WKBS-TV came on the air on Wednesday, September 1, 1965. For years, it was known as "Color Channel 48." The call letters were widely known to have stood for "a Kaiser Broadcasting Station." It was licensed to Burlington, New Jersey and Philadelphia with its studios and office in South Philly and transmitter and tower in Roxborough.
Kaiser Broadcasting was pretty much owned by Henry J. Kaiser who manufactured aluminum and for ten years (1945 to 1955) manufactured automobiles. Two of their brands were "the Kaiser" and "the Henry J", sort of an early version of the Ford Maverick. In 1953, Henry purchased Willy-Overland, maker of "the Jeep."
In 1958, Kaiser purchased KULA-TV (now KITV) in Honolulu. Then he applied for and received construction permits (CPs) for several new TV stations in major markets on the UHF dial. WKBD-TV, Detroit came on in January of 1965 with WKBS-TV here in Philadelphia, less than nine months later. Shortly thereafter, Kaiser Broadcasting sold the Hawaii station. The money raised from the sale helped Kaiser put more UHF's on the air.
There was WKBG-TV in Cambridge which was off the air for awhile under the ownership of the Boston Globe newspaper. WKBF-TV in Cleveland and San Francisco based KBHK-TV both came on during January of 1968. In 1971, KBSC-TV, licensed to Corona and serving Los Angeles was purchased. The next year, 1972, saw a swap of almost 23% of Kaiser Broadcasting to Field Communications, owners of Channel 32 in Chicago and the Marshall Field's Department Store. In return, Kaiser got majority amount of stock (over 75%) in WFLD-TV, Chicago, the country's second largest city. Now, Kaiser had a station in Chicago.
Three years later, there was another strange deal, this one with United Artists who at one time owned a construction permit for a commercial TV station on Channel 23 in Camden. That station was never built and when the channel became available, it went to the New Jersey Network (public television). United Artists owned WUAB, Channel 43 in Cleveland. Kaiser owned Channel 61, WKBF-TV in the same market.
The deal called for Kaiser to turn the Channel 61 license into the FCC so that the station could go dark. Once, Kaiser no longer had any TV holdings in Cleveland, it was legally allowed to buy a minority interest in WUAB-TV. Once dark, Channel 43 acquired rights to some of the best Channel 61 programs. You see, these two independent stations were going after the same market and neither made much profit. However, this deal allowed both to make money. In fact, it has been reported that Kaiser made more profit with its less than half ownership of WUAB-TV, then it did when it owned an entire station. That same year, Kaiser Broadcasting bought out the remaining interest in their Boston station from the Globe newspaper.
In 1977, a corporate decision was made by Kaiser Broadcasting to leave broadcasting. They could turn a nice profit by selling off their broadcast properties, most when to Field Communications for $42.6 million dollars. WUAB-TV, owned jointly by United Artists and Kaiser was sold to Gaylord Broadcasting and KBSC, in LA, was sold to Oak Communications for National Subscription Television, pay TV at night and most of the weekend.
Kaiser was now out of broadcasting and Field Communications was in charge of the station here in Philly, WKBS-TV. In 1979, the station announced that it would air 20 Olympic preview shows called, "Spartacade '79." All the programs were aired in prime time with the first one at 8 pm on Sunday, July 22nd.
Five years later, in 1982, the two Field brothers, Marshall and his half-brother Fred were at odds with each other, but they were the majority stock holders. They decided to liquidate the company and sold all the stations except the Philadelphia station. There were several offers.
However, the company could maximize their profits by liquidating the assets (writing off the loss for tax purposes) of the station, selling equipment and some programming rights to WPHL-TV (valued at $10 million dollars), run by Broadcast Pioneers' 10th President Gene McCurdy.
When WKBS signed off the air, they were the number six television station in a six station market, but still making a profit for the owners. In June of 1983, a trade publication valued the broadcast property's value at between 40 and 50 millions dollars. In April of that year, Field sold the Chicago station for $140 million dollars to Metromedia. The Boston, San Francisco and Detroit stations in total raised another $140 million. They also sold off their other interests including the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, the Independent Press Service, the Field Newspaper Syndicate, seven cable TV systems and real estate.
The station had a nice run with "Dialing for Dollars" hosted by Broadcast Pioneers member John Carlton. There was a news program with Marty Jacobs. Carlton's wife, Gen, sometimes did the newscast's weather reports. The station was the first to re-run the historic "Star Trek" series, as an off-network program. In 1981, they did five minutes of local news by Pat Farnack following CNN Headline News.
