January 1, 1949: Houston Gets TV

KLEE-TV ~ Channel Two ~ Houston, Texas
The Birth Name of KPRC-TV ~ January 1, 1949
Also the Date Our Daily Lives Changed Forever

Saturday, January 1, 1949, was one of those pleasantly comfortable Houston days. We didn’t need a jacket to ride our bikes or dress for the usual Saturday afternoon double feature with ongoing serial and cartoon at the Avalon Theatre over on 75th, just north of Lawndale on the east side of the street and, as always, just south of Mason Park in the city’s east end.

Although I’ve forgotten the exact Avalon play-bill for that developing special Saturday, otherwise, it would no doubt have included a western film starring someone like Johnny Mack Brown, plus a possible Bowery Boys movie starring two kid favorites (Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall), something like a Popeye cartoon, movie previews of things to come, and a new chapter in an ordinarily 12-week series of chapters in something like “The Purple Monster Strikes” or “The Crimson Ghost”.

We were so innocent that morning in Pecan Park. Even the adults. It’s doubtful that any of us realized at the time that something was about to happen during that one 24-hour dose of daylight that was going to change all our lives forever.

The thing that came along that day was the arrival of television in Houston ~ and it was coming to town like the door to tomorrow at light speed. And that door pulled hard at us kids and young folks, but it also pushed strongly on our older people too. And it wasn’t long before “I’m going home to watch some TV” became our united call to cultural passivity.

Watch what?

In 1949, it was whatever they (the broadcasters) put on the screen for us to watch at home in the dark.

“In the dark?”

Yes! ~ In the dark! ~ You see, it took us first generation TV viewers  (or maybe just all of us dumb-bunny viewers in places like Pecan Park) to realize that our seated viewing of the direct light screen of television differed from our movie length viewing of the reflected light theater screen. ~ We didn’t have to darken the other lights in the room to keep the TV picture bright. The TV picture was going to stay as bright as any of the other lamps in the room, even if they were all turned on. TV light simply had the ability to show you any kind of activated story that was always absent in the radiance from table lamps and chandeliers.

Small Screens Helped Make for Darker Viewing Rooms. In all fairness, those early 10″ screens helped viewers keep the other room lights off (or on low intensity) due to the fact that the early small screens made for a high rate of viewer distractibility in a bright room. By 1954, I’m betting, that affordable TV screens in the 14″, 17″ and 21″ size ~ and our improved general understanding of the direct and indirect light factor ~ had jointly lifted Houston home lighting back to its pre-TV era levels.

Houston TV in 1949. As Houstonians got busy training themselves to “watch” TV in that first year, there was no coaxial cable here yet that could transmit live programming from the broadcasting hub east ~ or anyplace else, for that matter. As a result, Channel 2 basically just showed anything decent they could find in the hope that people’s curiosity with the new medium would compel them to watch whatever was on the screen.

The first year fare included live wrestling from the City Auditorium, Houston Buffs Baseball, Kinescope copies of shows done live a week earlier from New York, cartoons, old movies, musical acts, kid show copies of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, live musical performances, local talk shows, and, of course, the daily local news of the world, weather, and sports.

Were we subject as viewers to addictive watching? ~ What do you think? ~ Here’s a reconstructed exchange between my parents that I still recall from one day that Dad got home early and turned on the TV at 4:30 PM, expecting  to watch the local news:

Mom (from the kitchen): “Why did you turn on the TV, William? The news doesn’t come on until 6:00 PM!”

Dad (sitting across the living room from the TV, waiting for the picture to heat and show up on the screen): “Oh! That’s right. I’m home early. Well then ~ what is this ‘Adventures in Sewing’ that’s coming on now?”

Mom: “Just what it says it is. ~ It’s a show that teaches women how to sew new clothes from patterns. ~ And that one is followed by ‘Crusader Rabbit’ ~ a little kids’ show at 5:00 PM ~ and ‘Mr. I. Magination’ ~ an older kids’ storytelling show. ~ Do you want me to just turn off the TV until the news comes on?”

Dad: “No, just leave it on! ~ I’ve already paid for the TV and the electricity it’s using. ~ I may as well watch.”

Baseball on TV in 1949 was both thrilling and painful. ~ We were thrilled to watch the Buffs from Buff Stadium on TV, but it was also painfully hard to follow the game from the view through those two grainy stationary cameras behind home plate. As we’ve written previously, the baseball appeared on-screen as a tiny white blurry orb that disappeared quite quickly when it was struck hard and fast to the outfield. You had to follow the body language of the fielders to have some idea about the ball’s chances for being caught or cut off so far away, so what? Old Man Relativity has a way of kicking into gear: The TV pictures we got at home from Buff Stadium in 1949 were 100% better than the ones we got from the same sacred ground in 1948.

