Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ashtabula's "Beacon" of Entertainment-Conclusion

The conclusion of the History Of WICA-TV 15 in Ashtabula..

Carl Feather
Ashtabula Star-Beacon

It didn't take long for the novelty of local television to wear off and the frustrations of UHF reception to wear thin. By 1955 the fascination of seeing your neighbor sing on a 21-inch screen was no longer enough to get you to turn to Channel 15 or convince a local advertiser to purchase time on WICA-TV.Consider the WICA programming lineup for Jan. 10, 1955. After the news and weather, viewers were treated to "Telecomics," "Americana," a film program by "The Christophers," "Your Business" and a full hour of wrestling (film).That same night, network affiliates from Cleveland and Erie, Pa., were beaming "Dinah Shore," "Milton Berle," "Fireside Theatre," "Warner Brothers Presents," "Wyatt Earp," "Danny Thomas," "The Phil Silvers Show," "Red Skelton" and "The $64,000 Question."Three years earlier, signals from these affiliate would have been no competition for local programming. Snow, ghost images and other symptoms of a waning signal would have marred viewing.But John Colin, who was general manager of WICA-TV, said that the FCC granted the VHF stations substantial power increases shortly after the local UHF channels started going on the air. Not only could these small stations not access the network's programming and advertising dollars, they had to compete against them."Lo and behold, just about this time, the FCC allowed VHF stations all over the country to come in with full power enough to encompass us and get the picture we get today," Colin said. "When the FCC did this, there were 100 or more stations that went off the air, they couldn't handle this."The financial loses were tremendous."The equipment we had was the best money could buy," said Frank Bernato, who was station engineer. "I understand that Rowley invested $250,000 in equipment."Signal strength, however, was not an issue. Colin has in his possession letters from viewers in New York, Michigan, Indiana and Connecticut reporting reception of Channel 15's signal."The problem with UHF was we simply couldn't get enough viewers in the area to make the business pay," said John Strasen, former WICA-TV program director. "You got to have a bunch of people watching if you wanted to sell ads, and that's what it was all about."
WICA-TV plodded along with programming that became increasingly boring and inexpensive. According to program grids published in The Star-Beacon, the last day of broadcast was June 16, 1956. Programming included a full hour of "Home Town Teens," featuring "Five Kings," "The Barnyard Five" and "Vlock-Dahl Quartet" _ hardly any competition for "The Lone Ranger," "Dinah Shore" "You Bet Your Life."In contrast to the yearlong build-up that preceded its arrival, WICA-TV left the air without fanfare. The novelty had become a nuisance."Bingo, we were off the air," said Donald Fassett, who was business manager. "It surprised all of us.""I hate to be negative about it, but for a small town like this, it was state of the art," said Charles Mandrake, former assistant program director for WICA-TV. "It was similar to the early days of sound recording. All it had to do was make a noise and people would be fascinated. I have to compare the early days of television's local stations to that."Since most of the television personnel were doing double duty on the radio, the demise of WICA-TV was no big loss to them."I think there was a sigh of relief among the staff," said John Strasen, former program director. "I worked the better part of another year clearing up the debris _ mostly empty film cans and stuff that had piled up all over. I returned the free films before they got lost. There was a pile of them. Oh, gee, what a job that was."
Channel 15 remained blank in Ashtabula County for over eight years. But the Rowley Family held on to the license, keeping UHF competition from elbowing into their broadcasting turf.In 1964 Colin and public school superintendents in Ashtabula County began to explore the feasibility of using the channel for educational television. Articles of incorporation for The Ashtabula County Educational Television Foundation were filed and its trustees traveled to demonstration sites to observe educational television at work.But enthusiasm for the project waned and it was put on hold until 1967. In the meantime, station management attempted one last attempt at reviving local television. Without fanfare, at 3:45 p.m. Dec. 15, 1965, the 363-foot tower on Jefferson Road began beaming television programming to Ashtabula County homes.Starting out with a minimum of 2^2 hours of programming a day, Monday through Friday, station management promised to air programs of local interest featuring local artists and community leaders as well as programs of general interest. It sounded like the same, tired format all over again.But the environment for a local UHF station looked favorable. Congress had passed a law that required television sets manufactured after January 1963 be equipped to receive UHF and VHF. Videotape equipment was coming down in size, making location taping of commercials and local events possible."All manufacturers of sets had to put UHF on them," said Colin. "We thought it would be much easier."Still, WICA would return to the air without the benefit of network affiliation. And it was a black-and-white station in a medium that was making the transition to color. Further, within a couple years cable television would be available in Ashtabula, providing 12 VHF and UHF channels without an antenna. And the station limited its broadcast schedule to weekdays.In April 1966 the station expanded its hours to fill a 3:45 to 8:30 p.m. time slot. Eventually, the programming would be extended until 11 p.m., but the content was mediocre, at best.The April 4, 1966, lineup on WICA-TV was: news, weather and sports; "The Stewardess Story; "With All Good Wishes," "Suspension Bridge," "Now and Forever," news and weather, "Big Band Bash," sports and "Theater 15."Eventually, "Theater 15" would be expanded to consume four of the seven hours of WICA programming. Promising "full length films produced since 1958," "Theater 15" also had the nasty practice of running the films twice in one week."This is similar in philosophy to that used by theaters and will give viewers two chances to see a movie," explained Robert Rowley, business manager, in a newspaper story.The titles of the some of the Theater 15 films suggest mediocrity and low rental rates: "Crime in the Streets," "The Accursed," "Samson and the Sea Beast," "Temple of White Elephants" and "Black Sunday."The station continued to operate with one studio camera, the same antiquated unit whose technology had imposed severe limitations on local broadcasting a decade before. The purchase of a portable Vidicon camera in 1967 was touted as a way to bring local events to the television audience. Rowley was quoted in a newspaper story as saying, "We plan to utilize a portable mobile unit embodying the camera and new tape machine which we can take to all local events of importance."The station bowed off the air later that year, Dec. 26, 1967, with an unimpressive lineup of programming for the night: "Taur the Mighty," "Death Valley Days," "The Saracens.""After the second time, we left the license go, once there was no more hope for the educational television project," Colin said.The station's equipment was sold to other stations or donated to schools. The only physical reminder of the station's existence is the 53-foot UHF broadcasting antenna that rises above the FM pylon.The electromagnetic waves that once emanated from the Channel 15 tower have dissipated into the ether of broadcasting eternity. No videotapes or kinescopes of "The Hoot and Holler Gang," "Happiland" or any of the other locally produced programs exist. The memories of those days are getting dimmer, fading to black like the tiny dot on the 1953 Philco that once filled our living rooms with the joys and sorrows of baby television.

