Application was quickly made for the frequency by the Griffin Grocery Company of Muskogee through a subsidiary, the Tulsa Broadcasting Company. The Tulsa Broadcasting Company had been known to Tulsans since 1934 through its operation of radio station KTUL.
John Toole Griffin was president of both these firms, as well as of several others. His interests included the Griffin Investment Company, the Griffin Foundation, and the Western Hardware Company, all headquartered in Muskogee.2
Now that the freeze was over, the Tulsa Broadcasting Company was eager to enter the television field. Some five years earlier, KTUL radio had rejected the step as being premature, despite the urging of an employee named Helen Alvarez. Since application had already been filed by several groups for the second VHF allocation in Tulsa, Channel Two, the only "V" remaining in the area was Channel Eight in Muskogee.
Accordingly, application for VHF Channel Eight, Muskogee, was made and subsequently approved. Officials of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company, however, encountered an unscheduled procedural delay. Attorneys of the company were advised by company officials to seek a combination of letters containing the letters "TV." Unfortunately, no such combination was available. A thorough search led to the discovery that the Treasury Department had been assigned the call letters with various combinations in their Customs Bureau. It was learned that a retired ocean-going vessel, the William S. Clark, had held the signal code KTVX until January, 1947. Company officials quickly accepted the combination KTVX ending the delay in preparation.3 The combination was in keeping with the call letters of the company's other two stations KATV in Arkansas and KWTV in Oklahoma City.
John Esau, who at that time was manager of radio station KTUL in Tulsa, did much of the preparation for the television facility.4 The television studios of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company were located in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Actually one studio was all that was utilized, this being a 45- by 48-foot facility in a former grocery store. The transmitter was erected atop Concharty Mountain in Stone Bluff, Oklahoma which is situated midway between Tulsa and Muskogee. Actually, the tower was two miles closer to Tulsa than to Muskogee.5
Ownership of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company and station KTVX was divided in the following manner: John Toole Griffin held a majority of 56.5 per cent; his daughter Marjory Griffin Leake was issued 39.45 per cent; James C. Leake, 3.61 per cent; and Bryan Cole and Bryan Mathes, token shares.6
Operation of the station was designated to L. A. (Bud) Blust, Jr. (who is leaning out the window of a station wagon in the linked picture by Loe Gillette of the Tulsa Tribune at a 1954 downtown Tulsa parade, courtesy of Bud Blust...webmaster), who managed the station until August of 1956. Management of the sales department was given to William Swanson. KTVX signed on the air on September 18, 1954.7
The first program aired by the Muskogee television station was designed to insure the greatest possible audience. In scheduling Bud Wilkinson's top-ranked Oklahoma Sooner's first contest of the 1954 football season, this aim was achieved.
A well-publicized promotional campaign stressed the fact that a converter was not needed and that network affiliations would be with the American Broadcasting Company.
Even while the station was readying itself for its first broadcast from the Muskogee studios, plans for expanded facilities to include Tulsa were being made. Negotiations between officials of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company and Elfred Beck, owner-operator of UHF station KCEB, had begun. These talks centered around the purchase of Beck's television facility atop Lookout Mountain southwest of Tulsa; Beck had encountered a series of set-backs in the operation of his UHF venture and was desirous of ceasing the costly operation.8 As the talks continued, it appeared obvious that NBC would affiliate with KVOO-TV on VHF Channel Two, and cancel its contract with KCEB.
When it was announced that Beck's remaining network contract with DuMont was about to cease because of the failure of the DuMont Network, Beck accepted the terms of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company.9 Subsequently, KTUL Radio moved from offices at Boulder-on-the-Park to occupy the more spacious quarters on Lookout Mountain.10
Because of the affiliation with ABC, and owing to the unique arrangement of having sister stations nearby, KTVX planned a heavy program schedule. While an average of eight hours of programming was considered adequate at that time, the three stations in the Griffin-Leake television family were scheduling almost 12 hours of programming daily.11
By the fall of 1954, the Griffin-Leake organizations either owned outright or controlled a total of six broadcast outlets in the Oklahoma-Arkansas region. In addition to KTUL Radio in Tulsa, the company held interest in television station KWTV in Oklahoma City and KATV in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Radio interests included KOMA in Oklahoma City and Station KFPW in Fort Smith, Arkansas.12
Although KTVX was owned by the Griffin Grocery interests, the first sponsor to purchase airtime was not a member of the Griffin family. First advertiser was the R. C. Cola Company. Another firm that came to Channel Eight then was Clarkes Good Clothes or Tulsa. To this day both of these firms remain as clients of the ABC affiliate.13
