Pieces of the Past

Since the emergence of television in the 1940s, millions of television programs have aired once never to be seen again.  Early television was often broadcast live, with no film or video recording to reference at a later date.  When film and video were used for program production, they were often discarded, destroyed, or simply forgotten about after their original airing.  Although true of network television, lost programs are an even sadder reality of local television.  Many local stations have no record of their most popular news stories, talk shows, or children's shows because the footage was not recorded or was simply thrown away. 

For Austin, Texas, this is not entirely the case. Many of the city's television personalities and producers took it upon themselves to save and store footage from their productions to share with later generations.  The programs, newscast, b-roll, outtakes, interviews, and commercials retained by these television pioneers provide the unique opportunity to actually watch historic local television.  As a collection, these films provide insight into Austin’s television history while providing a unique case study of how local television was made from 1952 to 1969. 

Piecing together a history of Austin television are films from the collections of Carolyn Jackson, Neal Spelce, Wally Pryor, and Gordon Wilkison. Although still far from complete, this collection provides a unique look into television’s past.

1952 - Austin's First TV Station

KTBC Signs on as Austin's First Television Station

Austin's first television station, KTBC, launched its programming on Thanksgiving Day, 1952 with the broadcast of a University of Texas football game against Texas A & M University.  Licensed to the Johnson Broadcasting Co. (owned by President and Ladybird Johnson), KTBC used the same call letters as the existing radio station, which is now known as KLBJ.  The first image broadcast by KTBC, prior to the football game in 1952, was program manager, Cactus Pryor's bald head.  Pryor's words: "What, you were expecting hair?" were the first words broadcast by KTBC as well.  No known footage of the first broadcast exists, most likely because the program was aired via live feed, a common practice for television shows, especially sporting events.

Due to the fact that KTBC was the only television supplier in Austin for nearly twelve years, the station was able to air programs from all major networks at the time: NBC, CBS, ABC and the now defunct DuMont television network.  When KHFI launched in 1965, KTBC finally had competition for network programming and advertising money.  KHFI eventually became Austin's exclusive NBC affiliate, forcing KTBC to establish affiliation with CBS.  The letterhead represents the early years of the station when KTBC provided programming for all four major networks and broadcast from the top floor of the Driskill hotel in downtown Austin.

1953 - The Uncle Jay Show Debuts

A Behind the Scenes Look at The Uncle Jay Show

From the beginning of television into the late 1960s, nearly every market had a locally-produced children’s show.   KTBC’s first effort was Mother’s Delight, an afternoon program featuring cartoons and marketed as offering a distraction for children giving “mother” time to prepare dinner.  Since cartoons varied in length, a host was enlisted to introduce the segments filling the space to create a show of standard length.  Jay Hodgson took on the role of children’s show host at KTBC.

As Hodgson gained popularity, the title of the show  was changed to The Uncle Jay Show, and expanded to include raffles, birthday wishes, and guest stars.  Packer Jack Wallace (a radio personality on KTBC AM) was introduced as Uncle Jay's co-host, humorously depicting a grumpy old-timer as Jay's side kick. Oftentimes, Packer Jack's undesirable habits with hygiene and morality served as a humorous catalyst for Jay to impart life lessons to the audience. Occasional appearances were also made by puppets operated by Wally and Cactus Pryor and then-Mayor pro-tem Dan Love. The show went off the air in 1977, and both Hodgson and Pryor continued to work for KTBC. 

This footage from KTBC producer Wally Pryor shows a behind the scenes look at the shows production.  View more footage from the The Uncle Jay Show.

1960 - Target Austin

Gordon Wilkison films Target Austin

Gordon Wilkison joined the staff of KTBC as a cinematographer in 1952, the station’s first year of operation.  During the first five years of the station's operation, KTBC’s local programming was broadcast using television cameras that sent images and sound out live over the airwaves with no video or film records.   In 1957, Wilkison used a 16mm camera to record images of the Lampasas flood that were incorporated into the stations live newscast.   By the 1960s, the station was regularly using film to record news segments, public affairs programs, commercials and more.  

As film became more important to the local programming of the station, Wilkison’s role was also expanding to that of producer and director. In 1960, Wilkison collaborated with KTBC personality Cactus Pryor to create the civil defense film Target, Austin. The black and white film provides instruction on the appropriate emergency response in the scenario of nuclear attack on Austin.  As a production of KTBC, it paints an interesting portrait of American attitudes and fears post WWII. Considering Target, Austin is a local production, it features a unique response to international events. 

While KTBC changed ownership and affiliations, Gordon Wilkison maintained an archive of his productions including other special programs, commercials, B-roll, outtakes, and other 16mm films that provide insight into 1960s Austin and local television operations.

1964 - Cactus Pryor

1964 - Cactus Pryor Interviews Dan Blocker of Bonanza

Richard "Cactus" Pryor, brother to KTBC production manager Wally Pryor, was Austin's first local television personality, hosting a variety of shows and serving as programming manager.  Pryor's nickname "Cactus" is a reference to the Cactus Theater, which was one of the first motion picture theaters in Austin and owned by his father.  In addition to becoming a Texas legend through his radio and television career, Pryor has also appeared in several movies and published books about his broadcasting career.

