Channel 3 celebrates 55 years on air
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – Friday is a very special day for Channel 3, it marks our 55th anniversary. On May 6, 1956 WRGP signed on the air as the second television station in Chattanooga.
It all began in a store front at 1214 McCallie Avenue. Local radio station owner Raymond G. Patterson was awarded the rights to for Chattanooga's second television station to be named after his initials, WRGP.
In 1954 WDEF Channel 12, primarily a CBS station, had signed on the air. So for more than 2 years, Chattanoogans who owned a TV set had one channel, and a lot of snow.
Then came May 6th 1956.
"Oh the people immediately began to call in and say how glad they were to get another station, where they could have a choice."
Wayne Abercrombie was the first employee hired for Channel 3. NBC only filled about half the broadcast day, so it was Wayne's job to create and direct shows to fill out the schedule.
"And we did a lot of local programming in those days, a lot of it!" says Abercrombie. "And that's what people really, really liked I think."
It was local programming on a low budget. And in the early days of TV, former radio personalities, like Roy Morris, were brought in to provide entertainment or anything that might pass for it.
"Oh it was a great feeling. It was scary, it was brand new, something for us," Roy Morris said in a 1991 interview. "I was working at WAPO radio with Raymond Patterson, the first owner of Channel 3. And it was... a carnival atmosphere. It was, everyday."
As the years went by, singers and musicians were added to the mix.
Barbara Malloy appeared on a daily show called "Holiday for Housewives."
In 1958, the show's call-in contests were so popular, the phone company asked Channel 3 to discontinue the program until they could install 100 additional phone lines to handle the calls.
She says the shows production numbers compared to network TV.
"I would sing like ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow'. They'd have me in a window setting, you know with the props," Malloy explains in a 2006 interview. "So here would be your window and there's supposed to be a pane here. Here's a guy on a ladder up here, and another guy there. One guy has a little fan and the other guy has Ivory Snow. One guys pouring it out and the other guy's making it [flutter].... and it looks so real!"
Among Barbara's co-stars was a young Jim Nabors, who would go on to national fame as Gomer Pyle.
At Channel 3, Nabors had two jobs, singing on the air and editing film off the air.
"I used to clip together all the commercials, insert the commercials into the films, and then I also edited the news and so forth," Nabors said in a 2006 interview. "It was a great time. I had a good time doing it. I didn't know what I was doing, but it was a lot of fun!"
Fifty-five years after he first walked through these doors, Channel 3's first employee has seen it all, and as we continue into the 21st Century, we're honored to still have him in our corner.
"Channel 3 is embedded in my soul and brain, and my heart very much, Abercrombie says "My channel just automatically flips to Channel 3 still these days."