I found this on a discussion board today; it's a documentary on YouTube about KPRC-TV in 1965, with a young Steve Smith and Ray Miller.
The link takes you to the discussion board where you can access the videos and follow the discussion if you wish.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
If KATL had been a something of a stealth entry onto the Houston radio scene the next new AM station in town was to make quite a splash. In early 1946, Houston businessman W. Albert Lee had decided to make a foray into broadcasting. He received a permit in May 1947 and got his station on the air Saturday, January 31, 1948, timed to coincide with the opening of the Fat Stock show that year. Studios were to be in the San Jacinto Hotel, which was being remodeled, but work went faster on a similar project at the Milby at Travis and Texas and the studios wound up there. Lee put a 62 foot Translux animated sign on the exterior of the hotel, the first of its kind in Houston, a smaller version of the famous one in Times Square in Manhattan. As he had done with 2 of his hotels and was to do with his television station less than a year later, Lee used his name for the call letters. KLEE operated at 610 kc with 5000 watts from a 4 tower array. Hilton Waldo Hearn, Jr.'s 1971 Masters Thesis on Lee placed the transmitter on Airline Drive but a Chronicle story placed it on the Dallas Highway. John B. Hill, an engineer at KILT from 1960-1964 who started as an engineer at the transmitter says it was on West Rd., just west of I-45, across 45 from Aldine High, which sits near the intersection of Airline at West. Lee still owned the station at the time of his death in late November, 1951.
As part of the build-up to the launch of the station, Lee turned on the Translux sign two weeks before broadcasting began, staging a big ceremony. The sign was on the Texas Avenue side of the Hotel, facing Jesse Jones’ Rice Hotel but was to be turned off at 10:30 every night. There were big stories in the newspapers almost every day in the week leading up to the launch.
KLEE received front page coverage in the Saturday morning Houston Post on the day the station signed on and the station placed a full page ad concerning the opening ceremonies scheduled for 5pm. The ad included pictures of station personnel and facilities, but has been difficult to reproduce from the microfilms or I would post it here. Gene Autry and his entire troupe were to be on hand, as well as actor Michael O’Shea, Virginia Mayo, Wild Bill Elliot, Albino Torres and his Orchestra and others. There was to be a special live, remote broadcast from the Fat Stock show, and, in the midst of all that, coverage of that day’s election returns on a vote on the subject of zoning for the city of Houston (the zoning proposal lost - duh).
Lee had purchased an 8000 disc library and subscribed to a music transcription service but the first song aired on the new station was performed live: Gene Autry's Cass County Boys played 'The Eyes of Texas,' punctuated by pistol shots and cries of 'Yippee,' to open the ceremony and Autry later sang his signature song ‘I’m Back in the Saddle Again,’ the first song sung on 610. All the show business people stuck around for more appearances on the station for a couple of days, with live broadcasts in one of the big studios starting at 6:10pm, open to the public.
Lee received congratulatory messages from many of his famous and rich friends plus his radio competitors, including Jesse Jones, the Hobbys, Glenn McCarthy and Coke Stephenson. Fred Nahas, who was to become a Houston radio legend in his own right, wrote that he was most impressed that Lee had four ministers pray at the dedication ceremony, a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox priest, and a Methodist minister. Nahas had just launched Houston’s first Muzak-like piped-in music service.
The Chronicle ran a full length column in the Sunday paper on the launch under the headline 'Crowds view KLEE official opening here.' Ray Bright, Commercial Manager of KTRH across the street, had been hired as General Manager. WInthrop 'Bud' Sherman of WOC, Washington, DC, and the Mutual Radio Network had been hired as Program Director. He had also worked at KNOW, WBAP, WACO and KMOX. Paul Huhndorff was picked as the chief engineer; he would go on to put KLEE-TV on the air for Lee in less than a year and stay with the TV station when it was sold to KPRC. The chief announcer was Charles Rashall whom the Chronicle article said 'formerly was heard on coast-to-coast shows originating in the film capital.' Lee's biographer credits Lee with hiring a young Dick Gottlieb out of Texas A&M to do play-by-play of high school football games on Thursday and Friday nights for $25 per game, thus giving Gottlieb and entry into Houston radio. He was to go on to serve as an off-camera announcer on KLEE-TV and stay with the television station when it was sold, becoming known as 'Mr. Television' in Houston for the first decade and a half of Houston TV. However, the claim has also been made that Gottlieb first worked in Houston for Roy Hofheinz' KTHT.
