The beginning of Waco's TV history

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Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 1:22 pm

By Terri Jo Ryan

Tribune-Herald staff writer

This week’s transition of television broadcasting from analog signal to digital signal is one of the biggest changes in the medium since the first experimental visuals hit the airwaves in the late 1920s.

Closer to home, the evolution from radio to TV took place a little more than a half-century ago.

On Nov. 1, 1953, Central Texas media mogul Frank W. Mayborn (1903-1987) of Temple launched KCEN-TV Channel 6, the National Broadcasting Company outlet for Bell and McLennan counties.

Two weeks later, Clyde L. Weatherby (1911-2000) of Hamilton launched KANG-TV, which signed on as Channel 34 and was affiliated with the DuMont Network. The station was named for Weatherby’s daughters, Ann and Nan, and wife Greta.

Weatherby, who owned a Ford dealership, an Edsel dealership, a real estate business, a trading stamp company and had banking interests, was no stranger to broadcasting. His first foray into the field was founding radio station KCLW-AM, named after himself and still broadcasting in Hamilton after more than 60 years.

Donald S. Thomas, an attorney for Lyndon Baines Johnson when the late President was Senate Minority leader in the 1950s, recounted in an oral history for the National Archives how Weatherby was “an honest promoter” and longtime friend.

Weatherby thought he could make a UHF station work in Waco because just one VHF channel remained to be allocated, Channel 10, Thomas told an interviewer in 1987.

Furthermore, radio stations KWTX and WACO had been locked in an interminable public hearing process in Washington, D.C., as they competed for Channel 10.

While they were fighting, Thomas said, Weatherby thought he’d beat the eventual winner by getting on the air sooner. However, he overestimated the demand for a channel that required special equipment to receive.

A $30 UHF tuner in 1954 (about $230 in today’s dollars) was not a popular option for those who had just dropped several hundred on a new set that offered VHF only.

Weatherby recognized that everything he had worked so hard to build up was going down the drain.

In July 1955, the Johnsons’ Austin-based Texas Broadcasting Corporation bought KANG-TV from Weatherby — more as a personal favor to the Hamilton tycoon than as a wise business decision. Weatherby had been a college classmate of the senator’s wife, Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson (known by her nickname, Lady Bird.)

Weatherby still owed DuMont some $125,000 (almost $1 million in modern dollars) for the station’s equipment and was mortgaged to the hilt. But Thomas got all the creditors to accept 10 cents on the dollar in reparations.

Meanwhile, in April 1955, KWTX backers gave WACO’s owners a cash settlement to stop the FCC dispute so it could get on the air more quickly.

KANG-TV’s new ownership fought to get CBS programming for Waco, while the early KWTX found a few programs from ABC, Thomas recalled. But the advertising rate war was killing both enterprises.

So in December 1955, TBC traded KANG-TV to KWTX Broadcasting Co. in exchange for 29 percent of the stock of the company, which won CBS and ABC programming rights. KANG-TV faded to black soon after, but its legacy lives on in the tales of its former employees.

PBS.org, NARA.gov, DumontHistory.tv, herald-news.com, Time.com, Lone Star Rising by Robert Dallek; Texas Signs On by Richard Shroeder.

 

A brief history of DuMont

From August 1946 until August 1956, DuMont was the nation’s fourth television network. Decades before Fox proved that a fourth network was viable, DuMont competed with NBC, CBS and ABC for the fledgling viewing audience of its era — without the advantages of the others who had well-established radio networks for a revenue source and performance talent.

Hindered by a lack of primary of VHF stations (Channels 2-13) and a small budget, it was forced by Federal Communications Commission rules to use UHF affiliates in most markets, in an era when that move wasn’t competitive.

DuMont folded its television network in 1956.

DuMont Laboratories, which started TV set manufacture in 1938 after perfecting the cathode ray tube, continued to manufactured sophisticated electronic equipment, broadcast equipment for the TV industry and high-quality TV sets. Inventor Allen B. DuMont sold his manufacturing operations in 1960, with the television manufacturing division to Emerson Radio.

Meanwhile, the defunct network spun-off its two remaining owned and operated stations — New York City and Washington D.C. — to shareholders as the DuMont Broadcasting Corporation. In 1957, DuMont Broadcasting changed its name to the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation to distance itself from the past failure.

In 1958, inventor DuMont sold his shares in Metropolitan Broadcasting to Washington-based investor John Kluge, who in 1961 renamed the company MetroMedia. In 1986, Kluge sold the greatly expanded broadcast empire to Australian newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch, who re-dubbed the properties Fox Broadcasting Company.

 

Sources: Museum.tv, NationMaster.com, The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television by David Weinstein

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