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The History of WICS, Channel 20, Springfield, IL

1953 - 1966

The Scramble for Channel 2

In April of 1952, it appeared that Springfield, Illinois would be assigned allocations for VHF channel 2 along with UHF channels 20 and 26. Channel 26 would be set aside for educational television broadcasting with a plan which that was yet to be determined.

 

WTAX Application

It didn't take long for the allocation of VHF channel 2 to be targeted with an application filed in June 1952. The owner/operator for Springfield's WTAX AM/FM applied for the lone VHF allocation and proposed Springfield's first television station. Sangamon Valley Broadcasters proposed the station operating with a power of 100 kW from a 521-foot tower at the studio location a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of Bypass US-66 and Illinois Route 29. This was the location of the transmitter/tower of WTAX AM/FM as well. The construction cost of the station was set at $331,275 with a first-year operating cost of $325,000. The application described the use of a DuMont transmitter and an RCA antenna. The applicant also projected the first year revenue of $370,000. The ownership of the proposed station consisted of principals: Oliver .J. Keller (32.5%); F.M. (Merrill) Lindsey Jr. ( 27.5%); H.B. Bartholf (3.7%); Ernest L. Ives family (2.5%) and Adlai E. Stevenson (2.5%).
 

The latter principle of the proposed TV property would dispose of his interest in the proposed channel 2. Adlai Stevenson already owned 25% of the Bloomington, Illinois Pantagraph newspaper and WJBC AM/FM under the name of the Bloomington Broadcasting Corporation. By early August, Mr. Stevenson decided to sell off his share of Sangamon Valley Broadcasting TV as he felt media ownership was improper as a presidential candidate at the time. The remaining owners of WTAX AM/FM would pick up their share of the TV station. That ownership included Mr. Stevenson's sister Elizabeth S. Ives; his brother-in-law Ernest L. Ives and Ives' son Timothy Read Ives whose share increased from 2.5 to 7.5%.
 

WCVS Application

In July of 1952, WCBS Inc. would file for channel 2 with a proposed station operating at 6.11kw with an RCA transmitter from an RCA antenna atop a 426-foot tower located at 3000 South 4th Street in south Springfield. (The call letters of WCBS were changed in 1946 to WCVS, but the name of the Illinois State Journal-Register-owned company, WCBS, Inc remained through much of the 1950s.) WCVS radio operated a transmitter for its radio station at that same address. The estimated construction cost was set at $125,058, with the first-year operating cost at $134,370 and the revenue was projected to be $150,000.

 

The principal owners of the proposed WCVS television station were Harold L. Dewing (25%); A.W. Shipton (1% ) and L.G. Pefferle (25%). It's assumed the remaining shares were made up of a variety of other local investors. In just a matter of weeks, this application would be withdrawn and filed again with an application for channel 20. (see below).

 

WMAY Application
During the same week as the WCVS application came one from WMAY-TV Inc. operators of yet another Springfield radio station. This proposal like the one from WTAX was certainly more serious that the WCVS application. This proposal included a television station with the maximum VHF power at channel 2 at 100kw from an antenna 550 feet. The construction cost was stated to be $383,594 with the first-year operating cost at $325,000 with a rather ambitious revenue projection of $385,000. The company office address was listed at 504 East Monroe Street in Springfield with a studio location listed at 101 South Fifth Street. The tower and RCA transmitter were to be located near U.S. 54 (now Illinois Route 54) about 7 ½ miles northeast of Springfield and ½ mile south of Spaulding, Illinois.

 

This was the existing site of the WMAY Radio transmitter and its multi-tower array. The principals of the WMAY-TV group included Gordon Sherman at 20.6%; Melvin Feldman at 15%; Syl Binkin at 12.1%; Robert Weiner at 12.1%; Edward J. Barrett at 10%, Sherrill C. Corwin at 10%; Edward G. Burke Jr. at 10% and Ralph E. Stolkin at 10%. Later, there were to be several changes in the application for WMAY-TV. Those changes are described in the next section with some additional investors which would bring a major player to the table.

In 1953, the general manager of WMAY Radio in Springfield announced the details of the proposed WMAY-TV if it was to be granted a permit for the station. The Springfield Journal-Register published the details. The announcement also mentioned the other application for the channel filed by Sangamon Valley Television Corporation the part owners of WTAX Radio and the application from WCVS Radio.

 

The major stockholder of WMAY-TV was the Lincoln Broadcasting Company with owners Mr. Sherman, WMAY chief engineer Melvin Feldman, WMAY program director Syi Binkin and WMAY public affairs director, Robert Weiner. WMAY staff members Mel Kampe and John O'Shea were also listed as local backers.

 

The company also had outside interests in Lee Ruwitch who was the vice president and general manager of WTVJ in Miami, Florida.  He had agreed to leave his position there and move to Springfield to take a managerial position at the proposed station. Others included an assistant manager of a local restaurant “The Mill” Richard Cohen who would be a member of the business department at the station.


The most notable name in the group was Lee Ruwitch. He had a reputation as being one of the television industry's most prominent people. His station in Miami, WTVJ was considered one of the most progressive TV stations in the country, and many broadcast pioneers were trained at the station he managed.


Mr. Ruwitch was also involved in a company that was producing films for television broadcasts. This was mentioned in a way that led one to believe that WMAY-TV would benefit from better quality and a better variety of programming.

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Lee Ruwitch

(Broadcasting-Telecasting)

Lee Ruwitch could have built a TV powerhouse in Springfield with WMAY-TV on Channel 2. He certainly would have been one of central Illinois' more influential broadcasting executives. Read more about him here from a 1952 Broadcasting Magazine by clicking on the button above.

Gordon Sherman also announced the station would sign on at 6:55 am and sign off at 11:15 pm, with sign-off after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. This was also a nod to a possible network affiliation with NBC as they were the only network with that early morning sign-on with “The Today Show” which began at 7 am.

 

The proposed Channel 2 would build a “modernistic” studio on By-pass 66 just south of Springfield which would include the broadcast facility, business offices along with the station's transmitter and tower. It would also be equipped to broadcast color as soon as the equipment was available. It would operate on channel 2 with a maximum allowable power of 100,000 watts from a tower at 751 feet. It would cover an area of 65 miles in diameter.  The newspaper article included the cities of Decatur, Jacksonville, Bloomington, Lincoln, Alton, Canton, Pekin, and Vandalia.

 

Even though there were two others vying for the channel 2 allocation, WMAY-TV was the closest to actually having the prized construction permit. It seems that WMAY-TV felt it had the FCC's blessing, as a staff was already chosen and hired just waiting for the go-ahead. This wait would go on for several years.

 

I was curious as to the identity and credentials of Mr. Lee Ruwitch and found a wealth of information on this well-known, successful south Florida broadcaster. His widow and son Robert have established the Lee Ruwitch Endowed Scholarship Fund with awards scholarships to Floridians who pursue their education at the School of Business at the University of Miami. Lee Rutwitch was born in 1931 in Escanaba, Michigan, serving during WWII in the U.S. Navy after obtaining a B.A. At the University of Minnesota. He and his wife Francien (Chaney) settled in Miami in 1945. He would become manager of WTVJ, Florida's first television station. He died on April 23, 1999. Little did that group or for that matter the WTAX group know that their quest for channel 2 would be one of the most expensive, controversial television assignments ever and would even come up before the U.S. Supreme Court!