Lee was apparently pretty difficult to work for. He went through 3 program directors in 3 years with Sherman leaving just 3 weeks after the station signed on. Ted Hills, who had been program director of early Houston radio station KFVI in the 1920s and KTHT in the mid 40s was one of the PDs. Without a network affiliation the station had to rely on local advertising sales completely for revenue. According to his biographer Lee attempted to motivate his sales staff but instead drove them away. He was known to fire announcers on the spot for an on-air comment he didn’t like.
Even before KLEE was on the air, Lee had traveled to the East coast, negotiating for talent to appear at the Rodeo, and been exposed to television. He came back to Houston determined to put a television station on the air and filed for a permit on October 8, 1947. The announcement of his intentions appeared in Television Magazine in November, 1947, and that same month in Houston Magazine. Approval by the FCC was to take only 3 months with approval on January 30, 1948, the day before his radio station signed on, although Lee apparently didn’t get the news for a couple of days. Studios were to be in the Milby Hotel with the radio station and the transmitter on South Post Oak near the Pin Oak Horse stables. KLEE-TV was to sign on New Year’s Day, 1949, Houston’s first television station, on Channel 2. There's more on KLEE-TV in the TV section on the sidebar.
The year following Lee’s death, KLEE-AM was sold to Gordon and B.R. McLendon’s Trinity Broadcasting of Dallas who changed the call letters to KLBS and made it a part of his Liberty Broadcasting System. McLendon announced plans to move the headquarters of the network to Houston and use KLBS as the flagship station, according to McLendon’s biographer, but they fell apart when McLendon had to give up the baseball game recreations which formed the backbone of the network programming. According to the History of KLIF website, McLendon owned the station from 1952 to 1954 and repurchased it to flip it to KILT in May, 1957. The studios were still located in the Milby Hotel when the call letters changed, but later moved to 500 Lovett Blvd. in the Montrose area where they stayed for almost 40 years. KILT has been the call on 610 ever since 1957. The station was a Top 40 station for many years and flipped to Country in 1981, then to Sports around 1995.
When I first read of the supposed intentions of moving the headquarters of Liberty to Houston I was skeptical. I have always thought of McLendon as a Dallas broadcaster and it was difficult to even imagine him abandoning Dallas and given his penchant for promotional hype, I thought he was probably just blowing smoke. However it becomes more believable when considering that, according to McLendon's biographer, Ronald Garay, Houstonian Hugh Roy Cullen had invested $1,000,000 in Liberty in August, 1951, to help prop it up. Cullen was considered by some the richest man in Texas at the time and had been expanding his influence politically. He had asked an aid to look into investing in Liberty but canceled the due diligence after just one meeting with Gordon. The two men had similar political ideologies and found they admired each other very much. Cullen extended another loan of $175,000 the next year as the network was collapsing and was one of the major creditors suing for a share of the assets after the collapse (the other was B. R. McLendon).
The Houston Post typically found a way to put it's own radio station on the front page during all the build up to the launch of KLEE. On Thursday, January 29, a front page story pointed out KPRC would be celebrating 20 years of being an NBC affiliate the next Thursday with a special concert at the Music Hall and on Friday, January 30, another front page story advised riders of the Houston Transit Company buses that they would soon be among the first in the nation to hear music as they rode the buses. In an experimental program sponsored by KPRC-FM, special receivers would be installed in buses to allow reception of KPRC-FM’s signal (and presumably no others). The receivers were eventually installed in 250 buses and the ‘experiment’ lasted until 1950.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The 1979 Broadcasting Yearbook gave August 1, 1947, for the launch of KIOX, Bay City, but that appears to be far off. A CP was granted in March, 1946, and the station was apparently on the air by the end of July of that year as a 1000 watt daytimer on 1110 kilocycles. It then moved to 1270 kc and became a full time station in November, 1947. The station is no longer in existence. For more on the launch and history of this station, go here.