Ashtabula Star-Beacon Archives...
Great resource for Historical articles on Ashtabula County

Link to Archives..

These articles were originally published in the Star-Beacon January 16, 1995

There were a lot of grand ideas for Local Television in Ashtabula County in the 1950's and 60's. The WICA folks should be honored for the effort they put in..The main thing is..having entertaining programming and sponsor wonders what might have happened if the Rowleys had not kept the license..Who else might have come in and tried to put it on the air..I think it would definitely be on the air in some form by now..

Ashtabula's "Beacon" of Entertainment-Part Two

A continuation of an excellent look at the History of WICA-TV As told by people who were there at the time..
By Carl Feather
Ashtabula Star-Beacon
Part Two

As test signals were first beamed across Ashtabula County in August, 1953, Sales Manager Donald Fassett and his staff _ Robert Rydberg, Irvine Bleasdale, Joseph Yourcheck, Vernon Webster, JoAnn Klasen, Jean Moss, Jeannette Kolasinski, Patricia Nelson and George H. Murray _ drummed up sponsors. Fassett, who retired from the radio station in 1979, said the sales department had one of the toughest assignments in the new venture."We had a heck of a time selling advertising," he said. The station was not yet on the air and advertisers were reluctant to put their dollars into an unknown when radio and newsprint advertising was proven and readily available. Further, the absence of popular programming made it difficult to drum up sponsors for the old movies and locally produced shows that would become the station's mainstay.But Fassett and his staff did succeed in signing on several major sponsors. The Illuminating Company sponsored one of the station's most popular shows, "I Led Three Lives." East Ohio Gas signed on as an advertiser for a live cooking show that required construction of a kitchen set in the studio. Fassett and other station employees exchanged their business suits for carpenter's aprons and constructed the set."We did everything back then," he said.Radio station personnel were pressed into service to fill new positions in the television side of the operation. Fred Baker had signed on with WICA in December 1951 with the hopes of getting a radio announcer's job. He ended up in the advertising department, but when the television project was announced, made the transition to the new film and slide department of WICA-TV."I was responsible for the movie and the slide projectors," he said. "There was a girl who worked with me. We prepared the films and the slides for each day's run. It involved inspecting, cleaning them and getting them ready...loading the projectors. It was just about the same type of work a projectionist would do in a movie theater."Fassett said slides were a big part of the station's programming. Usually, the slides illustrated an advertiser's message. While the slide was on the screen, an announcer in a studio off camera would narrate the image. Fassett recalls R.W. Sidley in particular using many slides. An amateur aviator, Fassett shot the photographs as he flew over the company's sprawling facility in Thompson.Slides were an essential part of the station's operation because there was only one television camera for the entire station. The behomoth had a turrent with fixed focal-length lenses that could not be changed while feeding an image to the control board. If the camerman needed to switch to a different lens, he had to signal the control room to cut to a slide or film, make the change, then return to feeding his signal from the camera."We were pioneering," he said. "There was no book on this. There was no where you could go and get anything on how to operate a station in those days. It was by guess and by golly."One camera operation was not unique to WICA-TV. Fassett said it was an economic necessity for many staions. "They were fabulously expensive," he said. "They were a huge thing and they were very, very expensive."Economy was not limited to equipment. Staff was stretched thin between radio and television duties to keep the operations on the air. Virtually everyone who worked at WICA ran camera at one time or another. Weighing in at 100 pounds, the studio camera was primitive compared to today's lightweight camcorders. Operating it was physically exhausting, because it had to be in almost constant motion."The sensitive element of the camera tube was such that if you didn't move that camera every so often, 30 seconds or so, you'd get a double image," Mandrake said. "You had to remember to shift the camera.""We had to watch those burn spots like crazy," said Strasen. "Only a few seconds would do it. We had to watch different types of lighting, too. If you put the camera tube on the lights and held it there for a couple sets, bingo, you had a burned tube and there wasn't anything you could do to get rid of it."The constant motion requirement made for some tedious camera work _ and viewing. Adding to the tedium was the lack of network feeds or news footage during news and sports broadcasts. The most viewers could hope for would be a slide or photograph shot at the scene of the news event."It was simply the announcer's handsome face on camera, that's all," Strasen said.
By mid-September 1953, Channel 15 was set to go on the air in Ashtabula, a scant seven months after the FCC gave its final go-ahead to the license. WICA-TV was one of the first UHF stations to begin broadcasting and was believed to be the first to occupy Channel 15. It was a great occasion for Ashtabula County and the local newspapers _ Conneaut News-Herald, The Star-Beacon, Geneva Free Press and Painesville Telegraph _ ran a special supplement announcing the debut of the new station at 6 p.m. Sept. 19, 1953."An aspect of WICA-TV's opening night will be spontaneous `television parties' in the homes having sets converted for receiving UHF transmissions," the newspapers reported. "Many owners of unconverted sets are expected to swarm in on friends and relatives who have converted to see how the picture and sound come through."The first man to be seen and heard on the new station was Charles Mandrake, veteran WICA radio announcer and assistant program director. Following his identification of the station, Mandrake delivered a 10-minute news program. A film program, "The Christophers," followed. Andrew Holecko presented a sports report at 6:40 p.m. A 35-minute inaugural program followed.The Star-Beacon gave the following account of WICA's first three hours on the air:"Saturday night's inaugural television program went off `quite well,' officials said, although some sets experienced difficulty in bringing in as good a picture as expected. Adjustment of sets has, in many cases, not been perfected due to the last minute rush which took up most of the time of local television dealers and repair men."Local television had come to northeast Ohio.

