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KEDD/16, Wichita KS

by Charles Frodsham

Wichita's first television station lasted less than three years. While much of the information about KEDD channel 16 has been lost to history, some details are still available.

TV viewing in Wichita began in the summer of 1949 with the establishment of WKY-TV, channel 4, NBC in Oklahoma City. That was followed by KOTV, channel 6, CBS in Tulsa, in the fall of that year. With the excitement of this new medium, even both Wichita's Eagle and Beacon newspapers carried the program listings of these somewhat faraway stations. These two television stations would be the closest to Wichita for about the next four years, each of them having filed their application for a new station before 1948, when the FCC announced a freeze on all new TV applications ... a freeze that was to last four years.

Those eager TV viewers in Wichita who were willing to install thirty-to- fifty foot tall towers in their backyards, with deep-fringe antennas on top and a rotor to aim the antenna in the desired direction, could usually pull in a somewhat snowy "grade-B" picture. Such was the state of TV viewing in Wichita until 1953. On July 1 of that year, Hutchinson's KTVH, channel 12 would begin broadcasting, with their primary network affiliation CBS. But at that time they were indeed a Hutchinson station; their low power and 780-foot tower eight miles east of Hutchinson did not radiate a grade A signal over Wichita. (It would not be until 1963 that KTVH would begin transmitting from a 1500-foot tower with full power of 316,000 watts to provide city-grade coverage to Wichita.)


KEDD's transmitting facilities. Chief engineer George Smith is
at the transmitter and engineers Elmer Freewaldt and
Tommy George are at the console.

Just over six weeks later, on August 15, Wichita's first television station, KEDD began broadcasting on channel 16. The station signed on with a minimal effective radiated power of 20,000 watts from their 700-foot tower just southwest of 37th Street North and Hillside. By July 1954 KEDD was telecasting with their full authorized power of 245,000 watts with their tower height limited to just over 700 feet because of Civil Aeronautics Administration regulations. KEDD was a primary NBC affiliate, but also took some programming from ABC until KAKE-TV channel 10 signed on in October, 1954.

The CWC Corporation of Kansas City was the winning applicant for channel 16, which had also been sought by radio stations KFBI and KWBB, although KFBI withdrew their application in October, 1952. Of the two remaining applicants, CWC was chosen by the FCC and received a construction permit on February 18, 1953. They were owned by Durwood Theatres, Inc., of Kansas City. By 1954 KWBB/Wichita Beacon was listed as a 15% owner, with the Durwood interests owning 85% of the company. Thirty-three year old Harvard-educated Stanley H. Durwood, son of the founder of Durwood Theatres, a small group of Kansas City second run theaters, was president of CWC.

(If readers feel the name Stanley H. Durwood is familiar, it might be because of his legacy in the motion picture exhibitors industry. Durwood grew the small theater company founded by his father in 1920 to become the second largest movie theater chain in the United States. Based in Kansas City, the company became AMC Entertainment; AMC stood for "American Multi-Cinema" and Durwood is credited for having invented the multi-screen theater format in Kansas City in 1963. While well-known and industrious, Durwood was described by the show-business publication Variety as a "feisty and true eccentric, famously tight-fisted, headstrong, and mercurial". He died in Kansas City in 1999 at the age of 78. At the time of his death, AMC had 2700 movie screens in six countries.)


KEDD studios and offices at 2815 East 37th St. North (now occupied by KWCH, the former KTVH).

However, even with being the first TV station licensed to Wichita, there were enormous competitive challenges on the horizon for KEDD. Even as KEDD was awarded UHF channel 16, there were ongoing hearings at the Federal Communications Commission that would decide who would get permission to build and operate stations on the coveted VHF channels 3 and 10 that had also been assigned to Wichita, joining KTVH channel 12 for a total of three VHF television stations. There was magic in the number of three, as there were three main national networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC ... and it was crucial for television stations to have an affiliation with a national programming network. Yes, the DuMont Network had been established in 1946 but it didn't have the finances to survive against the other three that had radio revenues to help bankroll the early years. By 1953 DuMont was heading downhill and had very few affiliates, and by early 1955 they had cancelled most of their programming.

