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WTVH-TV, Channel 19, Peoria, IL
also known as WIRL-TV, WRAU and WHOI


WWXL Group Applies for Channel 19-Peoria


In mid-July of 1952, Hilltop Broadcasting applied for Channel 19. Hilltop was the current licensee for WWXL Radio already in operation in Peoria. The details of the application listed the power output of the station at 90.8kw with a relatively short tower/antenna height of 275 feet. The construction cost was established at $155,000 with an operating cost of $155,000 and revenue during its first year of operation was listed as $255,000. The studio and transmitter were listed at 235 S. Jefferson (Jefferson and Liberty Avenue) in downtown Peoria. The principals of Hilltop were listed as President Hugh R. Norman (president and majority stockholder of KSTT in Davenport, Iowa) and Walter F. Kean (consulting radio engineer in Riverside, Illinois). The owners, by their frugal investment in the facility compared to that of West Central Broadcasting, had inadvertently set the tone for the culture of Channel 19 for years to come as having less stature than that of Channel 25.


FCC Grants Construction Permits


The first group to be granted a license was West Central Broadcasting, the owners/operators of WEEK Radio in Peoria. The studio location was updated to be at 2907 Springfield Road in Groveland Township. The grant was issued in late August of 1952.


It would take the FCC a few more months to issue the next Peoria television station construction permit, but by December of 1952, Hilltop Broadcasting, operators of WWXL Radio was granted a permit to proceed with construction. Hilltop Broadcasting chose the call letter of WTVH-TV for its proposed television station. The call letters were approved by the FCC in mid-February 1953.

WTVH-TV Modifies the Application


With the construction of WTVH-TV well underway, Hilltop made an attempt to move the site of the transmitter/tower to a site in Creve Coeur, Illinois. In early May the application was refused by the FCC sighting the move would violate minimum channel separations.


The listed reason was the possible short distance and channel separation between channels 20 and 26 in Springfield and its location at channel 19. Later in June of 1953, the FCC did grant a special temporary permit to locate the transmitter and studio at Creve Coeur, the 1953 site of the radio station WWXL(AM).


There was also a report of a request to eliminate channel 26 from the Springfield allocation table and move it to channel 66. The channel was designated for educational purposes but was never applied for or granted. I'm not sure of the validity of this as it was reported in Broadcasting-Telecasting. Channel 19 would have seen more co-channel interference with WICS at channel 20 and themselves at channel 19. It may have been falsely reported in the record. Either way, it appeared the FCC never acted on the issue.


So viewers north of Springfield and south of Peoria would be dealing with co-channel tuning issues between Channel 19 and 20 for years once the power increases of both UHF stations would reach maximum outputs years later.


In August of 1953, WTVH filed a request to extend its completion date to February 17, 1954, as many stations would do. Equipment rushes and delays forced many stations to delay completion dates past their original projections. The FCC would only issue so many extensions to prevent the possible profiteering which was reported to take place in some markets as groups not intending to put a station on the air would sell their permits to the highest bidder.

WTVH Goes on the Air


It was reported that WTVH-TV was beginning to broadcast a test pattern on August 20, 1953, with plans to proceed with commercial broadcasting on Thursday, September 1. The announcement was made by Hugh R. Norman, WTVH president. The only account of the sign-on was found in the Bloomington Pantagraph. The article also included more information about the owner of WTVH-AM/TV, Hugh Norman. Mr. Norman was the son of Mrs. G. H. Brinegar of 303 W. Willow Street in Normal. His mother was married to the late Mr. Norman senior until his death in 1933. He was a former teacher at Illinois State Normal College for many years.


The station's production director, Don Roper said the station was equipped with a 1-kilowatt RCA transmitter and antenna giving the station an effective radiated power of 24,000 watts. It was reported that the reception of WTVH-TV in Bloomington-Normal was poor. The program schedule of Channel 19 would begin at 5:30 pm to around midnight on weekdays and Saturdays. The Sunday schedule began at 12:45 pm to around midnight. The newspaper article also included the fact that WTVH-TV was of a much lower power than the other Peoria station, WEEK-TV.


