WATE-TV celebrates 60 years serving Knoxville

WATE-TV celebrates 60 years serving Knoxville

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WATE came on the air October 1, 1953 as the first television station in East Tennessee. The original call letters were WROL. WATE came on the air October 1, 1953 as the first television station in East Tennessee. The original call letters were WROL.
"We looked forward to the test pattern. Hello, is that not awesome?" said longtime viewer Leroy Rogers. "We looked forward to the test pattern. Hello, is that not awesome?" said longtime viewer Leroy Rogers.
"The Al Carpenter Show" guitar player Ray Rose became the brains behind many technological advances at WATE in his 56 years with the station. "The Al Carpenter Show" guitar player Ray Rose became the brains behind many technological advances at WATE in his 56 years with the station.
"I do look back and think I was just amazed that we had the, oh, the creativity to put TV on with nothing," said Ray Rose. "I do look back and think I was just amazed that we had the, oh, the creativity to put TV on with nothing," said Ray Rose.
"You cannot duplicate the magic of a local television station, the outreach, how it affects people, and how people connect with your station," said Bradley Reeves, co-founder of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound "You cannot duplicate the magic of a local television station, the outreach, how it affects people, and how people connect with your station," said Bradley Reeves, co-founder of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound

By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Tuesday, Oct. 1 is a landmark day in the history of WATE-TV. Sixty years ago, WATE was the first station in East Tennessee to go on the air.

Before Cas Walker rose to fame as a businessman, politician and show host; before Margie Ison captured the hearts of our region with each weather forecast; before Mary Starr, the homemaker from Maryville who became a household name; and before Jim Clayton hosted "Startime," there were whispers that TV was coming to Knoxville.

Longtime Channel 6 viewer Leroy Rogers remembers it like it was yesterday.

"I bought the first TV in my family: a 17-inch Philco," said Rogers.

Before WATE hit the air, Rogers and his family gathered around the TV set to watch one image for hours.

"We looked forward to the test pattern. Hello, is that not awesome?" he said.

In the early fifties, television was growing so fast, the government couldn't keep up with all the applications. It put a freeze on new TV stations, which was lifted in the spring of 1953.

Two stations in Knoxville wanted to be the first on the air in East Tennessee: WROL which is now WATE, and WTSK which doesn't exist today. WJHL in Johnson City and Chattanooga's WDEF also tried for the title.

Channel 6 beat out close contender WJHL when that station's tower collapsed.

Our station went on the air October 1, 1953 with a 20 minute film on Knoxville followed by the first late night movie, "G. I. Joe" starring Robert Mitchum.

"The first television station, that was huge," said Bradley Reeves. "It was an amazing event. It was a historically important event."

Reeves co-founded the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, housed in the East Tennessee History Center.

He's working on an exhibit featuring artifacts from the magic of Knoxville television through the years.

Many people brought you the news in days gone by, but Knoxville TV really began with uninterrupted live entertainment shows.

Only a fraction of these shows were recorded and saved, like "The Bonnie Lou and Buster Show," which aired on WATE for more than 20 years.

Then there's the lost footage of the little-known "Al Carpenter Show."

Carpenter went on to greater local fame as Captain Al on "The Popeye Show," but guitar player Ray Rose became the brains behind many technological advances at WATE in his 56 years with the station.

"I do look back and think I was just amazed that we had the, oh, the creativity to put TV on with nothing," said Rose, a former station engineer.

"You cannot duplicate the magic of a local television station, the outreach, how it affects people, and how people connect with your station," said Reeves.

That holds true for the people of WATE in the early days and the people of WATE today.

WATE started out at a studio on Sharp's Ridge, then a former mayonnaise factory down the street that's now Petree's Florist.

Greystone Mansion has been home to WATE for most of its 60 years on the air.

You can learn more about the history of WATE and Knoxville television in an exhibit next month. It opens at 6 p.m. November 1 at the East Tennessee History Center. The event is open to the public.

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