Not Much Choice on the Television Landscape in 1953

Today’s TV viewers remotely turn on their wide-screen surround-sound flat-screen high-definition color television sets to an endless array of local, cable and satellite channels, offering a multiplicity of programming for round-the-clock viewing.

A look-back to Tuesday, July 7, 1953 would find a vastly different scenario – viewers sitting in a darkened room in front of their small screen black-and-white TVs watching a diminutive choice of programs from WBTV, Channel 3, Charlotte, NC. 

Young’s Supply Company sponsored the following WBTV program guide in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle for that summer day: 8:30 Test Pattern, 8:45 Morning News, 9:00 Arthur Godfrey, 10:00 Guiding Light, 10:15 Feminine Touch, 10:30 Strike It Rich, 11:00 Bride & Groom, 11:15 Love of Life, 11:30 Search for Tomorrow, 11:45 Carolina Cookery, 12:30 Garry Moore, 1:00 Freedom Rings, 1:30 Art Linkletter, 2:00 Arthur Godfrey – Talent Scouts, 2:30 Welcome Travelers, 3:00 Betty Freezor, 3:30 Ladies Choice, 4:00 Documentary Theatre, 4:30 Howdy Doody, 5:00 Cartoon Carnival, 5:15 Story Painter, 5:30 Gene Autry, 6:00 Betty Furness, 6:30 Esso Reporter, 6:45 Weatherman, 6:50 Vespers, 7:00 Cavalcade of America, 7:30 I Am the Law, 8:00 Mr. & Mrs. North, 8:30 Arthur Smith, 9:00 Danger, 9:30 The Unexpected, 10:00 (To be announced), 10:15 News & Sports, 10:30 Big Town, 11:00 Robert Montgomery and 12:00 Sign Off.

Daily programming began with a 15-minute continuous “test pattern” that allowed tube watchers to adjust the picture quality on their receivers. Clyde “Cloudy” McLean followed with his weekday five-minute weather broadcast, giving the basics of the local Charlotte climate. Arthur Godfrey, a carryover from radio and known for his dry wit, laid-back mannerisms and folksy personality, had two shows Monday through Friday. An hour-long variety show, “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends,” was shown at 9:00 am followed by a 30-minute variety show, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” at 2:00 pm.

Couples actually exchanged wedding vows and received prizes on “Bride and Groom,” hosted by Bob Paige and Frank Parker.  Two long-running soap operas, “Love of Life, and Search for Tomorrow” followed that program. “Big Town,” a carryover from radio, depicted a crusading tough-as-nails newspaper editor and his never-ending battle against the perpetrators of crime. The Betty Freezor Show, featuring food recipes by the hostess, was the first TV program to be videotaped in color and shown just two hours after it was recorded, greatly reducing delays in broadcasting.

Warren Hull’s popular “Strike It Rich” program rewarded contestants for their over-the-air tales of personal woe and sacrifice. Sympathetic viewers could make contributions via the show’s philanthropic “heart line.” Art Linkletter’s “House Party” became an overnight success after the likeable host featured guests, games and interviews, including one segment devoted to small children. Art later compiled the youngsters’ witty unpredictable sayings in a best selling book, Kids Say The Darndest Things. Without question, my three favorite offerings from that era were Arthur Smith, Howdy Doody and Gene Autry.

WJHL-TV joined the airwaves in the fall of 1953, ushering in vast improvements in reception quality and introducing a new fangled gadget known as “rabbit ears.” TV was steadily making its climb up the ladder of progress.