KTLW, Texas City, was first licensed on November 1, 1947. A construction permit had been issued just weeks after the Texas City explosion. The original owner was John Long, doing business as Texas City Broadcasting Service. Long also had an interest in KIOX, Bay City. KTLW operated on 920 kc with 1000 watts, daytime only. The transmitter and studios were located north of 146 and west of Logan Ave. originally but FCC records show the address changed several times in the early years. After the Showboat Theater was rebuilt in 1949 (it had been destroyed in the explosion in April, 1947), KTLW established studios there. The theater was also owned by Long. In 1949, the station filed for a permit to increase hours of operation to unlimited and reduce power to 250w but withdrew the application days later before the FCC could act. Long sold the station to Roy Henderson of Henderson Broadcasting as of June 24, 1980. Robert Miller, VP and GM of the station announced a change of call letters to KYST and a change of format to adult contemporary and oldies with the intention of offering a service to the metropolitan Houston area while continuing to serve the bay area. Henderson requested and received permission from the Zoning Commission to build a new facility in the 5700-5800 blocks of FM 1764. In April, 1981, Henderson was granted a permit by the FCC to increase hours of operation to unlimited, using 5000 watts daytime and 1000 watts nighttime. The station subsequently was sold to Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. and still operates as KYST. Information about KTLW has been very difficult to discover; it received only scattered mentions in the Galveston Daily News over the years, mostly program notes about individual programs.
Tri-Cities Broadcasting announced on October 31, 1947, that it planned to put the Tri-Cities area’s second station on the air by the 10th of November but it was just over a month before it hit the airwaves. The original calls were KREL and it was licensed to Pelly as a full-time station on 1360 kilocycles with 1000 watts. The owners had explained the call letters referred to Robert E. Lee High School. Virgil G. Evans was the GM, having worked before at WMTC, Ocala, Florida. Harold Rench was to be the Chief Engineer; he was from Battle Creek, MI, and had worked at WSAM, Saginaw. Other staff members included Byard Sooy of Troy, AL (WTBF) who would cover sports, a strong point for the station; Bob Postner of Chicago (WBAU); Robert T. Nolan of E. Liverpool, OH, who had worked at KXLA, Pasadena, CA, and who would become station manager in a couple of years; George Vance of Detroit who had worked at KPRC; Bill Bates of Oklahoma City who had worked at WBBZ, Ponca City; and Harold Orton, a Lee College Student who wanted to get in to radio. The station would operate from 6a to 11pm from new studios on Decker Drive ‘at the InterUrban Crossing,’ near the Humble Refinery.
According to a post on ourbaytown.com, KREL played Rhythm and Blues but like most stations in that era that were not network affiliated, it was block programmed. Houston radio legend Dickie Rosenfeld got his first job in radio at KREL, doing sales and disc jockeying a country music show as Cowboy Dickie, before moving on to work at KPRC and then KILT. Another well known personality was Marvin Daugharty of Highlands, the morning show host, known as ‘The Deacon.’ He had studied at the National Radio Institute at Rice and also at the University of Kentucky, was also on the engineering staff at KREL and helped to put KLEE-TV on the air plus stints at KTHT and KRCT.
The station had a Fire Fighters Club for kids and also reminded teens not to forget the Three Rs: Rhythm, Records and Requests, daily at 6pm.
The station signed on with a special 2 hour program at 7pm on December 2nd. Regular broadcasting started on the 3rd. When Pelly and Goose Creek were consolidated in the newly incorporated Baytown in 1948, the city of license changed to Baytown. The station at 1360 has seen a number of call letter changes over the years including KWBA and KBUK; currently it is KWWJ, a Black gospel station.
The Houston papers did not include listings for suburban stations until the 50s.
ETA: Google Street View image of the KWWJ facilities, still operating out of the original KREL building. The garage structure, which possibly houses a remote unit, has been added. Decker Drive/Loop 330 has been widened considerably; it is now a multi-lane, elevated expressway with frontage roads so the building sits much closer to the road than it used to.
NOTE: The Robert T. Nolan of E. Liverpool, OH, one of the original staffers at KREL, Baytown, became much better known in Houston radio circles and to listeners as Tim Nolan, one half of the long-running Tim and Bob morning show on KPRC.
UPDATED 2/12/14 WITH ADDITIONAL DETAILS ABOUT KTLW, TEXAS CITY.
The owner of Houston's first television station was born on a farm near Hallettsville in February, 1892. By the time he turned 13, boll weevils had devasted his father's cotton farm and the family moved to Houston where Albert worked hawking newspapers on a street corner and then for a railroad. As a young man he formed a produce company with his two brothers, one of whom owned a grocery store on McGowen, and went to the Rio Grande Valley to be the produce buyer. He also was a watermelon farmer near Sealy before settling back in Houston as a commercial real estate broker downtown, and, beginning in 1925, a hotelman. That year a hotel owner in failing health had listed his hotel with Lee's brokerage and when it didn't sell, implored him to take it off his hands. Lee purchased the hotel and refurbished and opened it as the Lee Hotel, at Polk and San Jacinto.
