WKNA-TV Channel 49 (ABC, Ind.)

Charleston, West Virginia
Owned by Joseph L. Smith, Jr., Inc.



Recollections by Ted McKay

In February of 1953, Gus Zaharis, the owner of WTIP, withdrew his application for a TV station on UHF channel 49 and cleared the way for the granting of a construction permit to WKNA as Charleston's first commercial TV station.

When the construction permit was issued less than a month later, the first decision to be made concerned the location of the transmitter site. Al Ginkle, who was chief engineer of WJLS, Smith's Beckley station, was placed in charge of site selection, and set up residence in the old Ruffner Hotel on Kanawha Boulevard, about a block east of the WKNA studios. Ted McKay remembers how he and Ginkle rented a Jeep and traveled up and down unpaved logging and mining roads surveying possible sites around Charleston.

Final selection for the offices, studio and transmitter was a spot atop Bownemont Hill, overlooking Charleston's west side near the Patrick street bridge.

Smith named several key people at WKNA Radio to the TV staff, including George Gray as manager, Don Hays as program director, and Ted McKay as film and promotion director. Ed Miller and Dick Reid along with McKay were to serve as on-air talent.

It's hard to believe that the FCC would duplicate a blunder it had made in the 1940's when it changed the frequencies allotted to commercial FM stations after the sets were being built and broadcast stations were in service. The public became so confused about what FM really was that AM radio remained dominant well into the 1960's.

The FCC repeated its mistake when it decided to allow UHF broadcasting to begin before there was any requirement in place to mandate the inclusion of the higher frequencies on all new sets that were being built and sold. (Something that didn't happen for several years.) Anyone interested in watching Charleston's new station would have to buy a convertor and attach it to his present set, or pay considerably more for a new set with the UHF frequencies factory installed. TV dealers were actually telling prospective buyers "You don't need to spend the extra money for UHF because that station won't have anything you'll want to watch anyway." or: "...here's the same set without UHF for $70 less." A survey by the station found that some dealers did not even stock "all channel sets" or even convertors.

A station promotional advertising campaign "DON'T BUY HALF A TV SET" had little effect, because not only was a VHF set less expensive than the same set in all-channel configuration, but installation was cheaper as well.

The WKNA-TV seemed doomed from the start. WCHS had acquired a permit for VHF channel 8, so the future of UHF in Charleston seemed bleak at best.

Management contributed to the failure when it was decided to go on the air with the basic RCA 1 kw UHF transmitter, and add amplifiers later. Considering Charleston's terrain, this was a disaster, and when equipment tests began it was discovered that coverage was quite limited in all but the immediate downtown Charleston area, and reception over 5 miles from the tower was considered a fluke!

McKay, who lived in Nitro, about 10 or 12 air miles from the transmitter site, remembers using a 20 foot mast and stacked UHF yagis cut for channel 49 to finally get a snowy picture in November of 1953, only to see that picture vanish when the leaves came out in the spring of 1954!

The station was affiliated with the ABC and DuMont networks, but so was WSAZ-TV in Huntington. Most national advertisers opted for WSAZ's VHF signal and assured viewership and excluded WKNA. The programs that were aired (Motorola TV Playhouse, Captain Video and several others) were broadcast two weeks late on kinescopes while WSAZ with its private microwave link from Columbus, Ohio to Huntington aired the best of all four networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont) on a live basis.

WKNA-TV's national spot advertising was almost non existent, and local advertising was next to impossible to sell at any price. Imagine trying to sell a spot to someone who couldn't watch the ad in his own home in St. Albans or Kanawha City!

Appalachian Electric Power provided the station with a home economist from its staff to do the daily cooking show ("What's Cookin'") in the full kitchen that had been installed by Charleston Electric Supply. The young lady, Sara Harshbarger, was quite talented, and was soon bitten by the TV bug! Sara came to work for the station on a full time basis, and with co-host Dick Reid, (himself an accomplished gourmet cook) the show developed a faithful, albeit small following.

