Sunday, July 29, 2007
The World On View-WXEL-Part 1 Getting Airborne
Original Test Pattern for WXEL-TV 9 Cleveland at sign-on December 19, 1949
The next few posts will be a reproduction of the Original WJW-TV History pages. These pages were first produced by Richard Warner for WJW Fox 8's website in 1998-99. The new myfoxcleveland.com website no longer has the pages on site. This, in my mind was the most well done TV History ever. This is "living history" so to speak..Just memories by mostly former TV 8 employees..Outstanding reading..Mr. Warner was kind enough to offer me the pages..A big thanks to Mr. Warner.
Personalites in this history include:Howard Hoffman, Dick Goddard, Doug Adair, Chuck Schodowski, Tim Conway, Soupy Sales, Jim Doney and many others..
Jim Prunty [Engineer]: Channel 5 went on the air first, followed by Channel 4, which had the backing of WTAM radio. Channel 4 went to channel 3 because Detroit had a Channel 4, both were NBC, and people who lived midway between the cities got this ghost effect on their screens. We started out [December 19, 1949] on Channel 9 as WXEL, with the old DuMont network. We operated out of the transmitter site on Pleasant Valley Road in Parma.
Howard Hoffmann [Announcer]: I started in December of 1949 as the 12th employee of WXEL, before the station even went on the air. I'd been working at WHK radio and watched the progress of the new TV station in the newspaper.
Jim Prunty: Howard was one of the original singers on the Milton Berle show. He was one of those guys who would sing, "We're the men of Texaco, we work from Maine to Mexico." But he was from Cleveland and came back to be a weatherman.
Howard Hoffmann: I'd toured with Stan Kenton, recorded for Capitol Records and was one of the original Texaco singers on the Berle Show. There were six of us, but they decided they couldn't afford six singers, so they cut back to four and I was let go. I'd just gotten married and needed a steady paycheck, so I came back home.
John FitzGerald [Sportscaster]: I was working at a radio station in Detroit and really wanted to get back home to Cleveland. So I'd take a flight on the old Capitol Airlines and go on job interviews and be back on the job in time for my afternoon shift. I had never been inside a TV station when Franklin Snyder at WXEL interviewed me, and a few days later, offered me the job. It paid less than the job offer I got from WERE radio the same day, but he said, "Well, you can't expect TV to pay as well as radio. We're not making any money!"
Howard Hoffmann: We flew in two planeloads of dignitaries and personalities the day the station signed on. It was cold — let me tell you — the wind was blowing and the snow was flying at Burke Lakefront. Morey Amsterdam, who had a show on DuMont, was one of the people who attended. Mel Harder, a pitcher with the Indians, was there. I signed the station on: "The World on View: This is Channel 9, WXEL Cleveland." We were all packed into this one little studio that had two cameras and people took turns welcoming the station on the air.
Chuck Schodowski [Engineer/"Big Chuck"]: Empire Coil, out of New Rochelle, New York, was the first owner of the station. They were owned by a guy named Herbert Mayer...they started out making coils that were put in automobiles and eventually they expanded to make coils for radio and TV stations. Their very first station was WSPD [named for the company's gasoline additive, Speedene] in Toledo.
Howard Hoffmann: That first day, we were supposed to show the station's mascot...a big paper maché elephant called "Little Ajax." But that idea never took off.
Helen Celke [Traffic]: They were wonderful years. I was hired to buy the films that the station ran. Nobody had any idea what they were doing...I mean, we were making it up as we went along. I'd come in about 2:00 in the afternoon, because we didn't go on the air until 4:00 and then we'd all work until 2:00 in the morning. Everybody was so happy doing what they were doing.
Jim Doney [Announcer/Host]: In 1952, I had been working at WNBK, which was the NBC TV station in Cleveland, and I got bumped. I was the low man on the totem pole when a guy came back from the Korean War and they had to give him his old job back. So I went over to WXEL and applied. The Program Director at the time was a guy named Ben Wickham, who had held the job of radio and TV editor of the old Cleveland Press newspaper.
Helen Celke: One of the salesmen would call trying to get us to buy some pictures and we wouldn't call them back, or we'd say, "Well, I really want to think about it." We were just trying to drive the price down and it worked because in those days nobody knew what the prices were supposed to be. I'd buy a western for $30. And of course the commercials were the same way...we'd take what we could get. I remember advertisements selling for $5.
Jim Doney: We had two studios at Channel 9. In one studio, we had a daily cooking show with Alice Weston and in the other one, we did a big dramatic show for Sohio where they acted health problems and followed it up with a discussion with experts.
