Myron Kallet was in the movie business in the 1930's. He owned several movie theaters in Central New York. By the beginning of the next decade, Mr. Kallet noticed that his box office was slowly evaporating and on certain nights the evaporation wasn't very slow. He wondered where his customers were going. The answer was nowhere, they were staying home and listening to the radio. Myron Kallet thought it would be a good idea to protect his livelihood and get in the broadcasting business. Besides, he could use his own radio station to advertise the movies he was showing at his theaters. Kallet applied for and was granted a license for a radio station in Rome, New York. He built and put on the air WKAL.
Radio was in its heyday and all was right with the world when Mr. Kallet received a phone call from a friend of his who was with the FCC in Washington. Mr. Kallet's friend knew him to be a competent broadcaster and asked Mr. Kallet if he would be interested in the new medium ...television. Kallet applied for and was granted channel 13. The television studio, business offices and broadcast tower were constructed on top of Smith Hill in Deerfield, over looking the City of Utica, on the northern ridge of the Mohawk Valley.
On December 1, 1949 WKTV went on the air. It was the 93rd television station in the country to sign on. Originally WKTV was affiliated with all four networks in operation; NBC, ABC, CBS and DuMont. In a few years DuMont was out of business and the CBS affilacy was taken by a Syracuse station. WKTV stayed an affiliate of NBC and ABC until 1970. Today, WKTV remains one of the oldest members on the NBC family.
Like most stations in that era, the program schedule was a jumbled mix of news, variety show and commercials. The broadcast day began late in the afternoon and ended before midnight. Some shows ran fifteen minutes, some ran half an hour and most were done live. Most of the local on-air personalities were former radio announcers. As the broadcast day lengthened and the number of TV sets in use increased, the station began to play a more prominent roll in the community. The station participated in several early versions of a telethon and, of course, provided the most useful public service...local news and weather.
Although local entertainment production ended in the '70s, WKTV's efforts in the '50s and '60s are still fondly remembered by many local viewers. The station used to produce a cooking program from the kitchen set constructed in the WKTV studio. The hostess was Jean Phair. There was a game show, designed to highlight high school students. The long time host of HIGH SCHOOL QUIZ was popular WKTV news announcer, Lyle Bosley.
Of all the WKTV produced programs -- the best remembered was the daily after school show featuring the clown with the bright red hair...BOZO. Ed Whittaker was a staff announcer at WKTV when the station purchased the syndicated rights to the BOZO character and cartoons. Whittaker was a trained actor and the perfect choice as BOZO. Many weekday afternoons, Boy Scout packs and Girl Scout troops would make their way up Smith Hill to sit in the bleachers. The kids would watch BOZO cartoons, play games and they might get a hamburger from MacDonald's or a Hostess Cup Cake. If they weren't in the crowd, they were home watching to see if BOZO wished them a happy birthday and told them where mom and dad had hidden a secret gift. Almost every kid who grew up in the Mohawk Valley in the '60s was on the BOZO SHOW once.
In the mid-1950's a young, local radio announcer named Dick Clay joined the staff of announcers at WKTV. Dick was a talented, good looking announcer and quickly gathered a following. The young Mr. Clay’s father was a disc jockey on a Utica radio station and the son wanted to avoid the name recognition factor, so Dick Clay became Dick Clark. One day, Dick went to the station General Manager and told the boss that he'd been offered a radio job in Philadelphia...and the rest of that story is part of broadcasting history!
After a decade in television, Myron Kallet decided he wanted to get out. Ironically, the next owner of WKTV came from Dick Clark's new home, Philadelphia. His name was Paul Harron. As Mr. Harron was getting into TV in Utica, many others were trying to do the same thing. In order to get a station in Utica, the prospective licensees had to prove that another channel could be opened in the Utica area without interfering with other signals. One group showed the FCC that channel 2 could be slipped on to the dial. Eventually, the other group was turned down for a license from the FCC. But the FCC told WKTV that we could have channel 2 if we moved our broadcast tower further east. Land was purchased on top of a hill in Middleville and a new tower was built. On January 1, 1959, the switch was thrown at the new transmitter and WKTV became Channel 2.
Ownership remained the same and the station continued to prosper through the 1970s and '80s. In the mid-'80s, the FCC came down with several rulings concerning cross ownership of broadcast, cable and print media in the same communities. Harron
Communication owned both WKTV and Harron Cable TV in Utica. It was required that they must divest themselves of one or the other. In 1992, an agreement was reached between Harron Communications and Smith Broadcasting of New York, Inc. and for only the third time in it's long history WKTV's license changed hands.
Today, WKTV and its cable channel sister station WBU are owned by Smith Media LLC, a subsidiary of Boston Ventures.
WKTV has a rich and proud history. That history has been a catalyst to today's successful performance by the station and the foundation for the future of television in the Mohawk Valley.
As WKTV approaches its 60th Anniversary, check back here for pictures from our scrapbook and information about past television personalities you may remember. We will also include information about HDTV and future plans for WKTV.