Sara, Dick Reid and Ted McKay hosted an afternoon TV Juke Box program that used the then popular pantomime format, and even though their resources were limited, it too became a popular feature.

Dick Reid had developed a children's show "The 49'ers Club" which aired in late afternoon. The program proved so popular with children and parents alike that WCHS lured Dick away even before they went on the air in mid 1954. With Dick gone, Ted McKay found himself filling still another pair of shoes!

In an attempt to stimulate interest in the station, several syndicated film programs ("Liberace" and "Drew Pearson Reports") that were not broadcast on WSAZ-TV were purchased by the station but failed to have the desired result.

Bill Barrett, who had been news director at WJLS in Beckley for some time, was transferred to Charleston in an effort to shore up the news coverage. Barrett, a long-time Smith employee, was well known in West Virginia news circles, and had been editor of The 560 News, Beckley's counterpart to WKNA's 950 News. (Both magazines had ceased publication in the late summer of 1953 because of Smith's cash flow problems.) With hardly any budget and no news film available, Barrett's newscast was little more than a TV camera aimed at a news announcer!

There was a weather map for the weatherman, however. It could be wiped down each night an used again the next day!

Limited resources meant there was only one live camera, so 2 camera shots, fades and dissolves (except to slide or black) were impossible.

Early in the morning of February 4, 1954 fire struck the building. McKay remembers that one of the engineers, who lived in a trailer behind the building, had to be restrained when he tried to stop the fireman from dousing the fire with water. Although some electrical damage did occur, the station was off the air for only a few hours, and resumed operation on film that evening. Live programming continued the next day.

When the microwave link was finally installed late in the summer of 1954 and the station could finally carry ABC programming live, it was too late. WCHS-TV had gone on the air with full power on VHF channel 8, an ideal tower location and the CBS network.

By mid 1954 most of the original staff had departed for greener (and more secure) pastures. Dick Reid and photographer Nilo Olin joined WCHS-TV, along with a young cameraman Reid had nicknamed "Mumps" after he came down with a case of mumps a few weeks after he started at the station. "Mumps" and Dick had developed the kind of relationship that was quite common in the early days of TV, when the cameraman was more important than the director. Together the pair created the illusion of a multiple camera setup with a single camera! Dick felt Mumps was so vital to his future success that he convinced WCHS to hire them as a team!

Art director Boone Boggs (who had originated the WJLS 560 News while promotion director at that station in the late 1940's) decided to return to Roanoke, Virginia and the same TV station he had left to join WKNA-TV a few months earlier. Ed Miller went to the announce staff at WLWT in Cincinnati and George Gray moved to WLWD in Dayton, Ohio. Will Jackson was moved to Charleston from WJLS in Beckley as manager of TV and radio. In October of 1954 Ted McKay returned to his hometown of Cincinnati as a member of the radio news staff at Taft Broadcasting's WKRC. This left Don Hays as the one remaining staff member who had been at WKNA-TV from the time the CP was granted a little more than a year and a half prior.

Hays left Charleston within a couple of years and formed "Radio Reps" a company that specialized in placing spot advertising on radio stations in smaller cities and towns in the Midwest.

The station finally went dark on Feb. 12, 1955. As you read WKNA-TV's original application later in this piece you might ponder how Charleston's television history would have been altered had the grand plans outlined by Smith in his original FCC filing been brought to fruition.


Local Station Hopes To Air TV 'By Fall'

Construction Okeh Handed To WKNA For Channel 49

This article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Mar. 4, 1953.

WKNA today said it had received its construction permit for a Charleston television station from the Federal Communications Commission, and the station will "be in operation by this fall if at all possible."

George Gray, general manager of WKNA, said when informed this afternoon that the FCC had approved the application for operation on Channel 49:

"This is the construction permit.

"It is our intention to go ahead with the necessary installation and construction as soon as we possibly can.

"It is our earnest desire to bring local television to the people of Charleston as soon as possible, and we will do everything to make that no later than this fall.