The biggest reason why KEDD could not remain competitive once KAKE-TV channel 10 signed on in October 1954 and KARD-TV channel 3 began broadcasting in September 1955 was that KEDD channel 16 was on the UHF band. Television receivers of the day needed converters and special antennas to receive any UHF channels, and for a given level of power, the geographical range of UHF signals is considerably smaller than VHF. Television set owners in the Wichita area knew that as soon as channels 3 and 10 were activated, they would no longer be required to buy UHF converters for their sets, which all were VHF-only in the 1950's (the FCC's all-channel rule for TV receivers did not take effect until 1966).

As part of the deintermixture proceedings, Stanley Durwood tried to get a VHF channel for KEDD, filing a rulemaking petition on February 2, 1955 to move educational station KSAC-TV in Manhattan KS to channel 58 and allocate their channel 8 to Hutchinson. The petition was denied (along with 29 similar petitions) November 10, 1955.

And of course, NBC and ABC knew as well that Wichita would be getting two new VHF stations. ABC affiliated with KAKE-TV as soon as they signed on the air October 19, 1954, and KARD-TV was waiting in the wings for KEDD's contract with NBC to end on April 30, 1956.


KEDD network program highlights, April 1954.

Network programs on KEDD included the Bob Hope Show, Martin and Lewis, Buffalo Bob Smith and the Howdy Doody Show, Groucho Marx, Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, Dorothy Collins and Snooky Lanson with Your Hit Parade, Robert Montgomery Presents, Milton Berle, John Cameron Swayze, George Jessel, Howard Barlow and the Voice of Firestone, Bob Consodine, Dragnet, and Friday night fights from Madison Square Garden.

My information about KEDD's local programming is somewhat limited. Their 1954 program listings included news at 6:15 pm, "Weather Why's" at 6:25pm, and "News Roundup" at 10:00pm with weather at 10:15 and "Sports Extra" at 10:20. However, by 1956 the 6:15 news and 6:25 weather had been eliminated, and the 10:00pm news and weather had been shortened to 15 minutes with the sportscast eliminated. The news programs ran Monday through Friday only. Wichitan Mike Sheets remembers a weather announcer on KEDD with a little puppet (Ben and Quigley?).

Three local programs of note were Bar 16 Ranch, Hi-Fi Hop, and Gene McGeehe's Friday Night Dance Party.

Bar 16 Ranch was initially an hour program immediately following Howdy Doody. It featured old western movies with live studio inserts. The host, Bob Olander (who had done a similar program on WCAU-TV Philadelphia), dressed in costume as a cowboy named "Cheyenne" and had his own special brand of yarn-spinning stories and humor. The audience ratings were very kind to the program; an April, 1954 American Research Bureau survey for Wichita showed Bar 16 out-performing the competing Amos 'N Andy on Mondays, Kit Carson on Wednesdays, Hopalong Cassidy on Thursdays, and Range Rider on Fridays. Only on Tuesdays did the 5:00pm program on KTVH, Superman, barely beat Bar 16. Wichita guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Hahn remembers appearing daily on the Bar 16 Ranch program at the age of 11 with the western swing musical group Bobby Wiley and the Rhythmaires.

On December 12, 1955 a live dancing program for teens, Hi-Fi Hop, was started in KEDD's large 40- by 50-foot studio, with Dick Williams announcing and playing records from the current top 20 songs of the week. (Williams had been a popular DJ at KAKE but was turned down when he asked to join their television operation, and so joined the KEDD staff instead.) Hi-Fi Hop was telecast at 5:00pm weekdays and Bar 16 Ranch was moved to 6:00 and shortened to 30 minutes. It could be described as kind of an early local version of of what would become ABC's American Bandstand two years later; the station sent out invitations to high schools in the KEDD coverage area inviting them to organize groups of no more than 60 students to participate in the live program on a particular date. Mike Sheets remembered attending Hi-Fi Hop when he was a student at Newton High School and that the kids could consume all the Pepsi and Kitty Clover potato chips that they wanted. Hi-Fi Hop moved to KTVH after KEDD left the air, first with Bill Fisher and then with Bill Brooks as host. As KTVH also moved into the old KEDD studios, it could be said that Hi-Fi Hop was the only thing that didn't really leave the 37th Street North building when channel 16 went dark.

KEDD management claimed that "genial" Gene McGehee's Friday Night Dance Party telecast generated an average mail pull of more than 1000 pieces every week. Like Williams, before joining KEDD McGehee had been one of the original announcers on the KAKE radio staff.

