Action News 5 celebrates 65 years in the Mid-South - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Action News 5 celebrates 65 years in the Mid-South

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It was 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 1948, when WMC-TV5's first general manager, Henry Slavick, welcomed our audience. It was 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 1948, when WMC-TV5's first general manager, Henry Slavick, welcomed our audience.
The TV pioneers at WMC had to create all their own local programs live on the air. The TV pioneers at WMC had to create all their own local programs live on the air.
WMC was the first local station to present a broadcast live via satellite. WMC was the first local station to present a broadcast live via satellite.
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - The WMC-TV5 journey began 65 years ago at the site where you can now find First Tennessee Bank on Madison Avenue and Third Street. It is the former site of an elegant building called the Goodwyn Institute, which is also the first home of WMC-TV.

In the 1960s, when just about everybody had a TV, a snappy station identification with a boat whistle aired, kicking off each newscast. But the call letters WMCT began to glow from screens when the entire Mid-South only had an estimated 1,400 TV sets.

It was 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 1948, when WMC-TV5's first general manager, Henry Slavick, welcomed our audience.

"I had to make a speech and introduce these people. I was shaking like a leaf of course," he said.

For the next 4.5 hours, Tennessee's first TV station presented Jack Pennington and his Juniper Junction Varieties Gang, a game of charades between coeds from Rhodes College and Memphis State, Slim Rhodes and his Mountaineers, a cooking demonstration, and a full length movie, "The Black Doll".

The old Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, which now carries I-55 across the Mississippi, had not been completed yet when WMCT made its debut.

Click here to take a look back through photos.

It would be a full five years before another Memphis TV station would hit the air.

The TV pioneers at WMC had to create all their own local programs live on the air.

A piano player named Berl Olswanger hosted a show each afternoon with his friends. They called it "The Olswingers".

More cooking demonstrations were aired on "The Homemakers" program and studio audiences cheered "The Channel Five Club" with Bob Smith. Handy Theatre was said to be the first all black TV show in America.

And even 65 years ago, live wrestling from Ellis Auditorium was one of the station's most popular programs. Channel 5 could do that from the start because the station had the only remote TV truck in the south.

Each evening at dinnertime, "Evening Serenade" would air as the station's own six piece string ensemble played live.

"Each evening, five times a week, 6 p.m. to 6:30, unsponsored, a string music "Evening Serenade" by which people could eat their dinner peacefully," said Slavick. "I was very proud of that show. It was very costly."

WMCT became an affiliate with NBC, but in the early years, being the only station in the Mid-South, we aired programs from all of the networks: NBC, ABC, CBS and the now defunct DuMont Television Network.

WMCT presented news, anchored for years by Dick Hawley, who also presented weather reports and commercials.

"We did live commercials, weather shows, I even did some wrestling shows way back in the old days," said Hawley.

Standard Oil selected Hawley to be "Your Esso Reporter" and the news was gathered by our forerunners who shot, developed, spliced and presented film reports on train derailments, city commission meetings, and even perhaps the only surviving sound pictures with E-H "Boss" Crump interviewed by a young Trent Wood.

WMCT moved to 1960 Union in 1958 and became the first Memphis station to broadcast in color. It was home to a memorable Children's Show called "Looney Zoo" with Trent Wood and "Tiny the Clown", played by Rhodes College Professor Ray Hill.

"I did the puppets, too," said Ray Hill. "There was Ima Emu, Puppy Dog, Poindexter, and Rasputin, and Ex-Murgatroid Mouse."

In the 1960s, WMCT was first to welcome African-Americans to share views on a regular public affairs program called "The 40 Percent Speak".

"We are 12 percent of America, 40 percent of Memphis, and we have something to say," said Ben Hooks.

Airing that program prompted opponents of the Civil Rights Movement to call in bomb threats to WMCT on a regular basis.

Yet, our station persevered broadcasting the program and covering the Civil Rights Movement.

Our camera recorded the speech now enshrined in American history: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the eve of his assassination.

Many adults now in their 50s and 60s recall visiting WMC to be in the audience for "Magicland".

Host Dick Williams holds the Guinness Book of World Records mark for longest running magic show in American television history.

August 16, 1977, Action News 5 broke the story that stunned the world: Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, was found dead at Graceland mansion.

"Elvis was pronounced dead at Baptist Memorial Hospital this afternoon," reported Mason Granger.

WMC covered Elvis' funeral live, even as journalists the world over beat a path to our door. But WMC did not even have a door. Crews were relocated to a trailer in the parking lot after the station caught fire in June 1977. The fire was sparked by newspapers left on top of radio scanners.

Rebuilt, WMC was the first local station to present a broadcast live via satellite.

Action News 5 was also the first to give you an eye in the sky, presenting news live from our own news chopper. An investment was also made in a satellite truck that can go live on location anywhere news breaks in the Mid-South or beyond.

WMC-TV5 embraced the digital era as first local TV station with a website, WMCTV.COM, as well as its cousins, the news and weather apps you can access from your smartphone or tablet.

Action News 5 was even the first local station to have its own Facebook page, and the first to zoom to 100,000 "likes" from viewers we have grown to love for 6.5 decades now.

The television pioneers who founded WMC-TV5 would be stunned by the advance of technology.

Copyright 2013 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

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