by Thom Moon
I was about five when channel 22 in Dayton went on the air in 1953. I knew nothing at the time, other than my Dad coming home with this "thing" that brought in a new television station: WIFE-TV. The "thing" was a Regency UHF converter and he bought it because my older sister went to dance on Jolly Rogers' dance show every afternoon between 4:00 and 6:00 (her high school was in downtown Dayton, not far from the WONE/WIFE-TV studios at 380 W. First St.) So I tuned in every afternoon to see my big sister dance on TV! The picture was marginal ... we had a bowtie UHF antenna. The station didn't do much else ... ran a few ancient movies and what I now know was early syndicated programming from Ziv and Four Star.
After less than a year, Skyland Broadcasting, the owner of WONE, WTWO (FM) and WIFE-TV gave up on UHF and signed off the station. The UHF converter went into the trash. WIFE-TV went back to the WONE-TV call letters, at least on paper.
Then in 1964, we learned that a company called Springfield Television Broadcasting had bought the channel 22 permit from Brush-Moore Newspapers (who had purchased WONE-AM/FM/TV in 1961) and planned to return it to the air. To this purpose, they built a new studio and fairly tall tower at 1731 Soldiers Home-West Carrollton Rd in west Dayton (one of the higher points in Montgomery County) and put channel 22 back on the air as WKEF (for Kathryn E. Froman, who was the business manager of Springfield Television's owner, Bill Putnam).
At the time Dayton had two V's: Cox's WHIO-TV/7 (CBS) and Crosley's WLWD/2 (NBC/ABC). While Springfield's WWLP/22 in Springfield MA was NBC, they had no full-time network affiliation in Dayton, running programs from all three networks that the V's didn't have room for. (That was still an improvement over what channel 22's original owner Ronald Woodyard was told when he approached ABC in 1953; in a letter to the FCC he said "ABC will not place any program unless specifically requested to do so by a sponsor or agency" ... not that it stopped the network from including them in a November 1953 press release announcing seven new affiliates.)
I remember that on nights when WKEF broadcast the International Hockey League's Dayton Gems games from Hara Arena in Dayton, they couldn't do news because they only had two cameras! WKEF never broke any audience records but pulled in respectable numbers for a UHF in an otherwise VHF market. After Uncle Orrie and Ferdy Fussbudget left WHIO, channel 22 had the kids' audience locked in with Malcolm.
"Malcolm" was Malcolm MacLeod, who hosted Clubhouse 22 each afternoon at 3:00pm for (I believe) 90 minutes. It was somewhat like "Rocky & Bullwinkle" in that much of the humor would go over the heads of the kids but strike adults as funny. So Malcolm had a reasonable audience of moms and college students as well as kids. He described it as "doing the Tonight Show at three in the afternoon." His sidekick was Duffy T. Dog, named in a contest by one of his kid viewers. There also was a puppet, "Stan the Man" who participated in skits. The show always featured guests, as wide ranging as Muhammad Ali, Senator John Glenn and Soupy Sales.
Malcolm was well known in the market for many extra curricular activities that ended up on the show. One was going up in an F-4 Phantom fighter plane. Another was his car racing activities. Each year throughout his career, he and co-star Johnny Walker hosted the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon on 22. Malcolm was lured away from WKEF by WDTN (the former WLWD), where he did weekend sports and a talk show, even participating in a workshop on local talk shows at the 1979 convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives. He's now a real estate broker in Palm Beach FL.
But back to the mid-1960s: As 1965 was coming to an end, local pizza magnate Vic "Pizza King" Cassano (the nickname being a reference to his restaurants' name) took a minority interest in a company called Kittyhawk Broadcasting, which received a permit for channel 16, licensed to what was at the time Dayton's largest suburb, Kettering, as WKTR-TV.
WKTR went on the air March 20, 1967, and it was obvious Vic and his associates spent a lot of money to make WKTR a force in Dayton. They had a nice studio at 1630 E. Stroop Rd. and had spent the bucks for a color film chain, color videotape and color studio cameras with Zoomar lenses. All of it came from RCA (whose broadcast division magazine did a feature article on the station). Its tower was on Guthrie Rd in west Dayton, near channels 2 and 22 and just south of channel 7. But it was about a 550-foot guyed stick, so it wasn't at maximum height.
Unfortunately, the market wasn't ready for an independent station, and about a year after WKTR's sign-on WSWO-TV/26 in Springfield further split the available non-network UHF audience. As a result, WKTR lost a lot of money.
