Saturday, June 18, 2011

WICC-TV / Channel 43

Former site of the WICC studios and Channel 43.
WICC radio in Bridgeport, CT, was home to Bob Crane's early morning show from 1951 to 1956. In the early 1950s, Philip Merryman, president and general manager of WICC, decided the time was right for a television station. In March 1953, Channel 43 debuted. WICC radio (whose call letters stand for "Industrial Center of Connecticut" in honor of Bridgeport) had been broadcasting out of a building located on Video Lane, just off Booth Hill Road, in Trumbull, CT. This same location became the home of Channel 43, Connecticut's third television station.

Bob Crane took on the responsibility of helping to launch the new station. In addition to preparing for and performing his 6:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. radio show, he dedicated himself to making Channel 43 successful.

Pilot, aerial photographer, and former WICC Art Director and traffic announcer (known locally as "Captain Traffic") Morgan Kaolian spent many hours working with Bob Crane on Channel 43. Broadcasting live on the new UHF station, the duo performed many improvisational shows that included, according to Kaolian, "some crazy stunts in the style of Ernie Kovacs." One of Morgan's favorite recollections is the day Bob came riding into the studio on horseback to the sounds of familiar Native American music.

Crane and Kaolian ham it up on
Channel 43. Courtesy of
Morgan Kaolian and used
with permission.
However, Channel 43 struggled to gain much of a viewing audience. UHF was in its infancy, and televisions did not come equipped with the proper technology to receive the UHF broadcasting signal. A special converter along with a separate UHF antenna in the shape of a bow-tie had to be installed. This setup was not cheap; in the mid-1950s, such an antenna could cost around $100. Few thought it was worth the effort or the price, and as a result, the station floundered. But Crane, Kaolian, and other hopefuls were not deterred, and they did their best to boost the viewing audience. During a broadcast, Bob even offered to give away $100 to the first person to call the station. Nobody called. 

With few televisions able to receive the UHF signal and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) denying WICC's repeated request for a VHF band, Channel 43 eventually ceased broadcasting in December 1960. A few months later, a fire severely damaged the portion of the building that housed the former WICC studios. While the Channel 43 side of the building and transmitter (the "Hi-Ho" tower) still exist, the WICC side was demolished, and nearly all historic WICC recordings and Channel 43 footage were lost.

On August 19, 2008, Morgan Kaolian dedicated an hour of WICC air time to Bob. He talked about their friendship, their time spent working together at WICC and Channel 43, and Bob's successes in radio and television. "I knew Bob as a good musician; a very, very talented man on radio; and a just a great, all-around, fun-type guy," Kaolian said. He also took calls from WICC listeners, who remembered Bob Crane as a prominent figure in Bridgeport history.

Note: The first UHF television broadcasts in the world were conducted in 1949 in Stratford, CT, a neighboring town of Bridgeport, to test the viability of UHF for television broadcasting (M. Collins, "Timeline for Connecticut Broadcasting").