By 1950, Lee controlled nine hotel properties, including the Walee, Woodrow, Bell, Stratford, Milby and San Jacinto in downtown Houston and the Fort Mason Inn, a resort in the Hill Country. Lee had taken out a long term lease on the Milby in 1937 and in that property and the San Jacinto, Lee controlled two of the largest and most well known hotels in downtown Houston besides the Rice and the Lamar.
He was friends with Jesse Jones and Herbert Hoover and most of the big businessmen of Houston of the era. He was appointed to serve on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by Governor Coke Stevenson and was active in politics on the state and local level and even considered running for office himself.
He was one of the founders of the Houston Fat Stock Show in the 1930s and had been instrumental in convincing the organization to start presenting star performers in conjunction with the livestock exhibits in the early 1940s and had been personally involved in the negotiations with many of the performers; he counted show business personalities amongst his friends, too.
He decided to get into radio in early 1946. His partner was a friend and attorney Julian Weslow. He filed an application for a station to operate full-time on 610 kilocycles with 5000 watts, the second application for a permit on that frequency in Houston. Lee considered asking for the calls KWAL but opted instead to go with KLEE. His competition for the application was Robert T. Bartley, newphew of the powerful Speaker of the US House of Representatives Sam Rayburn, who had served as Director of the FM Department of the National Association of Broadcasters. Many assumed that Bartley's connections made him the favorite to win the permit but the FCC was not impressed with Bartley's investors nor his preparation for ownership. Bartley had never resided in Houston, indeed had only visited it twice, and all of his other investors lived in New England and none had ever been to Texas. The group did minimal research into the needs of the market. The permit was awarded to Lee in May, 1947.
Even while KLEE was being built, Lee visited New York to negotiate with talent to appear at the rodeo and was exposed to television for the first time. He came back to Houston determined to put a TV station on the air and filed an application for a station on channel 2 in the autumn of 1947, winning approval just 3 months later. It is believed the FCC expedited the approval process to be sure Houston had at least one TV permit before the freeze on new applications was put into effect. The FCC was favoring diversity of ownership in the awarding of TV permits and Lee got the nod also possibly because of his lack of other broadcasting or newspaper holdings.
Lee died the last week of November, 1951. He had sold his TV station a year and a half earlier. After his death, KLEE, 610, was sold to Gordon and B.R. McLendon's Trinity Broadcasting of Dallas who flipped the call letters to KLBS and affiliated it with their Liberty Broadcasting System, even announcing plans to move the headquarters of the network to Houston and use KLBS as the flagship.
So far as I know, all of Lee's hotel properties in Houston have been demolished but the Fort Mason Inn is still in operation the last time I checked.
The top picture shows W.A. Lee in 1938. The bottom picture, undated, shows Lee astride his horse at a surprise testimonial at the Rice Hotel attended by hundreds when he was presented with a silver-trimmed saddle by radio, recording and motion picture star Gene Autry.
The pictures and much of this information comes from Hilton Waldo Hearn, Jr.'s 1971 Masters Thesis at the University of Texas at Austin, W. Albert Lee, Pioneer of Houston Television. A copy of the thesis is available at the Metropolitan Research Center at the Houston Public Library.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Chris Huff of the DFW Radio Archives has continued his work on compiling a catalog of early Texas FM stations from Broadcasting Magazine, White's Radio Logs and the Texas Almanac and other sources.
According to his findings, KLUF-FM Galveston was in operation from the Winter of 1949 to the Winter of 1954, operating with 8 kw on 98.7 mc.
Now that I have some better dates I may be able to find something about it in the Galveston newspaper archives.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Blog reader Charles Fairchild sent me this link to a flyer promoting KILT's Go Texan Hootenanny in 1966 (PDF file) along with an explanation:
"I attended that show when I was 12 because our family was friends with Terri Sharp's family. I looked her up recently living in Kerrville
and we had lunch and she is still writing and has a gold record for a
song Hank WIlliams Jr recorded called Cant Blame the Train. She also
wrote some songs that Don McLean recorded. Anyway while I was looking her up I found that program somebody had put on the internet under a google search of "Terri Sharp, a love that will last" which was her hit in 1966 and I sent her a copy. I think back then, KILT started using the rodeo for musical acts which has become a big event now. But in 1966 all those acts performed two shows in one day I think, each singing two or three songs depending on their ratings.