Meanwhile Applications Filed for Channel 20

 

WCBS, Inc Re-Application
The earlier application for channel 2 by WCBS Inc. would be modified and changed to an application for channel 20.
The WCBS Inc. application proposed a station operating at 19.45kw from a tower 426 feet. The construction cost of that proposed facility was set at $125,058, with first-year operation costing $134,370. Their revenue was projected at $150,00, a little more ambitious than that of Great Plains. The address of the company was listed as 523 East Capitol Avenue in Springfield which was to serve as the studio/office location as well. The transmitter was proposed for 3000 South 4th Street just south of Springfield at the site of the WCVS Radio tower. Its transmitter and tower were both listed as coming from RCA. Even though the two groups competing for channel 20 could have tied up the granting process for quite some time it appears that some kind of “an arrangement” was made between Great Plains and WCBS, Inc. to have WCBS, Inc withdraws its application. That arrangement was hinted at in an engineering document penned by the former chief engineer of WICS, Gerald Merritt, when he told of the radio station leaving the shared space of WICS and WCBS after the “dissolution of their (WCBS, Inc.) interest in WICS.” Part of that agreement may have also included the leasing of space by WICS at the WCVS studio and transmitter site.

 

 

Great Plains Television Properties Application

In early August of 1952, Great Plains Television Properties Inc. applied for Channel 20 in Springfield, Illinois. This would be the first filing for the UHF allocation for the capital city. Great Plains would propose a UHF station operating at 18kw from a tower 355 feet tall located one mile southeast of Springfield. The station would cost $214,900 to construct and would cost $125,000 during its first year of operation and collect revenue of $125,000 also during its first year. The technical aspects of Channel 20 would include a DuMont transmitter and an RCA transmitter.

 

The ownership of the proposed station consisted of an out-of-town group consisting of Herbert Scheftel, Alfred G. Burger, and Stuart S. Scheftel. The applicant was a part of Transcontinental Properties Inc., a real estate company located in New York in which Scheftel and Burger each had 25%.

 

The application filed by Great Plains would list the proposed television station transmitter as being at the WCVS transmitter site with the antenna being atop the WCVS tower. The proposed TV antennas would replace a mast that held the WCVS-FM antenna atop the same tower. The granting of the television station to either applicant spelled doom to the FM radio station operating on the frequency of 102.9 MHz (channel 275) by June 17, 1953. Soon after the license for WCVS-FM was turned back into the FCC and the FM station would go dark. The FM channel would be picked up by WSOY Radio in Decatur, Illinois, and become WSOY-FM.


In March of 1953, the FCC would grant channel 20 to the newly named Plains Television Company. This would make Plains Television the first non-local television station owner in mid-Illinois. It was the same week Channel 3 was granted to Midwest Television Inc. Plains Television already had gained permits in Little Rock, Arkansas with KETV(TV) as well as in Duluth, Minnesota with WFTV(TV), and in Sioux City, Iowa with KWTV(TV).

 

The Balaban Brothers

The company was owned by two major entities one being a real estate company in New York and the other being the Balaban Brothers, Harry, and Elmer. Barney Balaban, brother of Harry and Elmer was the president of Paramount Pictures from 1936 to 1964. There were other Balaban brothers Abe, John, and Max along with Barney who with Sam Katz formed Balaban and Katz owners of a number of Chicago movie theaters, including the famous Chicago Theater. Harry and Elmer Balaban were running their own set of theaters, apart from the Balaban and Katz operation. Their theaters numbered around 40 at one time. The Misters Balaban would develop a number of broadcast properties beginning after World War II. Their company would gain notoriety as pioneering the concept of cable television and pay television during the 1940s and 50s. During the late 1940s and throughout the early 1960s the company would team with a group of real estate investors in Chicago and New York to apply for construction permits for television stations throughout the Midwest. The parent company of Plains Television was Transcontinental Properties. Among those stations, is an application for channel 20 in Springfield, Illinois.


On a side note, the actor Bob Balaban, probably best known as playing the NBC programming executive on “Seinfeld” is the son of Elmer and Eleanor Balaban. Bob Balaban has also appeared in a number of popular TV shows from “Miami Vice” to “Friends.” He also appeared in “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969, and in 1977's “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He also is a producer and director of a number of television and movie projects. In March of 1954, the FCC would look into multi-ownership rules and exceptions. It was admitted that Transcontinental Properties had three members of the board who were also on the board of directors of Westinghouse Electric Corporation which was the parent company for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company. They asked for the FCC's patience in complying with the rules as board members dispose of their ownership shares. Among the stations owned by Transcontinental and Plains Television were those owned by Westinghouse and included WPTZ(TV) and KYW Radio in Philadelphia; WBZ AM/FM/TV in Boston; WBZA AM/FM in Springfield, Massachusetts; KDKA AM/FM in Pittsburgh; KEX AM/FM in Portland Oregon and WOWO Radio in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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The WCVS tower/antenna on Springfield's south side. Now home to WFMB-AM/FM.

(Doug Quick Collection)

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The original post of the Great Plains Television application for channel 20

from August 4, 1952

(Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine)

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Harry and Elmer Balaban were part owners

of WICS and later WICD as part of Plains Television Partners. Their company also owned a number of radio properties as well including WIL-Radio, St. Louis in the 1950s and early 1960s. (See RADIO HISTORY above and click on Midwest Legendary Radio Stations and WIL Radio).

 

Older brother Barney was President of Paramount Movie Studios from 1936 through 1964. Elmer and Harry were owners of WICD, their last property, until 1994.  A. J. Balaban was a partner in Balaban and Katz, a subsidiary of United Paramount Theaters. The company merged with ABC in 1953 which created a relationship with ABC President Leonard Goldenson and the entire Balaban family.  That link would eventually connect Goldenson's charity United Cerebral Palsey with WICS airing the UCP telethons throughout the 1950s through the 1980s. See more info below.

Construction Begins on WICS
It's difficult to determine just how serious the owners of WICS were in the Springfield property. There was a large uncertainty as to the future of the station even before it was to be built and signed on. That uncertainty was the Springfield allocation for channel 2. Knowing that when the allocation for channel 2 was awarded, it would be difficult if not impossible for the UHF station to survive. It was hard to imagine Plains Television wanting to invest highly in the future of Channel 20. Although, in later years they would fight tirelessly against Midwest Television and its operation of VHF channel 3, WCIA. If Plains Television was so concerned about the damage of a VHF station 90 miles to the east, how would they approach a monster VHF station in the same town?

 

When the Illinois State Journal-Register featured a story about WICS going on the air, they described the station as “Springfield's first television station....” assuming there would be at least one other. The other television station could have been locally owned WTAX-TV or WMAY-TV operating on channel 2. Investing in the success of WICS was a gamble, to say the least. Major network affiliation was certainly a key to a successful local TV station even without the threat of a VHF competitor. Those local TV stations would exist on the network compensation to insure cash flow for a station that would no doubt struggle with weak local advertising sales, and the fact that most households didn't have a TV.

 

The most important key, though, was being a VHF channel. The television receivers in use in 1953-54 were manufactured before the UHF band was set aside for local TV broadcasting. Being a UHF station would decrease the number of potential viewers even further, but they weren't alone. It was a similar plight for Decatur's WTVP. Receiving UHF broadcasts required a converter box that would act as an “add-on” tuner. Viewers would have to invest in the installation of another style of an antenna and a separate strand of coax connecting the antenna to the converter box.

