by John Hamill (and others)
To go back to the beginning - it was in a strip center office building on South Harvard in October of 1980 (Arlen Franklin's accounting office to be exact; it is now a strip shopping center.)
I was General Manager Ray Beindorf's third hire. Rilla Askew, who would shortly leave for New York City to become an actress (she ended up a novelist of some repute) and Glenda Silvey (then most recently of KXXO, 1300 AM talk radio) preceded me.
I had gotten wind of the plans for the new television station from Larry Silvey, an old friend from my Channel 8 days and his Tulsa Magazine tenure. I was with Schnake & Associates and met Beindorf to pitch the account. Within several days, he was pitching me to join his operation as assistant general manager. Glenda and I then embarked on two months of grand and glorious expense account lunches as our main job at that time was to recruit people for Beindorf's "41 LIVE!" idea.
I could go on and on, but we ended up with the staff as has been noted elsewhere on this site. Notables who turned us down included Richard Dowdell, Stan Hopkins (who we flew in from Boston), Mel Young and, as sales manager, Joe Henderson.
The work began when Beindorf found the old Lerner Shop on the Mall and that became the site of his "storefront television" idea.
Originally we were, like KAUT in Oklahoma City, to be all news, all local, all the time. We soon discovered that the capital needed to accomplish that wasn't forthcoming. So we decided to go with cheap syndicated or barter programming and cheap movies in the morning, Erling on the Mall at noon to 2:00 (repeated in its entirety from 2:00 to 4:00) then live at 4:00 with Beth Rengel and John Hudson as anchors until we switched over to IT (In-home Theatre) at 7:00.
Mark O'Connell was hired away from KRAV to be news director and his wife, Gloria, formerly of KOTV, was news writer. Glenda was to do a television version of her KXXO "Tulsa Kitchen" during the Erling hours.
We had as guest editors Bob Warshaw-stocks, Pat Cremin-legal, David L. Jones-movies, Ellis Widner-entertainment, and a handful of others.
Ricky Newkirk produced the Erling strip and her husband, Court, was the unpaid (!) sports director/anchor. Dave Jones was chief engineer and weatherman. Our two field photographers were Paul Staat and Ken Ostmo.
Our reporting staff for three hours of news each day consisted of Chris Van Dyke (half dead from pulling his morning drive shift, "Long Live Rock Brigade" on KMOD) and Karen Keith, who had been spirited away from Channel 8 by KAUT and we spirited her back to Tulsa.
George Stewart, who honorably resigned as Channel 8 news director over the manner in which Beth Rengel's naughty utterance was handled, was our three-hour news block producer.
Engineers included Dave Ostmo (Ken's brother) and Sonny Hollingshead. John Campbell, as I recall, was somewhere in that engineering mix. LeAnne Taylor was to come on later as an intern from ORU. Jim Reid was the stalwart second director...the first fellow, Keith, whose last name I cannot recall, did not adapt to the frenetic pace.
And, yes! We were Channel 8 heavy. At that time, the best people in the business worked at Channel 8. As a former Channel 8 news reporter, I knew the people there best and knew that under Bob Gregory they were the best trained news people in Tulsa.
From the start we were star-crossed as our projected launch date was delayed several times. We finally had confidence in a mid-March date and secured the cover of TV World (supposedly a coup for the station).
I ended up promotions director, non-news program director, personnel director, assistant news director and anything else Beindorf tossed my way. Glenda was, likewise, blessed with a plethora of duties beyond what she signed on for, and we were off--horribly.
Those who tuned in on that Wednesday launch day (March 18, 1981) saw an over-exposed (about three times the lighting needed) set with sound like we were broadcasting from a barn. We were not ready for prime, noon, early access or any time players. But...we were off.
I remember it so well...we were supposed to be a go on Monday, so much so, we agreed to speak at the Wednesday downtown Rotary Club meeting about our successful launch.
