The History of WICS, Channel 20, Springfield, IL
1953 - 1965
In 1953, across the prairie of mid-Illinois brand new television sets began to flicker with pictures from St. Louis, Peoria, Decatur, Springfield, Champaign, Bloomington and Danville. Local entrepreneurs invested their lives and fortunes in a new industry hoping to attract advertisers and capture viewers in each of those cities and rural areas to the images and sounds they would broadcast.
Each new television station owner had different obstacles to overcome, some achieved success, while others failed.Competition brought on many legal challenges between stations and owners. Television careers began, on-air personalities became local celebrities while other broadcasters worked behind the scenes.
This book is the story of those entrepreneurs, managers, sales representatives, studio engineers, on-air personalities along with politicians, the FCC, even the legal system all the way to the Supreme Court. It's a detailed story of a budding local industry during television's golden years, the first years we saw “Pictures on the Prairie.”
The many details of the first 10 years of WICS 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!
In April of 1952, it appeared that Springfield, Illinois would be assigned allocations on VHF Channel 2 and UHF channel 20 and 26, with the latter being designated for educational TV. It also appears that Great Plains Television Properties applied for channel 20, much like it applied for several other potential TV properties as a gamble. Not only was it a gamble to apply for the UHF allocation, but if channel 2 was ever granted, it would bring doom on their TV station at channel 20 from a competitive standpoint. Read about the struggles, the legal maneuvering and the eventual outcome WICS in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."
At left is the former WICS broadcast tower from recent years well after it was shared with WCVS Radio in 1953-1958. The arrangement was to the sacrifice of a Springfield heritage FM radio station. The details are in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television Broadcasting." The tower remains and serves as the transmitting and studio location of Neuhoff Broadcastings, WFMB-AM/FM.
The upper left picture was the local newspaper insert from the Illinois StateJournal-Register's supplement welcoming the new Springfield television station to the capital city.
Click on the button to see the program schedule from the dates indicated left.
(top): This hazy photo was part of the newspaper coverage of the construction of WICS. The self-supporting tower is visible along with the antenna of Channel 20 which would broadcast WICS.
(bottom upper): "First in Springfield," assuming there would be another station... WICS signed on the air with regular programming on October 1, 1953.
(images from WICS)
A Selection of NBC
Shows from 1953-65
Hold cursor over the pictures above for description
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)
A Selection of Syndicated
The NBC logo from the first years of WICS beginning in 1953.
This edition of the "Buick Berle Show" aired on NBC and WICS on December 1, 1953. The guest star includes Jack Webb of "Dragnet."
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.
"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
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.
"Howdy Doody Show" was one of the pioneering children's shows which aired on NBC from 1947-1960. 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.
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.
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!
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.
"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"
from the Decatur Herald-Review
Hold cursor over the pictures above for description
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
TV Guide® ads from the Doug Quick Collection
The Jerry Lewis Show was one of the rotation variety shows featured during 1957. It was a way to sell RCA color TV's to the masses. This was the first in the series having aired January 19, 1957, 8pm ET. This was also Lewis' firts solo TV effort. Guests(not included in this intro/outro aircheck) were a very young Eydie Gorme, Rowan and Martin and Jerry's dad Danny and son Gary(of Gary Lewis and the Playboy-60's top 40 fame). 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)
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)
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.
(left: from nickelodeon Deutschland, right: from terrence mcclinton and YouTube)
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
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)
Click on the button to see the program schedule from the dates indicated above.
Hold cursor over the pictures above for description
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. Read more about Mr. William R. Miller and the shows he hosted at WICS in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television" by clicking on the link above to order your copy.
WICS Expands its Reach
Beginning in the late 1950s, WICS was seeking to find a way to compete with WCIA in its multi-market campaign to attract advertising revenue. In those days of the 50s and early 60s, Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana/Danville and Bloomington-Normal were all different markets. The UHF TV stations in each of those cities were not able to technically send a signal to the neighboring cities because of the restrictions of low powered transmitters and short broadcast towers.
WCIA was the only station which was able to reach all of the cities listed above with one VHF signal. Plains Television saw the only way to challenge WCIA was to fight it with filings before the FCC. After the FCC refused to change the VHF to UHF placement of WCIA, the only other way would be to place a second signal to cover the Champaign-Urbana area....and another to cover Danville and a third to cover Mattoon, Illinois.
Ultimately there we were major mistakes made which would do damage to the effort for years to place a major TV competitor to WCIA in east central Illinois. That story is told in length in my book "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television." To get your own copy click on the graphic at the top of the page.
Here presented in no particular order are those
who have served at WICS, job descriptions/title,
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-
* 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.
Network screen grabs were from the collection of Bob Lee
WICS for the studio talent pictures
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.
Randy Miller for his picture contributions
The Illinois State Journal-Register
The Urbana Courier Newspaper
The Decatur Herald-Review Newspaper
The Bloomington Pantagraph
TV Guide (1954-1959) from the Doug Quick Collection
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
Bob Lee for the vast majority of program titles screen grabs
WICS, Channel 20, Springfield, Rick Lipps
Cindy Larson and others at WICS
Randy Miller and his Facebook Photo Collection
Teresa Wilson Ericson
Dave Heller (who produced the 40th Anniversary of WICS and a number of screen grabs 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 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 1966 to 2020