WPTA-TV, ABC Affiliate, Fort Wayne, Indiana

By Jim Helm

June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 5, 2012 at 4:46 PM EDT

On Saturday, September 28, 1957 at three o'clock in the afternoon Fort Wayne television viewers witnessed city history in the making when WPTA-TV, under the leadership of General Manager Ron Ross began regular broadcasting on channel 21 as the latest ABC affiliate. Staffed by 12 full-time and three part-time employees WPTA brought the complete 32 hours of ABC programming per week to the Fort Wayne viewing area. This was augmented by 28 hours of film and seven and one-half hours of local live programming.

"We didn't have cameras and camera controls and such things operational in the studios for the original sign-on program," former film director B. J. Wheat said. "We could use the film projectors and slide projectors, but the studio equipment was operated out of the remote truck that we brought up from Bloomington."

In 1957 ABC offered such programs as "Mickey Mouse" and "American Bandstand" while locally WPTA had a take-off of "American Bandstand" called "Teen Dance" and an afternoon kids show "Popeye and the Rascals." Bill Jackson hosted the show with hand puppets Fergie and Morty, Jingles the clown and Cecil B. Rabbit.

"When we first started on the air there was no local newscast," Wheat said. "We didn't have a news director at that time. It was taken care of as soon as they found somebody they thought would do a good job. Tom Atkins was our first news director. He was also the only newsperson we had.

"The news was on five nights a week. We had still pictures-- mostly black and white slides. Sixteen mm film was the standard news stuff in those days, but we didn't have a processor and we didn't have a camera. We did have film that came in each evening at the airport about a half hour before the news. That was all the national news coverage that we had."

By most accounts Sarkes Tarzian, Inc. was frugal with its money. The only major improvement they made to the station came in 1964, when a 2,226 square feet addition was added to accommodate an expanding sales staff.

The image that WPTA enjoys in the community today can be traced to April 4, 1973 when the FCC approved the sale of the station to Combined Communications for $3.624 million. With the sale came a new management, with a new philosophy and a badly need influx of money.

"When I joined the station in January of 1974 it was in pretty bad shape really," former General Manager Ed Metcalfe said. "The equipment was not up to standards and so forth, so that was our initial problem-to made sure we had good equipment. We purchased new cameras and a new switcher and from then on it was a matter of rebuilding the station."

"The next major move was then to really expand our news," said former General Manager Barbara Wigham. "Wes Sims and Harry Gallagher were hired as co-anchors. Bill Eisenhood was our weatherman and Tom Campbell did the sports. That was our first full news team under the new ownership. It was amazing how quickly we grabbed a hold of the market and begin to make gains."

The most obvious change to occur in the news department came in July of 1978 with the construction of a new newsroom. In conjunction with the physical changes, the "Eyewitness News" format was replaced with the current 21Alive format.

The summer of 1979 brought two more major changes to WPTA. On June 7, the FCC approved the merger of Combined Communications with Gannett Co. Inc. Shortly thereafter the News Department received their first video camera, a RCA TK-76 and a Sony BVU-100 recorder. The camera, recorder and battery belt weighed in at approximately 60 pounds, a far cry from the all-in-one cameras weighing 22 pounds that the photographers use today.

The last major technological advancement utilized by the News Department came in the summer of 1984 with the delivery of the first "live" truck.

"The ability to go live from a scene was a tool that had sorely been needed in news at 21 for some time," Information Systems Manager Bill Schneider said. "Not only did it show our presence in the community, it gave us the ability to get video tape back from a distance in a matter of minutes as opposed to the drive time required to get it back here."

The 1980s brought WPTA under the administration of two additional ownerships. On May 12, 1983 the FCC approved the sale of WPTA to Pulitzer Publishing from Gannett Co., Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Six years later, on September 25, 1989 FCC approval was granted for the sale to the present owner, Granite Broadcasting Corporation for $22.15 million.

Television broadcasting on a regular basis began in the United States on April, 30 1939 in connection with the opening of the New York World's fair. The picture was black and white, the audio was mono, and the views were mesmerized. Today the television signal is broadcast in color with stereo audio, and the viewers are still enamored with television as WPTA-TV goes to HDTV and beyond.

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