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Television comes to KC

DATE OF EVENT: Sunday, Oct. 16, 1949

DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, Oct. 17, 1949, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: TV came early to Kansas City. When the first TV programs were broadcast here in 1949, only about 7 percent of the population owned a television set. The official starting date was Oct. 16; however WDAF-TV had been on the air earlier. On Sept. 29, 1949, it broadcast President Harry S. Truman’s speech at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium before it returned to two weeks of test patterns.

The Kansas City Star Co. owned the station, a companion to WDAF radio, which the newspaper company had launched in 1922.


An Audience Estimated at 100,000 Sees the First Regularly Scheduled Program of WDAF-TV


Roy A. Roberts Stresses the Vast Possibilities of the New Medium


Master Switch Is Pressed at 6 o’Clock, Heralding an Entertainment Era

First-Night Schedule Presents a Cross-Section of Variety to Come

Television received an enthusiastic reception in Kansas City last night as WDAF-TV launched its first regularly scheduled broadcast with a 4-hour program beginning at 6 o’clock.

Comment received by The Star from as far away as Wichita — 178 miles — reported the reception was excellent.

The TV tone comes from a high-frequency FM transmission which provides a greater range and scope of sound. The variety in entertainment, which included news, drama, comedy and variety revue as well as an American Royal Live Stock and Horse show feature and other local presentations also brought compliments to the station staff.

WDAF-TV will return to the airwaves at 6 o’clock each night through the week, bringing three to four hours of entertainment to its early audience estimated at 100,000 persons. Programs are broadcast on channel No. 4.

In addition to programs originating in Greater Kansas City, the station will carry the best among programs being carried by the four major television networks.

Many appliance dealers and drug stores in Greater Kansas City had television sets operating in their windows last night and crowds varying from ten to 100 persons had collected in front of them.

The initial program was representative of an art in its infancy, a mere glimpse of things to come as artistic and technical improvement expand television toward its full potentialities, Roy A. Roberts, president of The Star, said in a brief talk dedicating the station.

“I would be the first to tell you there are some limits in existing television,” Mr. Roberts said. “There are still some bugs. With all the vast improvements that have been made, we frankly are still working more or less on the fringe of the art.

“In other words, don’t expect four hours of fancy Hollywood production every night, right from the very first. By Hollywood standards, that would cost us from 1 to 3 million dollars a night, and take six months to a couple of years of preparation.

“Television is something different from the movies, the radio, the theater and everything else. I think television can do things the rest of them have not considered. And I can assure you that you will get the best there is to offer now, and what’s better as it comes along.”…

A large red button as big as a half-dollar was the master switch which Joe Flaherty, chief engineer for WDAF-TV, pressed at 6 o’clock, channeling “The Star Spangled Banner” into a coaxial cable connected with the 724-foot tower and antenna. Two minutes later Dean Fitzer, general manager of WDAF and WDAF-TV, stepped before the TV cameras to introduce Mr. Roberts. …

Bill Bates, WDAF-TV program manager, estimated that at least 7,000 sets within the 150-mile reception area were tuned to the station and that no less than 100,000 persons watched television screens. …

The station will go on the air at 5:58 o’clock tonight with the musical introduction and station signature and at 6 o’clock a comedy puppet show, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” will be screened for thirty minutes. Through the evening there will be newsreels, news, weather forecasts, two 30-mintue dramas and an hour of amateur boxing matches televised from the American Legion Memorial building. …