During March of 1982, WPEN Radio and WKBS-TV worked together on a television film festival. The WPEN air personalities showed as hosts of WKBS-TV's "8 O'Clock Movie." It was done as an experiment to see how the two broadcast stations could work together and promote each other. They even ran a contest. The WPEN jock asked the viewer a question dealing with the movie they were watching. The next day, the first person to call in with the correct answer won a portable TV, AM & FM set. The five hosts (it ran for five days) were Joe Niagara, Kim Martin, Andy Hopkins, Joe Grady and Ed Hurst. Julian Breen, the Program Director at WPEN came up with the promotion and it was put together by Kalish & Rice, the advertising/public relations firm used by both stations.
In May of 1982, WKBS-TV was Philadelphia's first TV station to run something in 3-D, it was "The Revenge of the Creature." That broadcast was the number two show in its time period and was aired sponsored by Burger King who distributed the 3-D glasses needed to view the movie.
Almost to the day, after 18 years from the date it signed on the air, WKBS-TV, Channel 48 licensed to Burlington, New Jersey and Philadelphia went dark. The only other station in the market to go dark was WVUE-TV, Channel 12 in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, owned by Storer Broadcasting.
On Friday morning, July 15, 1983, Vice-President and General Manager of WKBS-TV, Vincent Barresi told his staff (at the same time the news was being released to the media) that all of the station’s 82 employees would lose their employment as Fields Enterprises, Inc., owners of Channel 48 decided that the station would sign off the air permanently before their 18th anniversary. WKBS-TV came on the air on Wednesday, September 1, 1965.
On Tuesday, July 12, 1983, the 11 pm report of "Eyewitness News" airing over KYW-TV, Channel 3 in Philadelphia reported that Channel 48 was in deep financial trouble and would go off the air forever within the next two months. The next day, Barresi told the press that the television outlet was on the verge of being sold and that the TV reports were simple not true. Even as Barresi was telling his staff that the station would go dark, there was a newspaper report that morning that the station was being sold.
During the spring of 1983, Field Enterprises of Chicago offered the station (that a couple decades later could have been valued at hundreds of millions of dollars) as a gift to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications. The college said, “no thanks.” Field Enterprises would have been able to write off the entire value of the facilities.
On Monday night August 29th/Tuesday morning August 30th, WKBS-TV signed off the air for the last time. Earlier that evening, the station broadcast the Penn State-Nebraska football game.
When WKBS-TV went dark, other stations picked up some of the Channel 48 broadcasts. Many of the cartoon and kids programming went to WPHL-TV, Channel 17.
Less than two weeks after the station disappeared and handed its license back to the Federal Communications Commission, Channel 48 received over 1,000 phone calls from viewers who were wondering what happened to its signal. 11 employees including Barresi stayed on for a few weeks after sign off to finish the liquidation of the station.
Fields Enterprises, basically a family corporation was being dissolved because of sibling bickering. While the company did sell off its other broadcast properties, they said they believed that greater value to its shareholders could be realized by selling off its assets.
Vincent Barresi was 34 when the station signed off the air. He joined WKBS-TV in 1975 as Sales Manager. Barresi became GM in 1981 when Kenneth T. McDonald left that post. Then in December of 1982, Barresi was sent to the Chicago outlet of Fields to be VP and General Manager of WFLD-TV (the group’s flagship station) and McDonald was again at the Channel 48 reins. That wouldn't last long and Barresi would come back to Philly for WKBS’ swan song.
WKBS-TV, which had its studios and offices in South Philly ( 3201 South 26th Street), had its transmitter site in Roxborough on land leased from Channel 6. Their tower was just over 1100 feet tall and when the station went off the air, Cornerstone Television purchased the tower and transmitter, shipped it to Altoona and put Channel 47 on the air there as WKBS-TV. Now in the digital age, WKBS as a digital TV station is on the air as Channel 46. Once Channel 48 in Philadelphia went dark, the license again became available with 11 different applicants fighting it out. Barresi would later become General Manager and Vice-President of WTSP-TV in Tampa, Florida.
WKBS-TV Print Ad
Monday, August 29, 1983
We thought you might like to see what they broadcast that last day.