 

It was no secret that the TV networks preferred those VHF stations for the reasons above as well as the fact they had vastly larger coverage areas also increasing the potential of having more viewers. If Springfield was to gain a VHF station it would have surely been the choice of any network, and in this case, it probably would have been NBC. That's what NBC thought as well when WICS signed on, as the programming agreement between NBC and WICS was in effect only as a month-to-month agreement. ABC had already affiliated with nearby Decatur and Bloomington, but as low-powered UHF stations, those ABC affiliates didn't have significant viewers in Springfield.

 

WCIA had already affiliated with CBS and another CBS station in central Illinois would have brought too much overlap between the signals to insure market exclusivity for either station. That would have left ABC for WICS if it was to continue to exist at all. In later years as technology improved, and with the installation of new transmitters there would have been too much overlap between those ABC stations in order for all to exist at the same time. ABC would have had to pull its affiliation with one or two of the three stations.

 

Independent TV stations, those without network affiliation, hardly existed in those early years. With the possible threat of non-existence, the construction of WICS began in the Illinois capital city. Sharing facilities with WCVS Radio would help bring down the initial investment in the station. The items the radio and television stations couldn't share included the cameras, lights, video/audio switchers, transmitter-coax, office equipment, and employees. What equipment was purchased for the television station, if the worst was to occur in the future, could either be used at one of the company's other stations or sold on the open market. 

 

Once WICS would go on the air, it would continue to operate under the cloud of a possible competitor
which would have brought Channel 20 down very quickly. The potential threat to WICS from a possible second station in Capitol City would continue for several years.

WICS Springfield's First Television Station
 

Details of the construction of WICS are few, but then again, most of the visible construction was indoors. The studios and office space were within the walls of the Leland Hotel, while the only visible construction took place at the WCVS Radio tower site. Newspaper accounts of the construction described the installation of the station's 50-foot, 3-thousand-pound RCA antenna atop the WCVS Radio tower. The installation of the transmitter and antenna was said to give WICS a power of around 18,000 watts and a broadcast range of about 35 miles in all directions.


The technical aspects of the station were well documented by former chief engineer Gerald Merritt in the 1980s. His description of the station included the RCA transmitter as a TTU-1B, 1.0-kilowatt unit housed in a building separate from the WCVS transmitter at the base of the shared tower. The tower was a 430-foot self-supporting tower located at 3000 South 4th Street in south Springfield, or Southern View. The top-mounted antenna was also RCA being the model TFU-24DL a slot-type antenna that provided an effective radiated power of 18.2kw.


Along with the transmitter site, the studio and office facility would also be shared with WCVS. It was located at 523 E. Capitol in the Leland Hotel Annex Building. In 1955, WCVS would move from that site to relocated in a building at their transmitter site on south 4th Street. WICS would fill the former radio studios and offices but the need for a much larger facility would remain. The building housing
WICS was described by Mr. Merritt as being very old with problems with access.

 

WICS was the second central Illinois television station. Its official sign-on was September 30, 1953. Channel 20's first broadcast was that of the 1953 Major League Baseball World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The play-by-play of the World Series would be undertaken by Mel Allen and Red Barber.

 

Bernie Waterman, the station's first sportscaster would appear in a pre-game show from the WICS studios making that the first local TV production. Outside of a few taverns and bars which were equipped with television, very few homes actually received those initial broadcasts. Newspaper accounts of those first days of broadcasting for WICS would include descriptions of the excitement of being able to watch a broadcast of a game that would take place over a thousand miles away. Installation of a huge microwave transmission tower and antenna on top of the Bell Building at 422 South Fifth Street in downtown Springfield would make the reception of the game live from the network possible. The installation of the link was just completed in time for the initial broadcast from NBC and the national microwave coaxial cable network. A microwave link was also completed in time for WTVP in Decatur to receive live network coverage of the World Series as well. The station would go on the air at 11:30 am on September 30, 1953, without much “pomp and fanfare” delaying the opening ceremonies until the station's start of regular programming the next day.


On Monday, October first regular scheduled programming began with local news, weather, sports, and a kinescope of “Captain Video” and “Dragnet.” “Captain Video” was from the DuMont network and “Dragnet” would come from NBC. The challenge of receiving network programming with WICS going on the air when it did, benefited greatly from the completion of a good part of the microwave transmission network which enabled it to broadcast live network programming.

 

As stations before the live network hookup had to rely on only two sources of programming that being live in studio or film. Commercials and station promotional announcements would either be on TV Cards or photographs. The network hookup allowed for a much simpler way to broadcast network productions in much better quality than kinescopes or 16mm film.

 

At that time, the broadcast day took a great deal of production, especially with commercials that were produced live around program segments. The main coax line was installed across western Illinois from Chicago passing through Peoria which appeared to feed both WEEK and WTVH, then run along the Illinois River Valley to St. Louis. At some point along the run, a tap was installed which would transmit the video signals of the networks via microwave signals relayed to Springfield and further east to Decatur. WCIA in Champaign would receive its network signal from a tap in Danville from the coax running from Chicago through Danville to Terre Haute and Evansville, Indiana. Later that tap would be eliminated to be changed to another coax between Terre Haute and St. Louis which came more directly from the east coast.

 

The relay system relied on a series of small towers with two-sided reflector/antenna structures at the top to receive, boost and re-transmit the signal along the way. Keep in mind the methodology, although good in theory, was based on tube technology and probably brought nightmares of constant network dropouts and bad video. That's one reason why the reflectors at the top of the towers reflected the signal to antennas on the top of the tower shacks. The reflectors held no electronic components keeping those components on the ground for easier maintenance. The bandwidth of the video signal was only able to broadcast a black-and-white signal and the installation of better repeaters would be needed to eventually broadcast color. The audio signal was received via phone lines, probably 8,000-hertz phone lines similar to what was used for network radio. Since video and audio were coming from two independent paths, it was common that stations would lose one or the other path leaving viewers with a picture and no sound, or sound with no picture.

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A pre-sign-on declaration of the WICS station facilities from Broadcassting-Telecasting Almanac.

John Begue with an advertising card about the new TV station in Springfield, WICS, Channel 20. Notice the network affiliation shows all available TV networks at the time

(picture from WICS)

The Sports director (editor) Bernie Waterman was the first WICS staff member on the air with a pre-game show before the first telecast of the 1953 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  That would occur before the "official" first broadcast the following day, October 1, 1953

(picture from WICS)

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A WICS Ad with their prime-time broadcast schedule

from March 24, 1954

(TV Guide-Doug Quick Collection)

WICS Airs More and More Programs from NBC
 

During the early years of WICS, even though the station was listed as a primary NBC network affiliate, it would also show programming from ABC and even CBS. This seemingly unusual situation came about because of the technical limitations of the central Illinois TV stations as well as the network television system of the era. Since the coverage areas of WICS, WTVP and WBLN barely would reach beyond 30 miles from the transmitter/towers of each, there wasn't much overlap in the major cities which were home to these stations. The fact that WTVP and WBLN were both ABC affiliates meant very little as their respective signals didn't overlap, even though today having stations of the same network so close would never happen, at least not in the same market.
The fact of WICS being NBC made little difference to the network as WCIA would become a secondary NBC affiliate. Even though the signal of WCIA did penetrate the capital city, the signal of WICS didn't even come close to reaching Champaign, in fact, WICS was barely receivable in Decatur!

