Leland Hubbell Interview
Its life was short, but its presence changed the lives of hundreds of high school students, looking toward a career in broadcasting.
WGSF-TV signed on in March of 1963. It was in a tiny building on Horn's Hill, and was owned by the Newark City Schools. The station went off the air in 1976.
At first the educational tv station fed shows by re-broadcast from WOSU-TV in Columbus. The WOSU signal was weak in the Newark area.
WGSF was created as an idea from then school superintendent Thomas Southard. His plan was to place tv sets in Newark schools and supplement the education process by way of a black and white tv screen.
Southard got the ear of Newark inventor Games Slayter. Slayter held several patents, and was considered by many, to be the father of fiberglass. In turn, Owens Corning Fiberglas. Slayter gave Newark Schools about $35,000 to get WGSF on the air. The call letters, GSF are named for Games Slayter Family. All tv and radio stations east of the Mississippi River begin with W. West of the Missy, start with K. One exception KYW in Pennsylvania.
Few in Newark knew WGSF existed during the early years. It was on UHF channel 28, and older tv's didn't have UHF capabilities. Some people today confuse it with WSFJ, a christian oriented station in Central Ohio.
It was, and still may be the only television station, on earth to be operated by a public school system. Today the Public Broadcast System is generally fueled by funds from citizens and the federal government. Early on, Newark Schools hired an engineer from WBNS TV in Columbus. His name is Leland Hubbell. He is a farmer who still lives near Johnstown.
WGSF was unique in many ways. For several years, there were no tv cameras. In about 1965 or 1966 WGSF borrowed two very used cameras from WCET in Cincinnati. They barely worked, and had to be returned. During that short time Newark High School students were able to put on a production of the play "Little Women" because of the efforts of teachers Robert Debenedictis, Helen Brown, and several others.
The show was pulled off in a studio, not much larger that an average living room. No air-conditioning. The studio lights were donated by WLW-T in Cincinnati and were 1948 era. Very hot klieg lights and small spotlights. In costume, the temperature in the studio was, 110-degrees plus. It was aired, live, no video tape then, just before graduation in June.
WCET wanted their cameras back. WGSF was again re-broadcasting from WOSU, with favorites like The French Chef, with Julia Child; and Wall Street Week with Louis Rukyser. Nothing local except the station breaks, and they were on audio tape.
Then the history of WGSF gets a little fuzzy along about 1966 and 1967. A reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer found out about the demise of WGSF, in a federal report about educational tv development, and wrote an article in the paper, reporting on how Leland Hubbell kept WGSF on the air with one other engineer and a secretary who typed the daily log. Hubbell claims to have used bubble gum and bailing wire too. A tv station with no tv cameras, again! The newspaper reporter in Cleveland contacted WJW TV, also in Cleveland. WJW found some old cameras, cables, and other equipment, offering to give, not loan, to WGSF. Hubbell brought two of the cameras back to life within a few days. During the "Cameraless" days, second time around, WGSF was able to acquire a 16mm projector to show educational films. There was also a Kodak Carousel Slide Projector that was used during station breaks.The National Anthem was played from an old turntable (donated by WCLT) at sign-on and sign-off. To this day, I don't know how it worked.
Hubbell developed a plan to start teaching high school students in tv operations and productions. Several live shows were produced by students, teachers and volunteers. Shows such as Wildcat Den, hosted by Jimmy Allen, Newark Athletic Director. Jimmy Allen had a blood-type called TV. He was Newark's version of Jimmy Crum of then WLW-C, channel 4 in Columbus. Jimmy Allen still lives in the New Concord area. Jimmy Crum died earlier this year. There was a producer, director, soundman (or woman), floor director, and cameramen. The lights were not turned on till the very last moment, because of the intense heat, even in the winter.
Productions grew, more and more people were getting involved, volunteering. Driving up and down Horn's Hill in the winter was a real challenge too. WGSF was on a roll in the late 60's, but money, to keep it going, was hard to come by. The equipment was on life-support for years. At one time, school board members, donated their pay, back to the school system, earmarked for WGSF.
Hubbell was able to secure funding from a Licking County Foundation donor to buy a mobile tv unit. One problem: It was is in Salt Lake City. Hubbell, who along with his wife Dorothy, seldom, if ever walked away from an insurmountable challenge, had the answer. They flew to Salt Lake, drove it back over the Rocky Mountains to the "Hill" in Newark. The truck, cameras and equipment were vintage 1948 as well. The remote truck made it up and down Horn's Hill dozens, perhaps, hundreds of times. WGSF was doing live shows from festivals, parades, elections and even the Hartford Fair.
But as the1970's came on, it was apparent a miracle would be needed to keep "the show on the road" so to speak.
New equipment was very expensive. The Newark School system was having trouble funding WGSF. By about 1974-75, all of us knew that someday, sooner, rather than later the plug would be pulled. Cable TV was just around the corner.
WGSF would leave us one last time in June 1976, with a pleasant good evening, and our National Anthem.
(County Commissioner) Tim Bubb and I were invited to do the "Final Show". It was sad. The little tv station in "Nerk". It was the stepping stone, during high school, launching broadcast careers for many, including jobs in the big cities.
Cable tv came to town when WGSF was taking down the tents. A TV center was established by Hubbell at Newark High School. Cable gave Newark local channel 20, for the community at very little cost to the school system. Today it is on Time-Warner, channel 19 in Newark.
WGSF is history..... But the show will go on.
And a final note: Leland Hubbell recently underwent heart by-pass surgery. One by-pass and a "pig" aorta valve. He had his surgery the day after former First Lady Barbara Bush had nearly identical surgery in Texas. Leland, you're in a class of special membership now. Have a speedy recovery!
Leland and Dorothy would love to hear from all former WGSF'ers.
I hope each of you reading this have some great memories too.
As the late Bob Hope would say, "Thanks for the Memories".
This report is a Copyright 2009 by WCLT Radio, Incorporated, Newark, Ohio, and William T. Clifford, News Operations Manager, WCLT Radio, Incorporated, Newark, Ohio. William T. Clifford is responsible for all content in this report.