Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kplr's Tested the Tube Stayed Lively, Local

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kplr's Tested the Tube Stayed Lively, Local

Article excerpt

If out-of-towners buy KPLR-TV (Channel 11) - and that seems likely - they'll end almost four decades of local ownership that has fostered local tradition, quirks and all.

Word is that an investment group in California has cut a deal with station owner Edward J. "Ted" Koplar to buy KPLR, which Koplar's family founded in 1958.

In fact, the station's quirks started on the very evening that KPLR took to the air - April 28, 1958. To kick off its career with class, the station proudly announced that it would broadcast that night's baseball game between the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Redlegs. The game was rained out.

In the years since then, KPLR has seen a lot of rain - and sunshine and, for that matter, rain and sun at the same time.

KPLR was the brainchild of the late Harold Koplar, who died in 1985. Koplar first made a name as the developer of the Lodge of the Four Seasons - and then as an owner of the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel, now shuttered but then the city's toniest inn.

While many people make a name for themselves, few get to broadcast that name day after day as Koplar did; his station's call letters form the family name, minus the vowels.

When the elder Koplar got into television 39 years ago, he took a risky step. His was the city's fourth commercial station, but its first independent.

His three rivals had the prestige and allure of network programming; KPLR had whatever it could scratch up on its own. That meant a heavy diet of sitcom reruns, old movies, kiddie cartoons and such almost-forgotten delights as "Wrestling at the Chase" - at the hotel, next door to the KPLR studios at 4931 Lindell Boulevard.

The wrestling telecasts gave Joe Garagiola his start in television - and gave the bouts a local touch that boosted their campy appeal. For the younger set, local celebrity Harry Fender was a smash in those early days with his "Captain Eleven Showboat."

News never loomed large in KPLR's programming; after all, a big news staff means a big payroll. Instead, KPLR took an offbeat approach. In the early years, the late Saturday newscasts sometimes originated from the Chase's pool, with the anchor afloat in an inner tube.

In the late '60s, the station put its late news in prime time, away from head-to-head competition with its bigger-budget rivals. The news remains in the 9 p.m. slot to this day, at least when baseball isn't showing.

In 1970, the station decided to get serious. It hired Harriett Woods (later to be lieutenant governor) to produce serious-stuff programming. Five years later, the station fired her. She said at the time that executives had told her news and public affairs ranked dead-last on KPLR's priority list.

Still, KPLR boasted of having one of the largest movie libraries in the Midwest, beamed at insomniacs. (The specialty of the house: "The Three Stooges," still seen for two hours each Saturday at midnight. …

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