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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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