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!
WTVH-TV, Channel 19, Peoria, IL
also known as WIRL-TV, WRAU and WHOI
ABC and CBS Network Programs Seen on
WTVH-TV from 1953-1957
The Bloomington Pantagraph has an account of the very early days of getting WTVH-TV on the air with a sample low power signal.
Dage Cameras and other equipment were much cheaper than similar equipment from RCA, General Electric or DuMont, but the quality was also much lower. The only two stations I found to utilize Dage Equipment was WTVH-TV (pictured here) and Danville's WDAN-TV.
WTVH-TV was already broadcasting via kinescope programming from CBS, ABC, and DuMont but in November of 1953, Channel 19 would become a primary affiliate of the American Broadcasting Company. This would put WTVH-TV in line for the first choice of programs from ABC, but also placing its affiliation with CBS and DuMont into a secondary position.
CBS was not the first choice, probably because CBS was holding out to obtain affiliation with Peoria's proposed VHF station which would broadcast on Channel 8. The following year, CBS finally faced the reality that the channel 8 situation could go on for years. The network would intice WTVH-TV into making the network it's primary affiliation, taking ABC down to a secondary position. It would be for certain that CBS would pay more in network compensation. CBS also had the strongest programming including a strong daytime schedule which would allow Channel 19 to sell more commercial time during the day, without having to make major purchases of off-network or syndicated programming.
WTVH-TV would remain Peoria's CBS affiliate from 1954 to 1957 before CBS would link up to WMBD-TV upon sign-on at 6 pm on new years day of 1958.
This story is told in much greater detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois History" available at the link above.
This is most of a full-page ad taken by WTVH-TV with the Peoria Journal-Star in late 1953 announcing the change from being an ABC primary affiliate to a CBS primary affiliate. This ad was pieced together from a number of individual separate pieces. Unfortunately, it was incomplete and missing the segment of the upper right corner.
(from WEEK-TV, WHOI)
Channel 19 was WTVH-TV from 1953-1965.
Channel 19 was WIRL-TV from 1965-1971.
Channel 19 was WRAU from 1971-1985.
Channel 19 became WHOI, in 1985
WTVH-TV Network Shows from 1953-1957
WTVH-TV started as an exclusive ABC station but very quickly added CBS to the programming source as a secondary affiliate. Within a year, though, CBS would become the primary affiliate with ABC relegated to secondary status. The reason why is explained in great detail in "Pictures on the Prairie: The First Ten Years of Mid-Illinois Television."
ABC Network Shows from
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.
Announcing by "Hoyle" at WTVH
This is quite a find, thanks to Don "Hoyle" Hoylman's son, John Hoylman. These are audio recordings from reel to reels which contained the booth announcements recorded by Don Hoyle of promos, buffers(station promos/movie introductions between commercials and the movie), as well as a WTVH sign-off and a complete recording of a weathercast. Unfortunately, there is no video to go along, but these are incredible examples of how WTVH-TV, Channel 19 "sounded" during what was probably the late 1950s. These recordings are priceless! Thanks to Don Hoylman, a former B-24 pilot for his service and to John Hoyleman for sharing these incredible recordings with this site.
This is a copy of a window decal of WIRL-AM from the early 1970s. WIRL was the Peoria area's Top 40 radio station from the 1960s-80s.
This Harris "Gates" sales brochure spotlights the success of the early 1970s of WRAU, Channel 19 in Peoria. Of course, it tells the story of the installation of Harris "Gates" equipment including new Harris transmitter, and what the new owners, Forward Communications did to make WRAU a success in the Peoria market. Keep in mind, the history of Channel 19 placed it in last place just a dozen years earlier as told in my book "Pictures on the Prairie."
The station's success was more than just the installation of the Harris, "Gates" equipment, as the story tells of what the owners did using its staff, it's a new dedication to community service, stating its position of local issues with editorial statements and the larger news team. Read the details on each page of the story as Forward Communications took Channel 19 forward into the 1970s.
