The Peoria Television Story

1953 - Present

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 Peoria Television 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!

WMBD-TV, Peoria, IL
1958-Present

Bloomington Pantagraph

1/2
A Selection of CBS Shows from 1958-1965

In the book "Pictures on the Prairie" you'll get the answers to the following questions:

WMBD-TV is a relative newcomer to the Central Illinois TV landscape.  The battle for channel 8 was underway for several years, but it seemed that the prospect for CBS to be the channel 8 network affiliate was lost.  Find out more about the channel 8 story in "Pictures on the Prairie" available at the link above.answers

of many more questions about the history of WMBD-TV, such as:

 

What historical site would WMBD-TV occupy?

What were the circumstances of WMBD-TV going on the air?

How did the transition of WTVH-TV from CBS to WMBD-TV being the primary CBS network affected the former affiliate?

Why did WMBD-TV want to move from channel 31 to another UHF channel?

What circumstances brought about the hiring of a "temporary" sales manager?

What was the purchase price of WMBD AM/FM/TV paid by Midwest Television when ownership changed in 1960?

 

WMBD-TV had issues with the labor unions represented by employees. How did that turn out?

 

1/7
A Selection of CBS
Shows from 1958-65

"What's My Line" was a long running game/panel show which aired on CBS from 1950 to 1967. This particular selection was from January 1958, just after WMBD-TV went on the air with CBS programming.

(YouTube)

The February 27, 1958, CBS telecast of "Portrait Of a Murderer," was seen on WMBD-TV. The series was the "Playhouse 90" umbrella title of the long-running live presentation. Starring Tab Hunter,  Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Patterson, Joe Perry, Rudy Bond, Frank London, Barbara Turner and Ned Glass.
(YouTube)

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

The Ann Southern Show was produced by Desi Arnaz.  In this 1959 episode, Lucille Ball was the guest star to prop up the ratings of one of the Desilu shows.  It aired on CBS and WMBD-TV.
(YouTube)

"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" ran on CBS from 1959-1963. The series starred Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver(pre-Gilligan).
(YouTube)

From 1961 a segment of the Cinncinatti Reds and San Francisco Giants, CBS's Game of the Week.
(YouTube)

A CBS network produced program length promo for the 1961-62 season. "Seven Wonderful Nights" was the theme.
(YouTube)

WCIA's Saturday Afternoon Dance Party hosted by John Coleman, shown here. It was later hosted by Ed Mason. The theme music has been removed due to a copyright challenge. For more on this central Illinois teenage dance party show(no reference to the theme song)

(Ed Mason Collection and YouTube) 

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

WCIA's Saturday Afternoon Teenage Dance Party Program was also seen on WMBD-TV on Saturday late afternoons.  At the time of this kinescope, the program was hosted by Ed Mason. In this segment, he is interviewing Margaret Whiting, who recorded several hits of the 1940s and '50s and was a frequent guest on TV variety shows of the 1950s. Part 1 of the interview is also available. It is one of the only kinescopes found of the program which ran from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. Due to a copyright challenge, the theme music has been eliminated from this video, as any mention here of its real title.

(Ed Mason Collection and YouTube)

CBS "Face the Nation" from October 2, 1960, right before the election of 1960 in which Kennedy would win, and he would be the Vice-President. 
(YouTube)

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

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

News coverage of the JFK assassination, starting with the interruption of "As the World Turns" at 10:00 during the first hour and ten minutes after the shooting occurred. For the next several minutes, the network alternates between the soap opera/commercials and the bulletin. Then at 17:43, the network stays with the bulletin and at 30:14 the news anchor appears. Starting at 40:00 came the first of many unconfirmed reports from a Dallas affiliate reporter that Kennedy was dead. Finally at 1:06:43, the news anchor makes the sad official confirmation that Kennedy died 38 minutes earlier.
(YouTube)

The two-hour CBS News Extra, “November 22nd and The Warren Report,” was aired Sunday, September 27, 1964 on WMBD-TV. It featured Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather showing taped interviews with witnesses of the Kennedy assassination and those closest to Lee Harvey Oswald. They also explained the Warren Commission’s findings.
(YouTube)

A CBS Sports promo with Chris Schenkel (who was more associated with ABC). This is from 1964.
(YouTube)

CBS Coverage of the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as seen on WMBD-TV June 5, 1968
(YouTube)

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

A Selection of CBS Shows from 1966-1980
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The ownership history of WMBD-TV is much shorter than its older television cousins. The WMBD-TV story begins much later as it would go on the air January 1, 1958. Its original owner was John Fetzer along with WMBD Radio. The group would be sold to Midwest Television in 1960 for $1.85-million and would become a “sister” station to WCIA in Champaign, Illinois. In November of 1952, the full-time satellite translator W71AE would be added to the group to rebroadcast the programming of Channel 31 in LaSalle, Illinois.

