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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TELEVISION - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TELEVISION. The first television station in Cleveland was also the first in Ohio. WEWS (Channel 5), Channel 5, went on the air the night of 17 Dec. 1947. Possibly 6 other TV stations had preceded WEWS on the air, and 3 of these held experimental licenses from the Federal Communications Commission dating to 1941. When the FCC began granting other TV licenses at the end of World War II, WEWS was in the forefront of commercial TV when it televised its first program from PUBLIC AUDITORIUM. The program, the annual Christmas Show sponsored by the CLEVELAND PRESS, was a logical choice: the new station and the Press were both owned by the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. In fact, the station call letters came from the initials of the founder of the Press, EDWARD WYLLIS SCRIPPS†. Channel 5 operated from the 2nd floor of the old Women's City Club building on E. 13th St., just north of EUCLID AVE.. Its transmitter site was south of Cleveland in PARMA, where the high elevation helped produce a widespread signal. Nearly a year later the Natl. Broadcasting Co. began service on Channel 4 on 31 Oct. 1948 with an NBC network show, "Television Playhouse," which was filmed from an original telecast in New York and fed into the NBC Midwest network from Chicago. This second station used the letters WNBK and operated from what was the NBC Bldg. on Superior Ave. at E. 9th St., where NBC had operated its radio station WTAM for many years. Cleveland's 3rd TV station was WXEL, which began service on Channel 9 on 19 Dec. 1949. It was owned by the Empire Coil Co. of White Plains, NY. The studio and transmitter site was in Parma at Pleasant Valley and State Roads. The first program was from the Metropolitan Opera on the Dumont Network.

Until Jan. 1949, television programs in New York or any other East Coast city could not be seen live west of the Allegheny Mountains because TV transmission by network lines required coaxial cable. The American Telephone & Telegraph Co. completed a coaxial network over the mountains in Jan. 1949 and a special program celebrating this occasion originated in Cleveland on 11 Jan. The first major news event carried live on the new network was the inauguration of Pres. Harry Truman on 20 Jan. In the early years of Cleveland television, stations transmitted little more than their test patterns during the morning hours, followed by children's programs. In the early afternoon, programs, were aimed at housewives, followed by programs for school children. It was not uncommon for a station to sign off at 6 P.M., announcing that service would resume at 8 P.M. In the interim, the test pattern was back on the screen. When programming resumed, the schedule offered old movies or poor-quality kinescope films of network programs. At 11 P.M. an announcer read news from the Associated Press or United Press teletype wires.

In 1952 WXEL was bought by the Storer Broadcasting Co., along with radio station WJW. WXEL was changed to WJW-TV (Channel 8) to match the radio station letters, and Storer negotiated for Channel 9 to carry Columbia Broadcasting System network programs which had been on Channel 5. Channel 5 then became the American Broadcasting Co. network station in Cleveland. The Dumont Network had ceased to exist. In a national revamping of the television spectrum by the FCC in April 1954, Channel 4 was moved to Channel 3, and Channel 9 became Channel 8.

In those early days, many programs were done by a small number of performers, many of whom had been established names on radio. At Channel 5, GENE CARROLL did a children's program as Uncle Jake and later conducted an hour-long Sunday program which was little more than a local amateur hour. On Channel 4, well-known entertainer Linn Sheldon donned an elf-like costume, added big ears and a straw hat, and built a large following with his character, Barnaby. At Channel 5, RONALD PENFOUND dressed in railroad overalls and cap and became known as Captain Penny on several children's programs. He also did weather reports. Many of these program relied heavily on film cartoons or old Hollywood shorts, such as "Our Gang" comedies or the Three Stooges. On Channel 3, Joe Bova attracted a large children's audience with such material across the noon hour. On Channel 5, Barbara Plummer had a morning program, "The Romper Room," for pre-school children. Paige Palmer had a morning exercise show on Channel 5 for women. The first telecast of a CLEVELAND INDIANS baseball game was on Saturday afternoon, 1 May 1948, with Bob Feller pitching. A later attempt to enhance the coverage by picking up sound with a parabolic microphone aimed at the players was hastily dropped after a game in which Indians manager Lou Boudreau shouted his profane opinion of an umpire's call at home plate.

News coverage began mainly as visual radio newscasts by newscasters who had established themselves in radio. Channel 4 used the popular Tom Field, well known for his newscasts on WTAM, the NBC radio station. Channel 9 hired Bob Rowley from WJR radio in Detroit, before putting its 11 P.M. news in 1951 into the hands of Western Reserve Univ. speech professor Dr. WARREN GUTHRIE†. Guthrie's sponsor was the Standard Oil Co. (see BP AMERICA), long a sponsor of newscasts on radio and anxious, to achieve a similar presence on television. As the SOHIO reporter on Channel 9, Guthrie became an instant success. His 10-minute newscast included weather and sports, all done by Guthrie himself. Later the weather and sports became separate segments beyond the 10 minutes of news. Ken Armstrong did the weather, John Fitzgerald did the sports. One of Guthrie's students, Jack Perkins, was hired as a newscaster on Channel 5 and was on at 11, competing with his professor. Perkins, from Wooster, had acquired experience at WGAR radio. He was teamed with a nationally known newscaster brought from New York, John B. Hughes. Perkins left WEWS (Channel 5) in 1963 to join NBC News in New York. Also in 1963, Channel 8 revamped its 11 P.M. format and Guthrie was succeeded by a 2-man team, Doug Adair and Joel Daly. Adair would later move to Channel 3.