Station Manager L. A. (Bud) Blust, Jr. arranged for part of the station's operating equipment to be moved to Tulsa as an "auxiliary" studio early in 1955. This move had been protested earlier by the existing television stations in Tulsa as an overt attempt to capture a larger market. Subsequent arguments in hearings in the fall of 1954 failed to substantiate this claim. The FCC, after hearing the testimony, voted to approve the KTVX request.14
As mentioned earlier, radio station KTUL had occupied the former site of KCEB since April of 1955. The majority of advertisers on Channel Eight were located in Tulsa, and the signal of KTVX was as strong as those of the other VHF stations in Tulsa. On the evening of November 1, 1955, the studio lights were turned on for the first time in almost a year.15 The "Lewis Meyer Bookshelf" was telecast live from Lookout Mountain that night, and Tulsa once again could boast three television stations.16
During the period of experimentation at the auxiliary studio in Tulsa, KTVX found itself with a new manager. Replacing Bud Blust in August of 1956 was a Dallas television executive named Michael (Mike) Shapiro. Early in 1957 Shapiro requested permission from the FCC to transfer the entire KTVX operation from Muskogee to Tulsa. This request was immediately protested by KOTV and KVOO-TV as an infrinement upon their market area.17
Throughout the spring and summer of 1957 the FCC considered the KTVX proposal, as well as resultant arguments by the protestants. In addition to the proposed move, Shapiro also requested that the name of the station be changed to KTUL. Finally, on September 12, 1957, the FCC gave its approval to both requests. From that date Channel Eight has been located solely in Tulsa and has been named KTUL-TV.18
Shortly after the move to Tulsa, there was a change in the leadership of Channel Eight. Former National Sales Manager William Swanson was named general manager in November, 1957. He succeeded Shapiro, who became managing director of the Tulsa Broadcasting Company.19
While the station has remained under the control of the original owners, the name of the company has undergone several changes. In January, 1964, the Griffin interests acquired all remaining stock in Oklahoma City station KWTV. Under terms of the contract, KTUL became a part of KATV, Inc. This arrangement continued until early in 1965 when the name of the company was changed to Griffin-Leake TV, Inc. General Manager William F. Swanson was made a vice president of the corporation. A redistribution of stock at that time left John Toole Griffin holding 55.81 per cent of the stock; James Leake, 16.01 per cent and Marjory Griffin Leake, 28.09 per cent. The remainder was held by other Griffin holding companies in Muskogee.20
In the spring of 1965, KTUL announced that it would construct a new transmitting tower. The tower, located two miles east of Coweta, became the second tallest in the nation when it was completed. Manager Swanson said that the 1909-foot tower would enable the station to carry the color programs of the ABC network. In addition, Swanson recalls that the tower provided a clearer and stronger picture to 33 additional communities in the four-state viewing area.21
The first Channel Eight colorcast was transmitted July 24, 1965 from the new tower. This was a program provided by the ABC network. KTUL has averaged some 15 per cent local programming for several years. The necessary equipment to broadcast these local programs in color was finally acquired early in 1967. On February 21, 1967, KTUL originated its first local program in color.
Station Manager William Swanson notes that while he has seen the station increase in its number of personnel from 51 in 1954 to the present 81, the basic aim of KTUL has remained the same---to fulfill the needs of the greatest number of people, while maintaining an interest in the many minority groups that comprise a television community. In line with this aim, KTUL has produced several documentaries highlighting minority causes. One of these productions, "The Five Civilized Tribes," has won two major awards for the station.22 KTUL has also worked closely with the University of Tulsa in the training of future television personnel. For the past decade television production and news writing classes from TU have utilized the facilities of KTUL,23 producing a weekly series, "Galaxy!" each spring. Many graduates of these classes have gone on to careers in the television industry.
2 Daily Oklahoman, June 7, 1959.
3 Tulsa World, April 14, 1954
4 Interview with Barbara Roberts, promotion director, KTUL, February 28, 1967.
5 Tulsa World, April 14, 1954.
6 Broadcasting Magazine, op. cit., December 13, 1954.
7 Interview with William Swanson, op. cit.
8 See P. 32 in the KCEB Chapter.
9 Interview with Elfred Beck of KCEB, March 5, 1967.
10 Tulsa World, October 26, 1955.
11 Interview with Barbara Roberts, op. cit.
12 Broadcasting Yearbook, op. cit., 1955.
13 Interview with Swanson, op. cit.
14 FCC Hearings Transcript, copy of which is owned by Elfred Beck.
15 Tulsa World, October 26, 1955.
16 Interview with Lewis Meyer, April 24, 1967. (Six months later Lewis Meyer moved to KOTV where he has been seen regularly ever since.)
17 Daily Oklahoman, June 7, 1959.
18 Broadcasting Magazine, op. cit., September 17, 1957.
19 Tulsa World, November 28, 1957.
20 Tulsa Tribune, January 4, 1965.
21 Tulsa World, July 9, 1965.
22 KTUL has received the Edward R. Murrow award and the Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Foundation for the best television documentary of 1966.
23 Interview with Edward S. Dumit, op. cit., April 24, 1967. Robert Norris, aide to Swanson, offered KTUL facilities to Dumit and Ed Johnson, head of the TU Journalism Department, in 1957.