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WGN Channel 9 - Len Johnson and the News (Part 1, 1965)

Here's Part 1 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 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:

Brief shot of multiburst test pattern with 378 Hz tone

Commercial (incomplete; recording starting a few seconds after commercial begins) for Salvo Low Suds Power Tablets - with cowboys riding horses at a rodeo to demonstrate how Salvo gets their clothes clean - "Made to Do the Impossible"

Commercial: Vicks VapoRub - provides 8 hours of relief for distress of children's colds

Station ID slide with promo for upcoming presentation of "The Tall Men" at 10:15pm - with early appearance of "9" logo that first debuted in 1964 and would be used well into the 1970s - and, in some instances, as late as 1981 ("Tomorrow 10:15 PM" set in 18 point Gothic Condensed No. 1; though this slide is in black-and-white, there are color artifacts that give this away as being transmitted through an RCA TK-26 color film chain)

Opening title card slide (in color) for Carl Greyson and the News (Len was filling in for Carl on this day), set in Microgramma Bold; the chipper theme music would be used for years thereafter on sign-off newscasts such as this Newsbreak from 1978)

Len opens the newscast with a preview of the following items:

- One American soldier killed and another critically wounded in Vietnam
- Albert Cardinal Meyer remains in stable condition
- Montreal Canadiens cuts Chicago Black Hawks' NHL lead
- More snow in weather forecast

Commercial: American Airlines - showing the sights of California, with a shot of their Royal Coachman (a Boeing 707) flying down at the end (voiceover by ??)

Len reads the following items (with pertinent film in certain spots):

- One American soldier is killed and another critically wounded in a double ambush by Communist guerillas in Laotian - Vietnamese border; South Vietnamese government is seeking negotiated settlement with the North, with a Yugoslav-led contingent of non-aligned seeking a means to reach such a peace deal; meanwhile, Republican leaders say President Johnson should make no deals with Communist nations until they halt aggression in Vietnam and elsewhere; film clips are shown of House GOP Leader (and future President) Gerald R. Ford and Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen speaking, with Ford saying that "we expect more Koreas [and] more Vietnams," and Dirksen commenting on recent student riots against the U.S. Embassy in Moscow

- Relating to Dirksen's above comments, Russia has agreed to pay for damages to U.S. Embassy; Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko promises "greater measures" to be taken in the future to protect the embassy

- U.S. closing all informational activities in Indonesia, due to harassment by Indonesian government; Indonesia takes control of an American rubber factory

- Chicagoans pay their last respects to Air Force Captain (and Chicago native) Kurt Gareiss, who was killed on February 24th in a plane crash in South Vietnam during fighting there against Viet Cong; film clips of mourners filing in to Lutheran Church of St. John the Divine (including his widow, parents and other relatives) and funeral services inside are shown

- 10-acre community in Natchitoches, LA flattened when a 24-inch gas pipeline (owned by the Tennessee Gas Transmission Company, which in turn was owned by Tenneco) explodes, killing 17 persons (including 9 children) and melting 6 automobiles and 3 trucks; film clips of the aftermath are shown, and an audio of Mayor Raymond Scott describing what happened is heard over the footage

- Novelist and Chicago native Willard Motley dies in a Mexico City hospital of a gangrene infection at age 52; he was best known for such novels as "Knock on Any Door" and "Let No Man Write My Epitaph"

- A hearing on a possible sanity test for Jack Ruby (assassin of John F. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald) to be held Monday in Dallas; one of his lawyers, Chicago-based Elmer Gertz, is interviewed, with Gertz asserting that Ruby was insane both during the time he shot Oswald and afterwards (can anyone name the WGN reporter who interviewed him?)

Len then signals for a commercial break, with a tease on Albert Cardinal Meyer's condition

Commercial: Tums Antacid - For Acid Indigestion and Heartburn - "Work Fast, Cost Less, Very Effective"

Continued in Part 2...

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

Clips like this and the story of how you acquired them remind me that there is so much "lost" video like this stored in the attics of retired broadcasters around the country that need to be preserved and displayed. Keep up the good work!

I'm curious as to how an independent station like WGN would have got the Louisiana film... obviously there was some sort of off-network feed (perhaps through the auspices of the Associated Press or INTV) available even in those days.

I think the Tums commercial is brilliant, by the way.

Comment posted by T.K. on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 1:01pm.

His pitch, pace, and pause is outstanding! Definitely a professional!


Comment posted by Matt on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 8:38pm.

I am amazed at what you can dig up Rick this is gold.

Len Johnson was always one of my favorites as our household listened to the Wally Phillips show on WGN radio where Len was his newsman.

By the way, when did Len Johnson pass away?

Comment posted by Erniebaud on Saturday, September 1st 2012 at 9:54pm.

So, this is how the transitional period to colorcasting looked like. Little known fact that, during this time frame, a good majority of the local stations started out with just color film and slides while the studio cameras and VTR units were still in black and white. In WGN's case, they were fully equipped with the works by 1965. They were one of only 63 stations at the time to have color cameras, according to Broadcasting and Cable.
Comment posted by RocketBoy on Sunday, September 2nd 2012 at 4:35pm.

Here's another example of the sometimes jarring transition to color. This commercial taped at KNTV in San Jose features a color film dissolving to a monochrome studio camera and then back to a color slide at the end.

At full-color plants, however, the transitions were often due to advertisers not wanting to pay a premium for color spots. (If I recall correctly, even Ed McMahon would do certain ads in black-and-white from a small portion of the set adjacent to the main Tonight Show stage.)

Comment posted by T.K. on Sunday, September 2nd 2012 at 7:18pm.

Got to love new media economics!
Kind of like the 16:9 HD thing we have today.
If you notice, and if you have an HDTV, that some of the shows, as well as some of the show's segments and commercials aren't widescreen (16:9) yet; or they have the black bars on the sides.

Also, as you may or may not know, the music for Carl Greyson and The News obviously wasn't very popular.
However, that would change in the 80's with Huey Lewis and The News!
(Good night everybody!)
;)

Somebody want to hand me a rubber chicken shield?

Comment posted by ArmitageNLowell on Sunday, September 2nd 2012 at 10:07pm.

Interesting to see coverage of the local impact from Vietnam, at a time when it was still "no big deal" to most people.
Comment posted by SuperCFL on Monday, September 3rd 2012 at 9:31am.

I've never seen a rodeo with a washing machine right there next to the chutes, like the one at 0:25. Did the guys just strip off their dirty clothes right there after falling off their horses? ;-) I'm sure their wives were glad they didn't bring that laundry home.
Comment posted by T.K. on Tuesday, March 5th 2013 at 12:21pm.

My Dad was in television production since the late 50's (now retired), but I asked him once what "NEWS" stood for. He said it came from north, east, west and south. I've never been able to confirm or deny this, but the logo for this newscast is one more piece of evidence to make me believe that it is true.
Comment posted by Subcarrier on Monday, February 3rd 2014 at 8:14am.

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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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