Soon Beindorf and O'Connell clashed over various issues and Mark was let go. Gloria, his wife, stayed. And after George Stewart clearly indicated he was not interested in being news director, Beindorf tapped me. As a result, we went into sweeps month with my non-news programming primed and me "in charge" of the 41 LIVE! portion as well (if anyone could have said to be in charge of that operation.)
We needed numbers...needed them badly, since we were undercapitalized and had a sales staff used to selling rating points, not promises. Several advertisers reported that we successfully drew customers to their operations, but our sales staff seemed to only understand rating points. When we bombed in the book, Ray and the people backing him pulled the plug.
(There's oh so much to tell, but this summary gets the basic facts on paper.)
It was, indeed, a Wednesday when Ray told Glenda and me of his plans to pull the plug on the coming Friday. We said that if it was to be over, it should be over now because no one could keep that kind of secret. So it was after the anchors had been told that we had a staff meeting and some 20 to 25 brave pioneers in the world of live, local news television were given their pink slips.
(p.s., OH! I don't believe it is noted anywhere that KGCT stood for Green Country Television.)
-- John Hamill
As a high school senior I had to spend a month as an unpaid intern at a local business. About that time (spring of 1981), 41 went on the air, and they were happy to have a few volunteers to help out at the station, which got me an internship with a minimum of effort. 41's studios were on the Main Mall, just northeast of Bartlett Square.
The on-air talent was an amazing collection of refugees from other Tulsa stations: Beth Rengel ended up there; Gloria Strickland...John Hudson and Karen Keith, who had been at KTEW. John Erling had a show which he did out on the Main Mall (never could figure out who the target audience was for that program -- housewives who wanted to see what their husbands were up to?) David L. Jones (of the Tribune) did movie reviews, while David W. Jones (no relation) was the weatherman. Beth Rengel and John Hudson had the evening newscast.
The weathermaps were set up like window sashes -- with ropes, pulleys, and sandbags for counterbalances, manually operated. Once just before air, a rope snapped and the wooden map board and sandbags came crashing down, just missing David W. Jones, who let fly with a stream of expletives about this cheap station.
Unfortunately for the interns, the station was still getting its act together, and we were given extremely trivial tasks to complete, while classmates interning at other stations were editing film and writing copy. Not that we had any complaints: The place must have seemed like TV purgatory to the staff and talent. (Not TV hell -- at least they were getting paid.)
I did get to go on a couple of stories with Karen Keith (left), who was and is a lovely person.
Don't recall how long the news format lasted, but it had to have been a handicap to be going off the air at 7 pm just as primetime began. The pay TV broadcasts continued at least into the mid-80s.
I read with interest the article and comments on KGCT by John Hamill and others...what a strange time in Tulsa TV. I was probably the only combo Chief Engineer/weatherman in the country (and at the time I wasn't very good at either one!)
I had almost forgotten about the weather map falling and scaring me out of my wits...but the show went on.
I had been at KTUL "Eight's-the-Place" as an announcer and met up with most of the folks that eventually put the station on the air.
It was fun but certainly ahead of its time. Now there are local 24 hr news stations at most every major cable operation in the country.
(Right: Dave Jones at KAKC, 8/21/1968)
In addition to doing mornings at KMOD AM & FM during years of 1979 -1981 (I think)- I also moonlighted at the ill-fated KGCT as a reporter. (See the picture at left)
I was the director of the short-lived KGCT Channel 41 newscasts live from the old Lerner's Clothing Store on the main mall.
They went on the air in April '81 and decided they needed another director. There were quite a few KTUL alums there, so my name was brought up. I was still working at 8 but in need of a change. Glenda Silvey, who I known through a movie trivia radio show I had done, called me and offered me the job. I took it, and even though it only lasted three months, I had a great time.
I worked with a lot of old friends and made some new ones. I got to work with one of my favorite people, Karen Keith, for about the fourth time.
John Hudson and I had crossed paths before, but I really got to know him here and he was one of the best I've known. I was very shocked and saddened to hear of his death a few years ago.