On Oct. 3, 1954, the station celebrated its first anniversary with an open house and afternoon of local programming. A look at the program grid for that special afternoon provides a revealing look at the kind of programming WICA hosted:
n 12:30 p.m. _ Fred Dense, an organist from Painesville, gave a program of organ melodies in the studio. His program was repeated live (videotape was not introduced until 1957) at 4 and 5:45 p.m.
n 12:45 p.m. _ The Polka Toppers with Robert Bilicic presented a 15-minute program of music.
n 1 p.m. _ Joanne Marie Salo, a 16-year-old Harbor High School student, presented 15 minutes of favorite piano selections. Her program was repeated later in the afternoon.
n 1:15 p.m. _ The Texas Tornadoes of Painesville, Dave and Irene Stowe, entertained with a program of country and hillbilly music.
n 1 p.m. _ Patricia Nelson, a vocalist from Ashtabula, gave a program of secular and religious music.
n 1:45 p.m. _ Phil Hammon's Orchestra, the Scarlet Notes, performed.
n 2 p.m. _ Charles Mandrake, WICA personality, presented his "popular television show," "Ye Olde Record Shoppe."
n 2:45 p.m. _ An all request program of piano music was played by L. Robert Coxe.
n 3 p.m. _ The Kiddies Korner.
n 3:30 p.m. _ People's Missionary Baptist Chaurch, with Rev. R.L. Fields presenting a singing program of spiritual and gospel songs. Also performing that day were area teen-agers and the members of the Massucci Accordian Band.
Colin recalls the open house as extremely successful. Over 2,500 people toured the studios and watched the programs being aired. Up to 300 crammed in one studio, hoping to have their faces beamed across the county as the station's only camera panned the audience.
The marshy land around the station was transformed into a parking lot. Colin said many of the visitor's cars got hung up in the muck and had to be rescued by station personnel who dashed between tractors, studios and desks.