The October issue of Broadcasting-Telecasting contained an ad for WTVH-TV listing the Peoria area market with a population of 650,000. It also listed the distances between Peoria and the closest VHF stations to the market. Peoria was 140 miles from Chicago, 85 miles from Rock Island, 160 miles from St. Louis, and 115 from Quincy. This placed the Peoria market as a current UHF island with no direct VHF competition, at least as long as the channel 8 applications were not decided and one was not issued.


WTVH-TV in the ad was also claiming to be “interconnected and on the air!” Programming from ABC, CBS, and DuMont was being broadcast and it was represented by the national advertising rep firm Edward Petry Company.

WTVH Becomes ABC Primary Affiliate Number 175


WTVH was already broadcasting programming via kinescope from CBS, ABC, and DuMont but in November of 1953, became a primary affiliate of the American Broadcasting Company. This would put WTVH-TV in line for the first choice of programming from ABC, but also placing its affiliation with CBS and DuMont into a secondary position.


It appears that CBS was holding out in its primary affiliation contract for the issuance of a permit for VHF channel 8. Over the next year, CBS shows would float in and out of the programming schedule of WTVH-TV until such time it would latch onto channel 8 or another UHF station later in the decade. Politics were probably the reason for the fact that CBS didn't immediately seek affiliation with WTVH-TV. One of the applicants was WMBD Radio, by that time a heritage CBS Radio Network affiliate. That allowed WMBD some leverage for the network if it was to receive the grant for channel 8, or even some future allocation on the UHF band. The ABC primary affiliation was only temporary as CBS would soon become the primary network for WTVH.


Once it becomes evident that the issuance of a permit for channel 8 would be at the very least delayed several years if it was to be granted at all, CBS would make an affiliation agreement offer to Channel 19. A year after going on the air WTVH-TV would become a primary affiliate of CBS, placing ABC in a secondary position until January 1 of 1958. More on that later.

WTVH-TV Power Increase Grants


Channel 19, WTVH-TV was finally granted a modified construction permit to change the power output of the station to an effective radiated power of 97.7kw from a tower at 280 feet. The location of the studio, transmitter, and tower was now approved to be at a permanent location at the corner of Stewart and Leonard Streets, Creve Coeur, Illinois. This would extremely limit the coverage area of WTVH-TV compared with its direct competition, WEEK-TV. Channel 25 would have a power output more than twice that of Channel 19 from a tower twice as tall.


Hilltop Broadcasting Sells


By April of 1954, it became evident that WTVH-TV was a distant number two, in a two-station race for Peoria area viewers and advertisers. Hilltop appeared to be faltering, with both the radio and television properties losing ground to WEEK and WEEK-TV. As I mentioned earlier, this situation established a culture between the Peoria television stations that would last for 60 years.


It was just a short time earlier that the two Peoria newspapers were merging. The Morning Star and the afternoon Journal would merge under one roof plus purchase a majority share in Hilltop Broadcasting. Hilltop ownership before the buy-out by the Peoria Journal-Star had Hugh R. Norman and L.W. Hicks owning 55% interest with the Peoria Journal holding 36% interest with the rest of the shares being held by a few minority stockholders.


In May of 1954, the FCC would approve the transaction of the newspaper buy-out. The newly formed Peoria Journal-Star would purchase 55% of the shares from Mr. Norman and Mr. Hicks. Both former stockholders would receive $55,000 each and the newspaper would assume liabilities of $155,000. This would give the Peoria Journal-Star 91% of the stock of the radio and television properties. WWXL Radio (1590 kc) was an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System, while WTVH-TV was listed as being an affiliate of ABC, CBS, and DuMont. After the sale, the company name Hilltop Broadcasting would continue.