Wrestling Addendum (Thanks to Patrick Callahan, STHS ’56) ~ Thanks, Pat! Even though we’ve always included Paul Boesch and Wrestling in our stories of the early Houston TV era, this time we needed you to remind us. Here’s what my former St. Thomas High School classmate, Pat Callahan, had to say in the comment section below:

********************

Irish Danny McShane

BILL: — you missed the big one on Houston TV – Paul Boesch and WRESTLING from the Houston Coliseum; Boesch was a WW II veteran (European Theater) and saw combat in the Hurtgen Forest – and became the home town Promoter of wrestling into the big time locally and nationally – I remember Irish Danny McShane and Bull Curry and Duke Keomuka and Rito Romero, all sometimes villains or good guys, dependent upon the opponent – but mostly bad guys. And….. Danny McShane would come by our office in the Melrose Bldg. the following week to solicit truck load transportation of various packaged chemical products…he worked for Herrin Trucking Co.

Those were the days – round screen B&W – and you’re right – lights out!

~ Pat Callahan

Yes! Houston TV belonged to wrestling from the Municipal Auditorium downtown every Friday night. ~ That place was torn down years ago to become the current site of Jones Hall. ~ And, yes! ~ Dirty Don Evans (we thought) was a member of our St. Christopher Parish Church. And I used to wait on Black Guzman years later at Merchant’s Whole Exchange, a men’s clothing store downtown where I worked as a salesman while I was a student at UH.

********************

Everything on TV in 2019 now has a bad aftertaste blending character about it whenever we have to listen to a dead aim politician trying to do stand up comedy ~ or maybe even worse ~ we have to listen to late night so-called talk show hosts trying to pass themselves off as political pundits by devoting themselves to the ultimately always fatal environs of one-joke comedy.

And they do it. ~ Every. Mother. Jumping. Night. ~ Is that what we need? ~ A constant negative bombardment of all the neurological synapses in our bodies? ~ And right before we go to sleep? ~ Every weekday night, while leaving only Saturday night to SNL ~ and Sunday all day to the NFL?

Today it is even more important than ever to remember that our TV remotes have an “off” button and that books have no “on” or “off” buttons at all. And sometimes ~ meditation ~ and the practice of keeping track of our reasons for so many life blessings is the turnaround for good sleep.

Just never underestimate the far-reaching power of TV as the “One-Eyed Cyclops” monster in our daily lives. With the help of everything that feeds to us through TV in 2019 from the Internet and all of its ideational apps, the Cyclops Monster now circumnavigates our passive minds at light speed, but it only has the power that we surrender to it when we forget that we have a choice about watching at all ~ and when we use passive TV viewing as a drug that blocks remembering anything in our mind, soul, or spirit that has never healed.

To have peace of mind, we must heal from any unresolved resentment or regret that gets in our way. As for TV watching, allow “choice” to be your TV Guide as to what to watch, when to watch, and how much to watch.

Happy New Year, Everybody!

 

******************************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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6 Responses to “January 1, 1949: Houston Gets TV”

  1. materene Says:

    I was only two then but I do remember the 53 broadcast. I was into those early cartoons that was hand penned and everyday around 5 the evening news would come on, sponsored by Jax Brewery. Oh I wish I could go back to those days, I think I would trade 10 years of my life to go back. We live in a much more dangerous world today, here and abroad and everyone seems to just ignore it.

  2. Patrick Callahan '56 Says:

    BILL: — you missed the big one on Houston TV – Paul Boesch and WRESTLING from the Houston Coliseum; Boesch was a WW II veteran (European Theater) and saw combat in the Hurtgen Forest – and became the home town Promoter of wrestling into the big time locally and nationally – I remember Irish Danny McShane and Bull Curry and Duke Keomuka and Rito Romero all sometimes villains or good guys dependent upon the opponent – but mostly bad guys. And….. Danny McShane would come by our office in the Melrose Bldg. the following week to solicit truck load transportation of various packaged chemical products…he worked for Herrin Trucking Co.

    those were the days – round screen B&W – and you’re right – lights out!

    PAC / STHS ’56

    • materene Says:

      Paul Boesch was an officer and supporter of the Boys Variety Club located on North Main St. I was a member of the club for years and lots of things to do on Saturdays. The membership was one dollar per year. heh, can’t even buy a coke now for that much

  3. bhick6 Says:

    Talk about addictive watching — That new box called a TV in the living room was so amazing that I can recall turning it on and gazing at the test pattern early in the day prior to the airing of any broadcasts. Even the commercials caught my imagination. Remember the Lucky Strike cigarettes marching in formation?

    Bill Hickman

  4. Marti Moser Says:

    Mother and Daddy we’re one of the first in Denver Harbor to have a television set. They spoke of Granny & Grandpa, dad’s sister, husband, brothers & outlaws (that’s what he called kin of kin). They said when “rassling matches” came on they had a full house. The couch was like bleachers in an auditorium. Depending on pecking order it was couch seat, back of couch seat & floor seat for kids or anyone goofy enough to sit on said floor with kids, Paul Boesch, Wahoo or Coon Froberg. Mom cooked all night to feed them (wrestling made her nervous… Too violent). Sad I didn’t come along till 1957.

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