60 Years of WABI TV-5: A Look Back
In the days leading up to January 25th, 1953, TV’s were more like pieces of furnture, not the flat screens we have today, and not many people had one yet.”Murray Carpenter, the manager at the time, he had one. We didn’t know how to tune it in. