by Chris Edwards
The Spirit of Windsor 50th Anniversary special airs on CBET-TV
9 September 20, 2002 7pm
Light: Early Detroit TV
World War II. The Border Cities experienced a technological boom
that has reverberated through our culture ever since: the birth
It began in 1947 when WWJ-TV began broadcasting over Channel 4 to
a handful of viewers in Metro Detroit. At that time, there were
fewer than 100 TV sets in Detroit, so broadcasting was definitely
an act of faith. Started by The Detroit News in the 1920s as the
nations first commercial radio station, WWJ was not alone
for long. In 1947, WXYZ went on the air on Channel 7 and WJBK set
up shop on Channel 2.
Even though 6,400 Detroit homes had television sets by 1948, this
was still a tiny audience for three local stations. Things changed
dramatically when network television came to Detroit in early 1949;
appliance stores could scarcely keep televisions in stock. By 1953,
WXYZ was selling more advertising and making more money than any
station in the ABC chain.
It took Detroits first radio station, WWJ, a quarter century
to get radio circulation to the million mark in the Border Cities.
Television reached that mark in less than a decade. With rapid growth
came a demand for more programming and a host of local television
An all-time favourite Border City TV celebrity was Soupy Sales,
the wisecracking comic artist formerly known as Milton Heinz. The
house speciality for Lunch with Soupy at noon was shaving
cream pie a dish served up nearly every time Soupy stuck
his face out the door of his set.
Between pies, Soupys face was pawed by the meanest dog in
all Detroit, White Fang, and petted by the nicest dog in the land,
Black Tooth. Pookie the Lion, Hippi the Hippo, and Willie the Worm
also wiggled into the scene. And, Peaches the girl next door (Soupy
in drag) also visited the set regularly. Soupy had a kind of magic
nobody had seen before.
Television was all live in those very early days. Videotape had
not yet been invented and film was the primary tool. But film had
to be developed in a darkroom, which took time. ABC was so new and
poor in those days that it offered no more than three hours a day
of programming, none of it much good. So, the three ABC stations
that did exist in 1948 New York, Detroit and Chicago
were left to produce their own programs, none of which survived
since live programs werent recorded yet.
Enter CKLW TV
was perhaps inevitable that a TV station would be launched in Windsor,
with its unique geographical position south of the border, to tap
into the huge U.S. market. And Windsor television would soon emulate
and often surpass programming being developed by competitors
Windsor residents were possibly the first Canadians to purchase
television sets due to the pioneering Detroit shows available over
the air four years before the first broadcast in this country!
We have heard of a Westinghouse factory that actually built TV sets
in Windsor during TVs early years but could not confirm this
as fact. One thing is certain Windsorites were tuning into
TV faster than anywhere in Canada.
The Mutual Broadcasting Company, operating CKLW Radio, was granted
a TV license in 1952 due to its broadcast experience beating
out The Windsor Star. CKLW radio personalities would migrate to
the new medium, including Jim Van Kuren, Bud Davies and Art Laing.
Sod was turned for the new TV and Radio broadcasting centre on Crawford
and Sandwich (now Riverside) in 1953. When a 670-foot broadcasting
tower with a 60-mile radius was erected, it had the most powerful
signal in the mid-west including the United States. CKLW
Radio 800 AMs signal extended all over the mid-west, as it
had a clear signal, no other radio station could have
the 800 band on the dial. It would soon become a powerhouse, but
that story will have to wait for another time.
On September 16, 1954 at 2:50 pm, local TV history was made when
CKLW Television signed on with Jim Van Kuren, who probably said
something like, Youre watching CLKW in Windsor.
The station launched before it was ready it wasnt quite
yet set for prime time.
It wasnt the ground floor of TV broadcasting- it was
the sub-basement, said Van Kuren. We had to learn a
whole new way of broadcasting. It wasnt simply radio with
pictures. Radio people were not geared to thinking visually.
