shown, it looked a lot like this episode from 1954.
( YouTube)

"You Asked for It" aired from 1950 to 1951 on DuMont and in late 1951made the move to ABC where it was hosted by Art Baker through 1958. Here's an episode from an unknown date. Here is an installment from 1953.
(YouTube)

The ABC Television Network logo from 1953 and certainly seen on WDAN-TV during its early days.
(YouTube)

Here's an episode of "The Walter Winchell Show" from 1953. You might recognize his voice as the narrator of ABC's "Untouchables" in 1959.
(YouTube)

Here is the original open to "Disneyland" with sponsor billboard from the mid-1950s. It was one of the most popular series on ABC at the time, hosted by Walt Disney himself.
(YouTube)

From 1957 to 1959, also from Walt Disney studios, "Zorro." This action-adventure series was a huge hit for Disney and ABC and starred "Guy Williams." Many episodes were filmed in color but never seen until much later on "The Disney Channel" in the 1980s.
(YouTube)

"Cheyenne" was one of the rotating series of "Warner Brothers Presents" and starred Clint Walker in 1955-1963, although it was only seen through early 1960 on WDAN-TV. This video is an edited down version of the pilot show from 1955. 
(YouTube)

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

 

WDAN-TV, Channel 24, Danville, Illinois

Northwestern Publishing Company
1500 N. Washington
Danville, Illinois

 

Phone: 1700

 

Facilities:  Channel 24, Authorized Effective Radiated Power, Visual 19.1 kW, Aural 9.55 kW

Transmitter: RCA MOdel TTU-1-B; Antenna RCA Model Type TFU-24BL

Operation: Began December 20,

Height above average terrain, 410 ft, Above ground 445 ft.1953 Hours of operation 5:00 pm to 11 pm (correction date is December 19, 1953)

Affiliations: Network ABC, Station WDAN

Representatives: Sales, Everett-McKinney Inc.   Washington Attorney: Dow, Lohnesand Albertson

Services: One RCA and two Dage Cameras, Two Homes projectors, one 2x2 slide projectors, News Service, AP Library, Thesaurus

 

Executives: Robert J. Burow, general manager               Honore Ronan, program director

                     John Eckert, commercial manager              Orville Neely, chief engineer

                     Max Shaffer, station manager                       Bill Dorn, production manager

 

 

Market Information: Total information(including fringe area) 300,000 , families 87,4000, number of sets 45,000

 

 

(from Television Yearbook, 1954-55)

WDAN-TV

On the Farm

with the Vermilion

County Farm Bureau

The pictures include a number of unidentified people. If you know the names of anyone pictured here please comment from my e-mail form on the Home page.

Run cursor over picture for details, or click on each photo for larger view

(courtesy of Kerry Wienke, Tom Fricke and the Vermilion County Farm Bureau)

WDAN-TV featured in Illinois Farm Bureau Magazine 

wdan-tv_1958_studio_03_tvrecord_farmbure
wdan-tv_1958_studio_02_eckert_farmbureau

Click on pictures above to see larger versions

(October 1958 Illinois Farm Bureau magazine "IAA Record" courtesy of Kerry Wienke, Tom Fricke and the Vermilion County Farm Bureau)

Gene Hackman was a former employee of WDAN-TV. He reportedly began his career as a camera operator and artist at Channel 24.  Legend has it he was told that he should stay with WDAN and not "move on" because he could really work his way up the television ladder.

According to longtime WDAN sales manager, John Eckert, Mr. Hackman was a studio crew member who would set up and arrange chairs, sets and other studio gear for local programming and commercials. His exact tenure at WDAN-TV is not known for sure, but it is generally agreed it was some time from 1957 to 1958.

(picture from the Danville High School Wall of Fame)

At right is a photo of the WDAN Radio and Television Studios, probably taken sometime in 1953-54.  The address is 1501 North Washington in Danville. It was built to fit into the residential neighborhood which was sprouting all around the original transmitter site of WDAN Radio built in 1938.
(Photo courtesy of Neuhoff Broadcasting, where it hangs in the lobby area)

Here is the original home of WDAN-TV as it looked in 2007. It's now the home of WDAN(AM), WDNL(FM) and WRHK(FM). For a time it was used by WICD(TV) as a news bureau which was located in the original TV station business office. In 2007, I had the privilege of being on the first live television broadcast from that facility since the early 1960s. 
(photo by Doug Quick)

See more on the history of this facility in the history of WDAN and WDNL on this website.

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

The Plains TV Merger​

Construction on WCHU began in November of 1958, and the station originally went on the air in September of 1959  as a low power UHF station and a translator of WICS.  The original coverage area of WCHU was estimated to be no more than 15 miles from the transmitter site at the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign.  The power output on the new WCHU was 5.5 kilowatts visual and 2.96 kilowatts aural from a short antenna mounted on top of the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign, the corner of Neil and University.    WCHU was to receive an off-air signal of WICS for rebroadcast from a receiver also located on the roof of the Inman Hotel.  It didn't take long to see that the assumption of getting an airable signal from WICS all of the time was a mistake.  Weather conditions, the time of day and other bouts of interference from the downtown area contributed in a less than a reliable signal from WICS. 

