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WIIC Channel 11 - 6:30 News Roundup With Len Johnson (1962)

Exactly 50 years ago today (at 6:30pm)!

Here's an incredible find - usually anything this old, if I am lucky to find it, is on a 16mm kinescope (remember, in 1962 Quad tape itself was only 6 years old). And even though it's from a Pittsburgh station, it has a very strong Chicago connection, as it is anchored by Len Johnson, whose voice (if not face) will no doubt be very recognizable to people who watched WGN in the 60s, 70s, and very early 80s. He was one of the ubiquitous staff announcers that did everything from local movie show openings, to kids cartoon bumpers, to editorial bumpers. Len was also heard for many years on WGN Radio - you can read more about his history here.

Tremendous thanks to Kevin McCarthy, who was a longtime friend of Len's, and who inherited some tapes of his after Len passed away - including this rare broadcast segment. He contacted us and we helped get the tapes transferred to DVD for the first time. One of them was completely unlabeled - even Len did not remember what was on it. Well, let's just say for now that it's of even more interest to Chicago TV viewers than this one is - and you will be seeing it here soon! :-)

Here's the local segment of the 6:30 News Roundup on WIIC (now WPXI) Channel 11 in Pittsburgh, PA - then as now, an NBC affiliate. The anchor was Len Johnson, who would go on to a long career at WGN Channel 9. This was from an original live 2" quad tape recording. Includes:

Opening of newscast (tape comes in during the middle), with shots of traffic, fireworks exploding and women in a local area beauty pageant, and sponsor billboard for the Natural Gas Companies including:

- Equitable Gas Company
- Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Inc.
- The Peoples Natural Gas Company

Len Johnson previews the following headlines:

- Traffic accidents, including one which was fatal
- Beaver County man held for murder
- More labor troubles hit Pittsburgh area

Commercial: Your Gas Company - for low-cost gas air conditioning - for sleeping comfortably on the hottest nights - featuring a gas company representative in bed who is awoken in the middle of the night by a call from a customer (voiceover by ??)

Len reads the following items, starting off with a rash of traffic accidents:

- Near Butler, PA on Route 8, Sandra Weigel, 20, of Butler, collided with another car on her way home from work and was dead on arrival on the way to Butler Memorial Hospital

- Near the New Stanton Interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a New York-bound Continental Trailways bus collided with two trucks, with nine injured, of which three are treated at Westmoreland Hospital (none of whom were from Pittsburgh)

- In Forest Hills, a truck carrying cases of beer tipped over, spreading the contents along Ardmore Boulevard; driver Frank George (sp?) had lost control of the rig after a tie rod end broke, and had managed to crawl out without a scratch

In other news:

- Dennis Angle, 8, about to start the third grade at St. Luke's School in Carnegie, dies of suffocation after he climbed into a trunk in the attic of the family home; the trunk somehow locked after the lid fell, as his brother was playing outside; a film of Allegheny County Coroner Joseph Dobbs speaking of this and another death involving a child is shown (the other case was of a 9-year-old who was riding a bicycle without brakes and lost control); he urges parents to take their children's bikes to be serviced

Commercial for Natural Gas Companies - in which a lady envisions an airy, cool, modern gas kitchen - including a tap and gold star gas range with rotisserie inside for barbecuing and flame-kissed smokeless broiling, and a counter-top with stove (voiceover by Len Johnson)

Len reads more news items:

- In a report from State Health Department on coal miners brought out at Penn State University, Dr. W. Wayne McBride says 1 out of 10 Western Pennsylvania coal miners suffers from a potentially fatal lung disease caused by dust from the mines

- A search in the Ohio River halfway between Freedom and Rochester in Beaver County for the body of 62-year-old William Snyder who had gotten in a fight with 40-year-old Clarence Burroughs of Freedom, who was picked up by State Police after admitting he hit Snyder in the head with a rock during an argument and dumped his body in the river; Snyder had been missing 10 days (and his body was discovered on October 22nd in a wooded section of Rochester Township)

- In Huntingdon County, PA, 17-year-old John Robert Minemier of Franklin Township is charged with murder in connection with the death of his 13-year-old brother Charles; according to District Attorney Warren Yocum, John choked his brother into near-unconsciousness and then backed a tractor over his body

- In labor news, United Steelworkers Local 1531 to hold a special meeting in Lawrenceville to vote on a new contract offer from strike-bound McConway & Torley Corporation whose 260 workers were off the job since July 31 after the old contract expired; and at Westinghouse Electric Corporation in East Pittsburgh, 40 carpenters from Local 601 of IBEW (which Len refers to as the International Union of Electrical Workers) are handed disciplinary one-day furloughs after they staged a wildcat strike in protest of jobs being handled by other craftsmen, and the company has ordered the workers back on the job on Monday (the 27th)

- In the Ohio River between Emsworth and Athlon, thousands of dead fish are found floating in the area, and it is not known what killed them; investigators from State Health Department are checking into the cause

- Former President Harry Truman makes a brief stop in Pittsburgh en route to New York; while there, he says he has not tried to advise President Kennedy, noting that anyone who does try to advise the President is a fool who does not know all the facts

With this last item, Len closes the local segment of the news roundup, and the tape cuts out just after he segues to the weather report.