The list of the principals of the Peoria-Journal Star is as follows: President Carl P. Slane, Executive Vice-President Henry P. Slane, Treasurer L.A. Welch; Secretary W. L. Rutherford; Commercial-National Bank, Carl P. Slane and Elizabeth P. Talbott, co-trustees under the will of Henry M. Pindell, First National Bank, trustee under the will of Fannie G. Baldwin.


WTVH and the Army-McCarthy Hearings


Like many of the early ABC affiliates at the time, Channel 19 would expand its daytime schedule with the broadcast of the Army-McCarthy Hearings. ABC offered local commercial time to its affiliates and many took advantage by selling commercials for the real-life soap opera that was unfolding on national television. Plus, at the time ABC offered no regular daytime programming.


WTVH sold commercial time to the Famous Appliance Store of Peoria, more than likely ads featuring television sets and UHF converters, along with the washers, dryers, and maybe even dishwashers to viewers in Peoria.

WTVH-TV Increases Power and Becomes a CBS Affiliate


WTVH-TV would apply for and would receive a permit to increase power in August of 1954 to 214kw which would bring a stronger signal within its coverage area, but it would continue to broadcast from a relatively short tower/antenna at only 290 feet. Earlier the station announced plans for a new building, tower, an RCA 12.5kw transmitter, and equipment that would give it a 225kw ERP by October 1, 1954. Channel 19 also had plans for an expansion into local programming.


The following month, on the heels of WEEK-TV announcing its capability to broadcast CBS network color programs locally in color, WTVH-TV would pull the rug out from under Channel 43. In mid-September of 1954, WTVH-TV signed on with the CBS Television Network as a primary interconnected affiliate effective immediately. This change in primary affiliation would place programming from ABC in a secondary level of prominence when it came to the schedules. This move would more than likely increase network compensation to the station while locking in the leading television network for the station and reducing its syndicated programming costs. CBS offered a full slate of programs from morning to night, whereas ABC had only a limited, mostly late afternoon to prime time schedule.

WTVH Increases Power with a Celebration


With the installation of a new RCA 12.5kw transmitter, WTVH-TV would go from 24kw to 214kw of effective radiated power. The increase of power took place on November 6, 1954, with the throwing of the switch by Henry P. Slane, president of Hilltop Broadcasting. At the same time, WTVH-TV was celebrating its first year of broadcasting and added CBS as the primary television network. Mr. Slane also announced the plans for an ultra-modern studio and the renovation of its present facility to include the installation of a Vidicon film chain and color TV equipment. The station was also adding AP Photofax and CBS Newsfilm to its ability to broadcast news programming.

WTVH-TV Gets New Tower with a Power Increase


In August of 1955, WTVH-TV makes another major investment in its future with the purchase of a 1000-foot tower to which a new antenna would be mounted. According to Hilltop Broadcasting’s Edward G. Smith, general manager the tower and antenna would be “the highest man-made structure above ground in Illinois.” The tower would be constructed in sections by Dresser-Ideco Company of Columbus, Ohio, and would be located at the site of the current 240-foot tower at Creve Coeur, Illinois.


The station will also install a new RCA transmitter which will increase the effective radiated power to 500kw. This improvement of facilities, as well as being the primary CBS affiliate in the market, would certainly help make the station a major player in central Illinois broadcasting.


The following month WTVH-TV was seeking modification of its construction permit to change the effective radiated power to 171kw from a new 1055-foot tower. The installation of its transmitter to allow it to to a half-million watts was still pending.


In October of 1955, there seemed to be a change in the expansion of the WTVH-TV in regards to its new 1000-foot tower and its power output. With no explanation, WTVH-TV amended its application to change the effective radiated power down to 18kw with an antenna height of 608 feet. The October 24, 1955 edition of Broadcasting-Telecasting reported that the FCC granted the last request for lesser improvements to power output and tower height. Once again, the public image of WTVH-TV would suffer, but the expansion would resume again later.

 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 Network Shows from 1953-1957

ABC and CBS Network Programs Seen on

WTVH-TV 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."

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.

Channel 19 was WTVH-TV from 1953-1965.

Channel 19 was WIRL-TV from 1965-1971.