 

WICS beginning in 1958 was on its 900-foot tower at Mechanicsburg broadcasting at 500 kilowatts.   To expect a good broadcast quality signal all of the time from 90 miles was a stretch even in the best of circumstances.  The receiving antenna on top of the Inman Hotel was a large parabolic style antenna with signal amplifiers, but it just didn't work.  Later in the year, an application was filed for, and permission was granted by the FCC for the construction of a receiver on the north-west side of Champaign along U.S. 150.  This receiving antenna would be on a 150-foot tower which would receive WICS then microwave the signal to the studios at the Inman Hotel.  

On September 13th, 1959 WCHU was ready to expand it's broadcast day with the construction completed on the microwave link from its new receiving antenna northwest of Champaign.

 

It was reported the station now began to broadcast "in earnest."  A special insert in the Champaign-Urbana Courier the following month featured the programming and details on the future plans of the station to include some local origination with a newly constructed studio on the second floor of the Inman Hotel.

The original staff at WCHU included Vice President Milton Friedland who was with WICS since 1953 and would oversee the operation at WCHU as well.  Jerry Merrit was Chief Engineer and Jack Hoskins was Program Director.  All of that personnel would be located at WICS.  At WCHU the staff consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Eskew.  Mr. Eskew was from technical services at WICS and would oversee the new station in Champaign.  His wife was a former Traffic Manager and would serve as Office Manager at the station.  Meanwhile, Jerry Dodds was serving as Account Executive and Bob Daniels was serving as Announcer.  Other Engineers on staff included Roger Thorp and Glen Horton.

In July of 1960, the license holder for WCHU, WCHU, Inc., went through a name change.  The original corporation was dissolved which according to a newspaper account in the Champaign-Urbana Courier, would permit "the consolidation of interest by it's present company" Plains Television Partners.  By that time the Danville Commerical-News parent company Northwest Publishing was ready to dump it's local television property, WDAN-TV.   The ownership of yet another television station in the market was a natural to expand the reach of WICS.   This would allow WICS to meet or exceed the coverage area of competitor WCIA in getting the ad dollars of regional and national advertisers.  With the change in the license holder name, it would allow all three stations to operate under the Plains Television name.  Remember now, that Champaign's WCHU was a translator of WICS, and was an NBC affiliate.  WDAN-TV was operating as an ABC affiliate in Danville.  The idea of having ownership of more than one station, with separate network affiliation in the same market was unheard of at the time.  In spite of that, the press release stated that Plains having ownership of the two stations, WCHU and WDAN "would have no effect on the operation of the TV stations in Champaign or Danville."  That was a total untruth.  The writing should have been on the wall, since the coverage area of both stations, had very little overlap, it should have been obvious that now both stations would be used as translators for WICS.

 

Late in 1960, the exact date is unclear, but Northwest Publishing, owner of WDAN-TV sold the station to Plains Television Partners which then renamed the station WICD-TV to become a satellite station of WCHU which was a satellite of WICS in Springfield.  The General Manager of WICD was Ralph Johnson.  The original WDAN-TV studios on North Washington Street in Danville after the sale was leased from Northwest Publishing.  The original facility also housed the WDAN-AM studio and transmitter while the television station was located there.  Later during the early and mid-1960's Champaign's WCHU did originate local programming which was simulcast on WICD-TV, including local news, children's programming, and local commercials.  

By August of 1960, it was announced that WCHU should be able to broadcast in color, perhaps by the time of the telecast of the 1960 World Series.  Milton D. Friedland made the obvious statement that "color is here to stay...RCA and NBC have made tremendous investments in developing color TV and will be transmitting every color show they have."  The investment in color casting at WCHU was in the $15-20,000 range.  Friedland went on to announce some of the shows that would be broadcast in color by WCHU including, "Jack Paar, Perry Como, Dinah Shore will all be in color."  By then, though, WICS had been broadcasting in color for three years.  Unfortunately, WICD, the Danville sister station would not be broadcasting in color....yet.   It's apparent that the vintage 1953 transmitter of WICD was not capable of being retrofitted to accommodate the addition of the equipment needed to color cast.  I would assume that the investment in color casting for the Danville station was simply not financially practical as a complete new transmitter would have been required.

With the ability to broadcast in color, it must be said that the only programming which was broadcast in color came from NBC.  A very similar situation which existed in the earlier years with the broadcasting of high definition digital video.  It was going to be 10 more years before the facility would be broadcasting local shows, other than movies, in color. 

Sources:

Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine

The Urbana Courier
The Champaign News-Gazette

TV Guide© (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection

Danville Public Library

Urbana Free Library

YouTube

"The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network Shows" by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh

"Total Television" by Alex McNeil
 

Contributors:

Bob Lee (Screen Grabs)

WICS, Channel 20, Springfield
Cindy Larson and others at WICS
John Eckert
Olav Christenson
J.R. Evans and his TV Guide© Collection
Neuhoff Broadcasting-Danville
Sangamon Broadcasting-Danville
Kerry Wienke, Tom Fricke
and the Vermilion County Farm Bureau

To continue to the WCHU-WICD Page
click on the image at left.

Updated 11.16.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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