I got interested in looking up the old deejays listed on the program
which led me to your site. We had a dog named weird beard, all white with a black tuft on his chin (Russ Knight, I think he used to
broadcast from his house if I remember correctly). And I remember
staying awake with a transistor radio under my pillow listening to
Alex Bennett, who is on Sirius radio now according to the link on your
site to his. I guess I was hooked early on to talk radio, and later
was an avid listener of Alvin Van Black, Howard Finch and now there
are lots of them. I pod cast Dennis Miller but don't have time to
listen to all of them. Also a news caster from the 80s at KTRH named
Howard Phillips is in a Barbershop chorus I sing with these days.
Thought you would like it, and glad to help your interesting website,
I sure wish I could go back to Houston in the 50s and 60s for a day.
Thanks Charles, I'm sure other blog readers will get a big charge out of this.
UPDATES: James Bond 008 used a fake British accent and became Alex Bennett, talk show host before leaving KILT. Alex Bennett at Wikipedia. Alex Bennett's website.
Bill Young became the long time and very successful program director of KILT-AM/FM and since leaving has run Bill Young Productions.
UPDATE 2: The Coastliners have been identified in a discussion on another forum:...'a group from Baytown/Lynchburg that came very close to hitting the big time and had several regional hits. They opened for many of the top rock acts that visited Houston in the mid-to-late 1960s. They were about the only white group that Don Robey signed for his label.'
Note: The article previously published as The 1940s - Part 4 - KATL has been retitled Part 5 to keep the articles in chronological order.
The only new stations to come on the air in Houston in 1946 were to be FM outlets but there was a lot of activity behind the broadcasting scene as the country and the industry continued the transition back to peacetime activities.
It had been reported in December, 1945, that a group calling itself Veterans Broadcasting had been formed to put Houston’s 5th radio station on the air on the 1230 frequency that was to be vacated by Texas Star’s KTHT; the application was contingent on approval of KTHT’s move. This was a group of Hofheinz associates that had been privately informed of his intentions so they could move quickly on the opening. Apparently the name Veterans had been chosen because all the principals were veteran broadcasters; the call letters KNUZ were to be used but the station was not going to be a news outlet, the calls referred to the fact that a couple of the principals had been newsmen.
One month later, on January 18, 1946, the Press reported not only on Veterans’ application but also the application of Hofheinz to move KTHT to 790 and an application for a station to operate on 610 kilocycles with the call letters KHTN.
The March roundup of FCC actions and filings reported in the Press on the 16th included news that hotelman W. Albert Lee had filed a competing application for a station on 610 kc, veteran Houston broadcaster and advertising man Lee Segall had filed an application for 1230, H. C. Coeblain and San Jacinto Broadcasting had filed for a station on 1470, Fred Weber, E.A. Stephens and William H. Talbot had filed for a station on 1590 and Radio Broadcast Associates, a group mainly based in San Antonio consisting of Eugene J. Roth, Jack. L. Pink and James M. Brown, had filed for a permit for a 250 watt station on 1180. Roth had put a station on the air in San Antonio in 1927 in the back of his auto repair shop on Main and taken the call letters KGRC, meaning Kome to the Gene Roth Company. Two years later someone had pointed out to him that he needed a government license to do what he was doing so he wrote to the Commerce Department and reported himself. According to Richard Schroeder in Texas Signs On, Herbert Hoover wrote back informing him that he was now authorized to operate a station in San Antonio with the call letters KGRC. That station had become KONO.
The Press reported on April 26 that Lee Segall had been granted an FM license; no other details were given. It is believed this license was transferred to the company that bought out Segall when he decided to relocate to Dallas and would have been a proposed KCOH-FM but never made it on the air. However, this was apparently the first license issued for an FM station in Houston in the upper (88-108mc) band.
The paper also noted W. Albert Lee’s and Roy Hofheinz’s applications and identified the head of the company seeking station KHTN on 610 kc as Robert T. Bartley, a nephew of powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn. It was often speculated in coverage of this story that Bartley’s Washington connections made him a favorite to win the permit.