 

Another factor in the blurring of the network affiliations was the network television system which made virtually all network programming more like infomercials. Since programming was controlled by the advertising agencies which employed the producers and stars, they also chose where their programs were placed. Even though WICS was an NBC affiliate they couldn't broadcast a network program unless they had the rights to air it and in return would receive network compensation. The networks would sometimes pull a show from an affiliate and place it on a competing station. Such was the case for “Zorro” in the mid to late 1950s. Even though it was technically distributed by ABC, it was pulled from the WTVP schedule and placed instead with WICS. WICS had to be listed as a secondary affiliate of ABC because legally, WTVP had exclusive rights to ABC programming for the Decatur market and WICS would have rights for Springfield.

 

It may have been a situation in which the agency only had a limited amount of money to purchase the time in central Illinois, thus purchasing on WICS and not WTVP. There were exceptions to this network and affiliate arrangement as you will see later on the page for WDAN-TV in Danville. This arrangement of cherry-picking time on television stations also worked to the benefit of all of the stations in mid-Illinois as well. During the mid-1950 the CBS Baseball Game of the Week was sponsored and controlled by Falstaff Brewing Company. The ad agency for Falstaff would purchase air time on all of the central Illinois stations, WCIA, WICS, WTVP, WBLN, and WDAN-TV. It took time for the ad agencies to “connect” with WICS as well as all of the other local network affiliates. In some cases with popular NBC programs, it would be 5 years or longer, if ever, to be seen on WICS.

 

Many of the budgets were already set by the ad agencies a year or so in the future and would only book their shows with the stations which could guarantee audience numbers at a lower cost per household. Many times station sales personnel would have to call on those agency buyers in person to convince them that their station had potential value to the sales of the product being sold. In looking at the schedule of WICS above you'll notice the lack of NBC programming. WICS, in a much smaller market with smaller audience numbers had to “earn its stripes” before becoming even a minor player for NBC.

A Selection of NBC
Shows from 1953-65
A Selection of Syndicated
Shows 1953-1964

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

This edition of the "Buick Berle Show" aired on NBC and WICS on December 1, 1953.  The guest star includes Jack Webb of "Dragnet."

(YouTube)

CBS had Lucy, NBC had Joan Davis and "I Married Joan" also starring Jim Bacus which aired on NBC and WICS from 1952-1955.  It was one of the original NBC shows which aired on WICS during the fall of 1953. This episode was broadcast on NBC and WICS on January 12, 1955.
(YouTube) 

The NBC logo from the first years of WICS beginning in 1953. 

(YouTube)

"You Bet Your Life" also known as "The Groucho Show" aired on NBC from 1950 to 1961 and was one of the original NBC shows which popped up in the schedule for WICS in the very early days. This particular show aired on February 18, 1954

(YouTube)

In May of 1956, WICS did a remote broadcast from the Armory in downtown Springfield. The event is not clear, but the pictures of the WICS camera crew are quite good. 

The pictures were taken by long-time central Illinois broadcaster and journalist Ben Kiningham and contributed to Central Illinois On-Line Broadcast Museum.

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The UPC Balaban-Goldenson Connection

 

In 1936 Barney Balaban, the oldest brother in the large Balaban family was made president of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Paramount consisted of the studios and the ownership of a number of theaters. The theater half was ruled by Leonard Goldenson.  The theater half of Paramount was merged with ABC in 1953 to become ABC-Paramount Theaters. It was that merger that went on to make Leonard Goldenson the president of ABC from 1953 into the 1980s.

 

Mr. Goldenson and his wife were parents of a young girl who suffered from Cerebral Palsy.  The Goldenson's founded the organization United Cerebral Palsy and used his influence to raise money for the organization to help those families and support their efforts for the welfare of those children inflicted. 

Now, here's the connection to WICS. Plains Television was co-owned by Harry and Elmer Balaban (also theater owners in the Chicago area), and it was that connection and Leonard Goldenson that placed WICS in the position of staging and hosting a UPC Telethon. 

 

Above is the TV Guide's full-page coverage of the 1954 UPC Telethon hosted by WICS from the Leland Hotel in downtown Springfield and the WICS studios. 

WICS Acts on the Threat of Channel 2

 

In April of 1955 WICS and its owners filed a petition with the FCC to suggest a change in the allocation table for Springfield and to head off the threat of the issuance of a grant for VHF channel 2 in Springfield. The Capitol City was allocated channels 2, 20, and 66 with the latter being set aside for educational use. At that time the competition for the license for Channel 2 was fierce between Sangamon Valley TV Corp. (WTAX) and WMAY-TV Inc. with WMAY-TV being favored in an initial decision announced in December of 1954. What WICS was trying to achieve was to make central Illinois an all-UHF market.


The petition also tied in a request for Peoria to eliminate channel 8 from its roster as well. Plains Television requested the move of the allocation for channel 2 be moved to St. Louis and replaced with channel 41. It's interesting to note, to date, this was the first mention of moving the allocation of channel 2 to St. Louis. It's unknown what the impetus was for the idea of channel 2 being moved to St. Louis but the idea would grow as time went on. It's possible that Henry Tenenbaum of WTVI approached someone with Plains Television or Mr. Friedland with the idea. Based on the efforts of Mr. Tenenbaum the theory is very plausible. See the history of WTVI 

WICS Becomes a Licensed TV Station
 

From its time of construction to April 26, 1955, WICS operated on a construction permit. This would
allow for the construction and any desired updating of equipment under close scrutiny of the FCC.
On April 27, 1955, WICS would be granted a full broadcast license.

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Here was the programming schedule of WICS on the same day that the station became fully licensed, April 27, 1955. Click on it for a larger view. 

(TV Guide)

WICS Faces Additional Fights for Survival
 

In late August of 1955, a change in an FCC ruling would have increased the coverage area of VHF stations. Up until that time the maximum tower height of a VHF station was 1,000 feet. Because of tower construction technology improvements, tower height above 1,000 feet was not only possible but it was also considered a way for UHF stations to achieve parity with their VHF cousins. Now, the VHF community was seeking the advantages of increased range and penetration of signals in their current coverage areas with the benefits of a higher antenna.

 

A number of UHF stations filed a protest with the FCC asking them to reconsider the new rule for those VHF stations in zone 1, the middle and northeast states east of the Mississippi. Implementation of the new rule was delayed by the FCC based on the protests of UHF stations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Illinois. Those stations asked the FCC to set aside the new rule and schedule an oral argument. The stations stated that the VHF/UHF intermixture situations would be greatly aggravated by the new rule and said it casts “serious doubt upon the sincerity” of the FCC's expressions favoring the development and success of UHF television broadcasting. Among those stations was WICS.

 

By September WICS would again file a petition with the FCC, this time for a stay issuance of the final decision on channel 2 in Springfield, until such time that the deintermixture question for central Illinois was answered through the commission and/or the courts. In October 1955, Plains Television executive and part owner Elmer Balaban represented both WICS and WTVO, it's Rockford television station. Signal Hill president Harry Tennenbaum represented KTVI in a meeting with the FCC and other UHF broadcasters. The group was requesting the FCC hold up on decisions of assigning VHF stations in markets in which intermixture was threatening the existence of their stations.

Color Broadcasting is coming soon to WICS
 

By November of 1955, NBC announced that 104 affiliates were already equipped to re-transmit network color programming. Its parent company RCA had installed equipment and worked out arrangements with AT & T so as to allow even the most remote NBC station to receive the NBC feed in color. WICS would not be among the affiliates to broadcast in color...yet.

The Channel 2 Situation Continues to be a Concern
 

In November of 1955, the FCC would “wipe the deintermixture slate clean.” All pending petitions to change markets to either all UHF or a mixture of VHF/UHF were denied. This set the stage for a complete overhaul of the allocation tables for the entire country. Among those petitions being denied included de-intermixture cases for Peoria (channel 8) and Springfield (channel 2).

