Sunday, April 13, 2008

WKBS TV Channel 48 Philadelphia

This past month, I've twice mentioned programs I saw as a young boy on Channel 48 in Philadelphia during the late 70s/early 80s. Most of you likely wouldn't see it necessary to mention the specific channel those programs aired on, but others in the area around my age would understand.

Channel 48, WKBS TV in Philadelphia, was THE TV station for Philly kids back then. Most of the cool TV shows my friends watched appeared on that very station. Sure, we watched other stations' kids shows as well (Spider-Man on Channel 17, Star Blazers on Channel 29), but the large majority of the best shows were on Channel 48.

Channel 48 first signed on the air in Philly on September 1, 1965, and was owned by Kaiser Broadcasting. In 1972, Kaiser formed a partnership with another company, Field Communications, and eventually the two companies became one under the Field banner.

The two Field brothers who controlled the company had severe disagreements about how to run the group; their falling out with each other led them to sell the company's assets. Most stations were sold off, but Channel 48 was not. They discovered that there was greater money to be made by liquidating the station's assets and taking the tax write-off. Most equipment and programming rights were sold to rival Channel 17 and the license returned to the FCC. The station went dark on August 29th, 1983. I was away on vacation when I found out about the station and was devastated; when I turned the TV on after arriving home and saw nothing but snow, I couldn't believe it.

It may seem strange to lament the end of a TV station, but I had spent nearly half my young life devoted to them. I LIVED to watch it. The station's studios were not far from my neighborhood and I passed it in my father's car several times; I actually drew a picture of the buidling and hung it on the refrigerator.

I was a weird child.

Here is a very brief promo for the station:

Here are a few audio airchecks from the station (video from the station is very rare, I'm afraid). YouTube has disabled embedding for these clips, so here are the direct links.

For more on Channel 48, read here:

And here:

Here's an example of the awesome programming the station had to offer an 8-year-old on November 15, 1982:;wap2

And of course, there's always Wikipedia:



Todd Mason said...

I was around for the Kaiser/Field WKBS, but certainly enjoyed the Kaiser station in Boston, Channel 56 WLVI (note the Roman numeral) from '69-'73 and then again, if less voraciously, after moving back to the Boston area for '76-'79. The revived independent Philadelphia/Burlington 48 of the '90s won't drive nostalgia as hard, but did pick up some of the interesting first-run syndication stuff (most notably, just before its demise, the tv series version of ONCE A THIEF with Sandrine Holt) that the other stations didn't, the kind of thing which now finds its local clearance only on WPVI's digital "news" station in the wee hours.

The Kaiser stations in the 1970s were a core market for the experimental OPERATION PRIMETIME project (THE BASTARD and other miniseries, mostly). But I dug em more for THE CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE and OUTER LIMITS repeats as a small kid...the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC repeats they stripped at 8p weekdaily in the late '70s were pretty engaging, at times, too.

As someone who lived his whole childhood around large urban markets, even in Honolulu, I never got the sense of Just Three Or If You Were Lucky Four Channels on tv in the pre-cable days. There were always the '70s, Boston had five network affiliates, including the two PBS stations (even if WBGX leaned toward local programming and such Xperimental activities as introducing this Brit kids serial DOCTOR WHO), Southern New Hampshire added another ABC and PBS, and there were three independents (including one licensed to nearby Worcester, MA) joined, around 1976 or '77, by one that was initially meant to be a Christian station but ran the impressive Time-Life syndie WILD WILD WORLD OF ANIMALS and such from the start, as well (and has been the Fox station for decades, now). Of course, there are Even More now, but you could see how I had to use imagination to envisage a one- or three-station town. I fondly remember the baseball films channel 38 WSBK would run when Red Sox games were rained out (can you guess which indy was the sports-station?).

Honolulu in 1979 had "only" five stations, but one was largely given over to subtitled Japanese programming and Anglophone films often undedited due to apathy (KIKU would've suffered under the current FCC, with its unedited THX 1138 and such), and given the mountains on all the islands, cable was a must, so the early cable stations were already available.

Todd Mason said...

Ha! That should read, "I wasn't around..."

Todd Mason said...

Two more blogs for you:

And there goes my session before I can add the third...

Todd Mason said...

Here's that third:

Phillyradiogeek said...

I'll definitely check out those blogs, as I'm always on the lookout for new ones.

I'm happy to hear your memories of your UHF viewing. I really believe TV was more fun back then with six channels than it is with 600 channels these days.

As for the Field stations, check out these sales presentation tapes Field made back in the fall of 1980. It covers all of their stations:

WKBS's Monday-Friday primtime lineup: Wonder Woman at 6pm, Sandford & Son at 7, All in the Family at 7:30, a movie from 8-10 (except Fridays, home of Jacques Cousteau and David L. Wolper), Best of Groucho at 10; Night Gallery at 10:30, and The Odd Couple at 11.

