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Postwar American Television

KSD's 70th Anniversary

These photos and text are from KSDK TV's website

When KSD-TV went on the air Feb. 8, 1947, it was the culmination of a dream long-held by the general manager of KSD Radio, George Burbach. It was a vision that Burbach held as far back as 1936. While World War II may have interrupted his plans, it didn’t diminish them.

KSD Radio was owned by the Pulitzer Publishing Co., owners of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Joseph Pulitzer Jr. shared Burbach’s vision of adding a television station to the Pulitzer family’s media holdings. It may be hard to conceive in this day and age, but a television station in 1947 was like any startup company in today’s economy; it had a vision that became an innovation with a blank canvas, some failure, and lots of experimentation.

The first day on the air was more like “first hours.” In a studio set up inside the Post-Dispatch building on Olive Street, KSDK broadcast for roughly two-and-a-half hours beginning at 2 p.m. The first-ever local telecast in St. Louis consisted of an introductory overview by Frank Eschen, a ballroom dancing segment, a dramatic presentation of “The Game of Chess,” and a sports show hosted by Cardinals broadcasters Harry Caray and Gabby Street. A young Cardinals catcher who grew up on The Hill, Joe Garagiola, was interviewed by J. Roy Stockton, sports editor of the Post.

Among the early challenges was simply keeping a broadcast schedule. We take 24/7 programming for granted now, but that wasn’t the case in 1947. Expecting your favorite show to begin promptly at the designated time is an expectation in the 21st century, but that wasn’t the case either. KSD’s first program director, Russ Severin, once explained that the newspaper’s pressmen set the lights for the studio; if there was a press run next door, the pressmen had to tend to the latest edition coming out, which would delay the start of the broadcast. Of course, the thunderous whirring noises coming from the pressroom would be a distraction for a show as well.