SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Sixty-five years ago, WTOC went on air for the first time.
Thursday, we are celebrating WTOC’s 65th Anniversary. Things were pretty different when we first went on air. For instance, everything that hit the air was done live - even commercials - and if it was a car commercial, they would drive the car onto the studio floor.
Almost everything has changed since those days, except for WTOC’s place in the Savannah television market.
Schley Knight was seven-years-old in 1954 - when he saw the future.
“I can remember going with my dad to unpack the antennae. The antennae had been shipped here by rail, then Daddy had to arrange to have them moved to the Abercorn Street site, where the tower was,” Knight said.
That is where Savannah television was born - where the Knight family converted the WTOC radio station they owned to WTOC-TV - 65 years ago.
“Valentine’s Day. 2:00 in the afternoon as I recall,” said Walt Kessel, one of WTOC’s first full-time employees.
Walt Kessel was involved with local theater when he became one of the first people in Savannah hired to work in television.
“I started in January, 1954. I had about three weeks to figure out what television was all about. There were, I think, three people who’d been in television before. There were two directors and a production manager, and they had to teach us what was going on,” Kessel said.
The station evolved organically, on the fly. One news show, CBS programming, and lots of local news filled those first broadcast days.
“We had a lot of little programs during the day, like Happy Dan,” Knight said.
“We started the day out in the morning with Romper Room at 9 o’clock,” Kessel said.
“There were some interview shows, like you do today. lots of live TV and lots of mistakes could be made and so forth,” Knight said.
“Everything was live. You see outtakes now? We called that live television. If you make a mistake, it was broadcast,” Kessel said.
Schley Knight’s father - WTOC’s first general manager - found that out when he decided to give away the family’s billy goat on the Happy Dan Show.
As soon as we got the goat under those bright lights, he’d start pooping. It was hysterical. We did it for a week," Knight said.
An affiliate of the Tiffany Network, WTOC quickly became the gem of the Savannah television market, shining brightest because, from the start, its people were part of the community they were covering.
“All the employees were like family and so they were in civic organizations and going to church with others, and there wasn’t a lot of turnover,” Knight said.
“Basically, we had a good group. We all loved what we did and we all wanted to be No. 1., and we did our best to achieve that,” Kessel said.
65 years later, those origins are honored every day with a conscious connection to WTOC’s past.
“Real proud how y’all continue to carry on the wonderful camaraderie and being first and having quality people. You haven’t missed a beat. It’s been terrific to watch y’all grow,” Knight said.
The Knight family sold WTOC in 1979, but members of the family remain in Savannah.
Mr. Kessel worked here for 26 years. When we asked him how long it took for WTOC to begin operating like a top TV station, he thought for a second and said, “about a week.”
In honor of our 65th Anniversary, we’ve created a page for you to look at that includes pictures from years ago - some of employees who are still here today.