This aired on local Pittsburgh TV on Thursday, August 23rd 1962 from 6:30pm to 6:40pm. (Eastern Daylight Time)

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This clip aired on Thursday, August 23rd 1962, and is included in the following categories:

Viewer Comments

It was less than 15 years after this newscast that WIIC (now WPXI) had one of the most infamous moments in television - then-anchor Beverly Byer, on the August 19th 1977 newscast, intoning, "Groucho Marx has taken a turn for the worse - in fact, he died."

But as far as this amazing find, given that Len joined WGN soon afterward (based on one of the links), let's just say Chicago's gain ended up being Pittsburgh's loss. Or was it Pittsburgh's loss being Chicago's gain?

Comment posted by W.B. on Thursday, August 23rd 2012 at 5:05pm.

I've never heard background music on hard news b-roll before this.
Comment posted by Szake on Thursday, August 23rd 2012 at 5:14pm.

Sponsored by 3 Pittsburgh NATURAL GAS COMPANIES?
Comment posted by Dth1971 on Thursday, August 23rd 2012 at 8:39pm.

Background music was a relic from newsreels ... John Cameron Swayze's Camel News Caravan used a lot of it.

It doesn't sound like they made much effort to match the tenor of the music to the stories here... a lot of it is pretty sinister sounding, like it should be used in a horror movie.

If only we could see a Paul Long or Bill Burns newscast from KDKA around this time!

Comment posted by T.K. on Thursday, August 23rd 2012 at 9:48pm.

I'm loving these classic news clips.
Comment posted by ChitownTVFan on Friday, August 24th 2012 at 7:45am.

Speaking of Paul Long . . . YT has some short clips of newscasts from him on WTAE Channel 4 with Don Cannon.
Comment posted by W.B. on Friday, August 24th 2012 at 10:55am.

Sounded like another happy day in Pittsburgh.
Comment posted by ArmitageNLowell on Friday, August 24th 2012 at 2:34pm.

What a great find. Thanks for posting it.
Comment posted by Erniebaud on Friday, August 24th 2012 at 6:05pm.

When did Len Johnson pass away?
Comment posted by VintageCanada on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 5:51pm.

This aired on my mother's 30th birthday...she just passed her 80th.
Comment posted by TomServo56954 on Tuesday, October 9th 2012 at 5:56pm.

Happy 51st anniversary to this classic TV treasure! Thank you Rick & Kevin
for making this available!

Comment posted by Matt on Friday, August 23rd 2013 at 12:22am.

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This clip has been viewed 4793 times.
This clip debuted on FuzzyMemories.TV on Thursday, August 23rd 2012.
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Comment posted in WGN Channel 9 - "We're For You" (Promo, 1979) by Dth1971 on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 2:24pm CT

Do you think the syndicated "The Palace" was a short lived revival attempt of the original 1960's ABC variety show "The Hollywood Palace"?


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Super Cartoon Sunrise (Jetsons Bumper #2, 1984) by OldTVNut on Monday, October 20th, 2014 at 2:42pm CT

OOOPS! It seems that somebody got Jane Jetson's & Judy Jetson's hair colors mixed up LOL.


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - The Jack Benny Show - "Pre-Emption Notice" (1975) by Burr-Rabbitt on Monday, October 20th, 2014 at 11:29am CT

This aired the day I was born!


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by HUdson 3-2700 on Saturday, October 18th, 2014 at 8:52pm CT

GalagaFleetCommander - Johnny Unitas used to wear his hair in a crewcut until about 1970, when he decided to let it grow out to where he could part it. A real square...


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by GalagaFleetCommander on Thursday, October 16th, 2014 at 9:23pm CT

Johnny Unitas did WHAT? I can't believe that! He's got that perfect haircut you can set a watch to like Abe Simpsons said! I wonder if he made anyone any significant amount of money.


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by ER3017 on Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 at 7:37am CT

About 2 years ago, my brother and I was on our way to the park and I saw boxes and boxes of videos, and my brother and I agreed to get almost all of them. Unfortunately, due to my strength, I didn't carry a lot, so I grabbed like 2 boxes and some videos are quite interesting I tell you. I'am still waiting to deliver these to you because if I wait, not only they'll rot but worried that these will be in the dumpster like my mom did but retrieved by me thank god.


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by FuzzyMemories on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 at 12:48pm CT

davismv - Thanks Mark! Well, we do have some late-breaking developments - once again provided by our researcher extraordinaire, Mr. Chris Tufts (Phantom). He found this interesting article on the development of Teletext in the U.S. as well as it's use on Nite-Owl. It's from New Scientist magazine and dates to July 22nd 1982. After reading this one has to wonder - what happened? Everything seemed so rosy. They had lots of viewers, and were making some advertising money apparently. So why did Nite-Owl quit just about a month later at the end of August 1982? Were they just tired of "giving it away for free"?

