The Little Station That Couldn't

A look back at the sad, short life of Kansas City's first independent TV station.

Photocopy of the KCIT-TV logo colorized to duplicate how it looked in the actual station ID.

Kansas City television has improved dramatically since about the mid-90s (partially due to NBC switching to an ultimately better station)...but during the entire 1969-70 TV season when I was still living there, it was the absolute dregs. If you were into local sports and locally-aired movies in prime time and your taste in prime-time (and daytime) network offerings never strayed beyond the shows that made the Top Three Nielsen spots, you would have probably loved it. But for me, it was just one affiliate pre-emption after another of a number of series from all networks I would have preferred to see instead. That's literally what it was for me.

The one ray of hope that could have perhaps repaired most of the damage done to the network schedules by the Kansas City affiliates was waiting just around the corner from the beginning of the 1969 fall season. This ray was in the form of an incoming signal from a brand-new independent UHF TV station, KCIT-TV, Channel 50, which signed-on for the first time on Wednesday, October 29th of that year, and the station's history--although far too brief--is worth recounting whether or not you were in its reception area at the time.

At left is KCIT's premiere week ad from the Kansas City Star's Sunday TV magazine. Next to it is a rough paste-up that may have been intended as a newspaper ad or an on-screen promo (Thanks to Earl Fleer for the latter).

Station preparations prior to initial sign-on included tower inspection, splicing commercials together, checking station ID slides and writing up the first news brief. Several hours later they were on the air...for about two years, anyway.

In terms of how badly an independent station was needed in Kansas City, KCIT's debut was most timely. One of the things the station's program manager vowed to do was to try and pick up as many then-current series from the three major networks as possible which were pre-empted by the local affiliates. This was a common practice of most indies of the day, and Kansas City affiliates were notorious for bumping (or showing in an alternate local time slot) a large number of network offerings--even popular ones--whose ratings weren't quite up to those of Bonanza, As The World Turns or The Beverly Hillbillies. The 1969-1970 TV season, already underway several weeks prior to KCIT's initial sign-on, was especially riddled with local pre-emptions...a few of them quite questionable.

"Why," one irate viewer wrote in an inquiry to The Kansas City Star Sunday TV section's TV Mailbag, "would WDAF [the local NBC affiliate at the time] want to pre-empt a good four-bell NBC show like The Name Of The Game for a couple of country-music programs?" Why indeed? They seemed happy to clear the popular 90-minute adventure drama alternately starring Tony Franciosa, Gene Barry and Robert Stack throughout its freshman season a year earlier, but for some reason they decided that in Season Two it just wasn't worth its time slot on Fridays*, so they opted to fill the slot with back-to-back airings of Country Hayride and The Stan Hitchcock Show (I don't recall if these were syndicated or local WDAF productions), only to end up re-adding TNotG at the start of its third and final NBC season in September, 1970. Incidentally, the Star TV Mailbag's explanation to the inquiring viewer about WDAF's pre-emption decision was that "some viewers in this area consider the local country music shows to be four-bell and TNotG to be one-bell".

*This wasn't the first time WDAF flip-flopped (with the emphasis on "flopped") on a decision to pre-empt an NBC offering during its sophomore season. Early in 1967 they decided to do away locally with I Dream Of Jeannie after airing the first dozen-or-so color episodes in the Fall of 1966 (they brought it back at the start of the third season, presumably under network and/or viewer pressure) while at the same time finally granting clearance to the until-then-locally-pre-empted NBC sitcom Occasional Wife--which therefore became the only one of three network series involving Vin Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers' legendary home-game announcer, in a non-sportscasting role, to actually be seen at all on a K.C. affiliate, as you shall see later in my story.

In addition, NBC's living-color revival of Dragnet in 1967 found its way onto WDAF's Thursday night lineup...but mostly only for that first season. When it began its second season it was nowhere to be found on the WDAF schedule...and beginning with the third season, it was tossed into the late Saturday afternoon delayed-broadcast ghetto--where Sgt. Friday and Officer Gannon must have evidently wandered across the dial to CBS affiliate KCMO and dropped in on The Good Guys to question over a hamburger and coffee whether or not any suspicious characters had been seen entering Bert's diner or Rufus' taxicab. Toward the end of its run however, WDAF did return Sgt. Friday to Thursdays.

