From left to right, that’s John Gray, Tom Willette, Roy Morris, Lee Jackson and Mort Lloyd.
Sixty years ago, on May 6, 1956, Chattanoogans doubled their TV viewing pleasure. With the flip of a switch, that miraculous picture box in the living room suddenly had not one, but TWO channels to choose from. Could it possibly get any better? Now there was no monopoly on entertainment and news programming. For the previous two years, WDEF Channel 12 had been the only station in town, carrying local programs plus an assortment of shows from four different networks. When WRGP Channel 3 (named for owner Ramon G. Patterson) signed on, it lined up with NBC, leaving CBS in the hands of Channel 12. Channel 9 came along in 1958, affiliating with ABC. Unlike many markets, all three original stations are still affiliated with their original networks.
Channel 3 has changed hands a few times over the years. In fact one of the previous owners, Rust Craft Broadcasting, renamed the station WRCB in 1963, and the station retains those call letters today. Now owned by Sarkes Tarzian, Inc., Channel 3 is proud of a few firsts over the years: first to do live remote broadcasts (back in the early 1960s, when such an event would take days to set up) and first to do live breaking news shots (via microwave signals).
Channel 3 was first to purchase a satellite truck, enabling the news division to go live from pretty much anywhere. Who knew that sixty years into the future, a television station could beam breaking news events into your home, not with a truck, but with a tiny telephone that fits into the palm of your hand? We do it every day in 2016.
The station was also first to broadcast programs in color, thanks to NBC’s early adoption of color TV.
When I was a kid, very few people had those expensive color sets, and it was a real treat to see anything in color, without going to a movie theater. Our preacher (!) was the only person we knew with a color TV, so I would often find excuses to go home with his family and watch “Bonanza” in color on Sunday nights on Channel 3 and NBC. Let’s just say Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe sold a LOT of color TV’s for RCA, which was the whole idea. At that time there were only a handful of shows broadcast in color. Within a few years, that would change. Then came cable, satellite, the internet, and all the choices we have today. But thankfully, there’s still a Channel 3, doing local news, weather, sports, and yes, providing me with a job for the past 28 years.
There are still a handful of “old-timers” around who remember that very first day. One is my friend Wayne Abercrombie, whose memories of helping sign on a new television station are still razor-sharp. Here’s a 1991 interview I did with Wayne, and early Channel 3 personality Roy Morris.
Those early days were broadcast from 1214 McCallie Avenue, across from Warner Park. I visited the old studio, later converted into an electrical supply building, back in 2006 for the station’s 50th anniversary. It was a pleasure to see the old dressing rooms where Dolly Parton would put on her giant wig for the Porter Wagoner Show. It was the same studio where Harry Thornton was ringmaster for Saturday Live Wresting, and Mort Lloyd delivered the news with that incredibly deep voice. It’s also where they posed for classic pictures like this one:
(From left to right, that’s John Gray, Tom Willette, Roy Morris, Lee Jackson and Mort Lloyd. That’s a 1958 studio shot, and yes, Mr. Jackson is holding a cigarette.)
Through the years, the people have come and gone, but Channel 3 is fortunate to have some folks both in front of, and behind the camera who have made the station their home for most of their careers. Tommy Eason, featured in the Live Eye video above, shot film and video for the newscasts for almost fifty years before retiring in 2009. Bobby Winders has been an engineer at the station since 1969. Wayne Jackson started directing the 6:00 p.m. news in the mid-1970s, and still calls the shots each evening to this day. Tom Tolar has been station manager for more than thirty years, easily a record in Chattanooga. So Happy 60th, Channel 3! And thanks to those of you who have supported “my favorite channel” for so many years.
(From David Carroll's ChattanoogaRadioTV.com)
In honor of Channel 3's 60th anniversary, we'll be taking you on a trip down memory lane all next week with a look back at some of our most memorable moments.