I remember shopping with my parents for a new black and white Magnavox television when I was a pre-schooler. There was a store that had all these TVs lined up and on. It was an old tube TV–not just the picture tube but a number of other tubes as well. I know because I remember the TV repairman coming to our house more than once to replace burned out tubes, or to fix problems when we couldn’t tune the TV properly. I suspect my parents may have paid almost as much for that TV as we pay these days for much more reliable flat screen TVs.
We had a big, rooftop antenna on our house, as did many others in our neighborhood. We could pull in stations in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, although the picture usually was a bit snowy. We didn’t watch those most of the time because Youngstown had stations for all three national networks (and still does), probably a rarity for markets of its size these days.
WKBN was the granddaddy of them all, coming on the air January 11, 1953, 56 days before rival WFMJ. Warren P. Williamson Jr (after whom the business school at Youngstown State is named) started out in radio broadcasting out of the basement in his home. He was the media rival to William F Maag, Jr (WFMJ–get it?), the publisher of The Vindicator after whom the library at Youngstown State is named. Later on, WYTV joined the scene, the ABC affiliate that moved from New Castle to Youngstown in the late 50’s. If you grew up in Youngstown, you knew them as channels 27, 21, and 33 respectively.
Most of my early memories of watching TV was Saturday morning cartoons. After school, I liked watching Barney Bean–I always thought it was fascinating how he could make drawings out of kids names or initials. One of the few things I remember from early newscasts was how the weather charts either had symbols that were stuck on or were hand drawn. How incredibly more sophisticated things are these days! I really am drawing a blank when it comes to the names of newscasters other than Tom Holden, the legendary anchor of WKBN’s news for so many years. I think he qualifies as a Youngstown icon.
We were among the first TV generation. It was our generation that watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates and the civil rights marches where dogs and fire hoses were directed at peaceful blacks. I remember seeing commercials for I don’t remember what that showed Nikita Kruschev at the United Nations saying “we will bury you” and we watched with fear and trembling as President Kennedy explained to the country the danger of the Cuban missile crisis in those scary days of October 1962. We watched the sad but dignified funeral of Kennedy a year later, watching John-John salute his father. We stayed up late watching the moon landing and the first steps of Ohioan Neil Armstrong on the moon. Just as Tom Holden brought us the local news, “Uncle” Walter Cronkite brought us so many of these stories.
As I said, I don’t remember a lot of the other local TV personalities. But there is a gentleman who does, Phil Ciccone. He is currently working on a book project called The History of Youngstown Broadcasting and he needs your help. He wants to find any old history stuff about WKBN, WFMJ and WYTV and WKBN and WFMJ and WHOT radio. He provided the images at the top of this page and is searching for any old media (photos, video, tapes, newspaper clippings, you name it) related to Youngstown broadcasting. You can contact him at his Facebook page with anything you have and you may get to see it in his book!
We had something special with these local stations (WFMJ is still locally owned) with people who told Youngstown stories, rather than just watching the big market TV stations that focused on Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Those who follow these posts span the generations of broadcasting in Youngstown. I’d love it if you would share your favorite memories of Youngstown TV (and radio) stations.