John FitzGerald: I wound up with more exposure during those early years than anybody else. The boss used to say I was his all-purpose guy who could do anything. Since there weren't a lot of network feeds, they'd take your ideas for a show, or bring you some of their own. They'd say, "We've got this idea. You interested?"
Helen Celke: Alice Weston was on the air with her cooking show for years. She'd have guests and cook recipes. And there were many other live shows, although most didn't last very long. I remember one that only ran a little while called "Sports Desk." The most talented man was Warren Guthrie, who was a speech professor at Case Western Reserve. He had a fantastic memory. When he joined us the news department only had two other people.
Jim Doney: One of the most popular shows we did was called "Bargain Barn," which was done by a couple named Rena and Bob Ledyard. He'd been the Program Director at WJW radio, and he was a licensed auctioneer. His wife was a garage sale addict. She was always running off scouring the city for garage sale items and would come back and put together a half-hour show. Essentially, it was a garage sale on air. They'd send a pick up truck over to someone's house, bring the stuff back and sell it on TV. It was actually a very big show...very popular.
Howard Hoffmann: We were pretty much picking up whatever shows we could get. The cable hadn't reached Cleveland, so we couldn't get live shows. What we had were films of shows that were mailed to us. It took a while for us to get our feet on the ground and learn what we were doing.
John FitzGerald: For three or four years, we did a daily ladies' participation show called "Village Fair" from Herman Perchner's Alpine Village at 17th and Euclid. It was a nightclub, and we'd have audience participation and live commercials; there was no teleprompter. And we'd have as guests the people who would be performing that night at the club...Howard Keel...Professor Irwin Corey. We had three live Chiquita banana girls dressed up in their big hats doing commercials, and the Joe Baldi Trio.
Jim Doney: They hired me to replace Paul Newman, who had been doing commercials on the station for National City Bank. He came on every night following a news commentary sponsored by the Council for World Affairs that was delivered by a fellow named named Shepherd L. Whitman. Paul Newman's family was very well known in Cleveland at the time. They owned a sporting goods store called Newman and Stern on Euclid Avenue...which was something like Abercrombie and Fitch. I became a staff announcer, which was basically the booth announcer who was on duty at all times. Then a little later, I became the second banana on the Dale Young morning show, which we did from a restaurant.
John FitzGerald: Just before I started working here...I had to give notice at the radio station up in Detroit...and the boss here at WXEL said, "Well, hurry up. I've got someone who can fill in, but I don't want to hire him full-time." He was Alan Freed [the legendary disc jockey who coined the term "rock and roll"].
Bob Soinski [Engineer]: Freed did the 1:30 movie every afternoon. His sidekick was Grant Wilson, our record librarian. Alan would introduce the movie, do some of the commercials. Grant would play piano. Alan loved R&B music, and he wound up on WABC radio in New York, where he became very famous.
Helen Celke: I remember Alan Freed selling pots and pans on the air at night, sort of like all the infomercials that are running today. I bought one of my best pots from him for $1.00. I still have it.
John FitzGerald: Freed's nighttime show was live and featured a gal helper and a guy who drew cartoons. He'd draw something that went along with the record the Alan was playing.
Howard Hoffmann: "Cousin Walt" Kay did a Saturday morning kids show with cartoons. They'd all sit in a circle on the floor like they were in kindergarten.
Bob Soinski: Soupy Sales also started here, only back then he was known as Soupy Hines. He wound up changing his name because he didn't want to be linked to Hines ketchup.
Soupy Sales [Host]: I had been hosting a dance show on a station in Cincinnati for a couple of months when they came up to me and said, "Who wants to watch a bunch of teenagers dancing on television?" Rod Serling and I got fired from the same station on the same day. The day I came up for the interview at WXEL, someone robbed my car. When I discovered it had happened, I just sat down and cried. They hired me to do a show every afternoon called "Soup's On" where we pantomimed records and had guests like the Hilltoppers and the Four Aces. Johnny Ray made his TV debut on my show. That was also the show where my "pie in the face" routine started. We did a bit about an Indian and a cowboy; this was when the movie "Broken Arrow" was popular. A farmer who lived next door to the station let us use his horse for the skit — it was a wild horse — and the skit wound up that the Indian threw a pie in my face.
Helen Celke: Soupy was doing a show with this girl singer, and together they did comedy.
Copyright © 2000 New World Communications of Ohio, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The History site as originally presented on the old Channel 8 website is linked at the right..Including pictures..