"The necessary equipment has been contracted for, and if all goes well our station should be operating this year."

The FCC permit was issued today to "Joe L. Smith, Jr., Inc.," the owner of WKNA.

It was the direct result of the withdrawal last week of radio station WTIP, which also had an application with the FCC for channel 49.


Mr. Personality Answers Your Questions About TV

[This article appeared in the Sept. 1953 issue of TV and Radio Personality Parade.]

Originally presented in the form of public service advertisements in local newspapers, the following facts are repeated for the benefit of "Personality Parade" readers.

Question: What type transmission or lead-in line should you use for WKNA-TV reception?
Answer: The tubular transmission line is recommended for Channel 49 reception. There are various types available, depending on the manufacturer. Ladder-type line is excellent and should be used for long runs. Flat ribbon line should never be used as losses mount tremendously when it becomes wet. Coaxial line has high losses, wet or dry.

Question: Can you use your present antenna mast for mounting a Channel 49 antenna?
Answer: In most cases, yes. UHF and VHF antennas can usually be stacked one above the other, and the same transmission line can be used to bring both signals into the receiver by properly tying the two antennas together through an isolation filter or cross-over network device. Using separate antennas in this manner will permit orienting each of them for best results in each band.

Question: What is an antenna booster, and when do you need one?
Answer: An antenna booster is a small amplifier, consisting of one or more tubes, connected between the antenna terminals of the TV receiver. It is only necessary in fringe areas where the Channel 49 signal will be weakest.

Question: What will be WKNA-TV's effective radiated power?
Answer: The interim or initial station operation will utilize an effective radiated power of 22,500 watts on video (picture), and 11,250 watts on audio (sound). Later, WKNA-TV plans to boost its power to 221,000 watts.

Question: How high is the WKNA-TV antenna?
Answer: The Channel 49 antenna will be 389 feet above average terrain. The station's antenna tower is located on Bownemont Hill, approximately 1,000 feet above sea level.

Question: Should your antenna be as high as possible?
Answer: The highest mounting position is not necessarily the best. Sometimes signal strength decreases when the antenna is raised. Usually some probing is required to find the best position for best reception.

Question: How far away from WKNA can you be and still get good reception?
Answer: Good reception of the Channel 49 signal will depend primarily on two factors -- the nature of the intervening land and location of your outside antenna. Initially, the WKNA-TV signal is designed to provide better reception in the greater Charleston area.

Question: What type programs will WKNA-TV present?
Answer: Outstanding ABC and DuMont network programs, top film features and interesting and entertaining local programs.


More on WKNA-TV

Pictures of WKNA-TV are available here.

Charleston's first television station, WKNA-TV, operated for about a year and a half in the early 1950s. Owner Joe L. Smith Jr. had also applied to operate a television station in Beckley. Although WKNA-TV suspended operation soon after WCHS-TV signed on the air, Smith kept the construction permit for WKNA-TV, in hopes the FCC would decide that UHF television was not feasible, at least in mountainous terrain, and give the station a VHF channel. The 1961-62 Broadcasting Yearbook shows that the CP had still not been turned in. It shows the station authorized for 225 kw visual, 120 kw aural, and an antenna height 390 feet HAAT and 337 feet above ground.

On July 11, 1949, the FCC announced its TV allocation plan, adding 42 UHF channels to the present 12 VHF channels, with another 23 to 28 UHF channels reserved for experimental television. The allocations for West Virginia were: Beckley 4; Charleston 8 12 30 40; Huntington 5; Wheeling 7 28 41; Bluefield 15; Clarksburg 17; Elkins 23; Fairmont 31; Hinton 24; Martinsburg 27; Montgomery 34; Parkersburg 45 43?; Sutton 33; Weston 19; other cities 46-55.

