WNBF-TV: one channel, four networks

I seem to recall the ABC show Lawrence Welk on Saturday night at 6 or 6:30; it nationally aired at 9 pm that night.

When I went to college in New Paltz in 1971, most of my classmates were from New York City or Long Island. They were shocked that we in upstate Binghamton did not have the array of television stations they had.

In fact, when WNBF-TV, channel 12, signed-on December 1, 1949 it “carried programs from all four American television networks at the time -CBS, DuMont, NBC, and ABC.

DuMont collapsed in 1956. The first new UHF station arrived in Binghamton on November 1, 1957 with WINR-TV, channel 40, an NBC affiliate. So when I was a kid, Channel 12 had both CBS and ABC shows.

Here are TV listings from Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1959. Left-hand column is WNBF-TV 12, right-hand is WINR-TV 40. The listings start at 6:00 pm and every line usually represents 15 minutes.


Bourbon Street Beat was an ABC show, airing most places on Monday, 8:30-9:30. GE Theater was a CBS show, airing in NYC Sunday a 9 pm. Tightrope was pegged by CBS for Tuesday at 9 pm. At least I’ve Got a Secret was a CBS show on at the right time.

Similar listings of the next day, Thursday, Nov. 12, 1959. (Ch. 12 on left, Ch. 40 on right).


The Donna Reed Show, The Real McCoys, and Pat Boone were Thursday night ABC shows in 1959 at the same time slots as indicated; the Real McCoys became a CBS show near the end of its run. I wonder if The Betty Hutton Show, Johnny Ringo, and Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater showed up in another time slot.

While the Wikipedia said Channel 40 also carried ABC shows, these listings were consistent with the national NBC lineup. Except one: The Lawless Years was bumped for a syndicated show called Colonel Flack.

I seem to recall the ABC show Lawrence Welk on Saturday night at 6 or 6:30; it nationally aired at 9 pm that night. Did Channel 12 record to broadcast a week later? How did this work?

I remember that other ABC shows, Maverick, The Rifleman, Ozzie and Harriet, and 77 Sunset Strip were on when I was a kid. Did they preempt the CBS shows? Were they on in time slots before prime time, or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons? Sports didn’t dominate the schedule then. Or maybe even at 11:30 pm.

Here’s a video of the Thursday night lineup in the fall of 1959.

I realize this sounds pretty obsessive, and it is. Next time I’m in Binghamton, I want to look at some microfilm showing the rosters of shows on Channel 12 in September 1962, then in November 1962, when WBJA, Channel 34, became the official ABC affiliate. Not incidentally, all of the call letters have changed, some more than once.

I’d be just as curious about the same phenomenon in Albany/Schenectady if I had grown up there. In fact, one of the very first blog posts I wrote was about the Plattsburgh, NY/Burlington, VT television market in 2005.

I used for the season’s daily charts The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (2007).

Thanks to folks on a couple Facebook lists, especially Keith Nelson, who provided the graphics. I also greatly appreciated the kind words people said about McKinley Green, my grandfather, who was a custodian at WNBF for many years.

What TV Shows Are You Looking Forward To This Fall?

Are there any shows YOU are looking forward to?

I’ve been rereading the extensive list of shows that will be on ABC and CBS and NBC and FOX and the CW. I came to the conclusion that there probably isn’t a single new show that I’ll start watching. I’ve ODed on police procedurals, the comedies don’t sound particularly funny, and the few shows I might have given a chance to (ABC’s Pan Am, about the hassles of being an airline stewardess in the 1960s, for one) won’t last more than a month.

This is not such a bad thing, mind you. Every year for the last couple at least, I say I’m not going to add any more new shows to my DVR recording. two years ago, I lapsed and started to watch The Good Wife, but last year, nada. (I don’t think so, anyway.)

Are there any new shows YOU are looking forward to? I feel that I should be into FOX’s Terra Nova, especially with Steven Spielberg’s name attached, but I’m just not.

Color TV’s 60th anniversary

The pace quickened when ABC and CBS went to full color for its 1966 fall schedule.

Looking for something else, I discovered that TODAY is the 60th anniversary of the first U.S. color telecast. “On June 25, 1951, with 12 million TV sets in existence, of which only two dozen could receive CBS color, CBS made history by presenting an hour-long color TV program hosted by Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey with 16 stars that performed song, dance and comedy routines.”

As this article notes, “Earlier attempts to create marketable color broadcasts had been hampered by the FCC’s insistence that any color signal be readable by existing black and white sets as well. Even though the CBS color transmission system was not compatible with most existing televisions, the FCC approved it as the U.S. standard in 1950…

“Unfortunately, the color television sets that were required to view the programs did not sell very well. In 1953, the FCC reversed their decision to use CBS’s design as the national standard in favor of an RCA design that was compatible with existing TV sets.”

Like most software/hardware problems of today, there weren’t more color TVs sold in part because there wasn’t enough color programming and vice versa. But when NBC took the lead in color broadcasting, due in no small part to its relationship with RCA, which could build color TVs, color became inevitable, slowly at first.

Jan 1964 – 1,620,000
Jan 1965 – 2,860,000
Jan 1966 – 5,220,000
Jan 1967 – 9,510,000
Jan 1968 -14,130,000 Roughly 25% of US households
Jan 1969 -19,200,000 Roughly 33%
Apr 1969 -20,560,000
Oct 1970 -26,200,000
Jul 1971 -29,700,000 Roughly 48%


The pace quickened when ABC and CBS went to full color for its 1966 fall schedule. I remember well the teases:

ABC in color,
The Avengers,
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,

CBS in color,
CBS logo.

Of course, early on, I saw those “color” logos in black and white.

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