The fascination of seeing your neighbor sing a song in a 21-inch box was not enough to capture and hold a television audience, let alone to convince an advertiser to spend money on the station. And in that was the demise of WICA-TV.
Consider the WICA programming line-up for Jan. 10, 1955. After the news and weather, viewers would be treated to "Telecomics," "Americana," a film program by "The Christophers," "Your Business" and a full hour of wrestling (film).
That same night, the network affiliates from Cleveland and Erie, Pa., would beam the following shows across the lakeshore: "Dinah Shore," "Milton Berle," "Fireside Theatre," "Warner Brothers Presents," "Wyatt Earp," "Danny Thomas," "The Phil Silvers Show," "Red Skelton" and "The $64,000 Question."
Three years earlier, these shows would have been no competition for local programming. Snow, ghost images and other symptoms of a weak signal would have mared the viewing.
But Colin said that the FCC granted the VHF stations substantial power increases shortly after the local UHF channels started going on the air. Not only could these small stations not access the network's programming and advertising dollars, they had to compete against them.
"Lo and behold, just about this time, the FCC allowed VHF stations all over the country to come in with full power enough to encompass us and get the picture we get today," Colin said. "When the FCC did this, there were 100 or more stations that went off the air, they couldn't handle this."
The financial loses were tremendous.
"The equipment we had was the best money could buy," said Bernato. "I understand that Rowley invested $250,000 in was just that UHF had its problems and the receiving equipment was not the best in the world.
WICA-TV struggled along despite the stiff competition for viewers who could now get programming without having to purchase adapters, a new set or antenna. The station's signal strength was not an issue in its demise. Colin has in his possession letters from viewers in New York, Michigan, Indiana and Connecticut reporting reception of WICA's signal.
The problem was a lack of local viewers who possessed sets capable of receiving WICA and programming of high enough quality to make it worth the investment of an adapter or new set.
According to program grids published in The Star-Beacon, the last day of broadcast was June 16, 1956. Programming included a full hour of "Home Town Teens," featuring "Five Kings," "The Barnyard Five" and "Vlock-Dahl Quartet," no competition for "The Lone Ranger," "Dinah Shore" "You Bet Your Life."
"I hate to be negative about it, but for a small town like this, it was state of the art," said Mandrake. "It was similar to the early days of sound recording. All it had to do was make a noise and people would be fascinated. I have to compare the early days of television's local stations to that."
"The problem with UHF was we simply couldn't get enough viewers in the area to make the business pay," Strasen said. "You got to have a bunch of people watching if you wanted to sell adds, and that's what it was all about."
In contrast to the yearlong build-up that preceded its arrival, WICA-TV left the air without fanfare.
"Bingo, we were off the air," said Donald Fassett, who was the station's business manager. "It surprised all of us."
"I think there was a sigh of relief among the staff," said Strasen. "I worked the better part of another year clearing up the debris _ mostly empty film cans and stuff that had piled up all over. I returned the free films before they got lost. There was a pile of them. Oh, gee, what a job that was."
Courtesy Ashtabula Star-Beacon Archives

Ashtabula's "Beacon" of Entertainment-Part One

Today's Article is about WICA-TV 15 in Ashtabula, Ohio. C. A. Richard D and David C. Rowley had operated WICA-970 AM in Ashtabula since the 1937 and WICA-FM since well as the Ashtabula Star Beacon Newspaper..Below is an account of the History of WICA-TV as reported by Carl Feather in the Star-Beacon in 1995..It highlights the unique difficulties at the time..Being UHF, Kind of in a no man's land geographically.The difficulty of lining up sponors, network affiliation, etc..

WICA-TV History
By Carl Feather
Ashtabula Star-Beacon

Turn back 40 years, to Jan. 9, 1955. Supper dishes are done. Your high-fat, high- cholesterol meat-and-potatoes meal is beginning to settle down. You walk into the living room and turn your new television on _ a Philco 21-inch set housed in a maple cabinet. It's the centerpiece of your living room, and rightly so. It set you back $454.95, plus tax.Your new set is of the latest design, for it features a UHF tuner that reaches above the paltry 12 channels on VHF to the ultra-high frequencies (UHF) of television land. Your acquisition of the set has made you very popular with relatives and neighbors. During the holidays, there was a constant parade of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and shirttail relatives who stopped by watch your set, one of the few in the neighborhood with UHF capabilities.But tonight, it's just the spouse and kids. You glance at your watch, note the time and turn the set on. The tiny dot in the middle of the screen grows steadily until its ghastly glow probes every corner of the room. The speaker crackles and hisses as you turn the tuner to the magic number on the UHF dial, "15."You're just in time for the sign-on of WICA-TV, Channel 15, broadcasting live from its modern studios on Jefferson Road in Ashtabula. You tinker with the fine tuning dial on your set until the picture is clear (for the time being). Then you settle down in the easy chair and get ready for the news. Announcer Charles Mandrake comes on the screen with a picture of the U.S. Capitol behind him. In the news tonight: Frank J. Lausche was sworn in as Ohio's 5-term governor; Diamond-Alkali in Painesville announces plans to locate a radiation research center in Painesville; and 2-year-old Larry Knapp of Andover removed the labels from all the cans in his mother's cupboard, making a guessing game out of meal preparation.At 6:40 p.m., the signature tune of "Music for You" announces that it's time for a visit with Mrs. Fern Dingley and her local guest artists, Mario Brindzi and Mrs. Vincent Gigliotti. You doze and read the paper while Brindzi sings "The Lace-Edged Shawl" and Gigliotti gives her cello arrangement of Handel's "Largo."Your favorite show comes on at 7:30 p.m., "I Led Three Lives," a half-hour drama about an American who posed as a Communist. It's a regular on Monday nights and one of the few big-name WICA_TV programs.At 8:30 p.m., another film program, "The Big Picture," informs you about the activities of the South Korean Army. Halfway through the show, the film breaks and your screen turns white. The infamous, "One moment please" slide appears.Mandrake returns to the screen at 9 p.m. with a final update on the news, and the station signs off for another day. Your time in front of the TV screen is limited not by your couch potato discipline, but the availability of material on the local channel.It has been exciting to watch this hatcheling medium peck its way out of the shell and into your living room. For now, you are content to have an image, any image on your screen. But in a few months, the constant parade of mediocre talent, public service films and cowboy movies no longer entertain. The stronger signals of the Cleveland and Erie television stations carrying network programming to your living room woo you from your initial allegiance to the local station. Then one evening in the summer of 1956, you turn back to Channel 15 out of curiosity.Only snow greets you.