Ahh, those were the days!

TM said...

That certainly beats what the Boston station had been reduced to in 1980! Conan O'Brien, btw, was watching the musicals on 56 as a kid, inspiring his desire to learn tap-dancing.

By 1980, I was already into my second year in Hawaii...which was about to finally get a UHF station (even KIKU, in those days, was on VHF, at 13). The UHF station we got was a Christian one, and it was most fascinating for, of course, THE REAL WORLD OF TAMMY FAYE...nothing THE VIEW has ever done has been quite as surreal.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Channel 48 also had CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE on Saturday afternoons, and Sunday afternoons featured weekly presentations of Abbot & Costello movies, followed by East Side Kids films.

I confess, I have no idea what our UHF stations program outside of weeknight primetime these days.

TM said...

With the local CBS-CW duopoly, the CW station 57 runs some suprisingly good stuff in the dead of night (FRASIER and RENO 911), for those who just can't get to sleep. It's somewhat annoying trying to keep up with the syndicated drama, with DA VINCI'S INQEST/DA VINCI CITY HALL Usually running on Sunday afternoons on 57. There's surprisingly little to look at on the MyNetwork affiliate, WPHL 17 (MNT should run more FX programming, at least THE RICHES, which would lose the least in the broadcast-standards "cleanup"). The Fox station is sticking with sitcoms and infomercials in late night, and unsurprising choices in weekend fringe (the STARGATE repeats with the FARSCAPE cast members can get me to watch on a slow afternoon).

Phillyradiogeek said...

I finally did check their schedules out of curiosity, and you've hit the nail on the head. Boy, what a waste of air Channel 17 is. 29 has Seinfeld, Simpsons, and King of the Hill, and that's pretty much it for me. 57 is by far the best of the three UHFs, with solid sitcoms and the first-run dramas you mentioned, plus major local sports.

TM said...

OK, I've reminded myself that Ch. 17 in Philly is the SCRUBS repeat station.

rrunner81sg said...

Today, August 29 2008, is the 25th anniversary of the sad cancellation of WKBS Channel 48, the greatest independent station in the country. At midnight tonight, listen to Vincent Baressi's final signoff ( and Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence". Both played after the Penn State-Nebraska football game. Philadelphia television has never been the same.

Thank you Channel 48 for all the wonderful children's shows and sitcoms you have introduced me to. God Bless!


Kimbo! said...

Wow you opened a floodgate of memories for me...coming down the Passyunk Bridge and seeing that 48 on the dish...Kimba the White Lion, the Flintstones, McHales Navy....Band who could forget, 1 banana 2 banana 3 banana 4, 4 bananas make a bunch and so do many more... Bernie Herman, Marty Jacobs. Wasn't Wee Willie there for a bit?
I remember watching the last video, all the employees were waving goodbye, and it made me sad. I felt like I lost part of me family.
Thanx again for the memories!

Kimbo! said...

Wow did you open up a huge memory portal...
I remember coming down the Passyunk Bridge and seeing that huge 48 in the dish.
Afternoons of Kimba, the Banana Splits, Saturdays full of movies,
When the end came in 82, I was a junior in High school and felt like I was at a wake. I remember video of the employees waving goodbye and it hurt me, I was losing my family.
I thank you again for this post

Anonymous said...

I remember that night, Aug. 29th, 1983. I was only 2 weeks shy of entering the 4th grade. I just got finished playing "Hide and Seek" and ironically "TV Tag."

I turned on the 11 O' Clock News (Eyewitness News) on back then NBC affiliate KYW TV Channel 3. The top story was Channel 48 going off off the air. I was shock. I remember switching channels to see if it was true. DAMN IF IT WAS! There was nothing but snow.

I felt like somebody close to me in my family died. I remember not being able to sleep that night due to the demise of WKBS. I really loved that station so much that I made a vow to myself and relatives that I was going to work there when I grew up.

Had WKBS Channel 48 AND Field Communications remained around I would've worked there (even if it was for free). It was one of the best things Philadelphia had going for itself. That station and company was my passion and I thought that what I was born to do.

I took a long time for me to get over Channel 48 going dark and Field Communications dissolving. I hated Woody Woodpecker and Flintstones being on Channel 17. But then Philly 57 fulfilled the void Channel 48 left. But it just wasn't the same without Field and WKBS.

Hell, I'm still mourning them.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe it either. Of course, I only got 48 and the other Philly stations via cable (I lived in the metro NYC area back then). If that station had still been around today, it'd probably would've become what became of 17, 29, and 57, a netlet-owned station with lack of the local feel it once had. Still missing the station to this day

Mike Hatz said...

