Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy



From the Field

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 a newswriter.

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 programming.

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.