K.C. area TV dealers and electronics stores helped spread the word about the coming of Channel 50 to boost sales. At right: a KCIT ad for the ABC network airing of "Georgy Girl", which became the first affiliate pre-empted network movie they aired. (Commentary on the other ad seen above MAY come later on the off chance I can ever figure out how to get a block of text into the empty space in the upper-left corner of the framed illustration.)

The Name Of The Game was fortunate enough to be one of the rejected network offerings picked up by KCIT in its regular network time slot, but the Friday evening network schedule was such a pre-emption-laden mess when the Kansas City affiliates got through with it that even KCIT couldn't pick up all the remaining network offerings. Local ABC affiliate KMBC chose to air only the Friday night shows that began and ended the prime-time block: Let's Make A Deal and Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters Hour (replaced by ABC in midseason by, respectively, The Flying Nun and Love, American Style). KMBC ran old movies from 7 to 9 PM Central time, which meant that one noteable ABC newcomer, The Brady Bunch, went unseen for its first several episodes not just in Kansas City, but also in St. Joseph, where station KQTV decided to substitute their own local country music show on Fridays (what hath Hee Haw wrought?) before realizing several months before KMBC that the Bradys weren't such a bad fit for the young Friday night audience after all. KCIT rescued them from schedule exclusion for about the rest of 1969 and aired them at 7, but due to their commitment to switch the network feed to NBC at 7:30 for TNotG, they had to sacrifice two additional ABC shows bumped by KMBC: Mr. Deeds Goes To Town--a half-hour comedy adapted from the 1936 movie in which Monte Markham attempted to fill Gary Cooper's shoes as the title character, and Here Come The Brides, returning for its second and final season after a year of KMBC clearance. By midseason ABC did away with Deeds and substituted The Ghost And Mrs. Muir which from then on became a ghost on K.C. TV screens unable to pull KQTV in acceptably.

Meanwhile, KCMO was still shoving that weekly fishing show down our throats in place of The Good Guys on CBS at 7 (for the whole story, go to my fansite devoted to the sitcom), and would you believe that about half the CBS episodes of Get Smart which preceded Guys and its two successors at 6:30 got tackled by a force stronger than KAOS? In the wake of the Kansas City Chiefs' 1970 Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings, KCMO quickly slapped on The Hank Stram Show, starring the Chiefs coach, as a temporary replacement. KCIT's hands were tied as far as any attempt to restore that first Friday hour of CBS programming was concerned.

Aside from their temporary attempt to defame The Name Of The Game, WDAF didn't alter most of the NBC Friday night lineup in 1969-70--they did air The High Chaparral at 6:30 and the new Bracken's World at 9. Bracken's World, however became yet another victim of WDAF's delayed-broadcast policy in it's second and final season on Fridays in 1970-71, airing Saturday afternoons...just as Bracken went from an unseen character to a seen one, played by Leslie Nielsen.

The Monday-through-Friday daytime network schedule, like Friday evenings, was a minefield of local K.C. pre-emptions back then. Unlike Friday evenings, however, daytime network show pre-emptions by affiliates were a bit more common across the nation...just not yet up to the epidemic proportions they would reach in the post-Phil Donahue era when stations would begin scrambling to fill the daytime hours with syndicated trash talk at the expense of all but the very hardiest network daytime institutions. Speaking of which, NBC and CBS decided to unload a few of their 1960s daytime institutions two months prior to KCITs debut: CBS decided to end The Linkletter Show (formerly Art Linkletter's House Party, which KCMO could always be counted on to clear), while NBC performed a virtual housecleaning with their end-of-September axing of four popular game shows: Eye Guess, Personality, You Don't Say! and The Match Game. The latter two would be revamped and resurrected in the next decade, Match Game to enjoy tremendous long-running success, high ratings...and a tad more respect from Kansas City TV stations than the old NBC original ever did. By 1973, even more veteran game show favorites would be cut from NBC's daytime lineup in an effort to "get with the times".

Vin Scully is barely visible in this shot from what may be the only surviving episode of "It Takes Two", a 1969-70 NBC game show that never quite made it onto the KCIT daytime schedule; a few more pictures appear below.




"All right, let's separate our couples. Here's the question: During the entire run of You Bet Your Life, how many times did the duck come down after contestants correctly guessed the secret word? You have ten seconds."

