WTPA Channel 71 officially signed on the air on Monday, July 6, 1953 at 9:00am.The station quickly got off the ground after the FCC lifted a freeze on the building of all television stations in April of 1952. As was popular at the time, WTPA aired a test pattern daily from 1:00pm to 9:00pm prior to July 6.
FIRST YEAR HIGHLIGHTS
Three months after going on the air, WTPA introduced the area's first mobile unit. The unit was first used to cover the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Other major events during its first year of use included coverage of the Farm Show, the Christmas Balloon Parade, the Builders Show and a birthday party for President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Hershey.
Six months after the stations first telecast, WTPA added two more “firsts.” Central Pennsylvania's first telethon – with stage, screen, radio and TV stars – was telecast from the stage of the Harrisburg Community Theatre on December 12, 1953. One week later, the first original television drama was presented live from WTPA's studios.
Equipment to transmit network color programs was installed early in 1954, making WTPA the first station of its kind in the world with such facilities.
During its first year, WTPA also began its long tradition of outstanding achievement. The station received several national awards, including the Zenith Television Award for Public Service and first place in The Billboard 16th Annual Audience Promotion Contest.
With the addition of a new transmitted in 1954, the station power was increased to 200,000 watts, an increase of more than ten times the power the start-up amount.
A wide variety of television entertainment was provided during the early days. Professional boxing matches on Monday and Friday nights; the world famous Don McNeil and the Breakfast Club; Groucho Marx, Ralph Edwards, Voice of Firestone and many other leading programs of the day from NBC, DuMont and ABC Television Networks.
During WTPA's first year, the station broadcast hours were 9:00am to 12:15am Monday through Friday and noon to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.
Programming highlights from the beginning included, “Daily Devotions” which aired at 12 noon and included “ministers of all faiths.” News programming began at 12:15pm with “First Edition;” then again at 6:30pm with “Home Edition” and the “News and Sports Final” aired at 11:00pm.
During the first year other features included “Mac's Matinee” at 12:30pm, “Harrisburg Hostess” at 2:00pm, “Look What's Cooking” at 2:00pm and “Susquehanna Trail” at 5:15pm.
Other regular features included “Break the Bank” at 3:00pm, “Community Theater” at 7:00pm, “Who Said That!” at 10:30pm and “Encore Theater” at 11:15pm.
When WTPA signed on the air in 1953, the station was an affiliate of NBC. The top shows on NBC in 1953 included “Gillette Sports Reel,” “It Happened In Sports,” “Ding-Dong School” a show for pre-school age children, “Voice of Firestone,” “Youth Wants to Know,” and “The American Forum of the Air.”
Home Edition Daily
A report of the latest world, national, state and local news from the United Press wires. “Home Edition” gets complete coverage in reports and films from Telenews on the world and national scene, supplemented by films of local events, taken by WTPA's staff photographer and processed in WTPA's labs. Dan Wear, editor of “Home Edition” presents the news in an authoritative and concise style, revealing his long experience as newscaster in radio. Widely known in the Harrisburg area, his personality individualizes this show.
What's It Worth
An audience participation panel show with a new twist – “What's It Worth” brings together a panel of local antique experts and a series of articles of all kinds belonging to area residents. The object – to fin out “what's it worth.” The experts evaluate and classify all sorts of objects, from wine glasses to ox-bow bells. Special interest in aroused by the appearance of objects of unknown age or value for appraisal and the outcome is sometimes surprising. David Bennett as moderator puts his guests at ease with casual friendly conversation and shows assurance and poise, developed through years of radio experience. The panel of experts, all local dealers, display wide and varied knowledge of all phases of their field and speak with authority in their appraisals.
A sparkling musical show with an imaginative night club setting. “Skyline Towers” presents the Al Morrison Trio, a popular local group, and features Ed Baekey and Anita Lawrence as vocalists. Al Morrison's distinctive music has won him a reputation in this area and it gives the program an originality, which is enhanced by the unusual lighting effects. Ed Baekey and Anita Lawrence provide frequent change in pace with their different interpretations of the top hits and standards of the music world. Ed doubles as host and vocalist, specializing in ballads, and Anita, a trained vocalist, shows color and wide range.
It's Your Move
An informal friendly telephone quiz show in which Al Bethel asks a member of the viewing audience to identify a famous quotation hidden on a numbered checkerboard. Each party called has a chance to make her move and choose a number, revealing a hidden letter of the quotation.
Beat the Bench
This is a new type of audience participation quiz show, dealing with sports in the news. A panel of local sports personalities answers questions on current sports stories and, when they miss, the fans in the bleachers have a chance to move to the bench with the right answer. The groups in the bleachers are drawn from local organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotarians, etc. and the viewer's interest is aroused by the fact that his neighbor may be on the bleachers or the bench. Roy Nassau, experienced news and sports-caster, fires the questions and keeps the show moving with his fast, informal manner. The program shows a friendly, casual atmosphere, with an original theme in quiz shows.