The history of television broadcasting in Ashtabula County is a short but fascinating one. WICA-TV beamed its first program, Charles Mandrake's newscast, over the airwaves 6 p.m. Sept. 19, 1953. No public announcement of its final telecast appears to have been made, but The Star-Beacon last printed a TV grid for the local station June 21, 1956. The station returned to the airwaves briefly in the mid-1960s. Many of the same factors that doomed it a decade before put it off the air again in 1967, this time for good.In the early 1950s, however, the prospects for a local television station were very bright. Prior to 1952, television stations had been limited to large markets and a narrow band, VHF, or very high frequencies. Stations in Cleveland and Erie, Pa., tried to service this area, but the long distances, poor receiving equipment and weak radiated power of the stations made reception poor, at best.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controlled the allocation of television channels. The small number of channels in the VHF band made it very unlikely that a community the size of Ashtabula would be assigned a channel. Indeed, as the number of stations grew in metropolitan markets, so did interference between stations occupying the same channel in neighboring cities. The problem became so great that in September 1948, the FCC placed a freeze on new television station licenses.But research by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in the late 1940s offered hope. Their answer was the UHF band, which would open up channels 14 to 83 (VHF is assigned 2 through 13).On Dec. 30, 1949, experimental station KC2XAK in Stratford, Conn., rebroadcast the VHF signal from New York station WNBT on the UHF band. Fifty experimental UHF receivers built for occasion were placed in homes, businesses and other locations around the community to assess the quality of the reception. Shortly thereafter, the first commercial UHF station, in Portland, Oregon, went on the air.Local media entrepreneurs Robert B. and Donald C. Rowley watched these developments with acquisitive interest. Their father, the late C.A. Rowley, had laid the groundwork for a media empire in Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties. Rowley's AM radio station, WICA, went on the air in 1937 (see page B2 for a look at the radio side of WICA). In 1940, C.A. Rowley made preparations for the addition of an FM station, a dream he did not live to see fulfilled. Rowley died Aug. 10, 1945.But his sons sustained the dream. By 1949, WICA-AM and WREO-FM were broadcasting 18 hours a day, with the FM station boasting 48,000 watts, the second most powerful station in Ohio. But the AM station was stymied by FCC regulations that focused its broadcast pattern on Lake Erie and the southern regions of the county to avoid infringing upon stations from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The signal fell off substantially beyond Saybrook Township to the west and Kingsville Township to the east.Frank Bernato, who was engineer for the radio stations, said he recalls going to Washington D.C. with the Rowley brothers to plead their case before the FCC. Bernato said the FCC officials recommended WICA apply for a spot on the UHF band and assured the Rowleys that Ashtabula would be given a favorable channel, close to those on the VHF band. The Rowleys filed their application _ and waited.Meanwhile, UHF technology improved and the FCC eventually lifted its freeze on new stations. The FCC's new allocation plan, announced in April 1952, provided for 2,053 television stations in 1,291 communities in the United States, its territories and possessions. The agency's plan would put a television station in virtually any region of the nation. True to their word, the FCC assigned Ashtabula an excellent spot on the UHF spectrum, Channel 15.

Robert Rowley died in 1950, leaving Donald as president of WICA Inc. and publisher of four Northeastern Ohio newspapers, including The Star-Beacon. Rowley needed a man to take over the organization of the new television channel, and selected John A. Colin for the job. Colin had served as legal counsel for the media conglomerate and had always been interested in the newspaper and broadcasting business.Colin was named general manager of WICA-TV. He began laying the groundwork for a new station, from filing the FCC paperwork to planning the layout of transmitters, film chains and the studio. This was concurrent with the station moving its radio studios from Center Street in Ashtabula to Jefferson Road, which would also become the location of the television studios and transmitter.Another task assigned to Colin was negotiate an affiliation with a major television network. Network affiliation would be essential to the economic survival of a new station. With it would come the popular programming of the day, but more importantly, the national advertising dollars that would pay the electricity bills, purchase the equipment and compensate the employees.But networks were not interested in spending their money or efforts in a market the size of Ashtabula's."This was one of our great problems," said Colin, who still maintains a law practice in Ashtabula. "I had to visit New York, Chicago and other cities to get these networks to give us an affiliation. The closest we came to getting one was either CBS or ABC, but no promises."Even without network affiliation, the station's management decided to move ahead on the project. Colin said Rowley was committed to making WICA-TV a local television station that would feature hometown talent and address community issues. The absence of network programming would be compensated for by running free public service films and renting low-budget motion pictures from film services."He became convinced we didn't have to have a network," said Bernato. "We could get a lot of free stuff, old movies, cowboys and wrestling shows. It think that hurt us. People wanted something better."