On May 4th, the Post reported its parent company, Houston Printing Co., had received a permit for an FM station to operate on 99.7 megacycles with 19.6 kilowatts. For more on this, see the FM Chronology. The paper also reported the FCC announced its intentions to hold competitive hearings on the applications of W. Albert Lee and KHTN, Inc. for a station on 610.
During May hearings resumed on Roy Hofheinz’s application to move KTHT to 790 kc and Lee Segall dropped a competing application for the frequency. It took almost 4 years for Hofheinz to win approval for his proposed move and brought him into conflict with one of the largest broadcasting outfits in the country; that story will be reported in a separate post.
On July 20 the Press reported the FCC had issued a permit the previous day for a new Houston AM station, the first since 1944. The operation was to be headed by Fred Weber of New Orleans, a former General Manager of the Mutual Broadcasting System who announced that no studio site had yet been selected. The station would take 10 months to get on the air and take the calls KATL. That is the subject of the next segment of this AM chronology.
Within 2 weeks Houston got a fifth radio station, Texas Star’s KTHT-FM. This is reported on in the FM Chronology. Later that month, the Chronicle reported that Metropolitan Houston Broadcasting Co. had filed for a permit for a full time station on 1060 kc to operate with 5 kW days and 1 kW nights. R.H. Rowley, Glen H. McLain, L.M Rice of Dallas and James A. Clements of Angleton were identified as the principals of the company. Clements was also a partner in Bay City Broadcasting which already held a permit for a station in Bay City, presumably KIOX.
In October a hearing on Radio Broadcast Associates of Houston’s application for a station was postponed. In its article the Press referred to Eugene L Levy, an error I believe, and gave the frequency sought as 1170 and the power as 1000 watts. The paper also noted that Roy Hofheinz and his partner, W.N. Hooper had amended their application for a station in New Orleans to request 50 kw rather than 5 and move the frequency from 1580 to 1540. This project of Hofheinz and Hooper was later scrapped due to cash flow problems.
Rounding out the action on the radio scene in Houston for 1946, the Press reported on November 2 an application had been filed for a Spanish language station in Houston to operate on 850 kc with 1000 watts daytime. Felix Morales had been trying since 1942 to get an AM station on the air in Houston; he would not succeed until May, 1950, with KLVL, 1480.
Just after the first of the year, both the Post and the Chronicle reported that Hofheinz and Hooper had filed for a station in San Antonio on 860. I believe this project did finally make it on the air.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
“Local Television comes of age” the Houston Chronicle proclaimed Sunday, March 22, 1953, on the cover of its special TV section devoted to the launch of the area’s second TV station, KGUL-TV, Channel 11, Galveston. The station was set to go on the air that evening at 6pm with a 30 minute introductory show from the studios at 2002 45th Street, also referred to as 11 Video Lane. The studio was so small that only those who would appear on camera would be present; other dignitaries including stockholders in Gulf Television Co., would be at the Galveston Club across the street.
Paul Taft of Houston was President and chief stockholder of Gulf Television. He was the son-in-law of the founder of Houston’s Duncan Coffee Co. and had previously formed Sabine Televison to put a station on the air in Beaumont. That project foundered due to the FCC freeze on TV applications and while waiting, Taft had realized the potential for a station in Galveston serving a much larger target audience. There were two applicants for the allocation; Taft had forged a merger with Mirador Television-Radio Corporation owned by R. Lee Kempner and Associates and the other company withdrew its application. The permit was granted January 28 and the station was given 2 months by the FCC to start construction; instead, the station was starting operations 6 days before that deadline.
Stockholders in Gulf Television included mostly Galveston and Houston businessmen including James Bradner, the head of Galveston radio station KGBC. Actor James Stewart was also a stockholder and Stewart was in town on that day to host the opening ceremony which would introduce the station principals and programming.
The antenna was located at Arcadia, a town on State Highway 6 now within the boundaries of Santa Fe; the Chronicle described the location as ‘about half way between Houston and Galveston.’ In fact, the 500 foot tower topped by a 50 foot antenna was much closer to Galveston. The Chronicle also said the coverage area basically included the ‘tri-city’ area of Houston, Galveston and Freeport. With 235,000 watts, KGUL-TV was the most powerful TV station in Texas at that time. A coverage map printed in the Chronicle’s special section indicated the Grade-A coverage area would probably barely have reached past Loop 610 North in Houston while the Grade-B coverage area probably would not have reached Intercontinental Airport (neither of these landmarks was in existence at that time). It was estimated there were 237,000 TV sets in use in the coverage area with potentially 1 million viewers.
