Corpus Christi residents got a big thrill on June 20, 1954: The city’s first television station went on the air.
That’s not to say locals weren’t watching TV before then. TV antennae dotted the landscape, but had to rely on stations in San Antonio and Houston for programming. There was a rush to claim the city’s broadcasting permits from the Federal Communications Commission, with three commercial stations up for grabs: Channels 6 and 10, which were VHF, or very high frequency; and Channel 22, the UHF station, or ultra high frequency.
In December 1952, the three Corpus Christi channels were considered “contested,” meaning multiple groups had made bids for each station and had to wait for an FCC hearing to see who would be awarded the permits.
Competitors for Channel 6 were the Gulf Coast Broadcasting Co., also known as KRIS, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which already owned local radio station KWBU. Channel 10 was a hot ticket, with four competitors: KEYS-TV, with President E.C. Hughes; KSIX-TV, with President Vann Kennedy; Superior Television Co., owned by Jack Wrather and Helen Alvarez of Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the Corpus Christi Television Co., owned by three Dallas-area oilmen. Channel 22 had two competitors, H.L. Hunt of Dallas and the Coastal Bend Television Co. with President Gabriel Lozano.
Then in December 1953, the FCC granted the city another UHF channel, Channel 43. Hunt quickly dropped his application for Channel 22 and applied for Channel 43. The FCC granted Hunt the permit for Channel 43 on Dec. 9, and the Coastal Bend Television Co. the permit for Channel 22 the next day. Now it was a race to see which station would get on the air first.
The Coastal Bend Television Co. broke ground the following month on its $300,000 television station at South Staples and Agnes streets. More than 200 people, many in the radio and television business, came out to watch Lozano turn the first shovelful of dirt. The station’s chief engineer, Nestor Cuesta, turned the second shovelful. The new building, 47 feet by 80 feet and one and a half stories tall, also included a 300-foot transmitter.
Viewers were warned that many of the television sets already in their homes couldn’t receive the UHF channels, and that they should start looking at converting their VHF-only TVs. Lozano also announced a deal with NBC — although Channel 22 would not be the local NBC affiliate, the station had entered a $50,000 contract to purchase packages of NBC shows to be broadcast later.
In March 1954, the FCC granted Channel 22 its call letters, KVDO. The news avidly followed the lead-up to the city’s first broadcast station. On May 23, 1954, the Caller-Times had a 20-page special section in the Sunday paper all about the coming station and its broadcast schedule, plus articles about getting your set converted for UHF, how television signals work, how interior decorating was changing with the coming of television, and even advocating for the use of headphones for children’s television programs.
More:#TBT: Corpus Christi’s first local radio station hit the airwaves in 1929
The station broadcast its first test pattern on June 10, a graphic of the station’s call letters, and dealers reported receiving a clear picture all the way in Beeville and Alice, which were on the outer limits of the broadcast area.
Finally, the day arrived. At 3:40 p.m. on June 20, 1954, KVDO signed on. The first order of business was a live dedication in which Mayor P.C. Callaway, County Judge John Young and Police Chief Dick Runyan joined the station’s directors plus Navy officials. It was followed by a true Corpus Christi tradition: a live interview with Buc Days officials, then recorded footage of the recent festivities.
In April 1957, the station was purchased by South Texas Telecasting Co. and ceased operations in August that year. The station lay dormant until 1961, when the company applied to take the Channel 3 VHF station. Two other companies applied for the channel: Harte-Hanks, owner of the Caller-Times, and Nueces Telecasting Co. The Caller-Times eventually dropped its application and the FCC awarded the station to South Texas Telecasting, which changed the Channel 3 call letters from KVDO to KIII in 1964.
Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history.
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