SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – As KTAL celebrates its 70th anniversary, we’re taking a look back at how news technology has changed through the decades.
To tell the story of television, first, we need to tell the story of TV.
In 1870s America, inventors like William Uricchio and Siegfried Zielinski made drawings of a camera that would allow people to see moving pictures by electricity.
Many people knew it was possible to create a transmissible signal for moving pictures, but it didn’t happen until 1926 in London, England, where the first demonstration of a television system was shown to the public. Two years later, a TV signal was transmitted between London and New York.
Then the BBC came on board in 1929, and within three years one TV manufacturer sold 10,000 television sets.
But it’s a long way from London to Texarkana and the great shift between families gathering around a radio to gathering around a TV set would be a lengthy process.
Here’s how it happened.
The first radio station with a callsign was KDKA in Pittsburgh, which hit the airwaves on Nov. 2, 1920. By Aug. 1921 they were the first to broadcast play-by-play radio coverage during a professional baseball game, and the first college football game aired on KDKA in October of the same year.
The newest version of the printing press had been born. Newspapers were still common, but competition for advertisers would soon change.
By 1925, radio stations broadcast the first presidential inauguration, and the Grand Ole Opry (under a different name) rang out across Tennessee. By 1927, the government stepped in to oversee radio broadcasting, and in 1930 the first car radios were manufactured.
Between 1933 and 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt held nationwide fireside chats via radio.
Experimental television stations in the U.S. began broadcasting in the 1930s, and by 1939 NBC (National Broadcasting Company) was the very first network to introduce scheduled TV broadcasts. NBC’s first broadcasts reached 400 televisions in the New York area during the New York World’s Fair, and it is estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 people were watching those 400 televisions.
It didn’t take the FCC very long to realize that standards would need to be applied to the television broadcast market.
But radio stations had no intention of simply giving up and turning their profits over to those in television.
Then in 1938, the power of radio was realized in one traumatic day. America lost her mind when the War of the Worlds caused panic and mayhem. Many listeners believed the radio show was real and the country was undergoing an alien invasion.
How WWII Changed the News
Radio and television stations were still in their infancy in the early 1940s, when the first scheduled FM radio broadcast arrived in February of 1941.
In December of the same year, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Many of the companies that produced television sets halted production to help the U.S. Military defeat the Nazis, and many of the nation’s TV stations either went off the air or cut back their schedules so drastically that 4 hours of airtime per week was not uncommon. President Harry Truman went to the radio in 1945 to announce Germany’s surrender and the end of WWII in the European theatre.
Before troops left for the war, radio programs were not regularly scheduled on most stations. But the war caused a change in the way Americans consumed news. They had learned to turn to the radio for updates that might indicate whether or not the Allies were defeating the Axis powers.
After the troops returned from WWII, America’s “greatest generation” were beginning to buy TVs and center their living rooms around them. Almost every town and city across the country has a story of the first home that got a television.
And in 1951, it dawned on Clyde E. Palmer and his son-in-law Walter E. Hussman that there was something to this thing called TV. Palmer and Hussman’s radio station in Texarkana, they decided, needed to make a major technological advancement: the move from radio to television. But they soon learned that KCMC-TV could not survive economically while serving a large area with few viewers, so they requested that the FCC grant them the needed authority to move KCMC’s transmitter to a taller tower near Vivian, Louisiana. Suddenly the station had the second-tallest transmission tower in the south and viewers in both Shreveport and Texarkana metro areas.
“We put a TV station (KCMC-TV) on the air in 1952,” said Walter Hussman in Beacons in the Darkness: Hope and Transformation Among America’s Community Newspapers by Dave Hoekstra.
By 1962, 10 years after KCMC turned the call sign letters from a radio station into a television station, the space age had begun and the first satellite was orbiting the Earth. In 1963, MLK’s I Have a Dream speech reached across the nation through radio and television. It was the dawning of a much more informed world. Those who could not read could see or hear the news and other programming. Those who lived too far away from newspaper headquarters to subscribe were now able to tune in to the news that people in the city were seeing and/or hearing.
Fifty-six years after the second tallest tower in the south was built for his television station, Walter Hussman was named Publisher of the Year by Editor & Publisher magazine. He joined the board of directors of the Associated Press in 2000, and the board of directors of C-SPAN in 1995.
But Hussman was here at KTAL when the station became the first in the Texarkana-Shreveport market to add color broadcasts. He had lived through the transition from newspapers to radio to television to color TV, and now he is also recognized as a brilliant mind in digital news.
In Hoekstra’s book, Hussman spoke of lessons he learned from television.
“I’ve been doing this for almost fifty years now. One thing I’ve learned is to not give up. I just hate seeing all the family-owned newspapers in America give up. I’m not saying this in a critical way. I can’t blame them. Maybe they’ve made a better financial decision than I’ve made… I’m really concerned we’re going to lose family journalism in America. We have to find some solution. If we don’t, we’re going to go down trying.”
The Hussmans sold KTAL in 2000.
KTAL (Channel 6) is still the only television station in Texarkana, Texas.
We’ve come a long way from the days when the callsign belonged to the radio station of Camden News Publishings. KTAL once lived at 740 AM, but the great move from audio-only radio to the audio-visual reality of television, plus the eventual addition of color to the mix, transformed the way people in eastern Texas, southwest Arkansas, and northwest Louisiana consumed their news.
It also changed the social lives of those in the ArkLaTex.
From home, while generations have watched or listened to KCMC/KTAL, the way radios and television sets evolved with the passage of time became noticeable. But the changes in technology have been even more dramatic for those who work (and once worked) for KTAL NBC 6 NEWS.
Transmission tower builds, the shift from black and white to color cameras, bunny ears to cable and satellites, live reporting, film to digital photographs and videos, AM to FM radios, ever-changing font, and logo styles, and the invention of the internet where our KTAL home page resides—this is but a little of the technology required for the progress KTAL made in the past 70 years.
When KTAL shifted from radio to television, so did the community. When we added color, viewers adapted by buying color TVs. And now as we face a new transition—that of digital media—we must face forward as reporters, producers, camera operators, and purveyors of the news.
Albert Einstein once said that the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
Because of humanity the world, as we know, is ever-changing, but excellence in communication is not a given. KTAL will continue to work hard to share stories, ideas, and even the blank spaces between words that our viewers and readers need. And no matter what technology is new and pressing next week, next year, or in the next millennia, we understand that the human desire to be informed is far older than the ages of digital news, color television, and radio combined.