There were, however, subsequent changes. The 1950 Broadcasting Yearbook shows a list of pending TV applications as of November 15, 1949, with these pending in West Virginia:

Joe L. Smith Jr., channel 2, Charleston
Charleston Television Inc., channel 7, Charleston
Charleston Broadcasting Co., channel 13, Charleston
Robert R. Thomas Jr., channel 6, Oak Hill
West Virginia Broadcasting Corp., channel 12, Wheeling

On Apr. 14, 1952, the FCC lifted the TV freeze (as of July 1). The new allocations for West Virginia were as follows: Beckley 6 21 66, Bluefield 41, Charleston 8 43e 49, Clarksburg 12 22 69, Elkins 40, Fairmont 35, Fayetteville 4, Hinton 31, Huntington 3 13 53e, Logan 23, Martinsburg 58, Morgantown 24e, Parkersburg 15, Welch 25, Weston 5 32, Wheeling 57e, Williamson 17.

The July 28, 1952, issue of Broadcasting Magazine shows that WKNA had applied for a construction permit to operate on channel 49, with 249.2 kw visual and 124.5 kw aural. The antenna height was to be 391 feet above average terrain and 342 feet above ground.

The construction permit for WKNA-TV was granted on Mar. 4, 1953.

On September 21, 1953, WKNA-TV began scheduled daily test patterns. Regular broadcasting began on October 12, 1953.

Broadcasting was suspended on Feb. 12, 1955.


FCC Filing Excerpt

The following is excerpted from an FCC filing requesting authorization for WKNA-TV.

The applicant's long range plans are to eventually program WKNA-TV eighteen or nineteen hours daily, or as long as the available audience justifies telecasting. Initially, because the applicant will be operating in a market without receivers capable of receiving UHF television broadcasts, applicant may program only two or three hours daily on a Monday thru Sunday schedule, although test patterns will be telecast several hours more daily during the morning and afternoon in order to permit the installation of UHF receivers. As more and more UHF receivers are installed in the Charleston market, applicant will increase the hours of programming daily.

Applicant, having had years of experience with both WJLS-FM, Beckley, West Virginia and WKNA-FM, Charleston, is well aware that success in UHF television broadcasting may well be dependent wholly upon the programs offered, especially in a market already with VHF television available form outside and with the probable operation of a local VHF station. Thus, one of the factors that will be considered in programming WKNA-TV will be the offering to the potential audience of programs that will not be available on VHF.

While the applicant is requesting the maximum permissible effective radiated power and anticipates that in time the service area of the UHF station requested may extend beyond the Charleston metropolitan area, the applicant recognizes the possibility of the inability of equipment manufacturers to immediately deliver equipment capable of attaining those powers. Consequently, the applicant expects the initial potential audience of the UHF station to be in the immediate vicinity of Charleston.

Taking these two factors into consideration, applicant during the first months or until more extensive UHF audience is available plans to concentrate its efforts to telecasting (1) program types not available on other television channels in the area and (2) programs especially designed for the Charleston metropolitan audience. As equipment becomes available to increase the proposed television station to its full authorized output, permitting an expansion of its service area, the urban nature of the programming will be de-emphasized in an effort to provide a well balanced program structure for the entire area that will be served in the future.

Applicant plans to purchase full remote equipment in order to bring to the pioneer UHF audience local sports and other local events, such as full performances of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, local high school and college football and basketball games, the Charleston Players and similar attractions. The applicant fully realizes that once UHF set circulation has reached sizable proportions that the competitive nature of free television to the box office of the various locally supported civic events possibly will prevent such broadcasts, but the applicant has been assured by the various organizations concerned of their cooperation during the UHF audience building phase. Once a UHF audience is built, applicant will continue to cooperate with the various civic, fraternal and educational groups and will both offer free programs time and technical advice and assistance in the building and presenting of programs to advance the various phases of their individual endeavors.

In addition to the remote equipment that applicant will utilize, applicant intends to employ a special events cameraman in order to present special civic events not occurring during the initial broadcast hours. Applicant also intends to present weekly or semi-weekly local newsreels. While the applicant will operate the hours required by the rules, applicant does not intend to initially restrict its operation to the minimum permitted but in addition will broadcast during such hours to permit the full telecasting of the various special programs outlined above that fall within those hours during which an audience may be anticipated.

