Saturday, June 30, 2007

KNUZ-TV, Channel 39

KNUZ-TV signed on at 7pm on Thursday October 23, 1953, after months of frustrating delays. It was Houston’s 4th TV station and 1st in the UHF band, operating on channel 39 with an estimated radiated power of 20,000 watts which they hoped to boost to 100,000 watts soon. A test pattern had been broadcast for 10 days leading up to the official sign on and reports had been received of good reception from Port Arthur and Port Neches, 90 miles away.

The station operated from the University of Houston Television Center on Cullen near Wheeler, just off the University of Houston campus. The facility had been built by UH and leased to KNUZ-TV for 10 years. The antenna was behind the building according to the special reports in the Chronicle, a 707 ½ foot antenna built by the local firm of John D. Trilsch. Channel 8, which had studios in the Ezekiel W. Cullen building on campus, also broadcast from that antenna; channel 39 had the space on top.

The entire facility was said to have cost $530,000 and contained 15,000 square feet of space; operations were on the ground floor, offices were on the second floor.

Viewers were encouraged to stop by and visit; they could see the program on the air from the reception area and there was also a 350 seat bleacher section which could be folded back against the wall and accordion doors which could divide the studio into a smaller space. Thanks to a large glass expanse on the front of the building, motorists passing by on Cullen would be able to look into the studio.

The opening program was a one hour introductory show followed by a live telecast of a Lamar High School vs. Milby High School football game which experienced many difficulties. It was a short-lived debut. The station was off the air until the following Monday while engineers remounted the antenna atop the KUHT antenna and worked on the technical problems experienced during the remote.

When the station returned to the air on Monday the schedule printed in the paper was:

3pm - What’s Cookin’
3:30pm - Window Shop
4pm - Paul’s Place
4:45pm - Cartoon Caper
5pm - KNUZ Ranch
6pm - Rhythm Roundup
6:30pm - News, Weather
6:45pm - TBA
7pm - Long Shot
8pm - Danger Assignment
8:30pm - TV Auction - simulcast with KNUZ-AM
9pm - Movie
10:30pm - Twilight
11pm - Sign off

These programs were Monday thru Friday. A feature section of the Chronicle gave more details of individual programs:

What’s Cookin’ was hosted by Wilma Rutherford, a former model, graduate of TCU, and veteran of theater and radio/television. She had hosted the first cooking show on Texas television on WBAP-TV in Fort Worth, her hometown, several years earlier, then worked for KFI-TV in Los Angeles and KRLD-TV, Dallas, before coming to Houston. She had a maid that helped on the show.

Window Shopping with Mitzi Wayne described unusual values in local shops.

Paul’s Place, hosted by 23 year old Paul Berlin, popular KNUZ-AM disc jockey, was described as an ‘open house for viewers who like the lighter side of music and small talk,’ with Jan Stewart, a comedienne, on hand as a foil. The show would be aimed at teenagers with films of musical acts and visits with artists in town. The show would take place in the studio which had a bleacher section to accommodate a live audience.

The 39ers with Rhythm Roundup featured the Ranch Hands, Biff Collie, another KNUZ-AM dj, and Laura Lee.

Tonight (listed as Twilight in the listings) would feature Bill Anthony and would be a windup for the day with news, weather and music as requested.

K-News Television with KNUZ news director Bill Crawford would be on at 2:55, 5:55, 6:30 and 10:25pm daily.

Col. E.C. Beach was the auctioneer on TV Auction, Paul Berlin was the emcee. Real merchandise was auctioned off, including kitchen appliances, tires, etc. Bidding was by postcard with the highest bidder winning but real money was not accepted; ‘TV Bucks’ had to be used, which were obtained in return for purchases at about 30 advertisers affiliated with the show.

High school football games would be broadcast every Thursday night at 8pm

Station management included Max Jacobs, President, Dave Morris, Vice-President and General Manager, Irvin M Schlenker, Treasurer and Chairman of the Board, Bailey A. Swenson, a local architect who had designed the studios, Secretary, Douglas B. Hicks, assistant treasurer and Leon Green, asistant secretary.

KNUZ-TV utilized DuMont equipment throughout and became a DuMont Television network affiliate during its short life.

Another show which was developed by the station was the Houston Hometown Jamboree which was simulcast on KNUZ-AM from the City Auditorium. Biff Collie was one of the first hires on KNUZ-AM in 1948, coming to town to be a sports reporter but later becoming the station's very popular morning man. He worked at several other stations in Houston and is one of several Houston DJs in the Country Radio Hall of Fame. The Arlie Duff mentioned was a very popular jock on KOKE in Austin in the 1960s, one of the most entertaining and original jocks I ever heard. I know nothing of the Paul Hunter mentioned.

KNUZ-TV ceased operations as of Friday, June 25, 1954. According to a summary of the statement by Max Jacobs, President of KNUZ-TV, published in The Houston Post, a major reason for the shutdown was “the station’s inability to obtain a substantial amount of network programming and the national advertising which would have resulted.” The Post story went on to note that 70 UHF operating permits had been surrendered to the FCC and several UHF operations around the country had shut down.

Houston Consolidated Television, permittee of Channel 13, was able to get on the air more quickly because of the failure of 39. Negotiations had already started to use as much of the equipment of 39 as would be compatible with VHF. Channel 13 moved into the building on Cullen and operated there until moving out on Bissonnet in 1961. The building was then leased to NASA for computer operations for about a year, then Channel 8 took over those studios and operated there for more than 30 years.

ETA:  An additional picture of the original building from the 1950s plus the current facilities on the site have been posted on

The image above is from the special section of the Houston Chronicle published on Wednesday, October 21, 1953, on microfilm at the Houston Public Library. The 39/13/8 facility is now the TLC2 Center of the University on Cullen, about a half block south of Wheeler, but I'm not sure how much of that facility was there in the beginning. My earliest recollection of the Channel 8 facility was of a quonset hut facility but the quonset hut now is behind another building.


Dick Smith said...

I was there, opening night as a studio camera man. A few months later I was drafted and served in the Army. When I returned, KNUZ had folded and KTRK had taken over the facility. I would later work at KTRK on the Howard Finch show as a singer, with Larry Hovis, June Terry, and Janet Smith.My name is Dick Smith

Bruce said...

Thanks for the story Dick.

Dick sends along some additional details - When he was a UH student, he got a job playing piano on the What's Up with Wilma homemaking show on KGUL-TV. He had to hitch to Galveston to do the show and was paid $7.50 per show, but he was on TV! When he got hired to sing on the Howard Finch show he got a raise to $15 per show.

Dick is looking for more information about Wilma Rutherford if you can help him out. Also, he's finishing up a book on his days playing clubs and being on local TV. Get in touch if you'd like to know when it's available.

Dana Snider said...

My mom is the Janet Smith you are talking about. She used to sing on the Howard Finch show I believe. She passed away this month, on the 4th. I have been going through newspaper articles and pictures she saved. I've been searching the internet trying to find information about any recordings of her singing I can find. She didnt tell me much while she was living about her past as a singer but, she saved everything and I feel like Im getting to know her all over again.

Bruce said...

My condolences on the passing of your mom, Dana. But it's great she saved so much. I hope you'll come back and share more of what you learn about her career.