The following clip features Cactus Pryor interviewing Texas native, Dan Blocker, who starred as Hoss Cartwright on NBC's Bonanza from 1959-1972.  Their conversation ranges over a variety of topics including Blocker's political views and involvement, his Texas roots, and the future of Bonanza.

1966 - ''Batman'' and the UT Tower Shooting Captured by Local Television

1966 - Jean Boone Interviews the Cast of Batman

Jean Boone was Austin's premiere women's talk show host in the early days of Austin television, interviewing celebrities, giving advice and examining public issues via her program Women's World.  Although few locally-produced shows aimed at women appear on our current airwaves, Boone's program was influential in the domestic culture of Austin during the 1960s.

In this clip, Boone interviews the cast of Batman, The Movie, which premiered in Austin at the Paramount Theatre. Austin was chosen as the site of the premiere because the famous "BatBoat" was created by local company Glastron, which required in its contract that the movie premiere be held in Austin. Boone's interviewing skills are showcased as she speaks with the cast in costume, including Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, Cesar Romero as the Joker, and Adam West as Batman.

 

KTBC Covers Charles Whitman's Shooting Spree

August 1, 1966 confronted KTBC with a defining and tragic event that would shape the future of the station and the careers of many of its news staff.  Troubled University of Texas student, Charles Whitman, opened fire from the UT tower, killing fourteen people and wounding 32.  KTBC employees Gary Pickle, Neal Spelce, Gordon Wilkison, and Charles Ward were the first reporters on the scene, filming images and conducting interviews that would later be used in television and radio broadcasts.  KTBC's footage and reporting of the incident eventually reached the entire country via newsreels.

The UT tower shooting was significant not only because of its unprecedented brutality in American history, but also because of the ability for KTBC, a small market television station, to present the story to a national audience with compassion, empathy, and honesty.  KTBC received a Peabody award for their coverage of the tragic event.

View more of the Neal Spelce Company Collection

1967 - KTBC's New Signal Tower

KTBC Raises a New Signal Tower

The Federal Communications Commission assigned only 76 VHF (Very High Frequency) television signals.  KTBC was one of the last stations in the country to receive a VHS designation in 1952.  UHF (Ultra High Frequency) signals, which were introduced after the existing VHF signals were assigned, have a smaller range and signal strength.  It was believed that the hills around Austin would make it impossible to transmit television over the weaker UHF frequency, so KTBC remained the only television station in the area until this theory was eventually disproved.

President and Ladybird Johnson came under political speculation for maintaining a monopoly over television in Austin prior to the creation of KHFI in 1965, but KTBC's dominance was just as likely due to the superiority of its VHS signal.  Donated by KTBC cinematographer Gordon Wilkison, this footage depicts the raising of KTBC's second signal tower on Mount Larson in 1967, which increase the power and reach of the KTBC signal to a 90 mile radius.  With the raising of the new signal tower, Texans who lived in rural hill country had access to television for the first time.

1968 - Carolyn Jackson

Carolyn Jackson Becomes Host of ''Women's World''

When Jean Boone left KTBC in 1968, Carolyn Jackson became the new host of Austin's daytime talk show, Women's World.  The program would soon be renamed The Carolyn Jackson Show, giving credence to her personality, popularity, and pioneering efforts for women in television.  Jackson took her role by the horns, as she wrote and edited her own news reports, served as producer of the show, and pursued the top stories and celebrities of the day.

Jackson is shown in this clip interviewing television legend Robert Stack in 1975.  As Jackson gained more acclaim regionally, she began to land bigger interviews with national celebrities and news makers.  In the late 1970s, Jackson moved to station KTVV (now KXAN) where the interviewed such actors as Warren Beatty, Nick Nolte, Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, Ann-Margret and Woody Allen.  Jackson's switch from one station to another was unprecedented at the time for a major Austin television personality, further demonstrating her trailblazing attitude.

View more of the Carolyn Jackson Collection

1969 - Competition in Austin's Television Market

KTBC Competes in Austin's Changing Television Market

After twelve years of dominance in Austin television, KTBC finally experienced competition with KHFI's programming, advertising, and reporting. KTBC developed the adjoining promotional spot (from the Wallace and Euna Pryor Collection) to persuade advertisers in a new era of competition.

In the coming years, with increased competition in the emergence of KBVO and KVUE, it seemed the golden age of KTBC was at its close.  With the increasing reliance on network-produced programming, local television had changed forever by the 1980s.

 

 

About This Collection

TAMI has been collecting Texas-related film and video since 2002 in an effort to preserve Texas' rich moving-image past. The film featured in this exhibit comes from existing collections that are part of the TAMI online library, primarily from former KTBC personalities, cinematographers and station managers. If you are interested in seeing footage similar to what is presented in the exhibit, search the TAMI library for the name of the collection. As more footage is uncovered, TAMI will expand and add to this collection. Please contact us if you have materials that may be relevant.

Sources

  • Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty. Oxford University Press, USA, 1990. Print.
  • Jackson, Carolyn. We Interrupt this Program.... Eakin Press, 2002. Print.
  • Milam, Whitney, Dir. Sniper '66. 2010, Film.
  • Schroeder, Morton. Texas Signs On. Texas A and M Univ. Press, 1998. Print.
  • Rips, Catherine. Here's Uncle Jay. ''Austin Magazine'' February, 1977: 46 - 49. Print

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