 

Midwest Television would continue to operate the station from the old Majestic Theater location in downtown Peoria until 1978. I visited the station in the mid-1970s and found it to be a less than desirable facility. It was converted from a theater and still had many of the theater artifacts including slanted floors in the former auditorium which included the WMBD AM/FM radio stations. The AM studio was extremely dirty and cluttered, while the FM automation was placed on boxes to level the rack panels holding the array of reel to reel decks (of which several were not functioning). The floors had peeling and broken tiles, dirt was caked in the corners where the floor wet the walls, the hallways were populated with desks from where employees were expected to work. Even though I didn't get to see the TV studio, I had no reason to believe it was any better.

 

In exploring the improvements of WMBD-TV during up to the late 1970s I have found very little activity. Other than the installation of a microwave link which would allow for audio/video transfers to take place between Springfield and WMBD-TV and between WCIA(TV) and WMBD-TV there appeared to be very little investments in the technology of the day. WMBD-TV would be able to pass CBS Network color programming in color in the early 1960s but CBS didn't have much of a color programming schedule until the late 1960s. (continued below)

WMBD-TV Story

WCIA/WMBD-TV News late 1970s

How many of these former WCIA and WMBD people do you recognize?

 

Top row left to right: Paul Davis, John Slattery, Mary Sue Krugar, unknown, unknown, Ann Anderson, Orrin Benjamin, unknown, Joe Rex, Carl Caldwell, Duane Wallace, Bob Larson

 

Middle row left to right: Larry Wood, Colleen Callahan, Dave Shaul, unknown, Mr. Roberts, Dick Adams, Jack Margraves, Don Wilcox, Bruce Asbury and Sally Larvick.

 

Bottom Row left to right: Unknown, Steve Williams, Mike Stanton, unknown, Diane Barber, unknown.

 

NOTE:  Most, if not all, of the people pictured here, HAVE BEEN identified by others.  Unfortunately, I lost the e-mails that identified many of the unidentified here in a hard drive crash. So I ask again for your help!  ID some people here and send the names and their position in the picture, for example, Mr. Roberts is in the second row, picture 5. Send me your info on the comment section on the Home page.  Thanks to Justin West for his ID contributions!  There's still more that needs to be identified!

WMBD-TV "Action Cam" promo from the late 1970s.
(YouTube)

CBS "Looking Good" promo from 1979.
(YouTube)

A Selection of CBS Shows from 1981-2000

A number of commercials from 1985 from CBS network commercial clusters including several commercials, program promos and station ID(KIRO, Ch 7, Seattle). All but the staton Id would have aired on WMBD-TV.
(YouTube)

Various WMBD-TV promos from 1989, most promoting the fact that Channel 31 was broadcasting in stereo.
(YouTube)

Weekend news open from 1994 with Kristyn Hartman.
(YouTube)

A number of WMBD-TV promos from 2001.
(YouTube)

This is the WMBD-TV News open/close from 1999.
(YouTube)

A number of WMBD-TV promos from 1997.
(YouTube)

From 2001, a WMBD-TV News promo with Bob Larson and Amy Paul. 
(YouTube)

This is a complete 10pm newscast from June 20, 2004. It features anchor, Jay Verner, Justin Sacher with weather and John Alois with sports. Krystal Morris was off that night.
(YouTube)

This is a segment of the 6pm WMBD-TV News from February 3, 2010 with anchor Bob Larson, Marcus Bailey weathercaster.
(YouTube)

Mark Welp, after being with WHOI in Peoria, made his way to WMBD-TV to join the morning show of Channel 31. The morning show includes Clay Goron, Lindsey Mills and Lauren Rainson on WMBD This Morning and Good Day Central Illinois on WYZZ, FOX-43.
(YouTube)

Here is another WMBD-TV 10pm newscast. This is from March 24, 2015. It features anchors Paul Cicchini and Maria Chandler, weathercaster Rachael Kaye and Kurt Pegler with sports.
(YouTube)

WCIA and WMBD-TV would share resources and programming during much of the 1960s and even into the 1970s. Midday newscasts would include a simulcast of farm markets and news, weekends might include a shared weathercast done live from the sidewalk in front of the WMBD studios on South-West Jefferson in downtown Peoria. Newsgathering would also include shared stories occasionally.

 

The largest improvement to the facility took place in 1977 when the studios of the radio-television group would move to 3131 University Drive in Peoria. The street address would match the channel of WMBD-TV, twice, channel 31. One notable technological advancement would come in 1988 when it was the first Peoria television station to broadcast in stereo.

 

Nextar would purchase controlling interest in WMBD-TV in 1999. Two years later Midwest would sell the radio properties to Triad Broadcasting. Triad was a company of managers of the radio group. Also in 2001, Nexstar would purchase the remaining shares of WMBD-TV held by Midwest Television after the sale of the radio stations. The call letters of WMBD-AM would continue, although the call letters for WMBD-TV would fall under different owners.

 

Also in 2002 Nexstar would come to an agreement with competitor Sinclair Broadcast Group to operate its WYZZ(TV), Channel 43 in Bloomington, Illinois. Later after Sinclair's purchase of WHOI(TV), Channel 19, Peoria, Illinois, it would spin off WYZZ under its co-owned Cunningham Broadcasting to avoid FCC duopoly challenges.