The station’s primary affiliation would be with CBS-TV with back-up arrangements with ABC and DuMont. Originally all programming would be either live and local or on film but a microwave link from Houston to Arcadia would bring the availability of live network feeds; that was expected to be completed in about 3 weeks. Network and telephone company officials in New York would work out which station, KPRC-TV or KGUL-TV, got to use the sole cable link from Dallas to Houston at any given time. A second coaxial link was expected to be completed by the end of the year. At that time, the new station planned to air a full-day schedule.
The station had 2 cameras, 2 film chains and 2 slide projectors. Initially it would be on the air starting at 4pm daily but that would expand once the cable connection was completed.
Some shows would be moving from Channel 2 to Channel 11 including Studio One, Godfrey and Friends, I’ve Got a Secret, Racket Squad, Mr. And Mrs. North, Private Secretary, Toast of the Town, Ken Murray and Alan Young. Jack Harris of KPRC-TV said most of those had been airing on Channel 2 late at night and would be replaced by feature movies. New shows on KGUL-TV never before seen in Houston included Captain Video, Plainclothesman, Jane Froman, City Hospital, Crime Syndicated, Danger, The Ruggles, Quick as a Flash, Four Star Playhouse, Video Theater, Big Town, Life Begins at 80, My Friend Irma, Beat the Clock, Jackie Gleason, Chance of a Lifetime and Gene Autry. Shows that had aired previously in Houston but weren’t currently on the KPRC-TV schedule included Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Perry Como, Burns and Allen, You Asked for It, Man Against Crime, Blue Ribbon Bouts, Big Town, Playhouse of Stars and Quiz Kids.
The station planned 3 local shows plus 2 daily newscasts. A homemaking hour would consist of a 30 minute cooking show presided over by George Young, chef of Galveston’s Jean Lafitte Hotel, followed by Wilma Rutherford, formerly of KRLD-TV, Dallas, who would discuss homemaking tips, fashion and decorating, etc. A musical show would be offered in the near future, alternating between the Al Pliner Trio of Galveston and Margie, Wink and Everest, a trio from Houston. Margie was identified as Margie Crumbaker, perhaps the same person who was later a columnist for the Houston Post.
Some accounts have claimed the first evening’s programming was to be a festival of James Stewart movies but that is not what was reported in the Houston Chronicle or Galveston Daily News. A line-up of CBS network shows was due after the brief opening show, followed by the feature presentation of the night, "Oil Town USA," a film which had been shot by the Billy Graham Evangelical Crusade at Rice Stadium in Houston.
What actually happened however was a breakdown in the equipment which left actor Stewart ad libbing in the lobby of the small building, holding a lavalier microphone, trying to fill. I was watching at this point - for some reason, I had some control over the TV though I was the youngest family member. I don’t remember that we had tuned in and caught the opening formalities but I was watching at this point and got bored. Stewart was not very good at ad libbing; I hardly knew who he was, anyway, as he had not been featured in many of the movies I saw at the Lake Theater in Lake Jackson at the weekly Saturday afternoon double-feature. Besides, there were now 2 stations to choose from and I switched the set over to watch Channel 2, thus becoming one of the earliest and youngest channel surfers in Houston.
Meanwhile on Channel 11, desperate measures were undertaken to save the evening. A local country western artist, Utah Carl, was summoned and he and his band showed up within minutes and performed an impromptu concert in the station’s lobby. The story of Utah Carl is recounted in this article by Galvestonian Bill Cherry for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Station officials were so grateful for his efforts and so impressed with his showmanship that he was given a regular slot on the station, adding to the local programming. Live country music programming was actually quite common in early TV; long running Grand Ol’ Opry stars Curly Fox and Miss Texas Ruby had a program on KPRC-TV that lasted for 7 years and they had earlier had a show on WNBC-TV, New York.
The 16 page Chronicle special section included numerous articles about the pending launch of KUHT-TV, Channel 8, plus KNUZ-TV and plans at KPRC-TV to boost power when it moved into new studios on Post Oak Road in Houston.
The image above comes from the archives of the Galveston Daily News on microfilm at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston.