Presented by Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

I grew up with Amarillo TV stations. Sitting on the floor flipping between channels 4, 7 and 10, close enough to the screen to go blind and nobody stopped me. My Dad probably weighed the risks and decided it was better to have my brother and me close to the knob since our Zenith Chromacolor set had no remote control. 

We were obsessive ProNews viewers and knew all the names of the Channel 7 anchors. We were weird kids. I thought Bill Tell Zortman was a great name, and Len Slesick sounded like one word to me, “lenslesick.” On Channel 10 (and later on 4) there was Roy McCoy, who seemingly invented tornadoes and frontal boundaries. 

Tuggie Tuckness had a kiddie show on KFDA and I watched it every weekday morning. One time Tuggie came to Wellington, where I lived, and I just couldn’t believe I was seeing him in person. 

When I was a little kid idolizing Tuggie and Roy McCoy, broadcast TV had only been in Amarillo and the Panhandle for about 20 years, which seems pretty amazing to me now. As of this spring, Channel 4 and Channel 10 have been on the air for 70 years. (Please don’t do the math on my age.)

Only a handful of TV stations operated in the U.S. just after World War II. But as new stations began to proliferate, things got a bit chaotic. The FCC put a four-year freeze on new licenses in 1948 to sort it all out, and in 1952 began issuing licenses in new TV markets. Most markets across the nation were only allocated two commercial channels on the preferred VHF band (channels 2-13). But Amarillo, way out here with nothing much around us, was lucky. We got three VHF channels—4, 7 and 10. 

The Amarillo Globe-News company, with its three newspaper flags and the NBC-affiliated KGNC radio (K-Globe-News-Company), was the media giant of the Panhandle in those days and primed to pounce once the FCC acted. The publishing company formed a TV subsidiary to launch KGNC-TV on Channel 4 and built a 167-foot tower north of town that was the tallest TV transmitter in Texas. Hot on KGNC’s heels was radio station KFDA, which entered the TV competition as a CBS affiliate on Channel 10. The race was on, and by March 1953 both stations were preparing to go on the air.

Bad weather delayed the completion of KFDA’s tower and KGNC (which became today’s KAMR) was first out of the gate. On March 18, 1953—a Wednesday afternoon—moving images and sound emanating from a studio at Ninth and Harrison downtown began to flicker across area TV screens at 4:15 p.m., propelled through blustery Panhandle skies with help from an antenna atop the First National Bank Building at Eighth and Tyler. Dr. Smythe H. Lindsay, rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, led a brief service of dedication, perhaps an effort to forestall the devil’s plans for this new medium, which in short time would serve up a gyrating Elvis Presley and other bad influences. 

That afternoon, on Polk Street, crowds gathered anywhere TVs were sold and watched the dawning of a new medium as if they were witnessing a second sun rising in the sky.

Saturday, April 4, brought KFDA’s moment in the glow of this new star. News reports the next morning didn’t mention prayers or blessings, but noted that Gen. Ernest O. Thompson was present and spoke on the air. And there were congratulatory telegrams from Gov. Allan Shivers and Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, among others. The report included the amazing fact that KFDA’s signal had reached a “tele-viewer” in Gould, Oklahoma, 125 miles distant.

Over on Channel 7 there was nothing but static in the spring of ’53. Competing interests had curried the FCC’s favor, but it wasn’t until 1957 that a winner was declared and KVII (K-7, get it?) staked its future on the VHF dial as an ABC affiliate. 

About 30 years after TV came to town, a new wave of stations began to proliferate. That staticky and unused UHF dial began to matter when KCIT-Channel 14 joined the lineup in 1982, first as the independent KJTV, then becoming a charter Fox affiliate in 1986. Channel 2, the PBS-affiliated KACV, joined the VHF dial in 1988. KEYU-Channel 31, now Telemundo, inaugurated Spanish-language TV when it signed on as a Univision affiliate in 2004.

Volumes could be written on what has taken place across the past seven decades of broadcast television in the Panhandle. It’s a history full of larger-than-life characters who were both stars on the small screen and someone you might bump into eating Sunday dinner at Furr’s. TV remains competitive and vital in Amarillo 70 years after its birth and my eyesight apparently wasn’t overly diminished by sitting two feet from the screen in my formative years.  

Author

  • Wes Reeves

    Wes was raised in the Texas Panhandle and has been a resident of Amarillo for almost 30 years. He has been active in the Amarillo Historical Preservation Foundation for the past 15 years, and works in his spare time to bring history alive through historical preservation and engaging new generations in the appreciation of the region’s colorful history.

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