Applicant does not intend to restrict its live telecasting to remote presentations, but intends to construct its studios in such a manner as initially to permit the utilization of the remote equipment for live studio presentations. As the UHF audience is built, applicant will add live studio camera chains and associated equipment in order to enjoy greater flexibility in the scheduling of local live and local remote programs.

Applicant will have complete film and slide equipment to permit the televising of programs of that nature.

Applicant has had conversations with the various networks concerning a possible affiliation, but has received no assurances of an affiliation because of the UHF nature of the proposed station. Applicant believes that once UHF set circulation is guaranteed an affiliation may be possible.

As stated, the applicant initially plans to program only a few hours daily until UHF set circulation is built, however in order to prepare for the consideration of the Commission a proposed typical week of program and to analyze the proposed week, the applicant has assumed possibly following the first year of pioneering the proposed station will be operating twelve hours daily, or from noon until midnight, on a seven day week. Applicant has further assumed that the proposed station will be affiliated with the American Broadcasting Company as is the applicant's standard broadcast station, WKNA.

Applicant will make available at no charge time for the discussion of all public issues of general interest, and will lend its technical advice and assistance in the presentation of such programs. Furthermore, applicant will endeavor to present programs designed to stimulate such discussions. An example of the type of programs that will be telecast is one presented by the applicant's standard station, WKNA. This program, known as The Charleston Youth Forum, consists of a round-table discussion among high school students from the various high schools in the Charleston metropolitan area. All sides of the question under discussion are explored during the broadcast which is quite suitable for simultaneous televising. The program was presented during the school year form 8:00-8:30 PM each Tuesday night.

In any case, the applicant in choosing participants on such discussion programs will make its selection so as to insure all points of view are presented. Subjects selected for discussion will be of a general nature and those obviously of interest only to a small minority usually will be avoided.


FCC Filing Excerpt

The following is taken from a submission to the FCC which apparently requested an extension of the construction permit for the already-dark WKNA-TV.

Joe L. Smith, Jr. President and General Manager of Joe L. Smith, Jr., Incorporated, permittees of WKNA-TV, Channel 49, Charleston, West Virginia, states as follows:

(1) The permittee corporation has the authorization of the Commission (BPCT-591, as modified) for television broadcast station WKNA-TV, Charleston, West Virginia.

(2) The television broadcast station was erected and placed into operation October 12, 1953. Because of financial difficulties, it was deemed appropriate to cease operations on February 12, 1953.

(3) While the permittee corporation was the first television station in the Charleston, West Virginia, metropolitan market, and while its initial efforts were quite successful, with the advent of VHF competition in the market, it was found impossible to interest a sufficient number of commercial sponsors to permit the continued operation of the station. In fact, the permittee corporation suffered losses during the last months of the operation of WKNA-TV in the neighborhood of $15,000 per month.

(4) The station in February of 1955 was closed and placed in a stand-by condition. Actually, none of the equipment, with the exception of a camera chain, used in the operation of the station during the year and one half that it operated, has been disposed of.

(5) The station presently is in condition to resume telecasting on a few days notice if economic conditions would warrant.

(6) The permittee corporation has made overtures to Mr. Robert R. Thomas, Jr., licensee of WOAY-TV, Oak Hill, West Virginia, to operate as a satellite of that station. At the present time, numerous details concerning such an operation have not been concluded.

(7) As a satellite of WOAY-TV, WKNA-TV can be programmed at a minimum expense.

(8) Permittee corporation feels that the Federal Communications Commission should extend the construction permit for WKNA-TV, until such time as the entire UHF-VHF question has been reconciled, for:

(a) The station has been constructed and has operated.

(b) The station, and permittee corporation, is making an effort to again provide a UHF service to Charleston by arranging for a satellite operation.