 

The next week, additional petitions were announced as being filed for the Peoria case by WEEK-TV and WTVH-TV. For the channel 2 case, petitions were filed by WICS and by KTVI (channel 36 in St. Louis). The FCC was behind in issuing licenses to prospective TV station owners with 40 of those applicants standing in line at the Commission. Among those were those applying for both channel 8 in Peoria and channel 2 in Springfield.

 

Earlier in the year, the FCC issued initial decisions in favor of WIRL Radio for channel 8, while the Sangamon Valley TV Corp. received favored status for channel 2. The designation of “favored status” would ultimately mean nothing in the process, and the use of the designation was nothing but a means to shake down the other applicants. The FCC would conduct a pole hearing which would include the concerns of all television broadcasters and their opinions on the TV allocation problems. By late February the FCC would turn down petitions of WEEK-TV and WTVH-TV in Peoria saying the plea to conduct a hearing was too late.

nbc2.jpg
nbc_logocolor54.jpg

The picture above is from an ad placed in the Illinois State Journal by WICS. Published January 29, 1956.

The FCC Deals WICS a Blow
 

On June 30, 1956, the FCC issued two final central Illinois TV decisions on some controversial situations concerning allocations and de-intermixture. The Commission granted WIRL the allocation for channel 8 in Peoria and did a turn-about and granted channel 2 in Springfield to WMAY-TV. The FCC found WMAY-TV the better grantee because of the television broadcast experience of owners and the integration of ownership and management.

 

There was one hitch, though in the two grants. Even though the allocations would belong to the companies awarded them, they were forbidden from constructing their television stations until approval from the Commission. That date would be determined by the outcome of proceedings to be held before the FCC concerning the de-intermixture controversy. The FCC also retained the option of substituting another channel number for the channel of the original grants for both the Peoria and Springfield decisions.

 

For most of the summer, the FCC did little to resolve the stalemate of the construction ban for those awarded VHF stations in Peoria and Springfield. Petitions were filed with the FCC by the awarded companies asking the Commission to reconsider their prohibition against construction on the newly granted channels. It appeared to be a race by the prospective owners to get permission for construction as soon as possible and get their stations on the air quickly before any further roadblocks could be thrown out by other protesters or the FCC.

 

So far, though, the race would be delayed as the FCC would once again offer a period of time for those to file against the issuance of the construction permits for WIRL and WMAY. The FCC would now give those against the stations until August 22, 1956, to file petitions. Among those filing against the issuance of those permits included the FCC's own Broadcast Bureau. The Bureau stated that all TV permittees be treated equally, whether they received their grants before or after the June 26th Report and Order on TV Allocations. The members of the commission withdrew some support for their decision and pointed out that the “change is merely proposed....not an accomplished fact.” It appeared that support for the “conditional” grant of channel 2 was decreasing among members of the commission. A feeling that had to be encouraging for the owners, management, and staff of WICS.

WICS Seeks More Viewers

Once it appeared that there was a strong possibility of the channel 2 allocation was going to be shifted to St. Louis, Plains Television began to look to the future. The biggest challenge of the Springfield UHF station was increasing its coverage area and increasing the number of households to compete with WTVP.  WTVP was already going through steps to increase its household numbers by power increases from its home in Decatur.  Channel 17 had a large 700-foot tower in its backyard and power increases accomplished by more powerful transmitters and amplifiers were accomplishing just that. Its more central location in Decatur was giving it at least increased numbers from Springfield and a few from Champaign.

 

WICS was restricted as the station was on a short self-supported tower on the south side of Springfield. Increased power could increase the density of signal within its current coverage area, but because UHF signals traveled “line of sight” Channel 20 couldn't do much to increase its coverage area without a major increase in tower height. This was an investment that evidently Plains was unwilling to make quite yet. The apparent solution was to construct a fully powered translator with even more power from a larger tower than the flagship station.

 

On September 25, 1956, Plains Television would apply for a construction permit for a proposed television station on channel 21 which would be located near White Heath, Illinois. This particular location was near the site of the proposed tower and transmitter of WCIA in 1953. It is on a particular high ridge just north of White Heath, Illinois south of what is now Interstate 72, near what was then Illinois Route 105. The high elevation at that site would boost a 600-foot tower to achieve the same as a 650-foot tower. The proposed channel 21 would have 200kw of power. Its construction cost was set at $175,000 with an operating cost of $75,000. It wouldn't be counted on for much revenue being estimated at just $125,000. It was a relative lowball operation as it was proposed as a satellite of WICS and would duplicate programming 100 percent.


If this station would go on the air, it would have blanketed both Decatur and Champaign-Urbana with a near-city grade signal and would throw at least a fringe signal even into Danville, Bloomington and Mattoon. This would have probably quadrupled the household reach of just WICS. No other information was available on why the application was either rejected or pulled from
consideration. There was a change to the initial application filed in late December of 1956, but no information was published on those changes. The record shows a change in power to 178kw, along with changes in the antenna, tower height, and other equipment but there were no details. I can only speculate that the adjacent channel to 20 being at 21 could have brought about interference with WICS, especially in the Decatur area. If WICS would ever relocate its tower/transmitter and increased tower height the potential of interference would have increased greatly. The solution to the adjacent channel issue was to change the application to apply for channel 33. It's unknown what the reaction was of Midwest Television and August Meyer when learning of this application, and why it was never acted upon by the FCC or Plains Television.

Channel 2 Controversy Continues
 

In October of 1956, the FCC was inviting comments from other broadcasters who might be affected by the move of channel 2 to St. Louis. This plan would also delete channel 36 from St. Louis and move the allocation to Springfield, Illinois. A shuffle of allocations would delete channel 29 in Jacksonville, giving the city channel 49. Channel 36 would also be given to the Quad Cities market by replacing channel 68. A note is that if channel 36 was assigned and used in Springfield, it would have to be located
to meet minimum spacing and coverage requirements.

 

The next month, once again Plains Television would file a petition to delete channel 2 from Springfield and assign it to both Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis. The request also included assigning channel 26 and either 36 or 39 to Springfield along with making channel 66 an educational assignment.

 

By December the FCC was reviewing some of the comments from other broadcasters. They included the information submitted by WICS as well as that from KTVI, WTVP and even the American Broadcasting Company which contained the same plan of moving channel 2 to St. Louis and allowing a channel 2 in Terre Haute, Indiana. WTHI-TV in Terre Haute would have no part of channel 2 in Terre Haute, so their idea was to reassign channel 2 just to Salem, Illinois. WCIA proposed that the FCC add channels 26 and 36 to Springfield and was in favor of moving channel 2 to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. WSIL in Harrisburg, Illinois was not in favor of the move of channel 2 to Cape Girardeau, instead moving it to St. Louis and they wanted a shift from their present UHF channel to a “drop-in” on channel 8. It was a hot potato for all of the above stations. No one wanted channel 2 in their backyard. WMAY-TV, as you would imagine wanted it to stay in Springfield. They later filed a request to resend
any changes made to the channel 2 allocation and requested more time to file additional comments on
their own behalf. The FCC denied the requests of WMAY-TV.

