North Texas Turns on the Radio
On January 16, 1949, Channel 9, then a new CBS network affiliate station, began its first official broadcast. Four days later, President Harry S Truman made history as the first American president to give a live, televised inaugural address. Of course, that speech was carried by WOIC-TV, Channel 9.
By 1924, radio set ownership in America had soared to 3 million from just 5000 at the beginning of the decade, and Texas consumers were buying them in droves. WFAA-AM had the distinction of being one of the first radio stations in the country to be owned and operated by a newspaper. The station’s original on-air personalities and news reporters were made up of columnists and editors from the newspaper. For Texans, WFAA became the model for the hundreds of radio and television stations that would soon follow.
On October 1, 1925, the station relocated to the 17th floor of one of the area's finest inns, the Baker Hotel. 'Those mornings you cannot be with us in person, let us perch on your radio dial' read an advertisement for the most popular program of the day, The Early Birds, a musical variety show that premiered on March 31, 1930. WFAA constructed new facilities atop the Santa Fe Building and by 1941 was broadcasting The Early Birds, and other local programming from its fabled 'penthouse studio.' Favorite Early Bird 'canaries' included Lynn Hoyt, Katy Prince, Frances Beasley, Terry Lea and Louise Mackey. There was also a pretty young Uvalde native, Dale Evans, featured on the show. She went on to perform in Hollywood as a duo with her husband, Roy Rogers.
Working for All Alike
In 1949, KBTV, Channel 8, on Harry Hines Boulevard, became the first television station located in Dallas. That location today is the home of Dallas’ Public Television station, KERA, Channel 13. In May of 1950, KBTV was acquired by A.H. Belo Corporation from Potter Television and the call letters changed to WFAA, or ‘Working For All Alike,’ a phrase made popular years earlier by WFAA radio. To this day, WFAA remains one of only a handful of stations west of the Mississippi River broadcasting with call letters beginning with ‘W’ rather than the traditional ‘K.’
Broadcasting ‘live’ at all times with bulky studio cameras and primitive sound and lighting equipment, WFAA immediately captured North Texans’ attention. Television broadcasts covered everything from New Year’s Day Cotton Bowl college football, to local news and a variety of entertainment programming. Two of WFAA’s most popular local programs during the late 1950’s included The Julie Bennell Show, a newspaper food editor, and Dallas Bandstand, hosted by Jerry Haynes.
Technology and More
In the 1960s, television technology took several dramatic leaps forward. By 1962, 90% of American homes had at least one television and 13% owned more than one set. RCA had introduced the first color television sets in 1954, but reception was unreliable at best. In wasn’t until the mid-1960s that color technology was perfected, and ABC, NBC and CBS began full-time color broadcasting.
WFAA acquired the first videotape recorder in Dallas in 1958. With the advent of this new technology, more and more programming was pre-recorded; live programs concentrated on news, sports and special events.
In early 1961, WFAA relocated from the original facility near downtown Dallas on Harry Hines Boulevard to what was then called ‘Communications Center,’ a brand new studio complex located at Young and Record streets. This state-of-the-art facility was the site of 3 television studios, 2 radio stations and a complete sound recording studio. This new, downtown studio complex soon became home to such long-running local shows as Let Me Speak to the Manager, and The Adventures of Mr. Peppermint.
Television News Center Stage
On November 22, 1963, an out-of-breath Jay Watson, WFAA’s program director, who had run back to the station from a few blocks away after witnessing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, went on the air live with the first reports. As the drama unfolded in Dallas, WFAA crews supplied a steady stream of information on the biggest story in the city’s history, setting a tone for the kind of news coverage the station would become known for all over the country.
Into the Future
Since those early days the station has continued to distinguishing itself through coverage of news stories, community service and the pioneering of digital technologies. WFAA has been repeatedly recognized with the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism including multiple George Foster Peabody Awards, national Edward R. Murrow Awards and eight duPont-Columbia University Silver Batons. In 2009, the station was honored with a duPont-Columbia University Gold Baton, the first local television station to ever receive the award.
On December 23, 2013, Gannett Company, Inc acquired WFAA, Dallas-Fort Worth’s ABC affiliate. The station’s legacy of dedication to viewers through investigative journalism, daily news coverage through broadcast and digital platforms and a commitment to local programming continues as the primary hallmark of WFAA. To learn more about Gannett and its subsidiary brands, visit www.gannett.com.