In any case, Chris found another interesting article, this time from Broadcasting Magazine dated September 7th 1981. In it, we finally learn that the true start date of Nite-Owl was early Friday, September 4th at 12 Midnight! Therefore, we can say with certainty that the clip you see here is the opening of Nite-Owl's Second Episode! We'll have to adjust the airdates of a few other clips to reflect this new information.

(T.K. - the answer to your question regarding Nite-Owl's music is also in this article - although who knows, perhaps they changed music providers at some point during the run of the show)

One other thing - the article mentions that WFLD was actually including teletext pages over its regular broadcasts since April of 1981. I had never heard this before. This information just leaves me wanting more. Did they transmit the teletext pages over every program that aired on WFLD since April 1981? Secondly, if you have a recording of a WFLD broadcast from that time period and you are able to fashion some kind of decoder, can you see the original teletext pages that aired during the broadcast? According to this article, there were at least 100 decoders floating around the Chicagoland area. Did anyone save one?

davismv - Regarding your questions: this was recorded by someone who was a "serial taper" but who also apparently had a short attention span. His tapes are filled up with 4-6 hours of material per tape, and rarely are there complete programs, but instead have little "snippets" (no pun intended) of news, sports, commercials, and whatever else struck his fancy I guess. There are a lot of good "bits" but unfortunately almost each one makes you wish he stuck with the recording at least a little longer. (but then again, if he recorded longer segments we wouldn't have the variety that he captured, so it's a six-of-one situation)

Regarding finding tapes: more and more I believe that the best way to find tapes is by asking neighbors, friends, or acquaintances. Why? Because unfortunately these home recorded tapes are seen by most people as virtually worthless most of the time, and if something is viewed as worthless it has way less of a chance of even making it to a thrift store or garage sale. People would just throw them out (which is sad, I know).

Also, some thrift stores now have policies of not letting "home-recorded" tapes make it to the shelf at all - they will just toss or recycle them if donated. The reason I've heard for this is that either someone complained before about something they found on one of the tapes ("adult" content perhaps), or the thrift store people are just being proactive and trying to avoid any issues like this from happening in the first place. In any case, it does stink. One idea I had that you might want to do is call all of your local thrift stores in your area and ask them if they ever get any home-recorded tapes and what they do with them. (first hurdle is making sure they understand what you're talking about - I usually use the term home-recorded tapes and then make sure it's clear by saying I'm not talking about "store-bought" movie type tapes - but tapes that people recorded themselves at home off of TV) If they say that their policy is to just throw them away or recycle them, tell them to save them for you. Give them your name and number and tell them you will pay for them too if they are what you're looking for. Make sure you're talking to a manager or someone at the store that actually has the power to make this change. Also remind the manager to inform his workers so that they are aware of what to do with the tapes too. And lastly, it couldn't hurt to call the stores again every couple months or so, and talk to the same manager if possible, to double check they are still saving tapes for you and that they haven't lost your contact info. :-)

One last tip - when buying tapes I don't buy them based on what is on the labels. The stuff written on the labels can be a red herring. I go by the age of the tapes. If you've been doing this long enough you can identify a pre-1985 videotape just by the box style as well as certain markings on the videotape itself. The stuff written on the labels can be a nice clue, but again I don't hold much stock in it. There could be a Sony K-60 Betamax tape that could potentially date to 1975 and the person could have recorded over most of it and wrote "Jurassic Park 2" on the label - doesn't matter - because you may still find an untouched 10-20 minutes at the end of the tape of a 1978 airing of Baretta with original commercial breaks for all you know. Anyway, happy hunting and of course please let me know if you find anything good. :-)


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by Phantom on Monday, October 13th, 2014 at 6:41pm CT

An article in Broadcasting Magazine in February 1982 says Nite-Owl had as many as 110,000 viewers on some nights.


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by T.K. on Sunday, October 12th, 2014 at 10:04pm CT

It struck me how much Keyfax resembles the graphics of the Prodigy online service several years later. I guess I shouldn't be surprised because they both used the NAPLPS graphics language, which was originally developed for videotex and teletext use.

Now I'm curious how Nite-Owl's music feed originated. Usually the all-night news tickers run by stations in other cities simply carried audio from a sister radio station or the local National Weather Service broadcast. It sounds like Nite-Owl had a dedicated playlist. Did WFLD have a full-blown radio automation system with multiple carts and reels run off a clock, like something by Harris or IGM? Or did someone just dub everything together onto a new reel for each night's playback? Or did the overnight master-control operator sit there and play each song back from its own cart?


Comment posted in WFLD Channel 32 - Keyfax Nite-Owl Service - "Episode Two!" (Opening, 1981) by Detroit4Chicago on Thursday, October 9th, 2014 at 12:09pm CT

Kinda neat to see an early computer-based newsfax system up and running for a UHF Station in a big market about this time. I'm thinking WFLD was trying this out to see if it became successful, it would have been used within years at the other Field stations across the country. Another possibility was to compete locally against WGN, WBBM and possibly WSNS (with of course, ON-TV) in the wee hours of the morning.

But what's neater-than-neat? Watching the Empire State Building take off like a Saturn V rocket in Commodore 65 form!


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