Courtesy Ashtabula Star Beacon Archives..
Part 2 to follow

Friday, May 25, 2007

The End of An Era..

As I type this, "The Big Chuck and Little John" Show will have taped its last regular program at WJW-TV Fox 8 (Thursday, May 24). "Big Chuck" Schodowski has announced his retirement from the Station in June 2007, after 46 years on Channel 8..47 in Cleveland TV (He was at KYW-3 for a short time in 1960). While Chuck and John will be busy with personal appearances and preparing DVD's of the BC&LJ/Hoolihan/Ghoulardi skits, It will effectively be the end of an era in Local TV. The last classic entertainment show in Cleveland Televison. The Friday/Saturday Horror Host movie has been a staple of TV 8 through 4 station ownerships for an astounding 44 years!

In 1968 a TV 8 station manager was going to cancel Hoolihan and Big Chuck, but the resulting furor changed his mind...My first experiences with Ghoulardi as a 5 or 6 year old..When we went to visit relatives in East Canton, Ohio On Friday nights. They wanted to watch Ghoulardi but I was scared of him..LOL..He sort of spooked me out..As I grew older, Like many in Northeast Ohio, I watched (with pizza, pop and chips) Hoolihan and Big Chuck-More for the skits than the movies most weeks..spoofs of current and long forgotten movies, tv and commercials..Some worked better than others, but Chuck, Hooli and John would. within the bounds of good taste, try almost anything at least once. The great Characters, Stosh, (Certain ethnic), SoulMan, Ben Crazy, Kielbasy Kid. Batguy and Rinaldi, Readings By Robert..And those were just the most well known skits..not to mention other one-shot skits..most a laugh riot..I think of supporting players..Art Lafredo, Jim Syzmanski, Mary Allen, Tom Bush, Bill Ward..and how much they added to the show, Not to mention other TV 8 personalities such as Robin Swoboda and Dick Goddard, who didnt mind hamming it up in occasional skits..I have been watching the "Skits" shows the last several weeks and Big Chuck many times refers to the show as a "Family". I'd like to think that Chuck and John thinks of the viewers as an "extended family" ..That would be invited into their house every Friday or Saturday night for the last 4o years (or more)..Guys..thanks for letting us in..Its been a great ride..Thanks for the memories..
The show taped Thursday will be shown Saturday morning at 10AM on Fox 8. There will also be a prime-time special on Fox 8 Friday June 22, 2007 at 8PM..
Thanks to for the title picture..Doktor Goulfinger for the Cleveland Press Ghoulardi for the Bob Wells Picture and the TV 8 Logo from Wikipedia..

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

WHBC's Jim Johnson retiring

According to Todd Porter in the Canton Repository, Deep voiced Jim Johnson, WHBC-1480's Sports Director since 1978, is retiring next month after nearly 30 years at the station. The Coshocton, Ohio native had been calling High School sports at WFAH-FM Alliance before going to WHBC. By all accounts, he has been the consummate professional and a genuinely good guy. He impressed Cleveland Cavaliers announcer Joe Tait so much that for a time, Johnson called select Cavalier radio games while Tait was doing TV. There will be a "roast" of Johnson on WHBC's Fred Chenevy/Pam Cook morning show on June 1..

Todd Porter's May 20 Canton Repository "Sunday Special" (Last note in the article)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What might have been in Northern Ohio Television

What we will discuss today is what Northeast Ohio Television might have been like by say 1960-65 if certain "construction permits" had ever been built. UHF-TV in the 1950's was very unstable with stations appearing lasting maybe a year or two then disappearing. One had to have UHF converters attatched to their TV set..These converters werent very reliable..It was particulary hard when there were established VHF's in a city. The UHF couldnt get enough audience or advertising to survive in many cases..

Most Major libraries have copies of "Televison Almanac" in their reference collection..Sort of a year in review for TV Network executives, station owners and program producers. Included in this Almanac was an FCC list of US tv channel allocations and a list of licensed stations, both operating and non operating..For all the TV stations that were on the air even for a short time, there were many others with operating permits that never got on the air at all. For example, Channel 79 in Toledo while a permit was granted in the 1950's, was still being listed in the almanac as late as 1975..And it never did get on the air...What I want to do here is list some of the past channel allocations in NE Ohio..and give a mention to planned stations that never got on the air..which would have made things qute different today.

