by K.M. Richards
KBIC-TV was the first commercial UHF TV station on the air in Los Angeles (only educational KTHE/28, which began operation November 29, 1953, preceded it). The station was started by John H. Poole (1917-2003), then owner of KALI/1430 in Pasadena, in 1949 as an amateur/experimental station on Signal Hill (near Long Beach), using an Army surplus transmitter as KM2XAZ.
After receiving one of the earliest construction permits for UHF (issued December 10, 1952) on channel 22 as KPIK, the transmitter site was moved to Mt. Wilson, and a new General Electric TT-25-A transmitter was purchased. Poole changed the call letters to KBIC-TV at the beginning of December 1953.
The transmitter was housed in a three story building. On the first floor was KFMV-FM/94.7 (owned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in those days, and later to become first KFWB-FM, then KRHM, KMET, and today's KTWV), power distribution and water coolers, along with KTHE's transmitter were on the second floor, and the channel 22 transmitter was on the third floor. The building still stands today, including an attic that has windows facing south for microwave receiving dishes used for studio-transmitter links. (A photo can be seen at Scott Fybush's "Tower Site of the Week" article for December 16, 2005.)
As far as anyone has ever determined, KBIC-TV never carried any programming material other than the test pattern/station ID slide (see above). In the earliest days, they actively solicited reception reports, and made arrangements to provide low cost Army surplus UHF converters to hams and other interested parties.
Poole was also granted a construction permit in 1953 for KBIE-TV/46 in Sacramento -- in fact, the KBIC-TV calls were assigned there originally -- but surrendered it, unbuilt, after only two years; a third permit, issued two months after the Sacramento CP, did operate as KBID-TV/53 in Fresno for five months in 1954 before going dark, running a six-hour daily schedule with the typical mix of ancient two-reeler movies and first-run syndicated programs like Colonel March of Scotland Yard. (Even competing independent KVVG/27 had a better schedule, including some DuMont network shows aired via kinescope.) At the time he suspended operation, Poole said the "refusal of major TV networks to affiliate with the station was the principal reason" he did so; ABC had already affiliated with KJEO/47 and NBC with KMJ-TV/24 the previous year, and CBS apparently was waiting to affiliate with whoever got channel 12 (which had been in comparative hearings since before channel 53 first signed on). Poole also said he planned to resume broadcasting "when TV set distribution has increased to the point where local advertising can support an independent station" but he instead allowed the CP for that station to expire in 1957, although he did propose in 1955 a swap in the allocations table of channel 53 for non-commercial educational channel 18 or for channel 30 in nearby Merced. Back in Los Angeles, meanwhile, the KBIC-TV CP remained in force by continuing to broadcast the ID slide.
Poole also filed applications on July 3, 1952 for channel 28 in Salinas, channel 29 in Bakersfield and channel 36 in Stockton but withdrew all three a few days before the Los Angeles grant.
The final amplifiers on the channel 22 transmitter were sold to KNBS-TV in Walla Walla, Washington when they signed on in 1960. They were operated there until that station went dark, less than one year after beginning operation. The 100-watt exciter remained at KBIC-TV and was used for testing.
After KNBS-TV went dark the amplifiers were returned to Mt. Wilson, where they were stored for a couple of years then reassembled (after a thorough cleaning to remove the snake skins and rat droppings from Walla Walla!).
Once back on the air at full power Poole sold KBIC-TV (the remaining equipment from KM2XAZ -- about $17,000 worth -- was donated by Poole to a new television station in Taiwan; apparently it was considered a charitable donation because the equipment was given to American Jesuit priests working with the station ... $5,000 of equipment was similarly donated by KPIX/5 San Francisco), and it officially began programming as KIIX March 25, 1963. KIIX was only the second television station in the U.S. to program for a Negro audience, the other being WOOK-TV/14 in Washington DC, which had gone on the air only one month previous.
According to an article in the February 4, 1963 issue of Broadcasting which outlined the station's plans, KIIX was to program in two-hour segments each conducted by its own personality, playing records, introducing guest entertainers, and interviewing newsworthy individuals ... "pretty much like a deejay on an independent radio station." The article said KIIX also planned a half-hour children's program each afternoon and a 30-minute news program in the evening. Their studios and offices were located in South Central Los Angeles in a former automobile showroom on Washington Blvd., known both then and today as an area with a substantial black population, converted into a main studio which was "open to the observation of sidewalk passersby." (Surprisingly, that building is still standing, and presently houses a trio of automotive repair businesses.)