A mixture of humor and music make up “Mac's Matinee,” a disc-jockey show featuring the top hits of the day on record. Casual comedy in dialogue and skit form individualize the show with the appearance of “Sylvan Schlumper” an integral comic character. This show has great opportunity for unusual camera work in retaining visual interest while the records are playing. Mac McCauley, popular young TV personality, shows a pleasing, spontaneous style in his informal conversation. Ed Baekey as comedy interest utilizes his radio experience in timing and dialogue.
Miriam Murphy, vivacious young housewife, brings interesting local personalities into the television living room for a program of interviews, demonstrations and announcements of community interest. With her guests, she discusses occupations and avocations, which range from speed-boat racing to weaving, covering fields of interest to everyone. Experience as a teacher, night club entertainer and homemaker makes Miriam Murphy a poised and capable hostess to her diversified guests.
Roy Nassau, widely known news and sports-caster and news, sports and special events director for WTPA, presents the latest in sports news, nationally and locally. Highlighted by films of national and local interest “The Scoreboard” also features as guests prominent sports personalities from the area and from the nation. Roy Nassau brings to this show experience in radio, newspaper work and sports announcing, knowledge of this field, and a fast-paced distinctive delivery.
In the early days, sports was a top draw to own a television! According to a newspaper article “For the best in video sports will be yours and the price is the flick of the wrist to Harrisburg's newest and biggest television stations.”
“WTPA has been granted the right to telecast the Gilette Cavalcade of sports, and you can see the best in the nation without looking sharp. You can take it easy in your home, in your favorite chair, and see the fights every week, the major races like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, the best in baseball and the best in football.”
COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY
Since signing on in 1953, the station has continued its commitment to the community. On December 12 and 13, 1953, WTPA hosted the first local telethon to benefit United Cerebral Palsy. The event was entitled Celebrity Parade for Cerebral Palsy and was broadcast live from the Harrisburg Community Theatre. The 18-hour event raised $50,192.
On September 19, 1954, 14 short months after its founding, WTPA became an ABC affiliate.
WTPA was the third station to start broadcasting in Central Pennsylvania. The station began broadcasting on June 19, 1953 and launched its full-time schedule on July 6, 1953.
WTPA's first broadcast was July 6, 1953, ironically the first day the new Patriot-News building was opened to the public. The station, then Channel 71, went on the air at 9 a.m. with ceremonies that included the Mayor Claude Robins and Rev. Sheridan Watson Bell. It was an NBC affiliate then, and its first regular program was “Ding Dong School.”
The station, then with two studios, had live TV from noon to 3 p.m.. Pauline Cooper did “Look What's Cooking.” Miriam Murphy did “Harrisburg Hostess.” Al Bethel, the band leader, was the newscaster, and Ray Nassau, who became a Capitol Hill public relations man, was the sportscaster. Eldred MacCauley, was the production chief and had a show, “Mac's Matinee.”
WTPA's original staff included Dave Bennett, Fred Leuschner, Bill Prescott, Guy Pugliese, Gladys Swift, Don Wear and Ed Baeky.
WTPA's memorable “Cat Lady” did not come until later. Harriet Strickland, a community Theater actress, introduced the late TV movies in a zany, sensuous style that never has been topped in Midstate TV-land.
News reporter and anchor Mike Ross, though the most conventional appearing of the crowd, came into local TV with some of the best show biz credentials. A native of Lakewood, Ohio, he grew up in Harrisburg, graduated from William Penn High School and then went on the air for WKBO. From 1951 to 1953, he took a leave to do the part of Benny Southstreet in the national road company of “Guys and Dolls.” Ross never forgot the exuberance of his road company days when he returned and became news director. The rest rooms at WTPA at one time were labeled “Guys” and “Dolls.”
When WTPA began, it had 21,000 watts. In 1974, it had 2.3 million watts.
In 1954, Ed K. Smith, a local radio impresario, started WCMB-TV. He had Channel 27. Smith ran the first horse opera movies and had a night talk show, the original “Harrisburg After Dark,” with Pete Wambach. There also was “Beat Pete,” in which contestants asked biographical questions they thought Wambach couldn't answer in three minutes.
Smith went off the air in 1958, and WTPA got Channel 27. Smith also owned the right to Channel 33 and gave it to educational television.
Video tape arrived in 1963, a great advantage to television but a curse to live shows. Congress decreed that on April 30, 1964, all sets manufactured must be equipped with UHF and VHF. Color TV made its national debut in the mid-1950's.
In 1977, WTPA–TV produced two original film dramas to highlight community problems.
