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WGN Channel 9 - Len Johnson and the News (Part 2, 1965)

Here's Part 2 (the final part) of an incredibly rare find - an edition of Len Johnson and the News on WGN Channel 9 from 1965! This was a forerunner to their overnight Night Beat newscast that ran from the late-sixties well into the 1980s.

You'll notice that this was during that awkward transition phase from black-and-white to color with most of the broadcast appearing in black-and-white, but then interspersed by random color commercials and a few color slides.

This came from an original 2" quad tape recording that likely hadn't been played since the day it was recorded. It came from the estate of Len Johnson, whose wife gave it to a family friend after Len passed away. That family friend, Kevin McCarthy, held on to it for a number of years but always wondered what was on the unmarked, unlabeled videotape. Kevin got in touch with us and we arranged to get the tape transferred digitally using funds donated by our loyal visitors here. :-) Robert Feder reported the news this week in his popular Chicago media blog.

You can read more about Len's WGN career here, and see a rare clip from his pre-Chicago days in Pittsburgh here.

Tech Note: Next to Len at the anchor desk is an Electro-Voice EV-667 microphone.

This part includes:

Len reading the following items:

- Albert Cardinal Meyer remains in stable condition at Mercy Hospital, breathing through a tube and fed intravenously (though not mentioned, this was after he suffered a heart attack following an operation to remove a brain tumor; Meyer died on April 9th)

- A new underground parking garage in Grant Park South opens, with Mayor Daley's limousine crashing into a paper "wall" to signify its opening; it stretches from Adams to Van Buren Street, and is well-lit with ramps that are not as steep as its northern equivalent; Daley cuts a cake celebrating Chicago's 128th anniversary during the opening ceremonies

- Earlier, the Associated Retail Bakers of Greater Chicago whipped up a 70-pound cake to commemorate the city's incorporation in 1837, with the message "Providing Dynamic Leadership in Water Conservation and Inland International Shipping" written on it (Len misspoke "providing" as "proving"); film footage of the cake and accompanying celebration (with Daley cutting the cake) is shown; St. Joseph's Home for the Friendless received the rest of the cake

- Women's Bar Association of Illinois holds a meeting on the topic of reapportionment, and both political parties debate the issue; features film footage of a press conference given by Rep. Albert Hackmeister (R-Chicago), Minority Leader of the State House, who charges that Democrats want an "at large" election for both Senate and House in 1966; Democrat Daniel Doherty, asked by WGN's Steve Schickel if that's what his party wants, denies this to be the case

Commercial: 4-Way Cold Tablets - comparing its relief (nasal, aches and pains, sluggishness, and fever) to a regular cold capsule (just nasal relief) (voiceover by Phil Tonken, longtime Channel 9 staff announcer - WOR Channel 9 in New York, that is ;-) )

Len reads the following sports items:

- In the NHL, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs tie 2-2 as Canadiens try to creep up on league-leading Chicago Black Hawks; New York Rangers defeat Boston Bruins 4-3; WGN will carry contest between Black Hawks and Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday (the 6th) at 7pm (the Hawks lost that game 4-1)

- In college basketball, St. Louis University defeats North Texas 90-73 in Missouri Valley Conference game; St. Louis and Bradley are given bids to National Invitation Tournament

- Four college basketball teams advancing to semi-finals of Public League; film footage of Marshall-Harlan matchup (with Marshall winning 87-60), and other scores: DuSable beating Harper 98-58, Carver defeating Crane Tech 104-98, and Dunbar winning over Tilden Tech 72-52; semi-finals to be played the following Tuesday (the 9th) at International Amphitheater; Channel 9 will carry Illinois High School Tournament Finals on March 19th and 20th from Champaign

- In baseball, Chicago White Sox announce that pitcher Joe Horlen has arrived in Sarasota to sign his 1965 contract after a holdout; he signed for $21,000 but wanted $3,000 more, and general manager Ed Short didn't budge

- Film footage of the Cubs at their spring training camp in Mesa, AZ, with brief shots of coaches Bob Kennedy and Alvin Dark (this would be the final year of the Cubs' "College of Coaches," which ended upon Leo "The Lip" Durocher's being named manager in 1966), followed by shots of the pitching staff warming up including Dick Ellsworth (whose 1966 Topps card #447 infamously featured a photo of his late teammate, infielder Ken Hubbs, who was killed in a plane crash prior to the start of the 1964 season), former Milwaukee Braves aces Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl, and Larry Jackson (Buhl and Jackson would be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1966 in exchange for Ferguson Jenkins who would become one of the Cubs' top fireballers into the early 1970's) (notice, among the pitching staff as then constituted, the absence of Ernie Broglio, who came to the Cubs in the infamously lopsided 1964 trade that sent future base-stealing legend Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals); also featured are infielder Ron Santo, utility player Leo Burke, and "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks

- In golf at the Pensacola Open, four men tied for lead after the first round: Jack Nicklaus, Doug Sanders, Kel Nagle and Dave Marr (all hit 68); tied for second are Billy Casper, Don Cherry (one and the same as had a hit with "Band of Gold" in 1956), Chuck Courtney and Billy Martindale; Arnold Palmer tied with fourteen others at 71; Gary Player and Ken Venturi tied with 26 others at 72; WGN (who else?) will air the final round on Sunday (the 7th)

Commercial: Calgon Water Conditioner - "Mommy's Choice" - gets rid of bathtub ring film on clothes - animation done in the style of children's drawings (in color)

Len reads the weather forecast for Chicago and vicinity, including snow; and closes the newscast with mention that it was a presentation of Channel 9 News, written and edited by Charles Schreiber.

Title card slides (in color):

Len Johnson and the News

A Presentation of WGN News - Portions of the preceding program were mechanically reproduced

Commercial: Wrigley's Doublemint Gum - "Doublemint Time" with Tommy & Joy - backed by orchestra (anyone know who Tommy and Joy are?) - "Double Your Pleasure" (in color) (tape cuts out in middle of this ad)

This aired on local Chicago TV early Friday, March 5th 1965 at 12:30am.

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This clip aired on Friday, March 5th 1965, and is included in the following categories:

Viewer Comments

EXCELLENT!! :) (I also noticed at the end of the newscast, it says, "Len Johnson and the news."

Another Grand slam!!!

Comment posted by Matt on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 12:29pm.

The Cubs also got Adolfo Phillips in that trade with the Phils.

Great find, Fuzzy!

Comment posted by HUdson 3-2700 on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 8:56pm.

St. Joseph's Home For The Friendless? What an odd and sad name for an institution.
Comment posted by Erniebaud on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 10:00pm.

Erniebaud, I suppose calling it the St. Joseph's Homeless Shelter would've been sadder than St. Joseph's Home for the Friendless to the folks trying to run the place.
Comment posted by OldTVNut on Sunday, September 2nd 2012 at 9:29am.

The "new" Nightbeat theme from the 70s did fit the program better, the theme on this show gives me visions of Donna Reed running down the stairs to answer the phone:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnIC7j-xrUY

Comment posted by yarsdad on Sunday, September 2nd 2012 at 9:13pm.

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This clip debuted on FuzzyMemories.TV on Saturday, September 1st 2012.
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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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