Channel 19 was WRAU from 1971-1985.

ABC Network Shows from

Channel 19 became WHOI, in 1985

Weather According to Hoyle - Don Hoyle
00:00 / 00:00
Lamplighter Playhouse-Buffer - Don Hoyle
00:00 / 00:00
Movie promo tag/Lamplighter Buffer - Don Hoyle
00:00 / 00:00
WTVH-TV19 Promo - Don Hoyle
00:00 / 00:00
WTVH, Ch 19, Sign-Off - Don Hoyle
00:00 / 00:00
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.

WIRL Radio Announces Sale


It also appeared that WIRL was giving up on its attempt to keep a television channel in Peoria, more specifically the granted channel at UHF 25. At the same time, an announcement was made for the sale of WIRL Radio and Illinois Valley Broadcasting Company to Frudegar Broadcasting Company for $325,000. The company was owned by Robert W. Frudegar, the former owner of KLIN in Lincoln, Nebraska.

WTVH-TV Adjusts Operation After Losing CBS


Based on TV Guide® programming and local news items from 1957 to 1958, WTVH-TV appeared to go through a trying time financially. Many local newscasts were eliminated with the probable lay-offs of many members of the staff. The downturn likely had a lot to do with the loss of network compensation from CBS broadcasts along with the loss of daytime programming and local commercial availabilities . One would assume primary network affiliation with ABC would not have the same revenue stream that that of CBS compensation.


The broadcast day was reduced considerably. Formerly WTVH-TV would sign on at 7 am with the former CBS Morning Show, then later sign-on was moved back to 8 am with Captain Kangaroo. Just a few weeks after the sign-on of WMBD-TV and the loss of CBS daytime programming, WTVH-TV would delay its weekday sign-on to 3:55 pm with the broadcast of a short local newscast. Programming would begin with ABC's American Bandstand. Interesting, though, is that the TV Guide® listings had WTVH-TV inserting two short local newscasts during American Bandstand at 4:30 pm and again at 4:55 pm. The station's 10 pm newscast was also reduced to 15-minutes. This reduction in the broadcast day would continue until ABC began to expand its daytime schedule. In May of 1959, listings showed WTVH-TV sign-on was listed as Noon with the ABC variety show “George Hamilton IV,” “Play Your Hunch,” “Music Bingo,” “Day in Court,” “The Gale Storm Show” and “Beat the Clock.” Also, in May of 1959, there were no listings for local newscasts from WTVH-TV. The late movie “Lamplighter Playhouse” began at 10 pm. This elimination of local news from this Peoria television station would set the stage for its local news rating struggle for years. WTVH would once again suffer from its “culture” of being the lowest station in the success rankings of Peoria television stations.


Even with the ownership of the Peoria Journal-Star, WTVH-TV found the going difficult. It was soon being primed for sale. It appeared that Hilltop and its owner the Peoria Journal-Star would try to reduce the expenses enough to make it look favorable for a future sale.

WTVH-TV Covers a National News Story


Even with very limited actual newscast broadcast time, George Ray, an editorial associate, and Jack Bradley, chief photographer were sent to cover racial integration developments in Little Rock, Arkansas in late September, or early October 1958. The duo was sent with its mobile newsreel unit comprised of a 16mm film camera with the ability to record sound on film and a Fairchild 16mm rapid developing machine.


As the film was shot from the scene, it was processed and flown to Peoria and broadcast on WTVH-TV the same day. Commentary by Mr. Ray was included as part of the filmed report. Harold Phillips, general manager of WTVH-TV, said that local viewers were responding favorably to having a local television newsman with the scene of a national story.


Even though coverage of this national story would give WTVH-TV some sudden prestige among the other Peoria television stations, looking back, it appears to have been the last gasp of the news department at Channel 19. The news department's role at WTVH-TV would decrease to its demise in early 1959.

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.

