WBTV CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Press Release Vivian Trawick Harris 6/1/99
July 15, 1949 at high noon, WBTV signed on the air, the first TV station in the Carolinas and one of less than three dozen in the nation with four of those located in New York City. The announcer was Jim Patterson who was heard but not seen. For the first five hours the telecast consisted of the time, temperature and a test pattern.
WBTV - FIVE DECADES OF FIRSTS
THE FANTASTIC 50's
Upon the installation of a coaxial cable running from New York to Charlotte, WBTV carried its first live network broadcast in September of 1950. It was the North Carolina - Norte dame football game from south Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame won 14 to 7.
One short year later WBTV began local live television programming and Carolinians saw for the first time on TV the personalities they had heard so often on WBTV Radio. "The Arthur Smith Show", singing cowboy Fred Kirby with sidekick "Uncle Jim" Patterson, Pat Lee's "Open House", Loonis McGlohon's jazz show "Nocturne", and "The Susie McIntyre Show",, Alan Newcomb with philosophical presentations plus the country's very first wrestling matches on television by the league known today as World Championship Wrestling.
By the spring of '52, the station had become more that a mere source of entertainment. In March, at the Republican convention in Charlotte, WBTV premiered the stations new $75,000 mobile truck which carried three cameras, monitor, replay equipment, cables, lighting and spare parts. In May, WBTV was the only station to do a three camera remote broadcast for the CBS network: Presidents Eisenhower's address from Freedom Park regarding the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
By the end of the summer, Doug Mayes edged out co-worker Charles Kuralt to become "The Esso Reporter", one of only six across the country. As the first "anchorman" in the Carolinas, on a 10 minute newscast at 6:30pm weeknights, he was joined by Clyde McLean with the weather and Big Bill Ward with sports.
Two years later, while viewers still marveled at having black and white "moving pictures" in their living rooms, WBTV was already into "Technicolor". In August of '54, WBTV originated the first color program. The next year the station began televising its first regularly scheduled local live color program, "Spectrum" hosted by Jim Patterson and Barbara Bender. In '58 it became the first station in the world to record and rebroadcast programs on color videotape from its then two-year-old building which was the first in the country specifically built for color telecasting. The program was "The Betty Feezor Show".
In December the first "telethon in the Carolinas was launched for the United Appeal and the WBTV legacy of community service was born.
THE SPACE AGE 60's
During the very first month of the exciting new decade, WBTV pushed the edge of the envelope. It pioneered the first local program on open heart surgery by taking TV cameras into the operating rooms for the first time.
1963 was a banner year for augmenting WBTV's acknowledged position of leadership. The station debuted the first news at noon in Charlotte, "The Noon Report" with Don Robertson and Pat Lee. "The Early Report" at 6pm was expanded to a full 30 minutes followed by "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" at 6:30. "The Betty Feezor Show" was the third most watched women's show in the U.S.A. And Arthur Smith's "Carolina Calling" was the 9th ranked "breakfast TV show" in the country. WBTV was exploring the new frontier of TV programming, questioning and testing the prevailing perception of it limits.
January of 1967, all local live programs were broadcast in color. On Thanksgiving Day of the following year, the first telecast of the Carolinas Carrousel Parade was seen in "living color" in all its glory. By that time, Mike McKay had joined the news department and wound up staying for 27 years.
THE DYNAMIC 70's
The era of awareness and change spawned the first Blood Give-In with the Red Cross ever to be held at the station itself. It became an annual event and to date, it's the longest ongoing media sponsored blood drive in the country. Before the end of the first year, WBTV News presented "The Carolina Camera" created and hosted by C.J. Underwood in tandem with cinematographer/editor John Steed. C.J. eventually assumes countless on-air duties playing myriad roles while Carolina camera acquired a succession of hosts, one of which is John Carter. The Carolina Camera was a mainstay for nearly 20 years.
During this decade, Bob Inman started his 20 year career as WBTV news anchor. John Blount became the first Afro-American news anchorman in Charlotte and Janet Volz (England) the first female anchor in town. During the early ‘70s, Pat Lee became the stations first female on-air personality to make vice president whereupon she conceived and developed WBTV's nationally acclaimed Creative Services Department. Seven years later, her brainchild "Top O' the Day" debuted hosted by Clyde McLean with segments by Vivian Harris, Ty Boyd, C.J. Underwood, Mike McKay, Lynne Bradley, Cathy Clements, Carla Lowry and Dick Taylor. After "Cloudy" McLean retired, the show was co-hosted by C.J. Underwood and Barbara Stutts (McKay) and stayed on the air for more than 15 years.
In 1978 WBTV was the first TV station in the US to use a "live" camera mounted in a NASCAR racecar. The car was driven by Buddy Baker in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next year WBTV gained distinction as the first station in Charlotte to broadcast live from a helicopter in flight.
In September of '79 "PM Magazine" premiered with hosts bob Lacey and Moira Quinn.
THE HIGH TECH 80's
During this innovative ten years, technology soars to new heights and WBTV is the first TV station in the World with a fully computerized news operation. It's the first TV station in Charlotte to open a "Washington DC Bureau "with Mike Cozza reporting. WBTV is among only a handful of station in the country, and the first in Charlotte to have a satellite news gathering truck. (It's called "Newstar 3") WBTV is the first TV station in the Carolinas to broadcast in stereo sound as well as the first to simulcast the audio of its 6pm News on a radio station WBT Radio). Channel 3 is also first in the Carolinas to have Closed captioning for the hearing impaired in its nightly newscasts.
In May of '89 WBTV is the first station in Charlotte to begin a rebroadcast of its 6pm Newscast at 10pm on a cable TV station. (Cablevision if Charlotte's Channel 15.) In September, when Hurricane Hugo slams into the Piedmont, Channel 3 powered by generators, is the only station in town to stay on the air for viewers of battery powered TV's.
During this decade WBTV strengthens its legacy of community service by adding The United Negro College Fund/Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon and the Children's Miracle Network Telethon. Both continue today as annual events.
THE DIGITIZED 90's
WBTV enters the uncharted territory of the computerized nineties being the first in Charlotte to expand news coverage to 5pm. "Live at Five" goes on the air with co-hosts John Kilgo and Lisa Cooley. Four years later, Channel 3 is the first in town to premiere a 10pm newscast for a local PBS TV station, WTVI-TV. The following year, channel 3 is the first in Charlotte to feature traffic reports in morning news programs which involves live "SKY 3" helicopter traffic reports. But first and foremost in '97 the FCC grants WBTV the first commercial permit in the continental United States to construct a digital television station.
Approaching the new millennium, in April '98 the station succeeds in being first in the city to have a 2 hour local evening news block. It consists of 4 separate half-hour news programs. The block is followed by "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather" at 7pm.
In September '98 WBTV's High Definition Television station, HDTV is the first in the United States to broadcast at full power of one million watts.
This summer, on July 15th, WBTV proudly concludes its first half century. While clearly focused on the future the New Millennium, WBTV Savors the present and reflects on the past. We invite you to join us in celebrating WBTV - The First 50 Years.