Chicago Television
WBKB- Chicago's 1st Commercial Station



With the war causing a man power shortage, WBKB stayed on the air hiring women to operate camera and be engineers.  Here Arch Brolly tutors Pauline Bobrov.  After the war many of the women stayed on.The second event that changed the demographic face of television was when Eddy approached his friend, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom with an offer to develop a children's program.  It was Eddy who suggested Fran Allison who Tillstrom had worked with before.  Beulah Zachery, after whom Beulah Witch is named was the producer and Lew Gomavitz was the director.  "Kukla, Fran, & Ollie" appealed to children and adults alike.  In fact it was believed early on that its audience was primarily adults.  Now there was television programming that could appeal to the whole family.  A much better reason to fork out the big bucks for a set.  WBKB would continue to develop programming to appeal to a wider audience.  They would hire Lincoln Park Zoo director Marlin Perkins (later to star for years on "Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom") to host a show called "Zoo Parade."  Years later a similar program would appear as a segment of "Ray Rayner & Friends" on WGN-TV with Dr. Lester Fisher of the Lincoln Park Zoo.  It would all begin at WBKB.

Remote broadcasts were a first at WBKB.  Again, cameras had to be homemade.  At first during the experimental days, remotes were simply a camera out by the lakeshore aimed out toward the neighborhoods.  Later on, they would air live football games from Notre Dame in South Bend using a microwave relay system that Eddy, Kusack, and Brolly had fashioned.



A rare live screen shot of Multiscope on WBKB Channel 4News became an important part of WBKB.  Using a revolutionary bit of technology developed by the WBKB engineers, channel 4 used the Multiscope process of keeping viewers abreast of the latest news, weather, and sports by way of a on screen alpha-numeric ticker.  A fore-runner to the alpha-numeric display that WSNS-channel 44 would broadcast years later in 1970. Multiscope service was provided 24 hours by The Chicago Sun-Times and the Acme Photo Service.  For international news, WBKB employed the services of United Press International and for the correct time it looked to Western Union.


John Mitchell replaced Bill EddyBut all of this was expensive and Paramount, who had by now spent millions of dollars on WBKB (as well as its sister station in Los Angeles KTLA) was growing tired of television.  Unlike his brother John, Barney Balaban did not believe in pouring money into television.  This philosophy was made made even more clear by the stormy relationship between Paramount and The Allen B. DuMont Laboratories.  They also felt that Eddy was costing them too much money.  Eddy in fact was never a team player and cared little for the bean counters at B & K or Paramount.  Eddy was let go.


In 1949, WBKB would begin to air network programming from CBS.


In 1948,  Goldenson was giving the responsibility of splitting Paramount into two separate corporations.  He would also get to run the new one.  Two years later, United Paramount Theaters Inc. was formed.   As per the consent decree, Paramount kept KTLAWBKB went to UPT.  Goldenson had every intention to go into television.  He found his opportunity in the struggling American Broadcasting Company.  ABC, run by the eccentric Edward Noble, was finding it difficult to maintain its radio and television networks.  ABC needed money and Goldenson and United Paramount Theaters had it.  

The staff of W9XBK pose for this undated 1940s photo as Belulah Zachary is presented with her first "Beulah Aig".But a merger would not come easily and when it finally did, it was definitely not a marriage made in heaven.  Early evidence that the merger would not go smoothly was the fact that Noble agreed to sell William Paley and CBS WBKB for only six million dollars!  The merged companies would have to sell off one of their stations- ABC had WENR-TV on channel 7, and the weaker of the two.  Goldenson and UPT were outraged by Noble's audacious move.  WBKB was worth more than that.  It was showing a profit.  WENR-TV was not.  Noble's reasoning was he wanted all of ABC's stations on channel 7 and he promised Bill Paley.  When all the smoke cleared, WBKB channel 4 had become CBS owned and operated WBBM-TV.  The newly formed American Broadcasting-Paramount Theaters Inc.  dropped the WENR-TV calls on channel 7 and became WBKBWBBM-TV would soon move to channel 2 in response to the FCC's action to clean up the VHF assignment mess.  Channel 4 would be reallocated to Milwaukee Wisconsin and WTMJ-TV.  Channel 2 in Chicago, long held by Zenith and the experimental W9XZV, the city's first electronic television station (beating out W9XBK by a year) and (as KS2XBS), the station that broadcast Phonevision, the ill-fated pay television experiment in 1951,  was forced to go dark.  The station's transmitter  would later be donated to Chicago's first educational station- WTTW.    

Not many remember a station on channel 4 in Chicago.  The names Capt. Bill Eddy, Arch Brolly, Bill Kusack and the others at WBKB are well respected among their industry peers but virtually unknown to the public.  Yet we have these men to thank for being there and the pioneering efforts despite overwhelming odds. 

 copyright 2001 Steve Jajkowski all rights reserved.  Some of the photos in this story originally appeared in the 1949 Paramount Pictures promotional booklet "WBKB- Looking Ahead With Television." 





By the early 1950s, WBKB was able to boast a bevy of firsts...

1st baseball game broadcast from Wrigley Field

1st interstate telecast of boxing matches live ringside at Michigan City Indiana

1st television remote- the Shriner's parade in front of the Sheraton Hotel

1st intercity relay golf tournament from Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Niles

1st football game relayed from Dyche Stadium in Evanston

1st interstate relay from South Bend Indiana of Notre Dame football

1st full-length drama ever to be telecast in its entirety

1st telecast of the midnight Mass at Holy Name Cathedral

1st Easter Sunrise service telecast from Cook County Hospital

1st concert to be televised from the Grant Park band shell


The channels they're changin' again.  See which Chicago station is running a digital channel in Chicago Digital Television.

Minutemen is The Video Veteran nod to those familiar and beloved faces and voices of local commercials including a brief history of advertising on early Chicago television.

Take a trip back in time with a review of the choices available on Chicago television in 1950...and then fast forward ten years to the date and compare the changes in What's On?

Turn out the lights, throw a bag of corn in the RadarRange and recall the nights of watching Mad Marvin, Svengoolie (and even his son) on Chicago's Famous Horror Hosts.


Sterling 'Red' Quinlan

Don Sandburg

Jerry Rose

Ed Morris

Bob Lewandowski

Jerry G. Bishop

John Weigel