Bobby Wiley and the Rhythmaires are worth a special mention. The players were all 11 to 16 years of age, except for their adult drummer, Mac McKenzie. Bobby was the son of Milo and Grace Wiley, the owners of the Wiley Music Company who as music teachers had access to many of the best young musicians in Wichita. By 1953 Bobby already was a veteran performer, billed as "Bob Wiley, 13-year-old steel guitar wizard" by local music promoter Hap Peebles. In the summers of 1951 and 1952 Bobby traveled with former Gene Autry and Roy Rogers sidekick Smiley Burnette. Initially Olander invited Bobby to perform solos on Bar 16 Ranch; the audience response was enthusiastic, so he put together an honest-to-goodness country-western band and expanded the music segments. The other band members were lead guitarist Jerry Hahn, who later became a renowned jazz guitar player; Bob Smith, who played both bass and fiddle; Bobby’s cousin, Diane Hamilton, as girl vocalist (Diane often appeared on Barnyard Frolic, a sort of regional version of The Grand Old Opry from KLRA in Little Rock, and later toured with country star Jim Reeves). The youngest member was 11-year-old Bernie Rozell, who played rhythm guitar and sang. There were a few changes during the three years the band appeared on KEDD; Anita "Hoppy" McCune was added as a singer and guitarist (since she owned a horse, she was a "real" cowgirl), Ronnie DeGrant became the drummer, Gary Andrus replaced Rozell, then Jimmy Knight replaced DeGrant and Larry Kerwin played bass.


Bobby Wiley and the Rhythmaires at KEDD.

In addition to the weekday show, The Bobby Wiley Rhythmaires Show aired at 7:00pm Thursdays during the last year of KEDD's operation. Major country-western entertainers performing in the Wichita area were invited to perform their latest hits as guests; they included Hank Williams, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Thompson, the Carter Sisters, Hank Snow and Leon McCaulife. The Rhythmaires also appeared on the weekly prime-time show Just Us Girls, hosted by Gene McGehee.

KEDD general manager Ben Baylor resigned after less than seven months on the air. According to a story in the March 11, 1954 Wichita Eagle, Baylor said he had terminated his association with KEDD due to "complete and total disagreement over station policy." The disagreements were not explained but it was apparent they were with Stanley Durwood. Baylor had been with WMAL/630 and WMAL-TV/7 Washington DC for over ten years, becoming the assistant general manager of the television station before joining KEDD.


Jerry Dunphy in 1954.

In October 1954 Jerry Dunphy, from WTVH-TV Peoria IL, was named news and special events director, replacing Dick Hickox (who followed Baylor to Fort Wayne). At the time, a press release said Dunphy would "head up an expanded KEDD news staff of four newscasters and reporters plus a large correspondence staff spotted over a radius of over 1,000 square miles". Dunphy stayed at KEDD for about a year before leaving for WXIX-TV in his hometown of Milwaukee.

Between the challenge of limited viewer penetration levels with a UHF signal, the prospects of two new VHF stations entering the Wichita television market soon, and the near certainty of the loss of any network affiliation when that happened, the possibility of KEDD's becoming a financial success was problematic. It appears that the station was never able to cash flow. Precipitated by continuing losses, and lawsuits from creditors, the station filed for bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in July, 1955. At the time KEDD reported a total net loss of $101,069 from August, 1953, through June, 1955. Losses for the last month before filing alone were $15,709. Total assets were $551,847, and liabilities were $692,395. That same month four lawsuits -- brought by Ziv Television Programs, Inc., MCA-TV Ltd., Atlanta TV Co., and Standard Rate & Data Service -- totaling $27,800, and asking that KEDD be placed in receivership were lodged against the station. A Federal bankruptcy referee ordered KEDD to pay the unsecured creditors 10 cents on the dollar.

To add insult to injury, at 2:00pm on Sunday, October 16, 1955 a technical malfunction in the transmission line running up the station tower to the antenna forced KEDD off the air. It turned out that moisture had leaked into a 120 foot section of cable starting at the 420 foot level above ground causing a short circuit (there had been heavy rains in Wichita in days leading up to the power outage). By Saturday, October 22, tower crews had replaced the burned-out transmission line and the station was able to return to air at 4:00 that afternoon ... but a loss of six days of broadcasting for a station already mired in bankruptcy just added to KEDD's financial problems. During that six-day outage KARD-TV ran display ads in Wichita area newspapers announcing to viewers that they would carry NBC programming until such time as KEDD could return to the air (and even though channel 16 returned to the air the following Saturday, channel 3, which had gained permission from NBC to carry network programming through Sunday, October 23, telecast NBC programs along with KEDD for that weekend).