I remember them, too, and I think it's so awesome that I'm not the only one who was so profoundly affected by this awesome station (even with all the corny things Don Rose did during the after-school schedule).

I used to go back and visit my grandparents in South Jersey back then. In the summer of 83, there it was, but when I returned next summer, it was gone, but no one seemed to know why!

Because it was the kind of station it was, their fans will always remember Channel 48, and keep her memory alive!

"In Phil-a-delph-i-a, the kid's choice is...Channel 48!" (bassoon riff).

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the theme song of the Bernie Herman Show - the afternoon classica movie program in the late 60s/early 70s?

Debbie said...

am going nuts trying to remember the happy instrumental Channel 48 would play early in the morning and perhaps at the end of the day for station break. Don't know if it was by Ray Coniff??? It was a happy tune during the 60's. I wanna say "Happy traveler.... or something" but I can't for the life of me remember. Any one know???

Maryanne McGurk said...

I only came inside in the summertime to watch Channel 48. First, the Brady Bunch, and then The Monkees. As a little kid, I didn't know these shows were long gone! My goal was to see Davy Jones live (which I have gotten to do quite a few times now!). Love Wee Willie Webber between the episodes. I wish we could keep our childhood memories in a protected place where we could go back and relive them. <3

Phillyradiogeek said...

I am constantly amazed at the huge response this article gets years after I wrote it--I love it! Thanks to everyone for sharing your memories of this great TV station.

Unfortunately I don't know the songs people were asking about. I'd love to see if anyone else knows the answers.

Speedy said...

I just stumbled into this blog, and I am so grateful for the wonderful memories it has provided. I recall the really early days of Channel 48, when it had talk shows nobody remembers now, like "The Woody Woodbury Show" and "The Alan Burke Show." I can picture endless summer afternoons where there was still time to watch a bit of Bernie Hermann's afternoon movie (I think it was the one that included a dialing for dollars segment.)

For the person who asked about the happy music jingle WKBS used -- on the off-chance you ever read this -- it was called "That Happy Feeling" by Bert Kaempfert.

Does anyone remember which Philly UHF channel used to show "Of Lands and Seas" with Colonel John D. Craig or "The Lloyd Thaxton Show?" They might have been 48, but I'm not sure, and they both go back to the earliest days of UHF in Philly.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the jingle name! Two years later - here I am!!!!

Made my day - lots of memories when I hear this song.


Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks "Unknown." Nice to know that this post is still so popular this many years later :)

Mike said...

I can't thank you enough for this blog post. I was born in '68 and TV was a big part of my childhood. I grew up in Hamilton Twp, NJ right outside of Trenton, and spent A LOT of my time watching TV. If I wasn't out riding my bike, or playing with a friend or two, it was UHF, and channels 29, 48, and 17! They were like friends for heaven's sake!

Seeing this stuff brings a lot of it back. The 70's really were the best days of my life. Thanks a lot!

Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks Mike! I'm happy you enjoyed the post. Please try out some other articles I've written over the years. I hope you stick around!

Flyersrok said...

Thank you so much for this! I can remember my brother and I would watch channel 48 in black and white tv, eating a jar of peanut butter. Was this channel also the one that had Uncle Floyd?

Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks for your message Flyersrok! As for Uncle Floyd (who I also enjoyed), he appeared on Channel 23, the New Jersey public TV network.

vaughn neal said...

Can anyone tell me the name of the theme music for Bernie Hermans movie show on channel 48? It was a really cool jazz piano piece. Been trying to find it for 30 odd years with no luck.

vaughn neal said...

Please feel free to email me the answer, I would greatly appreciate it. V Neal

Anonymous said...

WKBS-TV, Burlington-Philadelphia, which aired WWF Championship Wrestling on Saturday mornings, a much more convenient time than the midnight timeslot on WOR-TV. FOX 48, UPN 48, WB 48, The CW Burlington-Philadelphia, My48...what could've been...

-DS- said...

As a kid, I loved Channel 48, mainly for Wonder Woman and Incredible Hulk, which tended to alternate (I want to say the 6 pm slot), with one running for six months, and then the other. I loved superhero shows as a kid (the campier the better), so this double-whammy was perfect. The Six Million Dollar Man and his pseudo-superheroic adventures didn't hurt any, either.

I remember that Channel 17 picked up the Incredible Hulk in syndication after Channel 48 went dark, but they never aired it regularly. The TV guides would say, without fail, that the Hulk would be airing on Channel 17 at 10 pm on Sunday night, and then my brother and I would eagerly tune in to see... a "Feed The Children" infomercial. After a while, they stopped even pretending, and just never aired it at all. After having regular 6 pm superheroes every day for a couple of years, being reduced to merely hoping one would be on once a week was a big letdown.

I missed Channel 48 for years. It's nice to see someone remembers it as fondly as I do (and for the same reasons).


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