WTVH-TV Sold to Metropolitan Broadcasting Company


In late October of 1959, the sale of WTVH-TV by the Peoria-Journal Star to Metropolitan Broadcasting was announced. The sale price was listed as $600,000. This would be the third television property for Metropolitan which also owned radio properties. To put the price of WTVH-TV in perspective, the company also purchased WIP AM/FM in Philadelphia for $4.5-million!


Metropolitan was headed by John W. Kluge as president and principal stockholder. Bennett H. Korn was vice president in charge of TV operations. Kluge and his associates took over ownership of Metropolitan early in January of 1959 by purchasing the shares of Paramount Pictures at 21.75% interest for $ 4 million.


To see more about the workings and future of Metropolitan, see the chapter on the history of WTVP(TV), Channel 17 in Decatur. Metropolitan would purchase the Decatur station by early 1960, tying the operations of both stations together and also linking the histories of the Peoria market with the history of the Springfield-Decatur, Champaign-Urbana market.


The sale of WTVH-TV from Hilltop Broadcasting and its primary ownership of the Peoria-Journal Star to Metropolitan would be approved by November 1959.


In February of 1960, WTVH-TV would be appointed a new general manager. Donn Colee who was general manager of WLOF-TV, Orlando, Florida was named to the position. He came with a sales manager as well. Mr. Colee's wife, Lee was named as director of sales also from WLOF-TV where she held the same position there.


Metropolitan Broadcasting Predicts Big Business


The ownership of WTVH-TV, Metropolitan Broadcasting Company announced in early August of 1960 it was on track to grossing $40-million in 1960 and predicted $50 million in 1961. John Kluge, chairman and president of Metropolitan told the San Francisco Security Analysts Society said the earnings for 1960 already were 2.6 million ahead of the full year 1959.


Along with ownership of WTVH-TV and other TV properties, roughly half of the income was expected to come from Foster and Kleisen a west coast outdoor advertising company. Metropolitan purchased the company in early 1960. Meanwhile, the purchase of Decatur, Illinois WTVP, Channel 17 was still pending before the FCC. You'll see more about the Metropolitan Broadcasting story on the page covering the History of WAND.

WTVH-TV, 1964 to 1971


Under Metromedia Channel 19 was able to broadcast both network programming from ABC and video tape in color. WTVH-TV continued under Metromedia until 1965 when it was sold to WIRL Radio and its owner Mid-America Media Incorporated which would change the call letters to WIRL-TV. It would be teamed with WIRL-AM, the popular top 40 station in north central Illinois. In 1967 WIRL-TV was able to broadcast ABC, film and video tape in color. The station would add live studio color in 1970. In 1969 the stations power was listed as 186kw from an antenna at 660-feet.


WIRL would sell its TV property to Forward Communications in 1971. The call letters would changed by Forward by May of 1971 this time to WRAU-TV. The power of WRAU-TV would be increased to 2,090kw from the same tower at 660-feet.


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 the 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


WRAU was planning to open a local sales office in Bloomington with at least a possibility of a local studio. This story from September 11, 1978, was published in the Bloomington Pantagraph.  Bloomington was underserved by local television since the closure of WBLN, Channel 15 in 1958.  Unfortunately, if this office was ever open, its location in Bloomington wouldn't last.

From 1984, a series of news segments and promos for WRAU.



WHOI, Channel 19 Theme from 1986.



The 1989 WHOI daily sign-off.



From 1982, Scott Miller at WRAU for Bradley Basketball.



A series of WHOI promos from 1988.



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. 

The Rest of the Story

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 letter 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 under 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 the 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 is 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 Channel 19, WHOI-TV is still on the air, it broadcasts the Sinclair co-owned digital network "Comet." What the future holds for the former ABC affiliate remains a mystery.  In my opinion, at this point, the total neglect of Channel 19, Based on the fact that Sinclair is not upholding the prime directive of broadcasting for the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”  Sinclair should be stripped of the channel, reinstated with the ABC signal, and be under the control of WEEK's ownership. 

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
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
John Hoylman
Don Carpenter




To continue through the Peoria TV station set, and the WMBD-TV story click on the image to the left.

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