The Plains Television/Balaban Family Grows
 

On November 29, 1956, it was announced that the FCC would grant channel 42 in Birmingham, Alabama to the groups owned and associated with the Balaban Brothers. The group owned 50% of WICS along with WTVO (Rockford, IL); WMCN (Grand Rapids, Michigan), and WRIT Radio (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). With the issuance of that grant, it was said the group had an application
pending for a WICS satellite television station in White Heath, Illinois, and had an application for interest in KFBI (Wichita,  Kansas). The facility of the Birmingham station included 16.6kw power from a 770-foot tower with a rather the low construction cost of $134,000.

Channel 2 Moves to St. Louis
 

In January of 1957 at the time of the granting of St. Louis' channel 11 to CBS, it was also announced that channel 2 was gone from Springfield and moved to St. Louis, and awarded to KTVI(TV) which was then operating on channel 36. (See St. Louis TV).
 

Then using the option stated with the “grant” WMAY-TV would be granted channel 36 in Springfield. Other decisions were announced as well including the move of channel 8 from Peoria to Rock Island (Quad Cities), and the granting of WIRL-TV a construction permit on channel 25 in Peoria.

 

These decisions would de-intermix Peoria creating a 100% UHF market in central Illinois along with de-intermixing the Springfield market (at the time, not a part of the central Illinois market). This would also create a 4-station VHF market for St. Louis and open up the possibility of making Terre Haute, Indiana a 2-VHF station market. This was an incredibly significant set of decisions, but the controversy wasn't over yet! For WICS, this was great news! If they were going to get competition, the contest for audience and business would take place on a more even playing field.

Plains Makes Major Investment in the Future of WICS
 

Upon the move of channel 2 from Springfield, the decision to invest in WICS became easier. It didn't take long for Plains to apply for the relocation of the station's transmitter/tower. In late January, WICS would apply for that change in their facility. No information was given as to tower height or location,
but the power output request was for 811kw. This would surely take a city-grade signal into Decatur and intensify the signal for areas in and around the capital city.

 

WICS would not be the only central Illinois station to re-invest in its facilities after the FCC decision of late 1956. Plains Television would choose a site for a new broadcast transmitter/tower which put it in line with the reception of other stations, primarily WTVP from most of Springfield.

 

As most viewers were using antennas for home reception having the station in line with Channel 17 and Champaign's Channel 3 so most viewers would be able to watch all three stations from a fixed antenna position from the Capitol City. A 40-acre site was chosen 10 miles east of the center of Springfield on Mechanicsburg Road.

 

RCA would report the shipping of a UHF pylon ultra-gain antenna to WICS in early October of 1958. It appeared that work was progressing on the power/tower upgrade for WICS. The construction included the use of an RCA TTU-12B 12.5kw transmitter coupled with a 46-gain RCA TFU-46CL antenna with a 1,000-foot tower. This would give WICS a reach of 56 miles which would take it just to the east of Champaign. The WICS signal in Decatur would be considered “city grade.” The transmitter building was 30 by 50 feet of concrete block and brick construction. The roof was of “prestressed” concrete slabs to protect the building from falling ice that may occur from the tower.

The Balaban's Increases Their Holdings


In May of 1957, H and H Balaban Corporation would purchase a small group of radio stations comprised of WIL in St. Louis and WWIL in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for $650,000. WIL was a St. Louis radio powerhouse of 5kw operating at 1340kc. WWIL was a 1,000-watt station at 1589kc.

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"Howdy Doody Show" was one of the pioneering children's shows which aired on NBC from 1947 to 1960. Although it was on the air in 1953, it wasn't seen on WICS until a few years later when the broadcast day expanded to include Saturday morning TV.  This edition was broadcast on November 16, 1958, on NBC and WICS.

(YouTube)

Everyone thinks of Bob Barker as the only host of "The Price is Right," but the long time game show originated on NBC with host Bill Cullen. The game was much different in the early days. This episode is from May 31, 1957.  Note the announcer, Don Pardo who was the announcer for "Saturday Night Live" some 50 years later! 
(YouTube)

By January 10, 1960 "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" was broadcast in color and videotaped for posterity. It's unfortunate that the original commercials have been removed, but having a portion of the show is better than have none of it. 

(YouTube)

By 1958, WICS had the ability to pass network programming in color, although there were just a few households that were able to view any color broadcast.  This video is a short excerpt of a very rare color kinescope (filmed) recording of a live broadcast from NBC from April 12, 1958, and shown in color on WICS. 

(YouTube)

"Riverboat" aired on NBC from 1959-1961 and starred Darren McGaven and Burt Reynolds.  This episode is from October 25, 1959 and called "Escape to Memphis"

(YouTube)

"The Steve Allen Show" from July 1, 1956, with guests Elvis, Andy Griffith, and Imogene Coca.

(YouTube)

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

Pegwill Ranch and Pegwill Circus

Pegwill Ranch and Pegwill Circus entertained Springfield area kids for nearly 10 years beginning in 1955. This weekday afternoon children's show was sponsored by the Pegwill Packing Company which was owned by Bill Wingerter.  Mr. Wingerter was one of the founders of WFMB radio and WBHW(TV), now WRSP, Channel 55 in Springfield. 
(pictures above from Randy Miller)

 

The color pictures above right are both sides of a Happy Birthday postcard which was sent to viewers of Pegwill Circus.

(picture from Katheryn Dinardo)

Read more about Pegwill Pete and the various children's shows broadcast on WICS, Channel 20 in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" available from the link at the top of the page.

The cartoons shown during Pegwill Ranch and Pegwill Circus was the standard issue Warner Brothers cartoons

Go to Ann Marshall's website by clicking here.

Plains Television Fights WCIA
 

Along with fighting the VHF allocation of channel 2 in Springfield, Plains Television and WICS would fight another central Illinois VHF entity, WCIA at channel 3. On July 26, 1957, a story was published in the Champaign-Urbana Courier telling of a nine-point petition filed with the FCC by Plains Television as well as Prairie Television (WTVP). Plains Television after appearing to slay one VHF dragon with the move of the channel 2 allocation to St. Louis, would now file and lead an effort to eliminate the other VHF allocation in central
Illinois is on channel 3.

 

Plains would claim the deletion of channel 3 was necessary to show the FCC's commitment to the success of UHF television broadcasting and would be consistent with that policy. Midwest Television refuted those claims of Plains Television saying that Channel 3 was outside the central Illinois UHF area and that the elimination of channel 3 was not necessary to assure the survival of
the UHF stations in Springfield and Decatur. August C. Meyer, president of Midwest Television used the claim that the elimination of the VHF channel would “deprive significant numbers of people of service, particularly residents of small communities and rural areas...” Plus, those areas “serviced by WCIA (had a) very low proportion of sets (which) can receive UHF signals.” Meyer went on to say
that WCIA should not be put to 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.”

 

This confrontation is explained in greater detail in the History of WCIA. August C. Meyer, though, would strike at Plains Television and WICS as being 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 as the parent company of Plains Television had been seeking a VHF channel for its own station currently operating on UHF channel 39. Mr. Meyer would also add that Plains had a permit to operate channel 33 in Champaign, but to date had not made an effort to complete the station and if and when it did, it would merely be a satellite of WICS.

 

Plains would also make a few improbable claims about the development of other UHF stations in some of the secondary markets in east central Illinois to fill in where channel 3 would lose viewers, such as in Mattoon, Kankakee, or Streator. Mr. Meyer would school the commission in his response about the pure economics of local television broadcasting and the complete absurdity of the statements of Plains Television about the probability of such a crop of new UHF stations in those fringe markets. The FCC would hand down a denial to the petition from Plains Television and Prairie Television. The “stab in the dark” ridiculous attempt of Plains and Prairie to derail WCIA had failed this time.

wics_1958-1116_bettersignal_DecHer.jpg

Plains Television Wants the FCC to Revisit the Channel 3 Issue


In June of 1958, Plains Television demanded the FCC reconsider the deintermixture argument in central Illinois in regards to channel 3. WICS claimed denial of “due process” which could take the issue to the federal courts if it is not resolved to the satisfaction of WICS and WTVP. Once again the argument is discussed in detail in the History of WCIA.