Until then, however, network daytime schedules in the Fall of 1969 were merely undergoing the first stage of transition toward a new look for a new decade, and Kansas City's primary affiliates appeared to be only tepidly enthused, judging by how much of it they were willing to clear. As KCMO continued to offer syndicated fare in the 9-10 AM slot, KCIT quickly took advantage of their option to pick up CBS's daytime reruns of The Lucy Show and The Beverly Hillbillies which filled the hour nationally. But in those early days of KCIT's operations, they didn't sign on till 9:30 AM and had to run those two back-to-back CBS morning offerings in the afternoon via tape-delay (despite the fact that CBS ran the daytime Hillbillies at 9:30--don't ask me why KCIT felt the need for a tape-delay). At 3 PM they picked up the live NBC feed of the game show that replaced the long-running, original Match Game, Letters To Laugh-In hosted by Gary Owens. But this was purely a fad game inspired by NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, a prime-time smash of the day (with Owens as its on-screen announcer), which had no chance of a long run, and at the end of the year was axed by NBC and replaced with Name Droppers, a game NBC introduced in September which had been cleared by WDAF in its original 11:30 AM slot. With its move to 3 PM, it switched channels in K.C. from 4 to 50 until NBC dropped it entirely a few months into 1970.

Another NBC game show turned down by WDAF was noticably missing from KCIT's weekday lineup, much to my disappointment. In the Spring of 1969, the Peacock network pulled the plug on its faltering Goodson-Todman game Snap Judgment--which started out in 1967 as a fairly original word game and reportedly ended up being a clone of their popular Password (axed by CBS in September 1967)--and replaced it with a new game from You Don't Say! creator Ralph Andrews, It Takes Two. I was totally unaware of this change in the 9 AM slot on NBC until I chanced to see it for the first time on Memorial Day that year while we were visiting relatives in Des Moines, where it regularly aired on WHO-TV. At first I was unhappy with NBC for doing away with Snap Judgment which I hadn't seen regularly since the start of 1968, but It Takes Two soon grabbed my attention with it's futuristic-looking set designed by E. Jay Krause, Bob Inkleas and John Schrum, it's great theme music and underscoring by Stan Worth--particularly a ten-second "think" piece played as three celebrity couples wrote down their answers to questions which were accompanied by objects or people having to do with the subject of the questions--and a most unusual choice for the host who asked those questions: famed "voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers" Vin Scully. I didn't catch his name until it was used as a Bonus Board answer on one of the last You Don't Say! broadcasts (whereupon I thought his first name was "Vic") and I had no idea that he had a long involvement with baseball broadcasts until TV Guide´┐Ż ran an article on him in 1970.

The reason I was unaware of the show's existence until eight weeks after its debut was because WDAF opted to pre-empt both it and the post-1967 Snap Judgment shows in favor of their own local studio offering, The Bette Hayes Show (pronounced "Betty"), which was popular with Kansas City homemakers since the early days when they ran it in the afternoon under its original name, Accent. The local edition of TV Guide had only one other NBC affiliate listed: KTSB in Topeka (which is now KSNT and didn't go on the air till the end of 1967 as it was on UHF and the station wanted to be sure there were enough homes with 82-channel sets--mainly color--to bring it in), and they didn't start airing It Takes Two until it was a year old on NBC. But the show was tentatively scheduled to air in Kansas City on KCIT at 12 noon. At least that's what the November 1, 1969 issue of TV Guide told us. I was doubly-thrilled, because even though I'd usually end up missing the show entirely in those pre-VCR days due to being in junior high school (yecch!), Thursday and Friday of that week were in-service days for the teachers, so I'd have those days off to stay home and finally be able to see my beloved NBC daytime cast-off from WDAF!

But it never came to pass. Instead, I was treated to an hour of High-Noon Cartoons which led into KCIT's 1 PM airing of yet another NBC daytime show WDAF avoided for years, the successful and still-running soap opera Days Of Our Lives which WDAF would eventually start airing around 1971 (and which the afore-mentioned Des Moines affiliate WHO wouldn't begin clearing until 1984--making them the last NBC station in America to put it on). To add insult to injury, the theme music KCIT used for High-Noon Cartoons sounded--I swear--like it was mocking me. On the off chance you ever heard it, you'd know what I mean.