Through all the various changes in Cleveland television, the red-headed DOROTHY FULDHEIM remained a dominant figure. Long familiar as a lecturer and radio commentator, Fuldheim was hired for the Scripps-Howard FM radio station when she was 55 years old. She moved to the TV station and became a huge success with her news reports and candid commentaries on national as well as local events. Any major figures visiting Cleveland would be interviewed by Dorothy Fuldheim. She continued on WEWS (Channel 5) almost to her 91st birthday, suffering a stroke in July 1984 after her 6 P.M. program. She died in 1989.

Cleveland television experienced a major change between 1956 and 1965. NBC persuaded Westinghouse Broadcasting in Philadelphia to trade stations, with NBC moving its Cleveland radio and TV stations to Philadelphia and Westinghouse moving its KYW radio and TV to Channel 3 in Cleveland. Westinghouse and KYW built a good reputation for live, innovative programming and for its expanded news operation. Its daily variety show, hosted by Mike Douglas, was so successful it was syndicated to other TV stations across the country. It was actually a copy of the existing "One O'Clock Club" on Channel 5 at the time, which featured a live band, celebrity guest interviews, and co-hosts Dorothy Fuldheim and radio disc-jockey Bill Gordon. Fuldheim and Gordon did not particularly care for each other and barbed remarks often passed between them, accompanied by smiles. KYW provided Douglas a sizable budget to attract big stars to his program. The "One O'Clock Club" saw its ratings decline to the point that it was discontinued. The Mike Douglas Show remained on the air until mid-1982.

Despite its success in Cleveland, Westinghouse won a lawsuit against NBC, contending that NBC had used improper pressure in forcing it to move from the larger Philadelphia market. Westinghouse returned to Philadelphia and NBC came back to Cleveland, where it modified the KYW letters to become WKYC. It later sold the radio station, which became WWWE. The Westinghouse-NBC trade had some interesting side effects. NBC Newscaster Tom Field did not like being in Philadelphia. At Channel 5, John B. Hughes was anxious to return to New York. So Field returned to Cleveland as the prime news anchor on Channel 5 at 6 and 11 P.M. and enjoyed good ratings. Westinghouse in Cleveland had hired a young meteorologist named Dick Goddard to do the weather. Goddard did not like going to Philadelphia with KYW, so he was hired at Channel 8 and became one of their best-known personalities.

A program of many years on Channel 5 was the "Morning Exchange," which began 3 Jan. 1972 with Allan Douglas as host. It ran daily from 8 to 10 A.M., with guest interviews, news updates, weather, and other timely features. When Douglas left Cleveland in July 1972, Fred Griffith took over and in 1995 continued in that slot. The program had several woman co-hosts, including Liz Richards, Jan Jones, Lee Jordan, and Connie Dieken. For a time, Channel 3 tried a similar program at 9 A.M., hosted by Dave Patterson, then Scott Newell. It began in 1983 and was ended on 31 Mar. 1989. It was known as "AM Cleveland."

By 1965 other stations were coming onto the TV screen. WVIZ went on Channel 25 on 7 Feb. 1965 as an educational station supported by public subscription rather than advertising. It scheduled many classroom-type educational programs which were coordinated with Cleveland and suburban schools. WVIZ (Channel 25) joined the Public Broadcasting Network and was able to offer programs like "Sesame St." and "The Electric Co.," as well as high quality dramatic and musical programs, including the Metropolitan Opera. Its manager was Betty Cope, who had several years of experience at Channel 5. She remained at Channel 25 until she retired in 1993.

Kaiser Broadcasting put Channel 61 on the air in Aug. 1968 with a limited schedule of local programs, an innovative 10 P.M. newscast, and a heavy schedule of old movies. At that time not all TV sets could receive ultra-high frequency stations such as Channel 61, compared to the very-high frequency stations like Channels 3, 5, and 8. The small audience led to WKBF's going off the air in April 1975. Channel 61 was returned to the screen on 3 Mar. 1981 as WCLQ, owned by Channel Communications Co. of Ohio. Its programming was almost entirely the selling of merchandise. It later became WQHS. By 1970 all TV sets were required to receive UHF as well as VHF channels. WUAB, Channel 43, had begun service in Sept. 1968. It maintained its existence with movies, syndicated reruns of network programs, and televised Cleveland Indians baseball games. In 1988 WUAB launched its own "Ten O'Clock News," which in 5 years frequently earned higher ratings than Channel 3 at 11. Channel 19, WOIO, made its debut on 19 May 1985. It programmed movies, and reruns and in 1987 began carrying programs from the new Fox TV Network. In 1994 a major change saw Channel 8 give up its CBS affiliation when its owners, New World Communications Co., chose to contract all its several stations to the Fox network. As a result, Channel 19 became the CBS outlet in Cleveland. In 1985 WBNX came on Channel 55 specializing in family-oriented reruns, movies, and religious programs.

Cable television came to the Cleveland area in 1974 with franchises granted by many suburban cities. Cox Cable dominated the west side areas and Cablevision (formerly Viacom) served most of the eastern suburbs. Cable operators did not regard Cleveland as a profitable market until 1987, when North Coast Cable began service. In 1994 North Coast was bought by Cablevision. Other cable services were offered by MetroTen, Metsat, Sportschannel Ohio, Royal American Group, Riveredge Cable, and Cleveland Satellite, to name a few.

The availability of the cable services, plus the additional TV stations and the arrival of the video cassette recorder, saw the Cleveland TV audience fragmented, as it was elsewhere in the nation. But in 1995 the TV stations seemed to be holding their share of the total market.

Charles Day

Last Modified: 08 Jul 2003 09:02:39 AM

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