 

Plains Television at this time made a threat that because of the decision of the FCC to keep channel 3 in place, it would have to scale back the proposed construction of its Champaign area television station and described it as having “lesser facilities initially than specified in its present permit.” The construction permit issued by the FCC and published in late May of 1957 reflected a station that would broadcast from a tower at 570-feet and have a power of 22.5kw. Not exactly a powerhouse station, but in those days it was considered a full powered UHF station.

 

Plains followed through on its threat to downscale its facility in Champaign. While in November of 1957, the call letters of WCHU(TV) were approved by the FCC to be used with the proposed television station operating at channel 33 plans were being made to construct a station that would duplicate programming from WICS by simply rebroadcasting the off-air signal from Channel 20 as received in Champaign. The increased tower height of WICS antenna with the newly constructed tower/antenna would allow for reception of the station in Champaign if a more extraordinary receiving antenna could be used from a site on top of one of the tallest buildings in Champaign.

 

That was the plan, but execution would take time. A request for an extension of the completion date for WCHU was granted by the FCC in May of 1958 to take the proposed station to completion by November of 1958. It was common practice to have
extensions especially early in the industry as equipment delays would push back the date of operation, but this time it was the uncertainty of the feasibility of making the investment of a full-powered television translator was questionable.

The Jerry Lewis Show was one of the rotation variety shows featured in 1957. It was a way to sell RCA color TV to the masses. This was the first in the series has aired on January 19, 1957, at 8 pm ET.  It is a kinescope of a color broadcast-in black and white and features a black and white peacock. Listen for the announcer to stumble as he says, "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC."

(from Doug Quick and YouTube)

WICS Broadcasts NBC Color
 

Among the investments made by Plains Television in WICS was the installation of equipment to broadcast the NBC network color programming. Color-casting would begin on September 2, 1957.
This would include the broadcasts of the 1957 World Series plus those programs on the new NBC fall season of 1957-58 which were presented in color.

This is  1959 daytime edition of "Concentration" which was normally hosted by Hugh Downs. He was replaced on this one by Art James, another game show host of the era. 
(from Chris Bryant and YouTube)

Medical dramas were becoming popular replacing the western genre in the early 1960s.  Along with ABC's Ben Casey, NBC had "Dr. Kildare" based on the old radio and movie series of the 1940s-50s. This is a preview from Warner Archives, as no complete episodes are available on YouTube
(from Warner Archive Instant and YouTube)

(left: from nickelodeon Deutschland, right: from Terrence McClinton and YouTube)

Three of WICS news directors/anchors after Malden Jones, are pictured above. (left): is G.B. Gordon who served through 1958. (center) is former WTVP news editor, Dale Coleman who was named in 1960 as news director.  (right) is Wayne Cox who would report/anchor from the early to late 1960s.  He was a former employee at WBLN in Bloomington in 1958.

 

(from WICS and Randy Miller)

Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson actually started at WTVP in Decatur before making the move to WICS in the late 1950s.  This extremely versatile local performer was popular with women as well as the kids. Find out more about the Ms.Wilson and WICS in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" available at the link at the top of this page.

photos: top left-from Teresa Wilson Ericson

left: with Rory Calhoun from WICS ; top: from WICS;

mid right: with Virginia Graham from WICS
above: TV Guide® ad from J.R. Evans

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WICS Builds a New Facility in 1964

(Photo from Randy Miller)

The following description of the new WICS studios was in a document written by former chief engineer Jerry Merritt in 1981:

"In 1964, ground was broken at 2680 E. Cook Street on a one-acre site. Building construction was begun in late summer and operations commenced in January 1965.

 

"The east-side location gave an unobstructed path for the Studio-to-Transmitter Microwave Link, good highway adjacency, and easy client access. The Studio was the largest downstate, measuring 50' x 60' with 19' ceilings Large drive-thru doors would accommodate cars, boats, and even trucks in studio productions.

 

"The parking lot provided ample parking and was ~ accessed both on Livingston and Cook Streets. The total building floor area was 14,000 square feet. In general, the Studio and Control Rooms were in the center of the building with offices surrounding on the east, north, and west sides Construction is concrete block and brick veneer with bar joist and pan flat roof/tar and gravel overall.

 

"Two control rooms provide for separate on-air and production programming but are consolidated for direct on-air presentations. A separate film projection and videotape room services both control rooms. Management, Sales, and Accounting offices are just off the Lobby entrance on Livingston Street (east) side for availability to the public. Programming and Traffic offices are along Cook Street (north) side and Film, Prop Storage, and delivery handling are on the west end adjacent to the Cook Street entrance."

                                                                                                                                                        --Jerry Merritt, Chief Engineer 3/23/81


"Bonanza" premiered on September 12, 1959, and sponsored by Chevrolet, it continued on January 16, 1973.

This was NBC's epic adult western, broadcast in color for its entire run, it sold more RCA TVs than any other program.

(YouTube)

Here are two of the recorded peacock color intros used to designate color programming broadcast  on NBC and your local station. It was done to create a sense of "missing out" by those watching in black and white.  After all, NBC was in the business of selling of RCA color TVs. The announcer is Mel Brandt. The peacock was designed by John J. Grahm and the music by Jack Easton. Even though WICS could pass NBC color programming to those few viewers where were able to watch, it would be another 10 years before local color would be a reality for central Illinois.

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

Disney made the move from ABC to NBC in September of 1961 as ABC or its affiliates weren't equipped for color broadcasting yet. NBC had color capabilities from 1954 since RCA was co-owned and equipment was somewhat plentiful. When it made the move it was renamed "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color." WICS broadcast in color, along with WCHU in 1962, but WICD wouldn't broadcast in color until it was reconstructed as Channel 15 in 1967.

(YouTube)

"The Virginian" was NBC's 90-minute western epic, based on a novel written in 1902 and a movie produced in 1929. This NBC series saw a number of cast changes, although James Drury as the Virginian remained throughout. 
(TeeVees Greatest on YouTube)

"Flipper" was NBC's only regular color program when it went on the air Saturday nights in 1964, then moved to Sunday nights where it ran through 1968.

(YouTube)

Unlike "Get Smart", "Man From U.N.C.L.E" aired from 1964 to 1968 and made stars from Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Its companion series "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." starred Stephanie Powers and only aired during the 1966-67 series. It starred Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison.

(YouTube)

"Get Smart" was produced by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and was based on the secret agent movies that were popular especially the James Bond films. Maxwell Smart bungled his way through each episode only to be saved by his partner Agent 99. 

(YouTube)

"I Dream of Jeannie" was one of the "magic" series along with "Bewitched" on ABC, and "The Smothers Brothers Show" on CBS. This Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman sitcom aired from 1965 to 1970. The first season of the series was produced in black and white, with all other seasons in color. 
(YouTube)

This is the NBC 1965-66 Season preview as shown to affiliates and advertiseres ahead of the new TV season later in the September. 
(YouTube)

This installment of "The Bob Hope Show" was still produced in black and white, but the following season was NBC's first "Full Color" season so the change was made to all future "Bob Hope Shows." This one was presented on September 25, 1964, when it aired on WICS.

