The end is near for a his­toric TV build­ing in Philly

The Review - - Opinion - Jim Smart Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

It’s been re­ported that the Com­cast folks plan to move tele­vi­sion chan­nels NBC 10 and Tele­mu­ndo 62 down­town when they fin­ish scrap­ing the sky with their new 1,200-foot head­quar­ters. The present nearly 100,000-square­foot com­plex on City Line will be sold for re­de­vel­op­ment. That pioneer­ing struc­ture houses lots of ghosts of TV his­tory. It was built in 1952 to house WCAU Chan­nel 10, then a CBS af­fil­i­ate owned by the Even­ing Bulletin news­pa­per com­pany. It was the first struc­ture in the United States built specif­i­cally for tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing.

The sta­tion had gone on the air in 1948 and was broad­cast­ing from WCAU’s 1622 Ch­est­nut St. ra­dio head­quar­ters and from re­mote lo­ca­tions.

Be­fore tele­vi­sion, WCAU ra­dio had be­longed to the morn­ing Philadel­phia Record news­pa­per and broth­ers Isaac Levy, a lawyer, and Leon Levy, a den­tist.

When the Record folded in Fe­bru­ary 1947, The Bulletin ac­quired the sta­tion. The Bulletin com­pany al­ready owned WPEN, an old ra­dio sta­tion, and had rights to chan­nel 10 in the new TV in­dus­try.

The news­pa­per sold WPEN to the Sun Ray drug store com­pany but kept the tele­vi­sion chan­nel. It be­came the third af­fil­i­ate of the new Columbia Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem, headed by Wil­liam S. Pa­ley, a ci­gar com­pany ex­ec­u­tive and brother-in-law of the Levy broth­ers.

WPEN ra­dio had been the voice of The Bulletin. There was no “all news, all the time” sta­tion in those days. Most sta­tions’ news came in short pe­ri­odic re­ports read by an­nounc­ers off the Tele­types of news ser­vices.

The Bulletin in the ’30s of­fered reg­u­larly sched­uled ra­dio news pro­grams orig­i­nat­ing from an of­fice in the back of the Bulletin news­room. News was writ­ten and broad­cast by a five-man staff headed by Harold Hadley, a con­cise writer with an au­thor­i­ta­tive voice.

After the ac­qui­si­tion of WCAU, the ra­dio news op­er­a­tion moved to the sta­tion’s Ch­est­nut Street head­quar­ters. Early tele­vi­sion pro­grams orig­i­nated there when Chan­nel 10 started up on May 23, 1948. Chan­nels 3 and 6 were al­ready on the air, 3 at 17th and San­som and 6 at 46th and Mar­ket. There was no coast-to-coast TV un­til 1951.

Chan­nel 10 blos­somed when the City Line stu­dios opened in 1952. An ex­am­ple of what could be done there was “Ac­tion in the Af­ter­noon,” a live half-hour daily West­ern soap opera that ran for a year in 1953. It was di­rected by Dick Lester, who later went to Eng­land and di­rected The Bea­tles’ first movie.

The main street of an Old West town was built in the park­ing lots; in­te­ri­ors of a saloon and other cow­boy­ish rooms were in the stu­dios. It was all live broad­cast­ing then, in­clud­ing horse­back chases and gun fights.

That was in the days be­fore video­tape and of large, bulky cam­eras that trailed thick, heavy ca­bles, with ro­tat­ing tur­ret lenses, no zoom lenses. The pic­tures they pro­duced were black and white.

In 1953, a new Philco TV with a then-giant 21-inch screen would cost you $229.95 (more than $2,000 in to­day’s money).

Chan­nel 10 moved its tower in 1957 from atop the PSFS build­ing to a 1,200-foot tower in Roxbor­ough.

In 1958, The Bulletin sold WCAU to the CBS net­work. In 1995, in a com­pli­cated swap, 10 be­came an NBC af­fil­i­ate and 3 went to CBS. In 2011 and 2013 deals, Com­cast ac­quired NBC.

It’s very dif­fer­ent now, but Chan­nel 10 old-timers still talk about the day when a stage­coach got loose and rolled out of the “Ac­tion in the Af­ter­noon” set and smashed into a sta­tion em­ployee’s sports car in the park­ing lot. What did he tell his in­sur­ance com­pany?

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