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MI History Magazine Recounts WKAR-TV's Earliest Days

WKAR-TV exterior historical photo
WKAR-TV was originally housed in this Quonset hut. The Breslin Center now stands on the site.

It’s been 65 years since WKAR-TV went on the air as Michigan’s first non-commercial, or as it was known at the time, educational, television station.

The January-February issue of Michigan History magazine includes a story about WKAR-TV’s earliest days.

Writer Larry Stone tells WKAR’s Scott Pohl via Skype that he worked at the station in the early 1960’s. The facilities were located in steel Quonset huts originally used to house student veterans.

LARRY STONE: It was really a challenge for a number of reasons. They were round, they did not have a flat roof, and because of the roof we were very limited in what we could do as far as lighting was concerned. The floors were uneven as far as camera moves. That was before zoom lenses were prevalent and we had to dolly and truck cameras all over the place.

They were hot in the summer and cold in the winter, a really major problem when it was raining. They were tin roofs. If it was raining the rain would make a lot of noise, and thunderstorms of course was out of the question in order to record anything or produce anything because of the shape of the huts themselves.

Credit MSU Archives

SCOTT POHL: The station was initially called WMSB-TV. Some have said that stood for Watch Michigan State Broadcasting. Is that how you remember it?

STONE: That's how I remember it. The announcer was Charlie Castle, and he did come on the air every day and did station breaks. All the station breaks were done live, and he'd say “watch Michigan State broadcasting, WMSB.”

POHL: In researching this story, did you learn anything you hadn't known before about WKAR-TV?

STONE: A couple of things that I learned was WKAR was only the second ETV station on the air in the country, and the other thing that really stood out was the fine arts programming that we did with Dr. Don Pash. It received national attention, as did a special that we did for NET, National Educational Television, called “The Genetic Revolution.” It was a really early thing on genetics and how important they would be.

Credit MSU Archives

POHL: Today, WKAR-TV has a 24-7 kids channel, but your story reflects how important children's programming has been for a long time on WKAR-TV.

STONE: We had in-school broadcasts for classes. I think there were over 60,000 students that participated in that all over central Michigan. There were a number of other shows that we produced locally that were very popular. One of them was “Land of Play” that was on and live every morning most mornings with Helen Shaw. Another popular thing was “Culver’s Club House,” which was a kids program where there was a peanut gallery, and kids would come in and they had quite a large membership of that too. I think there were over 6,000 kids that watched “Culver’s Club House” all the time. That was Jim Culver, another local person in the Lansing area.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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