CBC The Early Years
across the country, Canadians also became enamoured with the new
medium. On September 6, 1952, CBFT Montreal broadcast its signal
for the CBC; CBLT Toronto followed suit on September 8. The first
broadcast picture on CBLT was the stations call letters
upside-down and backwards! The broadcasting day was three hours
long and Lorne Greene read the news.
The first character to appear on CBC-TV was the puppet Uncle Chichimus,
followed by the first human weatherman Percy Saltzman. The
first breaking news story was the escape of the Boyd Gang from Torontos
Don Jail, reported by Harry Rasky.
But it would be some years before folks in the Border Cities experienced
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation programming. Unique perhaps to
Canada, Windsor remained an island of independent local television
production until well into the 1970s.
The Movie Channel
were a natural fit for the fledgling CKLW-TV. They could be broadcast
over and over, and CKLW played everything from Tarzan to Ben Hur.
Early movie programs were branded as Command Performance,
Colgate Theatre and Million Dollar Movies
(named after the cost of a package of movies purchased by the station
for almost a million dollars!). In Detroit, hosts were hired to
fill time between movies, introducing the films, conducting interviews,
and reading commercials.
Rita Bell was the most popular movie hostess in the Border Cities
CKLW needed someone to compete, and soon found two that perfectly
fit the bill: Bill Kennedy and Mary Morgan.
Bill Kennedy King of the movies
king of TV movie hosting was former B-movie actor and film trivia
master Bill Kennedy. He aired films daily, and his Sunday afternoon
show regularly attracted more than half of the Border Cities
viewers even up against pro football.
His intro theme song was his trademark as he strolled into the studio
with his signature fedora hat and sat at a plain desk.
I came to Windsor because I needed a job- simple as that,
said Kennedy. I started on Friday doing a show called Going
Our Way. Soon I was working six days a week.
For 30 years, Kennedy wowed locals with his blinding plaid jackets
and encyclopedic knowledge of movies, stars and Hollywood gossip.
Viewers would call in with questions that he would answer off the
cuff or not at all How dya expect me to know
that? hed often reply in a deep gruff voice.
He also was one of the first to conduct in-
studio interviews with top name entertainers stars who came to Windsors
Top Hat or The Elmwood, including Jimmy Durante and Sammy Davis
While Kennedy ruled as the king of movie hosts, the queens had their
own loyal subjects.
Mary Morgan: aloof glamour
Right: Tiny Tim (left) and Bill Kennedy:
How dya expect me to know that?
Mary Morgan Queen of the airwaves
Morgan, once called the most beautiful woman on radio,
hosted movies along with starring on local TV and radio programs,
including the popular Mary-Go-Round, a precursor to Martha Stewart.
Morgan began her career in the Golden Era of radio during the Depression,
taking a job to help her family during those difficult days.
between hosting movies on CKLW TV, she interviewed celebrities such
as Lucille Ball and President Eisenhower. She had an aloof glamour,
often syrupy and breezy. Her fans loved Mary and her dachshund,
Liebchen, who once licked off one of her false eyelashes and ate
it on the air.
hosts were not above promoting products on their shows. Commercials
were read live on air, and hosts often added unscripted plugs. In
fact, Kennedy became famous for his commercial ad-libs and inflections
advertisers ate it up and the station soon became successful
interesting side note to the early rules of commercial TV: in the
late 40s, Detroits WXYX TV-7 developed a program called
the House of Charm, hosted by Edyth Fern Melrose, which
became a staple watched by thousands of women for the next two decades.
was discovered that Melrose was making more money than the
president of ABC, because she was getting paid for endorsing
products on the air there was no such thing as an ethics
became Melroses form of commerce, effectively. If she
wanted a particular drape, she would plug it; furniture, she
would plug that. She got all the items free and was paid on
top of that. In fact, she built a beautiful house on the waterfront
in St. Clair Shores, paid by all the suppliers of brick, concrete,
lumber, carpets. She even had them build a studio in the house
from which she broadcast her show until it went off the air
in the early 1960s.