And Kittyhawk's chairman and 30% owner, John A. Kemper Jr., was about to make matters worse. WKEF had carried about 70% of the ABC schedule on a per-program basis, beginning when WLWD-TV switched to full NBC at the beginning of the 1967-68 season and continuing into the following season. Kemper was allegedly approached by Thomas G. Sullivan, ABC's regional station-relations manager, who received a $50,000 bribe (disguised as a fee to a third-party consultant) to give the ABC affiliation in Dayton to channel 16. Worse yet, Kemper also "secured the services" of one Joe McMahon, who implied that he was a friend of ABC group vice-president Theodore F. Shaker and director of ABC-TV station relations Carmine Patti. To make a long story short, the affiliation moved to channel 16 in November 1969, both Sullivan and Patti were fired (Sullivan stood trial in 1970 for commercial bribery, pleading guilty) and Shaker resigned as a "matter of principle." WKEF filed an antitrust lawsuit against ABC and WKTR, and in the midst of all that, ABC started negotiating to purchase channel 16 outright. (Kittyhawk called off the negotiations in January after WKEF's owners indicated they would file to block the sale, having already been denied an injunction to prevent the ABC affiliation from happening.)
The bribery matter ended up involving six other stations, in Dubuque IA, Jacksonville IL, and Jonesboro AR (all of which Sullivan admitted taking bribes from), as well as stations in Manchester NH, Baltimore MD and El Centro CA (which Patti denied taking bribes for but his involvement with which contributed to his dismissal by the network).
Kittyhawk told the Dayton News in August 1970 that a sale "to a group of veteran broadcasters located in the West" was pending. But at the end of that month, ABC withdrew its affiliation and the following month WKEF filed a petition to deny WKTR's license renewal with the FCC. All of that combined to essentially end any sale plans on Kittyhawk's part, and channel 16 limped off the air on February 27, 1971.
However, some locals had decided that Dayton deserved a public TV station. There was an allocation on channel 45 for an ETV but they were offered a deal by Kittyhawk during its bankruptcy proceeding to take over WKTR. In order to operate the FCC-required 28 hours per week to maintain the license, channel 16 resumed operation on April 27 (even though it kept the STA to remain dark in force, renewing it two days after restarting), going dark again October 19 when the Ohio Educational Network Commission acquired the license in the bankruptcy proceeding (the STA was extended two more times afterwards and the station license renewed -- two days before it went dark again -- pending its transfer). The state ETV Network formally took control April 24, 1972 and resumed operation from new studios in downtown Dayton, changing call letters to WOET-TV ("Western Ohio Educational Television") two months later. They then petitioned the FCC to change the educational allocation from channel 45 to channel 16 and make channel 45 commercial; that was approved in 1977 and channel 45 went back on the air under a new CP in the 1980s as WRGT ("Wright TV", after Dayton's Wright Brothers).
WOET ownership was transferred to University Regional Broadcasting -- a consortium of Wright State, Central State and Miami Universities -- in 1975, joining WMUB/14, which had been on the air since 1959 from the Miami U campus. Two years later, around the same time as it "officially" became educational, WOET became WPTD (Watch Public Television Dayton) and WMUB became WPTO (Watch Public Television Oxford) as Greater Dayton Public Television. In 2009, the two stations merged with the Greater Cincinnati Television Educational Foundation, licensee of WCET/48 in Cincinnati, to form a new umbrella licensee, Public Media Connect, known on the air as "ThinkTV".
And about WSWO-TV: Although when they signed on in July 1968 they were able to run syndicated programs such as Joe Pyne and The Nashville Sound in color, their live programming was a black-and-white operation. (Imagine Bozo's Big Top with color cartoons and non-color studio segments.) Before long most of the schedule was non-color, with old movies, early syndicated stuff -- I believe they ran those old Ziv programs Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol -- and some early paid religion ... Rex Humbard and the like. At the end of June 1970 they gave up the ghost and declared bankruptcy; the CP was sold two years later to Lester White, who owned a remote video production company in Springfield. As it turned out, White had stolen studio gear from WHIZ-TV in Zaneville to put channel 26 back on the air; he was indicted by the Muskingum County grand jury of of grand larceny in January 1973, he pled guilty to the charges in September and was sentenced to a 20-year prison term in November. (WSWO didn't go dark because of that, though; White defaulted on a loan and the bank had the studios padlocked in December, after less than one year back on the air; it happened so suddenly that the Washington Court House Record-Herald still carried channel 26's listings for about a week afterwards.) The license was subsequently deleted by the FCC and channel 26 went back on the air in 1980 under a new CP as WTJC, running kids' programming, family-friendly sitcoms, religious fare and, I think, infomercials (I can't say for certain; I was in Maryland during that period and only occasionally got back to Dayton).
Dayton is an interesting market, and even though I now live in Cincinnati, my heart belongs in Dayton.
[Additional information was added to this article from Broadcasting, Television Digest, and Dayton-area newspapers during editing.]
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