The LuLac Edition #3310, September 30th, 2016
Snow. For those under 50, this is what that looked like.
We sat and waited for at least 14 minutes. Nothing. Thus that was our introduction to Educational TV. But the next day, the station was in full flower. The station started out in different locations before building a permanent facility at Old Boston Road in Pittston. From the very first days, WVIA TV was a bustle of excitement for both the broadcast and educational community. The originals, George Strimel, Jerry Schumacher, Carol Guild, Grace Shimellfinig, Jack Lewis along with engineers Paul Evonsky and Joe Berish started it all. Those are the people I at least remember seeing on TV. The station got on the air with the help of WNEP TV. The ABC affiliate gave the new station the old WARM TV tower. During the great flood of ’72 WVIA TV was a true community partner.
Two of the first programming mainstays were Sesame Street and Masterpiece Theater. And then of course there was Action Auction 44. For 7 nights the station had this gigantic on air sell off of merchandise donated by local businesses. I only had a passing acquaintance with it until 1973.
I started college in January of ’73 on the day Lyndon Johnson died. During the early semester I was made aware of an opportunity to start working at WVIA TV. A King’s College administrator told me that I could work there on the FM station but they needed help on the TV side. The dust might still be in that office as I exited stage left out that Financial Aid office door quickly.
The Auction was like a Pakistani flea market with people running around, merchandise going in and out of the building, papers being passed and flung, cameras rolling and hundreds of volunteers doing the heavy lifting. The volunteer closely associated with the TV station auction was Jeff Rubel. He gave me the job of making sure the commercial on air talent got to their mark and on the air.
Strimel also made the station a type of cable TV station (because there was none here yet) but in my estimation he didn’t put on junk. The movies, most, were all classis. There was Uncle Ted on Friday night, Classic film series like Andy Hardy on the weekends and the movies that made Hollywood famous. The greatest movies of our times were presented to my generation on WVIA TV.
When he left in 1979, I was off to other things but Dr. John Walsh came in and got the station on a steady path that made it not only an alternative but a mainstay in the community. Walsh improved the infrastructure of the station and made vital partnerships with local educators and cultural organizations.
1991 was the year Bill Kelly became GM but he was no stranger to Public TV or Radio. Kelly came to WVIA in 1974 from WARM and combined his broadcasting experience with his teaching background. Under Kelly the station produced more local programming in its history. Financial growth exceeded expectations even though Congress cut most of the funding for the station. Kelly also brought local programs like “The State of Pennsylvania” on the air and that show became a “must see” for viewers and a “must go” for politicians seeking higher office. Under his guidance, WVIA expanded its facilities to include a public theater as well as producing many memorable documentaries that gained the station recognition throughout the nation.
Kelly was my first boss at WVIA FM and to this day there are many lessons I learned from him in terms of working and commitment that I still carry with me. To me his tenure at the station was the most consequential because under his leadership he entered the station into the digital age that has given the station a competitive and programming edge. Plus the key to TV is to look good. HD does that and Kelly essentially launched that rocket.
As WVIA TV enters its second 50 years, I can’t help but remember the somewhat inauspicious start. Little did I realize as I sat on that ottoman waiting for that station to sign on, that I would be a very small part of its illustrious history.
But many WVIA alumni I’m sure will quickly say, “It was our pleasure!”
On to 51!!!!