Local black weekly newspaper the California Eagle was apparently the only reliable published source of program listings, which they headlined as "KIIX-TV Schedule Of Events" while curiously omitting the channel number (at least the Los Angeles Times managed that much, but never seemed to list all the programming); the programming at launch included Miss Jones' Playschool, a one hour daily program called KIIXVille, a nightly 30-minute program of "revival music" and half-hour newscasts at 6:30 and 10:00pm, with the centerpiece program being the aforementioned personality-hosted two-hour show titled KIIX On The Town, which occupied most of the prime-time hours. Weekends brought Showcase of Talent, KIIX Jazz Festival, KIIX Platter Panel, KIIX Ballroom, religious programming ranging from church choral concerts and short clergy sermonettes to a 15-minute "News of the Church" just prior to sign-off on Saturday nights, and assorted shows titled Drama Workshop, International Revue, La Parisiene Revue, Achievement '63 and a Sunday evening half-hour hosted by a mysterious "Mr. Anthony".
One "personality" who leveraged his brief tenure at KIIX into a distinguished career was Larry McCormick, whose name is barely legible in the ad shown at left; McCormick, who was only 30 years old at the time, moved on to the highly successful R&B radio station KGFJ/1230, and returned to television in 1969 as a news reporter at KCOP/13. Two years later he was hired away by KTLA/5, becoming one of the first African-American news anchors in the country; he remained there as a reporter and anchor until his death 33 years later at age 71.
KIIX's owners, Central Broadcasting Corp., applied for channel 30 in St. Louis a mere month after officially signing on in L.A., with the intent of using the same programming formula, but before the application process could complete, KIIX first cancelled all of its live programs in August, cutting its broadcast day to 2½ hours of filmed programming, and ceased operation just short of its launch anniversary, on March 9, 1964. (The St. Louis CP was eventually issued in 1966, to a group that included a certain John W. Dean III -- yes, that John Dean -- and is today's KDNL-TV.)
Channel 22 was then sold to Hugh Murchison's Coast Radio Corporation, which owned KPOL/1540 and KPOL-FM/93.9, and resumed operation as -- surprise! -- KPOL-TV March 29, 1965 (it had been scheduled to begin operation at the start of the month but ran into "operational difficulties", which left the Los Angeles Times in the position of having to publish on the previous Friday that the upcoming Sunday "TV Times" booklet would have listings for channel 22 but the station would not yet be broadcasting). As KPOL-TV, channel 22 operated as a traditional independent station, with old movies, inexpensive syndicated programming, and whatever free films were available as timeslot fillers. (Their station manager, Fred Custer told Broadcasting they had acquired a number of filmed shows that were "old but good"; one local newspaper called them "so old viewers may think they're first-run.") Only four days into its new incarnation, however, KPOL-TV went dark due to a strike by AFTRA-IBEW workers against KPOL-AM/FM; channel 22 was back one month later but its programming created no incentive for Southern California viewers to purchase UHF-capable sets or receivers.
The Friday before KPOL-TV first took to the air, program director Robertson Scott was quoted in Walt Dutton's Times column that "a show isn't necessarily bad because it isn't new" and expanded on GM Custer's original remarks by giving a laundry list of anthology series that had been acquired for the channel 22 library. At the same time, Scott said KPOL-TV didn't expect to compete with the established VHF stations, admitting that it would be "several years" before UHF would reach enough people to do so. As for the "pretty good shows" that now resided in the film vault, the initial schedule for channel 22's operation was:
KPOL apparently had enough credibility from their years as a radio station to get slightly better newspaper coverage for their television station's listings than had KIIX (including papers in Long Beach and Pasadena), although one -- the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner -- provided as little detail as possible, listing simply "Western" at 6:30 and "Film Drama" for all the old syndicated series that were sharing weeknight timeslots, omitting entirely the five-minute newscasts.
Channel 22 also programmed whatever free films had been sent to them by public relations firms and government agencies -- it was common practice in those days to send out pseudo-documentaries and travelogues to any station that would run them as filler, and KPOL-TV took full advantage of them, most days running one ahead of the "Horse Opera" and as many as three after the "Museum Movie" -- until signing off at 11:30pm. This resulted in films titled "Culinary Arts of Japan", "At the Fair", "The Other Side of Florida" and even "Report on Bootleg Dentistry" appearing on the schedule. (If this mattered little to viewers, it mattered even less to the Herald-Examiner, which didn't print any post-movie listings at all.)
Apparently Custer and Scott still believed in their programming philosophy one year later; the Pasadena Independent Star News television listings book for the first week of May 1966 showed only minor tweaks to the schedule. The 5:30 "Horse Opera" movies having been replaced by a package of 51 Monogram westerns from the 1930s which had been cut down into multi-part serials running under the umbrella title Rainbow Valley, followed at 6:00 by the Stu Erwin sitcom on weekdays (on Saturdays viewers got The Fisher Family and the 1958-59 CBS series Yancy Derringer). The "Horse Opera" was moved to 6:30 seven nights a week and Susie had been replaced with the 1952-54 CBS/NBC series Mr. and Mrs. North on Sundays. (Young World completely disappeared ... temporarily.) More reruns of This Is the Life -- these having been retitled Patterns for Living -- moved into the Thursday time slot vacated by the Fishers and the 1953-56 syndicated series Waterfront had taken the post-"Horse Opera" timeslot on Saturdays. A token amount of news was added in the form of two five-minute newscasts at 7:55 and 8:55pm Monday through Saturday, likely "anchored" by a KPOL-AM/FM announcer, and the free films had been relegated to filling the gap between the end of the "Museum Movie" and 11:30pm sign off, even replacing the Sunday night documentaries and travelogues.