 

Under Nexstar, WMBD-TV would still be the odd sibling of its central Illinois core group of stations. As of 2015, WMBD-TV was still broadcasting in 4:3 standard definition.

Ron Moses, WMBD Memories

Ron Moses was a director at WMBD-TV from 1965 to 1970, before moving east to direct at WPRI-TV in Providence, Rhode Island. After finding this website, he related to me that "those five years were my happiest and most rewarding of my entire career and life."

"You may be familiar with the name of Barbara Novak who performed weather on WCIA-TV and then moved to Peoria where I actually taped a daily weather with her feed to WCIA on our reversable microwave.  By the time I got to Providence, Rhode Island she was Barbara Novak Marshall doing weather on WLVI-TV, Channel 56 in Boston..."

"Roger O'Neil was a news anchor and reporter at WMBD during my time there. For many years he was with NBC as a correspondent...  He was also a producer at WMBD-TV for a time following the Jerry Bidle days with Dave Nicols was hired to be the 10 pm news anchor. I never crossed with Jim Jenson but ran into him in the early 70s when visiting WCBS-TV in New York... I also ran into Paul Moyer who was anchoring weekend news at WCBS-TV before going to KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. Paul was an anchor at WMBD-TV for part of the time I was there and recall him anchoring "Weekend World" sponsored entirely by Catepillar."

"You may recall Don Hein who did sports at WMBD and Bob Gregory who did weather on WMBD-TV and a lot of radio on that station...both wound up at WLWI(now WTHR), Channel 13 in Indianapolis."

Ron retired in 2005. I thank him for his contribution to this site...and thank him for his contribution of the WMBD studio (Majestic Theater) picture from 1957.

Larry King, WMBD Memories

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own textLarry King was a former member of the studio crew at WMBD-TV and eventually a director.  He also spent time at the other Peoria stations during his tenure in Peoria.  He contacted me with his recollections of the original studio at the former Majestic Theatre:

"Let me describe...how I remember the radio set up at the time I was there. 
I walked up the grand staircase from the front hall and you turned to your right there would have been the fledgling FM automation in the first room.  Going a little further you would walk into the main AM control room.  On the left side was a larger room that was a studio for extra guests.  In the mornings Milton Bud and Bob Carlton were in there.  Bob ran the board and Milton was in the studio.  Behind the control room was another little studio that was also the record library.  John Lyon would practice his guitar in there during Cubs or Cardinal baseball games."

"If you turned to your left coming up the stairs was the door to the production control room.  And outside of the production control room was a very old wire service that ran sports scores.  We would come out of the TV studio during the10pm news and check the wire to keep the sports guys up to date.  That (was) long before we had video from every sports game."

"When I first started as a floor director about January 1965, they were doing the TV version of street scene at Noon and later they would do the6pm weather from on the street under that great marquee.  Charlie Tate was the cameraman on the Noon block and a variety of the other engineers(Neil Burke who would later become the Chief, Yogi and Dale Bargeman) would do the weather."

"My job was to get the weatherboard out on the street and have it cleaned off.  The weatherboard consisted of two Plexiglas maps that slid in and out.  The weatherman stood behind the board and had to write backward for the camera.  The guys that did the weather also were the afternoon talent on WMBD radio.  They would get off the radio and then do the weather.  A couple of the names I worked with were John Lyons, Bob Gregory.  Who could forget John Day reporter and weatherman?"

"Besides having to get the weatherboard on the street, another job of the floor director at that time, the weather had a live read for a beer company and a floor director had to do a live pour of beer to end the commercial.  Well, pouring beer wasn't my greatest job, but at least we got to drink the leftovers."

"I got to the station a little late because I missed working with Jim Jenson who went to Boston and New York.  I did a little time with Bob Jamison who ended up at ABC and it was great enjoying a sportscast (from) the late Bob Starr.  Don Heim took his place and then I think he went to Indy."

"Great real NEWS reporting was done from the WMBD News Room (along with) Joe Rex and Farmer Bill.  One weekend I was trying to break into the news business, so I was hanging around the 
newsroom when there was supposed to be a protest in one of the project areas.  This was in the 60's.  So I begged John Day if I could ride along in one of the great white station wagons with big letters screaming "WMBD NEWS."  (After arriving at the scene) nothing happened.  I think I am glad.  I think I really decided at the time that studio production was more in my line than sitting in a well-marked car and waiting."
 

sources:
Broadcasting-Telecasting

Wikipedia
TV Guide®(the Doug Quick collection)
YouTube
Bob Lee's screengrabs
WEEK's CINewsNow.com
Meanwhile Back in Peoria-blog
houseofjitters.com
Bloomington Daily Pantagraph(through the Abraham Lincoln Library and the Danville Public Library)
newspapers.com
Larry King for his contribution details of working at WMBD-AM/FM-TV
Ron Moses for his memories of WMBD-TV and WCIA and his picture of the WMBD studios from
1957.

Updated 12.07.2019

© 2002-2019 Doug Quick.

Produced by Doug Quick

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