75th anniversary: The birth of Oklahoma television

75th anniversary: The birth of Oklahoma television

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – KFOR-TV is celebrating a milestone of 75 years on the air delivering news, weather and entertainment to Oklahomans – a legacy of visionaries that began on a spring night in 1949 at a production studio at the “Little Theater” in downtown Oklahoma City.

It would be the state’s first look at something called “television,” and it could only be found on Channel Four.

75 YEARS: From the Archives: Remington Park

June 6, 1949. Eight miles east of Oklahoma City. What looked like a stately home sitting along Highway 66 was the WKY transmitting plant. It was a modern marvel in the 1940’s that would help send Channel’s Four’s signal to new fangled hardware that was popping up in neighborhoods across the state. The plan was the brainchild of E.K. Gaylord – a media mogul in his time and owner of two newspapers and WKY Radio. For this businessman, television was a natural switch to flip. After years of preparation, Channel Four’s signal was sent from a state in downtown Oklahoma City from what is now known as the Civic Center. Oklahoma television was born and with it one of the hottest selling items of the 1950’s.

“There were no TV sets left in Oklahoma City, and so what a few learned to do was they said, ‘Well, we’ll buy a tv set and put it in our window of our restaurant or our laundromat or our place of business, and people will gather to watch,” Oklahoma historian Dr. Bob Blackburn said.

And did they ever. Public viewings were everywhere. According to one newspaper report at the time, 1,000 people sat outside a business in Tulsa just hoping to see the first official transmission. The stars were aligned for success.

In rural Oklahoma where radio had always been king, Lavonna DeVaughn was kid who had been raised on the sound of WKY.

“We listened to it on the radio,” she said. “WKY.”

“(There was) a lot of farm crop news, because a lot of the people listening to radio were out on the farms and ranches,” Blackburn said.

DeVaughn remembers when the magnetic glow of television changed everything. It drew her family and neighbors from the farm to a store just outside Binger, Oklahoma to catch a glimpse.

“We were just kids,” she said.

75 YEARS: From the Archives: Liquor by the drink

But her fondest memory was her senior class trip to the WKY studio in Oklahoma City to watch a live broadcast in 1952 – just three years after WKY went on the air.

“I’m almost 89, and I still remember it. We went to Channel FOUR, and we got to watch them have the news and weather,” she said. “That has been the highlight of my life. I’ve remembered every bit of it.”

The oldest broadcast video in Oklahoma in existence today is from that very year – 1952.

“Everyone who studied the history of television in Oklahoma knows that WKY was the pioneering station,” Blackburn said. “For almost five years, the only station in town. So, if people were going to watch television, they were watching WKY.”

During those early years, WKY was the trailblazer. The first on air. The first in color.

“WKY got the first color cameras west of the Mississippi River and probably one of the first 10 stations in the country to get color,” Blackburn said.

Innovators. Pioneers.

Whether it was the firing of an atomic cannon at Ft. Sill in 1953, the circus coming to town, or a fire in downtown Duncan causing half a million dollars in damages, WKY was the first to give Oklahomans a front row seat to history in the making.

“They were hiring some of the best talent to come in behind the camera, in front of the camera, in the engineering booth, in the control booth,” Blackburn said.

WKY was also the first to broadcast live sporting events including horse racing, track and field, golf, Native American stick ball, Oklahoma football, and the first sports show in the nation.

“With Bud Wilkinson coming into the studio on the day after a game and go live with Bud Wilkinson and the coaches shows, the first in the country,” he said.

In June 2009, KFOR-TV was the first in Oklahoma to broadcast in high definition.

“And so, with technology, with talent, they brought true journalism. Is it true? Is it the right thing to do? Is it something we should air? Making those decisions on a daily basis,” Blackburn said.

75 YEARS: From the Archives: Shoplifting Losses

It is what carried WKY, KTVY, and Now KFOR through 75 years.

“LaVonna, do you still watch Channel 4?”

“Everyday. Is there another?”

“WKY really set the standard for television not just in Oklahoma City, but in the nation,” Blackburn said.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KFOR.com Oklahoma City.