Channel Allocations as of 1956 e=educational channel
Akron 49, e55, 61(Now WQHS Cleveland)
Ashtabula 15
Athens 62
Cambridge 26
Canton 29 (Now WAOH-LP Akron)
Cleveland 3, 5, 8, 19, e25, 65
Coshocton 20 (Now WOUB Athens)
Defiance 43 (Now WUAB Lorain-Cleveland)
Findlay 53
Fremont 59
Lima 35, 73
Lorain 31
Mansfield 36
Massillon 23 (Now WVPX Akron)
Sandusky 42
Steubenville/Wheeling 7, 9, 51, e57
Tiffin 47
Toledo 11, 13, e30, 79
Warren 67 (Now WOAC Canton)
Youngstown/New Castle, Pa. 21, 27, 45, 73

Specific info on some local permits: (1950's)

Cleveland Broadcasting Inc.
Bulkely Building
Cleveland, Oh.
Pres. Ray Miller
VP-Richard M. Klaus

19 WHK-TV (WOIO-1985)
United Broadcasting Inc.
5000 Euclid Ave. Cleveland
Sterling E. Graham, President

Elyria-Lorain Broadcasting
Elyria Savings and Trust Bldg.
Elyria, Ohio
Pres. Roy Ammel
VP-D.O. Thomas

Fergum Theaters, Inc.
Madison Theater
Mansfield, Oh.
Pres. William Skirball
VP-Jack M. Skirball

23 WMAC (WAKR Akron 1967) (now WVPX)
Midwest TV Co.
500 Security Bldg.
Toledo, Oh.

29 WTLC (WAOH Akron-1980's) not sure of the date
Tri-Cities Telecasting
324 Market Ave. N.
Canton, Ohio
President Morton Frank
VP-WR Persons
Treasurer David B. Hanna
Secretary Loren E. Souers I have a 1958 Canton City Directory that lists Tri-Cities Telecasting, but no indication it was ever on the air..Souers has a middle school in Canton named after him.

New Castle, Pa. (1965)
Community Telecasters
Farrell, Pa.
(This was on channel 45 as a Youngstown Indie in 1960-62 at least probably not much beyond that..WFMJ 21 was on 73 in 1953-54)

I had seen in the past a listing in TV Almanac for
67 WHHH Warren, Oh. Some of the copies of TV almanac had been purged from the Stark Co. Library that had this listing

Finally some 1970 channel allocations

Akron 23, 49, e55 (though 55 was listed as educational, 49 would become WEAO-PBS..55 became commercial WBNX in 1986)
Ashtabula 15 (WICA-TV actually had a couple different stints on-air)
Athens e20
Canton 17, 67
Cleveland 3, 5, 8, 19, e25, 61
Defiance 65
Lima 35, 44, e57
Lorain 43
Mansfield e31 (eventually would get channel 68-Now WMFD)
Sandusky 51 (WGGN 52 is now on in Sandusky)
Steubenville 9, e62
Toledo 11, 13, 24, e30, 54, 60 (36 would be added in)
Woodsfield e44 (Likely became WOUC-Cambridge)
Youngstown 21, 27, 33, 45, e58 (45 would end up licensed to Alliance as PBS and 58 would become a translator for 45/49)

Thanks to the Stark County District Library for their assistance..Station information courtesy Television Almanac

In another post down the line I'll lay out my idea for an Akron-Canton TV market based on these unbuilt construction permits, etc..

Thursday, May 10, 2007

When the Hungries hit..Hit the Red Barn!

Recently there has been a wave of nostalgia among some of the sites I frequent regularly. Thought this would be a good time to talk about a former restaurant chain..Red Barn, of course..There is an outstanding site dedicated to the history of the Red Barn..which lasted from the early 1960's to the mid 80's. The site has audio, vintage TV commercials, Pictures of former Red Barn Sites some with the Barn Building, some not..A lot of memories, pictures of premiums, ads, etc. Very complete and extensive..Highly recommended..

Special thanks to Rich Perrott, who is behind for the use of the photo..A 1961 prototype sign for early Red Barn use..

Some random thoughts..

Some thoughts as we complete about six weeks in the "blogosphere":

Continued thanks:
I know perhaps some think I may overdo "thanking" people for reading and responding to the blog. It is truly an honor when anyone takes the time to read, and especially respond to what I write. It is very gratifying to know my writing is enjoyed somewhat. I especially appreciate the nice mentions on Ohio Media Watch and Frank Macek's "Director's Cut" blog recently. It is nice to know that people "in the business" enjoy what I do.

Use of Wikipedia:
I know people mostly, as is wise to do, take Wikipedia entries with a grain of salt. I try to check occasionally who writes the article and confirm its accuracy. This is why I implore folks that think they have a please make a comment in the blog or e-mail me. While this is totally a fun thing for me I do strive for accuracy as much as possible.

Use of photos, etc.
One of the really neat things about the blog is that I have been using my scanner somewhat more to try and incorporate images into the postings. This is something that is taking some time to learn, but is becoming well worth it as it gives a bit more "life" to the posts.

This goes with using Wikipedia. I try to do outside research as much as possible. However, I do not drive so any research has to involve either SARTA (Stark County Bus system-to Akron) or Greyhound (Cleveland or Youngstown). This usually can take half a day and a bit of expense on my part. Getting out is enjoyable but I have to pick my spots as far as days off, etc. To make these trips..

