YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Connie Jones walks through the main room of the Stewart Media Archives of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, carrying old green photo albums with newspaper clippings hanging from the edges.
“These are some of the scrapbooks that WKBN kept over the years,” said Jones, who oversees the archives.
One scrapbook was turned to Monday, Jan. 12, 1953, the day after WKBN TV signed on for the first time. An article from The Vindicator reported that on Sunday, Jan. 11, 1953, “The station began its televising with a newscast at 4:15 p.m.”
On its second day, WKBN TV would broadcast from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., starting with “Western Theater,” followed by Don Gardner’s sports, weather, and news. It was on the air just four hours.
“At the beginning that was it,” said Jones.
Getting to January 11 was not easy. Youngstown broadcast pioneer Warren Williamson, Jr., who 27 years earlier started WKBN radio and was now the man behind WKBN TV, was determined to be on the air first, beating his rival WFMJ.
“So, the question was who gets into it first?” said Williamson years later in an interview. “We wanted to be competitive. We wanted to be able to say we were first in the industry.”
The TV transmitter arrived at WKBN on Jan.1, 1953, but a key part that created the sound was missing. So, two people drove to Maine to get the part so that WKBN could beat WFMJ.
“They drove in miserable weather,” former program director Norm Berger recalled years later. “I mean with snow and ice and all of that, and then driving back with the equipment.”
Two months later, when WFMJ went on the air, WKBN took out a newspaper ad congratulating them.
Among the shows airing in the early years were “Space Rangers” and “Romper Room.” Everything in the early days was live, even the commercials.
Warren Williamson’s son J.D. started working at WKBN in the art department when he was 13 years old.
“All of the video stuff was done by an artist or photographers,” said Williamson.
From day one, WKBN TV broadcasted news. There’s a picture from 1953 of a Ford station wagon with “Newsfilm” and “WKBN” logos painted on them and photographer Jack Beatty standing on a rack on top manning a camera.
“News was the real money maker for the station but also the one we took the most pride in,” Williamson said. “A strong news organization was number one.”
Most of the Stewart Media Archives (named after Lowry Stewart, grandson of Warren Williamson, Jr.) contains WKBN memorabilia. Among the items from TV are an old film chain, a film news camera and the machine on which the film was edited, along with an assortment of microphone flags.
But while the relics of WKBN TV have been relegated to a museum, the future of TV has always been at the forefront of the company.
Just before he died, Warren Williamson, Jr., said, “I look over the hill and I see a great improvement for the future of communication.”