(c) The vacating of the UHF CP for Channel 49 at Charleston, West Virginia, will not make available to other interested parties a frequency. Other UHF frequencies are allocated to the market.

(d) The cancellation of the UHF CP to Joe. L. Smith, Jr., Incorporated, for the operation of WKNA-TV, Channel 49, at Charleston, West Virginia, will be detrimental to the financial interests of the permittee corporation, which already have been seriously threatened by the attempted operation of a UHF television station in a "protected market".

JOE L. SMITH, JR., INCORPORATED
(signature)
Joe L. Smith, Jr.
President

EXHIBIT 1

Construction of WKNA-TV was authorized by Commission action of March 4, 1953, and on October 12, 1953, regular programming was started, under a special temporary authorization, the station having been completed in accordance with the permit except for the use of a different antenna and a one kilowatt, rather than a ten kilowatt, transmitter. It was in operation from October 12, 1953, until February 12, 1955 except for a loss of a few hours of programming time on February 4, 1954 because of damage by fire.

WKNA-TV began operation as an affiliate of the American Broadcasting Company and experienced initially some acceptance by network advertisers, although programs of the network had to be presented by kinescope for almost a year before the station was inter-connected. Then WSAZ-TV (VHF), Huntington, was moved closer to Charleston and WCHS-TV (VHF) began operation in Charleston. The network cancelled orders already placed on WKNA-TV on a live basis and placed them on WCHS-TV or WSAZ-TV on a delayed kinescope basis. While WKNA-TV had secured about the eighth highest conversion rate in the country, poorly built UHF converters and receivers began breaking down, bad weather began knocking (?) UHF antennas out of line and television servicemen disclosed an antipathy for UHF and a preference for the more simple VHF installations.

The permittee, an experienced and successful radio station operator, used every (illegible) without lowering its program standards. In the hope of making the station more attractive to sponsors, and a the same time reducing costs of operation, WKNA-TV entered into an agreement with WOAY-TV, at Oak Hill near Beckley, West Virginia, which made possible the sale of time on the two stations as a package.

Competent engineers advised the permittee that neither increased power nor increased antenna height would materially alter its coverage in the rugged terrain in and around Charleston.

The WKNA-TV investment in land, building and equipment totals (illegible) and its net operating losses amount to $266,787.29, or an average of over $16,600 for each month of operation.

Under these circumstances, WKNA-TV suspended operation at the close of the broadcast day on February 12, 1955. It did so with great reluctance in order to re-evaluate the possibilities of successful UHF operation and with the avowed purpose of resuming as soon as some reasonably satisfactory method for doing so could be found. Since that time, the permittee has explored all avenues which might lead to re-establishment of the WKNA-TV service and has maintained the station equipment in a stand-by condition, actually wrapped in Saran Wrap.

The plight of UHF and its problems came forcefully to the attention of the public as a result of the Potter Committee hearings in May and June, 1954. It then became apparent to the public that the future of UHF was extremely uncertain and presented problems which required solution by the Commission. On November 10, 1955 the Commission initiated a rule making proceeding in which possible solutions of UHF problems will be considered. Various proposals were considered in this proceeding, some of which, if adopted, would have eliminated commercial UHF entirely or would have provided additional VHF channels in areas such as Charleston. While this proceeding was pending, public doubt as to the future of UHF necessarily increased the problems faced by WKNA-TV in its search for a feasible method of resuming operation.

There is pending before the Commission a petition of American Broadcasting Company for reconsideration of the Commission's Report and Order of June 25, 1956 which proposes, among other things, the addition of Channel 5 to the Charleston-Huntington, West Virginia area for commercial use. If that proposal should be adopted, certainly WKNA-TV should be afforded consideration for its use in view of its strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to provide service through the medium of UHF.

Additionally, there are pending before the Commission proposals to permit subscription television which, if approved, may provide the solution to resumption of operation for WKNA-TV as a UHF station.

In view of the foregoing, applicant submits that an extension of the construction permit of WKNA-TV for a period of at least six months would be in the public interest.


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