From the November 1, 1969 Kansas City Edition of TV Guide: a KCIT program listing that, sadly, never came true.

(Courtesy of Earl Fleer)

Why did KCIT not pick up It Takes Two along with all the other network shows they were able to get? It could have been any number of reasons. They might have been restricted to only one network show in the 9 AM time period even if they didn't show it at 9 AM (remember, this was the case with The Lucy Show). Maybe they found it too expensive or against regulations to tape-delay two network offerings originally airing in the same time slot. It could have been because they sensed It Takes Two wouldn't last very long on NBC anyway. Or perhaps--worst of all--they felt that, given a choice between Lucy and a fairly-new game show, they succumbed to that old catch-all excuse that reruns are a better fit for your average indie, and that Lucy reruns in particular were a must. One reason that could never have been was that WDAF could have been planning to air It Takes Two themselves via tape delay. Although it would have been great for the show to have aired on Channel 4 at, say, 3:30 when I'd be coming home from school and could actually watch most of it daily, the idea of delaying a 9 AM NBC show never took place at WDAF until August 3, 1970 when NBC erased the game show from their schedule and began a successful five-year run of Dinah Shore's Dinah's Place. At first WDAF ran it at 12 noon replacing the newscast, but before long they brought it back--and Dinah was soon blowing her horn at 9 AM on (all together now) KCIT.

Click here to hear Johnny Olson in a rare 1967 opening sequence to NBC's Snap Judgment whose theme music that year was Bob Cobert's "Window Shopping", originally used a few years earlier as the theme to the original version of The Price Is Right hosted by Bill Cullen. The audience applause drowns out the theme, but if you listen carefully, you may hear it.

Vin Scully would later take one more stab at establishing himself as a daytime TV personality. In January 1973, CBS signed him on to host a daily half-hour talk-variety show, usually airing at 3 PM (Central Time), There were celebrity guest interviews, singing (sometimes Vin would join in), additional music from H.B. Barnum and his orchestra, audience participation games and a recurring skit, "Hunt For Happiness" in which Scully potrayed the beleagured Rance Radcliffe. It was all very Mike Douglas-esque, but admittedly not as well-suited to Scully as the game show hosting job was*, so after 13 weeks CBS pulled the plug. And like It Takes Two during its first twelve months, The Vin Scully Show never saw the light of Kansas City or Topeka TV screens. Topeka's WIBW-TV opted to go with the real Mike Douglas at 3 PM, while Kansas City's KCMO-TV, in another "brilliant" programming move, gave their audience reruns of an old sitcom. But I had Des Moines for a TV market at that time and was able to see it on what was then known as KRNT-TV far more often than I was able to see It Takes Two in the same market.

*The Vin Scully Show had at least one memorable moment: insult comic Don Rickles was the guest on one show, and when he came out after Vin's favorable introduction, only Scully applauded.

But let's get back to 1969. Even on Saturday mornings there was no justice. NBC's new Pink Panther Show--the only animated offering of interest to this ninth-grader--was spurned by WDAF for something called Mr. Magoo Theatre. A half-hour of 'toons starring a myopic, opinionated guy...scheduled by a myopic, opinionated guy. Sorry, Magoo fans, but I wanted instead to see the Panther. KCIT for some reason couldn't (or wouldn't) run it, but WDAF eventually relented and put on PP about six months later...about the only thing they ever did right that sorry season.

Locally pre-empted Network TV Series Picked Up by KCIT--

  • ABC: The Brady Bunch, The ABC Wednesday Night Movie, The Joey Bishop Show (late night), American Bandstand, A World Apart, The Fantastic Four, Cattanooga Cats, The Bullwinkle Show (Sunday Mornings), Issues And Answers, ABC Evening News with Howard K. Smith & Harry Reasoner.
  • CBS: The CBS Thursday Night Movies, The Merv Griffin Show (late night), Jonny Quest (Saturday Mornings), The Lucy Show (daytime reruns), The Beverly Hillbillies (daytime reruns).
  • NBC: The Name Of The Game, NBC Monday Night At The Movies, Meet The Press, Days Of Our Lives, Letters To Laugh-In, Name Droppers, Dinah's Place.

next page