He used to brag that no one has ever been able to break him up on the air. Well, one day at 41, we were going to have an interview with some woman about something I've forgotten. When she walked into the studio, she had to weigh 300 lbs easy. They put her in a chair between John and Beth Rengel. Just before we came out of the commercial, I got on John's IFB and said "coming out to a four-shot". It wasn't the nicest thing to say, and I didn't have room to talk, but it caught John at the right time. I looked over to see him unplug his IFB and he didn't say a word throughout the entire interview. He came after me after that and said "man, you got me on that one!".
I left Channel 8 in 1981 to help Dave Jones and others kick off KGCT Channel 41, Tulsa's all-news television station with subscription TV at night. The news portion lasted for one book. One Wednesday afternoon co-owner Ray Beindorf called the news staff together and let them all go. My favorite from that group was the late John Hudson; a truly fine man!
Six months and lots of syndicated shows later, the owners leased the daytime portion of the station to a religious group (Praise the Lord during the day, scrambled sex movies at night!) and I returned to Channel 8's Engineering group.
I remember when Channel 41 went on the air along with their "all-news" programs. Every evening around 7:00 it turned into "IT" subscription TV. It really didn't last that long, though. Also in late 1986 or early '87, Channel 41, then known as KGCT, was slated to be Tulsa's Fox network, but the night it was to change to Fox, it never did. I think the reason was 41 at that time wasn't on Tulsa cable. Then a few months later an ice storm knocked down a tower that Channels 41 and 8 were using (I think) along with a few radio stations. KTUL wasn't off for that long, but it took 41 a few years to come back around '92 or '93, I believe.
I remember back in the early 80's when KGCT Ch.41 (Now UPN KTFO) used to sign off around 6 or 7 in the evening and air pay-per-view programming. The station would still be on the air, but when they would the pay-per-view programming the picture would be scrambled. I believe KDFI Ch.27 here in Dallas did the same thing back in the 80's.
(from Guestbook 72) Jim Reid said:
I worked at Channel 41 when they became a pay service after 7 pm. We had a live newscast from noon to 7pm.
The studios were on the main mall in the old Lerner clothing store. It was actually a fun experience for the three months it lasted.
I was the director, our anchors were John Hudson, Beth Rengel, and John Erling.
Karen Keith was a reporter there and holds the distinction of being the only person who worked for both KGCT in Tulsa and KAUT in OKC. LeAnne Taylor worked there as an engineer.
I remember less of Channel 41's programming; I think it took them longer to catch on. My most enduring memory of those two stations is the unbearably bright blue strobes they initially used on their two transmitter towers, located between Broken Arrow and Coweta (near my former home). The out-of-synch flashes they put off looked like constant lightning in the sky. After a barrage of complaints from the locals, they toned them down.
Looking at the Sherman Oaks clip reminded me of some details about Channel 41.
We went on-air with a used film/slide chain that we could never get to look right. The colors were all over the spectrum. We migrated to projecting the 16 millimeter films on a wall (I think) and shooting the wall with a camera connected to a 3/4" tape recorder.
We played all shows on 3/4" except for Richard Simmons. For that we had an old RCA TR-70 with no TEP Editor.
All of the films were public domain. We continued to use the film chain for slides, which we also put on 3/4" tape for playback.
The slide shown on the page was definitely from the early 80s. We used the same artwork for everything. The character generator was a Quanta Font. It had two fonts. I think the one shown on the Sherman Oaks clip was "Bold". Original name for a font! The other one was "Helvetica".
Character Generator storage was only a few pages. I don't believe it had a disk drive. Doing CG for news, even in scaled-down fashion, was a challenge.
From late '81 through part of '82 we taped a weekly program for young people from Ziegfield's near 71st and Sheridan, hosted by Steve Cassidy of FM-96 KRAV. During one week in late '81 we aired a full week of the KRAV morning show with Johnny Rivers live from the Mansion House at 16th & Carson.