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The Dawn of Knoxville's TV Age

A WATE shoot at the opening of Market Square Mall, ca. 1961.

TAMIS-McClung Historical Collection

A WATE shoot at the opening of Market Square Mall, ca. 1961.

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  • After his arrival at WATE around 1958, Jack Wiedemann was a popular on-air host who was also instrumental in moving the station into its current headquarters, Greystone. Wiedemann still lives in town (see Secret History). Perhaps coincidentally, the perspective of this mocked-up photo is from the block where WROL-TV began broadcasting in 1953.
  • Woodruff’s furniture store on Gay Street (now the Downtown Grill), a major purveyor of television sets, displayed these promotions for Knoxville’s first two TV stations: a quiet promo for WATE, at left, and a flashier show of WTVK, then a CBS affiliate, at right. In the mid-1950s, WTSK boosted its signal and became WTVK, but the UHF channel continued to have problems. What it lacked in coverage, it made up with fresh ideas.
  • An early WROL-TV test pattern. In 1954, WROL-TV became WATE.
  • At left, around 1955, a dramatic day in the history of Channel 26, when they paved the steep dirt road that led up to their studio. Previously it was reached only by Jeep.
  • At right, WTSK’s original station identification, showing the 1953 Knoxville skyline between the Henley and Gay Street Bridges. WTSK originally broadcast shows from both the CBS and DuMont networks. DuMont did not survive the ‘50s.
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  • “Stoney” Stonecipher, better known in some circles as a steel guitarist, was one of Knoxville’s first professional TV cameramen. Here he works on a cooking show starring Jeanni Sparks, better known in some circles as an opera singer.
  • WTSK featured monkey shows, clown shows, cooking shows, country shows, hepcat shows, dance shows, always in hopes that there was someone out there who could pick up their UHF signal.
  • Bobo the Clown, with friends.
  • Ray Rose, another guitarist-turned-cameraman, known for his audio skills, with one of Knoxville’s first color cameras. Rose began with WTSK, but later became WATE’s longest-working staffer.
  • A WATE shoot at the opening of Market Square Mall, ca. 1961.
  • Due to a logjam of competition and bureaucratic tie-ups, Channel 10 was slow to arrive, but tried to catch up. Musician and former leader of Jim Early and the Westerneers, Jim Early became one of Knoxville’s first TV personalities, first  with WATE, but he later became one of WBIR’s early local stars. Lighting his rocket is Carl Williams, another longtime newsman, who still lives in the area.
  • Jim Early
  • Archie Campbell—first known as a singer and radio comedian—hosted a daily show on WATE.
  • Acey Boy Wilson, Knoxville’s first black TV host, ca. 1955. A DJ, he hosted an R&B music show that featured dancing.
  • The white dance show Sundown Serenade was reportedly low key.
  • The late-night nightclub-themed Penthouse Party sometimes had a bit of a vaudeville air.
  • Mary Starr, popular host of WATE’s Homemaker Show for many years beginning in the ‘50s, cooked and sometimes interviewed celebrities, like Knoxville’s own diva, the Met soprano Mary Costa, about the time she provided the voice for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
  • Don Gibson (standing at left) who hosted a show on new station WBIR just before his Nashville stardom as a singer and songwriter.

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