5:28 am - Sign On
5:30 am - CNN Headline News
6 am - News
6:30 am - The 20 Minute Workout (the show was 30 minutes long)
7 am - Underdog
7:30 am - The Flintstones
8 am - Popeye and Friends
8:30 am - The Great Space Coaster
9 am- Battle of the Planets
9:30 am - News
9:45 am - Del Val with Marty Jacobs
10 am - CNN Headline News
10:30 am - The 20 Minute Workout
11 am - Too Close for Comfort (from ABC-TV)
11:30 am - All in the Family
12 noon - Leave It to Beaver
12:30 pm - McHale's Navy
1 pm - Gomer Plye USMC
1:30 pm - The Dick Van Dyke Show
2 pm - Dennis the Menace
2:30 pm - The Munsters
3 pm - The Little Rascals (Our Gang)
3:30 pm - Mighty Mouse
4 pm - Porky Pig
4:30 pm - Woody Woodpecker
5 pm - The Flinstones
5:30 pm - Mork and Mindy
6 pm - Lobo
7 pm - The Wild, Wild West
8 pm - The Bob Newhart Show
8:30 pm - College Football Pre-Game Show
9 pm - College Football (Nebraska vs. Penn State)
12:05 am - Remarks by the General Manager & Sign-Off
We have a recording of Vincent Barresi's last editorial which aired just before they turned off the transmitter for the last time. It's a little after midnight on Monday night August 29th/Tuesday morning August 30th. Here's what Barresi told the viewers of the Delaware Valley.
Listen with Real Audio
Listen with Windows Media
John Fenner, a visitor to our website e-mailed:
When I had the Philly stations on cable up here in Monmouth County, NJ back in the early 80s, WKBS was one of the channels we received. The Philly Indies blended well with the New York indies. I still remember the night WKBS went dark. Right after the transmitter was shut off, the snow showed for like, 2 seconds before a black screen came on with a message from the cable company, stating "SuperStation WKBS 48 in Philadelphia has gone off the air. A replacement will be available next week." I miss the days of the indy stations, when classic reruns showed up.
Ed Lain, Jr., a visitor to our website e-mailed:
I just wanted to thank you for bringing back some fond memories of my father. My dad, Ed Lain, worked at WKBS-TV up until that night they signed off. I can remember watching the tape of the employees waving goodbye and the final comments of Mr. Barresi. Although it was sad to see the station go off the air, reading your article and seeing the WKBS logo again brought back many memories. Somewhere I have a black & white photograph of the Banana Splits standing in front of the WKBS building.
Broadcast Pioneers member Roger Hendler e-mailed:
I worked there in 1966. You may want to add that Kaiser Channel 48 was the first Philadelphia TV station with a "10 o'clock News." The anchor was John Galbraith who Kaiser VP Richard Block brought from San Francisco, the late Stu Nahan did sports (along with being Captain Philadelphia) as he was also a friend of Block, and BP member Joe Earley was the weatherman. I still have Stu's business card authorizing me to pickup film at the airport. ...Gene Kelly was to be the sports anchor but had been injured and thus Stu came to Philadelphia. It was a great place to work. Dan Baker replaced me as the "mailboy, etc." I was at Temple and Dan was a student at Glassboro State.
Christopher Danelutti, a visitor to our website e-mailed:
When WKBS-TV 48 went off the air in Philadelphia, I cried. I was a kid then. In fact, the station went off the air on my 5th birthday. 48 was an awesome station that showed a ton of shows that mom would always let me watch as a kid. I distinctly remember that’s the station I first saw Mighty Mouse on. 48 wasn’t on long while I was growing up, but, it left a lasting impression. I remember when mom told me 48 was going off the air. It was my favorite station! It couldn’t be going off the air! Mom even let me stay up late to watch it go off the air. When the station went dark, and that snow appeared on that television in the living room, I started crying and went to bed very sad.Then, I don’t even remember what year it was, but a good time later, 48 came back on and (I think I was a young teen or just about to be) I got all excited thinking it was the same television station I remembered from the early years. To my dismay, it was not.There has never been a television station in Philadelphia like WKBS since it went off of the air. It held an interesting mix of programs that weren’t usually on other stations.Thanks to your archive, this was the first time I have heard that sign off since that night 30 years ago (almost). At 5, well, you just don’t really pay attention to all of that. Thank you for this dedicated page to what was one of the earliest joys in my life, WKBS-TV 48 Burlington/Philadelphia! Thanks for this wonderful trip down memory lane.
In the interest of accuracy, please be aware that the WKBS graphic at the top of this page is not a "Station Identification Card" from the 1970s as reported on other websites (who lifted the graphic from us without our permission and just made up what it was). The graphic was designed by Broadcast Pioneers in 2005 for use on our website and is a composite of various WKBS materials.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Text written, compiled and researched by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
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All Rights Reserved
The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is email@example.com