Electronic Media Reviews -- Omaha Television: The Early Years

Article excerpt

"Omaha Television: The Early Years." Omaha, Neb.: Omaha Telecasters Foundation, 1984. 60 minutes/one volume, $15.

The videos typically adopted for classroom use to illustrate what television looked like in its earliest days usually have a common flaw. In much the same manner as printed histories, such productions suffer from the "big business-great man" syndrome; that is, they primarily focus on the infant days of network television. The local markets, where many of television' s community service and programming traditions originated, are usually glossed over or avoided altogether.

Although this penchant for the "micro" perspective can perhaps be partially explained by the possible scarcity of local station material, the fact remains that few productions even acknowledge that grassroots television also had its own golden age. Consequently, today's media students, upon viewing the traditional "golden days of TV" films and videos found in most media history classes obtain the totally false impression that television, from the very beginning, was a full-service medium, complete with network-originated news, sports, and entertainment programs.

There was, of course, a short period during the "freeze" years, following the birth of the networks, when some local television stations--especially those in the rural midwestern and southwestern states--did not have the benefit of carrying live network shows. Until AT&T's microwave and cable links could reach these areas (as late as 1952 in some states), local TV stations were forced to run kinescopes of popular network shows and, more importantly, to fill the rest of their schedules with programs they produced themselves.

"Omaha Television: The Early Years," provides a rare glimpse of what local television was like in this cumbersome period. Omaha was an anomaly among most television markets of the "freeze" years in that two stations served the city. WOW, licensed to a local insurance company, and KMTV, the pride of Shenandoah, Iowa, seed dealer and broadcaster Earl May, signed on within days of each other in the summer of 1949. Perhaps realizing the magnitude of this moment, the achievement of being among the first to launch radio, and now television, in this largely agrarian region, both stations were careful to document their birth on film. Cameras rolled as the respective owners threw the switches that turned on the transmitters for each station's early day programs, home-grown and homespun, that were the mainstay of Omaha television until live network service finally crept into town in 1951. …