Again, I appreciate all the kind comments. And thanks for reading..Have a great week everyone..

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

WFMJ-TV-Channel 73??

Today we will look at the early history of WFMJ-TV. Youngstown Vindicator Publisher William F. Maag Jr. founded WFMJ Radio in 1939 at 1420 Khz, moving to 1450 Khz in 1941. By the mid 40's, the station was at 1390 Khz, where it is today, Originally Blue Network/ABC, the station moved to NBC in the early 1950's. Now owned by Clear Channel under the call letters WNIO, the station airs a standards format under the title, "America's Best Music"

Not generally known is the fact that country music powerhouse WQXK 105.1 FM Salem, Ohio actually began as WFMJ-FM in 1948.

WFMJ-TV 73 began broadcasting on March 8, 1953 signing on at 3 PM and signing off around midnight. Channel 21 was licensed to WUTV, but WFMJ bought the WUTV license to move down to Channel 21 July 7, 1954.

Though WFMJ carried the full NBC Schedule in pattern, local programming was plentiful..Hal Fryar hosted entertainment program "Hal's A Poppin" in the mid 1950's and was "Captain Hal" showing Popeye Cartoons. There was also Kids' Host Susie Sidesaddle and "Kitchen Corner" with Martha (Marjorie?) Mariner. This program would be shown anywhere from 1:15-3PM from 1953-Through the mid 1960's.

WFMJ-TV 73 Schedule Tuesday, December 22, 1953

7AM Today

9AM Pictorial Parade-Film

10AM Ding Dong School

10:30 Glamor Girl-Jack McCoy

11AM Hawkins Falls

11:15 Three Steps to Heaven

11:30 The Bennetts

11:45 Follow Your Heart

Noon Bride And Groom

12:15 Noontime Comics

12:45 News Headlines

1PM Movie-Grandpa Goes to Town (1940)

2:15 Fashion Sketchbook-Tornello

2:30 Kitchen Corner-Mariner

3PM Kate Smith

4PM Welcome Travelers

4:30 On Your Account

5PM Santa Claus

5:15 Gabby Hayes

5:30 Howdy Doody

6PM Bill Crooks News Summary

6:15 Viz Quiz

6:20 Eddie Lane Sports

6:30 Boston Blackie

7PM Ohio Bell Christmas Show

7:30 Dinah Shore

7:45 Camel News

8PM Seasons Greetings NBC special with Host Eddie Albert, Robert Montgomery, Robert Shaw Ensemble (Chorale) Kean Sisters, Ezio Pinza, Harpo Marx

9PM Fireside Theater

9:30 Circle Theater

10PM Judge For Yourself-Fred Allen Guest Sammy Kaye

10:30 Bob Considine

10:45 Sports

11PM Wrestling

Advertising Image courtesy Youngstown Vindicator:Most historical information courtesy Wikipedia-Movie Information from Imdb..Schedule from TV Guide, Lake Erie Edition

Note:When I get a chance to do more research, I will write about WKST/WYTV 33..and earlier incarnations of channel 45. One of the more interesting stories in Local TV..

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

WKBN-TV 27-First on the air

As we saw in our previous post, the beginning of 1953 would bring momentous changes to the broadcast landscape in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Both WKBN and WFMJ were within days or weeks of getting on the air. On January 6, 1953 WKBN-TV 27 aired its first test shown above..
WKBN Radio was founded by Warren P. Williamson in 1926 and was far and away the leading radio station in Youngstown. A longtime CBS affiliate, it was fairly certain that the new TV station would be primarily CBS. There were also secondary affiliations with ABC and DuMont early on. The first official day of Broadcasting was Sunday, January 11, 1953 and included Omnibus from CBS at 4:30 PM, A CBS special about the New Hollywood studios at 6PM, and Jane Froman's USA Canteen. The following are the next 2 days of broadcast schedules for WKBN-27:

Monday, January 12, 1953
5:30 Western Theater
6PM Don Gardner Sports
6:10 Weather
6:15 News
6:30 Film Fare
7PM Takes All Kinds
7:15 Mike (Wallace) and Buff (Cobb)-CBS
7:30 Elaine Carroll-Local
7:45 Garry Moore-CBS
8PM Stu Wilson-Local
8:15 Happy Bill Dunn-Local
8:30 Unlisted program
9PM Everywhere I Go
9:30 Sign-Off

Tuesday, January 13, 1953
5:30 Western Theater
6PM News, Weather, Sports (Gardner)
6:30 Strike It Rich-CBS
7PM Takes All Kinds
7:15 Mike And Buff
7:30 Elaine Carroll
7:45 Garry Moore
8PM Life Is Worth Living-Fulton Sheen-DuMont
8:30 Stu Wilson
8:45 Happy Bill Dunn
9PM Film Fare
9:30 Sign-Off
Schedules and photo above courtesy of the Youngstown Vindicator..