Originally aired January 15, 1975 at 10 p.m..”Anatomy in Blue,” which starred Mike Ross, was produced and directed by WTPA program director Paul Baker. Glenn Hoerner served as director of photography. “Anatomy in Blue” was a dramatization of two days in the life of two Harrisburg policemen. The film was produced as the result of a community needs survey that showed a major problem was public apathy toward the police. The movie included a bank robbery and murder, a purse snatching, a family dispute, chases in cars and on foot and a fatal automobile accident. According to Baker, ” Our purpose was to show the policeman as a human being, with human problems not much different that yours or mine.
Prior to “Anatomy in Blue,” WTPA produced “Horse of a Different Color,” a unique look at the drug problem. The film used entirely local, amateur talent and was made in coordination with Gaudenzia House, a rehabilitation center.
On October 27, 1977, WHTM celebrated the expansion of the station with an open house. Following a ribbon cutting ceremony with General Manager Paul Abbott and Mayor Harold Swensen, visitors could take a tour of the newly expanded facility.
WTPA became WHTM on March 29, 1980 after it was purchased by the Times-Mirror Company. The station was purchased by Allbritton Communications in 1996.
Reaction to the first day on the air from “My Memories” by Fred Leuschner: “When we finally hit the air July 6, 1953, we felt we were in heaven. Everything we did was new. We created as we went and innovated about everything we did because nobody had done it before. We did everything. We created the shows, built the sets, operated the cameras, announced, and directed the programs. In those days, we went live at noon and stayed that way for most of the afternoon. We did talk shows, kitchen cooking shows and quiz shows.”
“A daily show called “Mac's Matinee,” which was aired from 12:30 to 1:30pm. This featured just about everything we could put together, including guests, interviews and playing records. Since it was all so new, people watched, even when all we did was pan around or zoom in or out while a record was playing. Mac's sidekicks were Al Wolfe and Ed Baekey who were funny clowning around, Ed as comic character Sylvan Schlumper. We had a small studio band made up of WTPA staffers Al Bethel on trombone, Mac McCauley on trumpet, Bob Harnsberger on drums and Paul Gross on trumpet.”
“Another daily afternoon program was an interview show in a living room setting hosted by Miriam Murphy and later Gladys Swift. They booked Harrisburg personalities. There were so many interesting personalities that it's hard to remember many of them. However, one time a guest brought in a bobcat that got loose and ran all over the studio, scratching the guest so severely that he had to be taked to the hospital for treatment.”
“Although the time periods changed, we had a cowboy band on early in the evenings, often at 6:00pm, featuring Bud Messner and His Skyliners who played and sang and developed quite a following.”
“The early evening news called “Home Edition” came on, sometimes at 6:00pm and sometimes at 6:30pm, with Don Wear, Program Director, followed by “The Scoreboard” with Roy Nassau, News and Sports Director. At 7:00pm we did a weather show followed by a call–in quiz show MC'd by Al Bethel titled “It's Your Move.” It featured a checkerboard with moves based on answers to questions.”
“At 7:15 p.m., we had a variety show featuring “Lynn Christie,” a vocalist from Lebanon who had big time aspirations. She sang for about 15 minutes, accompanied by local pianist Al Morrison.”
“In the early evenings, we did a few 15 minute shows. One was called “Our Common Wealth,” a take off on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, produced by Bill Richards of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He brought in curators from historical sites around the state. Another was a medical show produced by Dorothy Schaull for the Dauphin County Medical Society featuring local doctors who discussed recent medical developments.”
“One evening per week (Fridays), we did a show called “Beat the Bench.” It was a sports quiz show which Roy Nassau, the news and sports director, MC's. We had a bunch of sport enthusiasts come in and ask a panel of experts questions about sports. The enthusiasts sat on bleachers between Roy and the panel. He also used a mystery guest who spoke through a filtered microphone and the panel had to guess who it was.”
“Another show was “Skyline Towers,” a musical show featuring singers Anita Rockey, Lynn Christy and Ed Baekey; pianst Al Morrison and other Harrisburg musicians. The show was aired Tuesdays featuring a set that looked like a night club.”
“On Wednesday evenings at 9:30pm, we did a show called “What's It Worth?” It was similar to the popular public TV show on the air today called “The Antique Road Show.” It featured a panel of antique experts who evaluated pieces brought to the studio by viewers.”
Romper Room was created in 1953 for WBAL-TV, a local station in Baltimore. The show was so popular with children, that by the late 1950's the show had spread to more than 100 stations across the country. Romper Room signed on WTPA on November 11, 1954. Each show features games for the in-studio kids to play and cleverly interspersed between the games were lessons that have become children's classics.
The hostesses sidekick was a yellowjacket named Mr. Doo Bee. The show always ended with the hostess looking through her “Magic Mirror” to “see” the kids watching the show from home.
The show was franchised and each show was run by a hostess personally trained by the originally hostess “Miss Nancy.”