By this time it had become evident that Murchison only put channel 22 back on the air in order to have a three-station package to sell off and retire from the proceeds, but for some reason the company that bought the radio stations (Capital Cities) wasn't interested in the barely-there UHF. Thus KPOL-TV was instead sold to Thomas S. Bunn and others who held minority interests in Coast Radio Corp., which was KPOL-AM/FM's licensee and 90% owner of channel 22's license. Since the radio and television stations were now going to be under separate ownership, the call letters were required to be changed (and were, on August 17). The nightly schedule of ancient reruns and even more ancient movies continued on the new KWHY-TV until November 7, 1966 when it became the first television station in the U.S. to offer non-stop live coverage of the New York stock exchanges, a format which remained in the morning and early afternoon hours until October 1999.
Sample of KWHY-TV's 22 Business News from 1997
Even as the financial news gave channel 22 a reason to be on the air in the daytime, the rest of the schedule became erratic; KWHY-TV at first extended the "old but good" programming to begin after the business news programming ended every afternoon. However, starting in November 1967 they began signing off for a few hours after the market closed, returning at 5:00pm with more of the same ancient programming and adding a financial news wrapup and interviews in the 7:00pm hour, with an 11:00pm sign off. Six months later (May 1968) they were signing off at 6:00pm after running a couple of movies following the financial news, and two months after that (July) rolled sign off back to 3:00pm. For reasons lost to history, one year later (August 1969) they went back to operating afternoon and evening hours with syndicated programming and ancient movies, plus the 7:00pm stock market wrapup programming. (It should be noted that the bulk of the schedule still consisted of programs produced for first-run syndication in the 1950s and early 1960s, such as African Patrol (1957), Glencannon (1959), and The Third Man (1960-61); with no more than 39 episodes available for most of those shows, KWHY-TV must have been counting each time they expanded the schedule on finding viewers who had not seen them during earlier airings, or even on the VHF independents when they were truly "first-run".) In February 1970 channel 22 was running repeats of Young World every weeknight -- yes, five-year-old reruns of a "news" program -- then the evening financial news programming, signing off afterwards at 8:30pm ... and in mid-April again eliminated everything but the weekday stock market coverage and a few hours on Saturday and Sunday to run paid religious programming such as Garner Ted Armstrong and Bible Answers plus filler such as The Big Picture.
Some of the erratic schedule hours during that period could be explained by Kaiser Broadcasting having put KMTW/52 -- later, KBSC-TV -- on the air at the end of June 1966, with a schedule consisting of Japanese animation (including Kimba the White Lion, Gigantor, and Speed Racer), Little Rascals and Three Stooges shorts in the late afternoon and somewhat newer movies in prime-time. The counterprogramming strategy at channel 52 left few viewers choosing to watch the older, entirely black-and-white programs on KWHY-TV.
In January 1972, KWHY-TV began brokering its Sunday evening hours to Korean and Japanese program producers (the remaining evenings were similarly brokered to a Spanish-language broadcaster beginning in July of that same year), which seemed to be an echo of channel 22's past: When KIIX had cut back its schedule shortly after beginning operation in 1963, its president H. Calvin Young had said he was hoping to refinance the station and return to a full daily schedule "broadened to include programs in Italian and Chinese, and perhaps others aimed at other ethnic minorities among the Los Angeles population."
KWHY-TV continued the ethnic programming until July 28, 1978, when it leased all weekday evening and weekend hours to subscription television company SelecTV; that arrangement continued for a little over a decade, until April 1, 1989 when channel 22 turned off the scrambler for the last time and went entirely Spanish language outside of the business news hours. As noted above, the business news programming lasted another ten years before being cancelled (it continued for another year on KWHY-DT/22.2 and KJLA/57 before being cancelled at the end of September 2000).
Channel 22 was sold in 2001 to Telemundo which operated it as a Spanish language independent, continuing under subsequent NBC ownership of that network under a FCC waiver. When Comcast purchased NBCUniversal in 2011, KWHY-TV was spun off to local businessman Alex Meruelo.
This article includes information from one written by broadcast software engineer Jack Calaway (who passed away in November 2007) that originally appeared as a page on his software company's website, now defunct. Steve Grimm and Tom Anderson were credited in the Calaway article as having provided some of his information. Photos were taken circa 1962-63, original source unknown.
Site concept © Clarke Ingram. Site design by K.M. Richards.