Somehow the station managed to stay on the air for another six months, until the end of the NBC affiliation contract on April 30, 1956. KEDD knew they could not survive as an independent station and they went dark after that night's schedule; the next day, KARD-TV picked up the NBC affiliation. (Channel 3 had functioned in the interim as an independent station.) KTVH moved into the KEDD facilities in late 1956.


Notice in Broadcasting of KEDD going dark.

But before we leave the KEDD story, here's one for the "What on earth were they thinking?" department. In researching old-time radio in Wichita I never did come across any mention of engineers' labor union membership in broadcasting. Yet the engineers at KEDD were indeed members of a union ... the IBEW. And at 4:00pm on Sunday, December 12, 1954, about seven months before the station filed for bankruptcy, they abruptly walked off the job, shutting the station down. Viewers were suddenly confronted with a slide and audio message that said "KEDD-TV engineers were going on strike due to a breakdown in negotiations with management." President Stanley Durwood and general manager John North said the engineers walked off the job without giving advance notice. It does seem unlikely that the engineers couldn't have been aware of the precarious nature of the station's finances and fortunes. Because of their positions in the operating end of the KEDD's business one would think they would have been aware of, or at least had a feel for, the low volume of local advertising being sold and telecast. They also would have been aware that two months earlier, KAKE-TV channel 10 signed on the air and that it would be only a matter of months before KARD channel 3 would begin broadcasting and would become an NBC affiliate. KEDD did sign on the next day and negotiations did continue and whether anybody received any raises in pay is doubtful, but who knows? The answer is most likely lost to history. But it's difficult not to ask, "What were the engineers thinking?"


POSTSCRIPTS:

One year after KEDD went dark, Dick Williams created a new version of Hi-Fi Hop on KGNC-TV/4 (today's KAMR) Amarillo TX. It first aired there in May 1957; Williams was also the station weatherman and performed approximately 300 magic shows on KGNC-TV. In 1966, by then at WMC-TV/5 Memphis TN, he was asked by management to do a similar program and began Magicland, a weekly half-hour showcase of his talents as a magician. It lasted until he retired in 1989, and holds the Guinness record for the longest-running magic show in television history (with more than 1200 telecasts in Memphis alone). Williams, known as "Mr. Magic", is still alive and living in Memphis.

Jerry Dunphy moved on from Milwaukee to CBS' Chicago station, WBBM-TV/2, and in 1960 was given the anchor chair at KNXT/2 in Los Angeles (also CBS-owned), spending the rest of his life in that market. After being fired by KNXT in 1975, he resurfaced at KABC-TV/7 and stayed there for almost as long before jumping to KCAL-TV/9 in 1989; he remained there -- with the exception of two years in the mid-1990s when he returned to channel 2 -- until his death on May 20, 2002. KCAL-TV came under common ownership with KCBS-TV (the former KNXT) that same year, and moved to CBS Studio Center in the San Fernando Valley in 2007; a newsroom at the new location was named in Dunphy's honor.

For several months after KEDD went dark, Bobby Wiley and the Rhythmaires made personal appearances that had already been booked. But with the band members getting older, the group eventually disbanded. Bob Wiley's music-related career endeavors included patents for amps, guitars and keyboards, many designed for one-man bands. He passed away April 23, 2014 at age 73, after undegoing triple-bypass heart surgery the previous year. Bernie Rozell, 70 and the youngest member of the group, has lived in South Padre Island TX since 1987. Jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn lives in the Kansas City area. Anita "Hoppy" McCune-Witt lives in Arizona with her show horses and a voice that Wiley said is still "crystal clear". The status of Jimmy Knight, Gary Andrus and Larry Kerwin are not known. Diane Hamilton, Mac McKenzie, Bob Smith and Ronnie DeGrant are deceased.

Ben Baylor went on to manage WANE-TV/15 Fort Wayne IN, then became sales manager of WVUE/12 New Orleans when it went on the air in 1959 replacing WJMR-TV/20. He remained with WVUE until 1963, then apparently retired.


This article originally appeared in Active Aging and is republished with their permission. The article was originally published in three parts; it has been reformatted and edited to combine those into a single article and has been augmented with material from the author's original manuscript and newspaper articles from the period. The author, a former Kansas radio station owner now living in north central Kansas, can be reached at ckfrodsham@nckcn.com and welcomes contact from former KEDD employees or surviving family members.

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