50 PLUS YEARS!!!
By Mitch Waldow
Channel 13 went on the air as KLAC-TV on September 17, 1948.
The first program: a live telecast of a college football game,
USC against Utah State at the L.A. Coliseum.
Unfortunately, viewers saw mostly snow until halftime, when
technicians managed to get the signal cleaned up. Forty years
later, the station would be broadcasting the L.A. Marathon
-- a 24 camera shoot that's arguably the most technically
complex local sport telecast in the country.
Dorothy Schiff, who owned the New York Post, was the original
owner of KLAC Radio and TV. She got the license in 1946, and
took over the old KMTR hacienda-style studios in Hollywood,
built on land once occupied by Buster Keaton's studio, and
before that, Charlie Chaplin's Lone Star studio. Schiff changed
the call letters to KLAC, for Los Angeles California, and
brought Don Fedderson down from San Francisco to get the tv
station on the air. Fedderson later would become the producer
of "My Three Sons," "Family Affair" and
other landmark shows. He assembled an incredibly talented
staff of engineers and personalities who helped put Channel
13 on the map with a mix of sports and live entertainment.
Some of the engineering folks came from Warner Bros., an early
investor in the station which tried, unsuccessfully, to buy
it a couple of years later.
In the days before the coaxial cable connected the networks
to both coasts, television in Los Angeles meant LOCAL programs.
Network shows were provided on film on a delayed basis. Many
stars of early network television started out in L.A., and
many of them started at Channel 13.
Among those who got their starts at 13 is Betty White, who
was a "girl Friday" on the Al Jarvis "Hollywood
on Television" show. She then hosted a six hour daily
chat show with show biz veteran Eddie Albert. Later, Betty
added a live Saturday night sitcom, "Life with Elizabeth,"
other weekly schedule.
General Manager Fedderson discovered pianist Liberace at a
nightclub and brought him and his candelabra to the station,
and he was an immediate hit.
Nightclub artists Bobby Short and Hadda Brooks had shows of
their own -- among the first African-Americans to appear on
the small screen. Country star Tennessee Ernie Ford was a
regular on Cliffie Stone's "Hometown Jamboree,"
which aired on Saturday nights. Behind the scenes, future
director Sam Peckinpah served the station as a grip, and shot
his college thesis at the station after hours. Actor Leonard
Nimoy also moved props at Channel 13. And Regis Philbin was
In 1954, the station was bought by a San Diego-based newspaper
chain, The Copley Press. The station's call was changed to
KCOP. By then, the major networks were beginning to flex their
muscles, and live local shows -- especially the big ones out
of ballrooms and auditoriums -- were scaled back. A new programming
genre was created: the travelogue. And KCOP had one of the
first, "I Search for Adventure," hosted by Jack
Douglas. Each week, Douglas would bring a real explorer or
adventurer to the studio, who would narrate their film. KCOP
soon came to dominate the L.A. market in travelogue programming.
One producer, Bill Burrud, hosted as many as four different
travel shows a week on KCOP. In 1956, a group of investors
headed by Bing Crosby, purchased the station. Crosby had a
financial interest in Ampex, and in 1957 KCOP took delivery
of two of the first videotape machines in the country.
In 1960, Chris Craft Industries, a newly-formed conglomerate
which included a plastics fabrication company and the boat
building concern, added KCOP to its fledgling tv station group.
Over the years, KCOP continued to offer innovative programming,
especially in the area of childrens shows. In fact, through
the 1980s, KCOP led the market in kids' programming.
By the 1970s, it was clear that independent television stations
faced tough network competition. The typical fare of older
syndicated programming couldn't stand up against first run
network shows. In a bold move, Chris Craft formed a partnership
with several major Hollywood studios to co-produce first run
The mini-series, "A Woman Called Golda," starring
Ingrid Bergman, was one of the first efforts, and a very successful
one. Another bold idea was to run controversial films like
"The Deer Hunter" uncut.
And in the 90s, parent company United Television and Paramount
formed UPN, and brought new generations of Star Trek, among
other programs, to KCOP.
And there's the L.A. Marathon. The station had been trying
to win broadcast rights for a pro ball team but kept getting
shut out. At first, nobody wanted the Marathon, but it proved
a bonanza for KCOP, and it soon became the station's signature
event. KCOP even had a couple of good seasons with the Clippers.
Well, maybe one good season.
The station also made its mark and won many awards for its
yearly "Live from the Hollywood Bowl" specials,
and also broadcasts the Hollywood Christmas Parade. KCOP's
news operation was described by a local paper as "scrappy."
The news department had more guts and gall than it had gear.
But somehow over the years KCOP has managed to collect its
fair share of broadcast journalism awards, culminating with
the L.A. area Emmy for best newscast over 35 minutes. And
now another chapter opens for Channel 13. And how's this for
a coincidence. Parent company News Corp. owns the New York
Post -- the same paper once run by Channel 13's first owner,
Dorothy Schiff. Full circle.
About the Author
Mitch Waldow is an award-winning broadcaster who's worked
in Los Angeles radio and television from more than 25 years.
He's KCOP's Archive Manager and occasional specials producer.