Thanks to Don Carpenter for his contribution of the Harris Gates report on WRAU-TV from the early 1970s
From 1982, Scott Miller at WRAU for Bradley Basketball.
From 1984, a series of news segments and promos for WRAU.
WHOI, Channel 19 Theme from 1986.
A series of WHOI promos from 1988.
The 1989 WHOI daily sign-off.
Here is a complete newscast from WHOI dated April 5, 1993.
WHOI Daybreak from August 8, 1916, with Mark Welp and Gretchen Wirtz
From March of 2009, a video produced to note a sad ending to the original Channel 19, WHOI.
Under Metromedia Channel 19 was able to gain momentum with many technical improvements which would bring the station more up to date with the competition in Peoria. In 1965, WTVH-TV was able to pass network color programming to viewers in the market. After the sale of WTVH-TV to Mid-America Media (WIRL-Radio) the station began a complete color conversion with a new film chain which allowed for the color-casting of film and slides, used in commercials and programming. Later the addition and upgrades of videotape recorders/players to color took place. Lastly, the studio equipment conversion to color took place with new cameras, video switchers and other hardware needed to complete the project by 1970.
WIRL and Mid-America Media would sell Channel 19 to Forward Communications in 1971. The call letters would be changed to WRAU. At that time the power would be increased from 186 kW to 2,090 kW from the same tower with an antenna height of 660-feet. A new "theme" would be marketed by Channel 19 with a new call letter change in 1985. The call letters WRAU would be changed to WHOI, "the Heart of Illinois."
Soon after the call letter change, Forward Communications would merge with Adams Communications, which continued to operate WHOI through 1996. In 1996 WHOI was sold to Benedek Broadcasting which would prove to be disastrous for Channel 19. Meanwhile, WHOI began a cable telecast as a WB affiliate known as WBPE, Channel 4(as it appeared on most cable systems). Later with digital broadcasting, WHOI would add the former WB, then CW Network to 19.2 on its digital tier.
Benedek would file for bankruptcy and then be merged with Grey Television in 2002. Soon after it was spun off to Chelsey Broadcasting, In 2004 the station was sold along with KHQA-TV, Channel 7 in Hannibal-Quincy to Barrington Broadcasting, another disastrous move.
On March 2, 2009, WHOI would be operated by WEEK-TV by a local management agreement. Sinclair Broadcasting would purchase WHOI on February 28, 2013. Sinclair also owned/operated WYZZ(TV), Channel 43 in Bloomington, Illinois which posed a problem with FCC duopoly rules against co-ownership of multiple stations within the same market. The solution was for Sinclair to spin-off WYZZ to Cunningham Broadcasting which has family ties to Sinclair but controlled separately thus just satisfying the FCC duopoly rules.
After the sale of WEEK-TV to Quincy Newspapers, Sinclair would pull out of its LMA agreement with WEEK-TV by 2015. Soon after Quincy Media announced the purchase from Sinclair of the network affiliations of WHOI-TV, that being with ABC and CW. At that time, the signals of the ABC and CW stations were placed on lower tiers of the digital signal of WEEK-TV. WEEK maintained the "Heart of Illinois" theme established in the mid-1980s and continues today.
Even though the signal of WHOI-TV is still on the air, it broadcasts the co-owned digital network "Comet." What the future holds for the former ABC affiliate remains a mystery.
Peoria TV sources:
TV Guide® from the Doug Quick Collection
Bob Lee's Screengrabs
Meanwhile Back in Peoria-blog
Bloomington Daily Pantagraph(through the Abraham Lincoln Library and the Danville Public Library as well as newspapers.com
Larry King for his narrative on working at WMBD AM/FM/TV
Ron Moses for his narrative on working at WMBD-TV and WCIA and his picture from the WMBD studios from 1957
To continue through the Peoria TV station set, and the WMBD-TV story click on the image to the left.