(YouTube)

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In 1959, WCHU, Channel 33, Champaign was added to the central Illinois network that originated at WICS. Soon after in 1961, WICD, Channel 24 from Danville was added, and in 1964 a translator at Channel 75 was added for Mattoon.

Clicka T. Clack (William R. Miller)

Clicka T. Clack was another of WICS children's show hosts of the late 1950s into the mid-1960s. His initial show featured him as a train conductor and used a clip from a Warner Brothers cartoon of a train coming into the station.  The sound effects ushered in another installment of games, interviews with local kids (which I never had the opportunity to be a part of) but I was a loyal viewer anyway. The children's panel show also featured those Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. 

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Balaban's Have a Share in WFLD-TV, Chicago

 

In January 1969, one UHF station out of two in Chicago was for sale, with the new prospective owner being our friends from Metromedia (former owners of WTVH-Peoria and WTVP-Decatur.  Channel 32 was owned by Field Communications (Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily News), along with Harry and Elmer Balaban and others including the general manager of WICS, Springfield. This story is telling of the prospects of the sale going through, or a merger of Metromedia with Transamerica Corporation.

(Broadcasting-Telecasting)

The Balaban Business of Broadcasting

 

This is the posting of the grant for the application of Harry and Elmer Balaban for a new TV station on channel 66 in Flint, Michigan.  I never really followed what happened to this application, but it does list the other holdings of H and E Balaban as being WTVO, Rockford, WICS/WICD Springfield, and Champaign as well as WHNB in New Britain, Connecticut, as well as having stock in WFLD-TV, Chicago.

(Broadcasting-Telecasting)

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Balaban's Sell Their Share in WFLD-TV, Chicago

 

By April of 1970 after the sale of WFLD-TV to Metromedia, Field ended up purchasing the share owned by H and E Balaban along with other connected investors.

(Broadcasting-Telecasting)

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Plans Are Made to Blanket East Central Illinois with WICS and WICD

 

Sometime in 1964, WICS would pick up a translator station to broadcast its signal to Mattoon, Illinois. The lack of facility of WCHU left Mattoon without NBC programming, but even more importantly, it was an opportunity to add even more households to the coverage of WICS. W-75-AD served the Mattoon area with a low-powered re-broadcast of programming from WICS.

 

In 1966, the development of a full-powered UHF station on the former Bloomington allocation on channel 15 would take place after it was reallocated to Champaign. This was planned to take place in early 1967, but an ice storm took down the tower of the new Channel 15 right as it was going on the air. Plains would rebuild the 1380-foot tower at the original site between Homer and Fithian, Illinois on the banks of the Salt Fork Creek in Vermilion County, Illinois. That tower is still in use to support the antenna of WICD and WCCU ATSC 1.0 signals as well as the NextgenTV signals of ATSC 3.0 of WCIA, WAND, WBUI as well as WICD and WCCU. 

This new station would take the place of W-75-AD in Mattoon along with WCHU at Channel 33 in Champaign and WICD at Channel 24 in Danville, and in color too! All three stations would be discontinued at the premiere of the new WICD, Channel 15. With the new replacement tower, it would be the tallest man-made structure in the state of Illinois for a time. WICD would continue to originate at least some local programming including some local news. Local commercials would air in place of local commercials on WICS. Switching was accomplished live and sometimes very sloppily as operators would cut in and out of commercial sets and sometimes chop off the beginnings of programs both local and network.  Those problems would be corrected until the digital conversion of the stations in the 20-teens.

All narrative segments above on this page are edited and updated segments from "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Broadcasting" by Doug Quick

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

Milton D. Friedland-v-president/general manager 53-
Jame "Jack" Harelson-program manager 53-54
Bazil O-Hagen-chief engineer 53-56
Jack Hoskins-film director/program director 53-
John Begue-sales/promotion/weathercaster 53-60
Carroll W. Neeld-sales 53-
Ken Spengler-sales 53-
Frank Harbauer-sales 53-
Dick Ashenfelter-engineer 53-
Helen Kimmer-executive secretary of the general mgr 53-
Bob Margan-announcer 55-
Bill "Clickety Clack" Miller 60-

Malden Jones-news editor 53-54

Edwin Pool-engineer 53-

Jack Bowers-engineer 53-

Gerald "Jerry" Merritt-engineer/chief engineer 53-

Bernice Warner-community director 53-

Bernie Waterman-sports editor 53-

Bette Muller-asst to film director 53-

Frank Martin-weathercaster 54-

Marty Roberts-talent host 55-56

Julie Craig-talent host 54-56

Bob Wilson-talent/engineering 55-

G.B. Gordon-news editor 55-59

Mariam "Mari-Ann" Ellis -talent host 54-

Pete Wetzel-talent/Pegwill Shows 55-

Larry Spiller-continuity editor 55-

Phil Young-sales 56-

Bryan S. Halter Jr.-continuity asst/announcer 56-

Marion Leimbeck-continuity/traffic assist 56-

Bernie Johnson-talent/host 54-60
Wally Gair-sportscaster, talent/host 58-
Bob Warren-weathercaster/news editor/anchor 58-59
Dale Coleman-news editor/anchor 60
Wayne Cox-news reporter/anchor 60
Nick Alexander-weathercaster/news reporter/anchor 60-
Alan Crane-news reporter/anchor 1962
Charles Bauman-farm director 1954-55
Bill "Pegwill Pete" Wingerter-talent/host 55-
Marge ????-talent with "Pegwill" programs 55-
Ann Marshall-talent with "Pegwill" programs, 1950's
Bill Shaw-photographer 57-
Warren King-sales mgr 57-
Robert B. Farrow-sales 60-
Lorene Brown-announcer 62-
Kim Wilson-talent/host 59-
Doug Kimball-1962

 

* a contributor to this site
This list is by no means complete....  if you are or know a WICS employee, sales, administration, programming, news or creative services...drop me an e-mail.
Include that person name, title or job description and approximate dates of employees, if you know.

 

 

Sources:

Network screen grabs were from the collection of Bob Lee

WICS for the studio talent pictures

Les Vann 

Jo Warfield for sharing her recollections

YouTube videos are the property of the individual copyright holders and only posted for their historical significance. They are subject to removal by the contributors and YouTube.

WICD-TV

Randy Miller for his picture contributions
Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine
The Illinois State Journal-Register
The Urbana Courier Newspaper
The News-Gazette
The Decatur Herald-Review Newspaper
The Bloomington Pantagraph
TV Guide (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection
Lincoln Library-Springfield
Danville Public Library
Champaign Public Library
Decatur Public Library
Urbana Free Library

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

Contributors:
Bob Lee for the vast majority of program titles screengrabs
WICS, Channel 20, Springfield, Rick Lipps
Cindy Larson and others at WICS
Randy Miller and his Facebook Photo Collection
Teresa Wilson Ericson
Ann Marshall
J.R. Evans
Ben Kiningham
Neuhoff Broadcasting-Danville
James Isley
Kathryn Dinardo
Dave Heller (who produced the 40th Anniversary of WICS and a number of screengrabs were taken)
Creative Services at WICS during the 60th Anniversary of WICS from which the recreation of the WICS logo (1st in Springfield) was included as the first graphic of this page


YouTube videos are the property of the individual copyright holders and are only posted for their historical significance. 
They are subject to removal by the contributors and YouTube.

Click on the image at the left to continue with
the story of WICS from 1967 to 2020

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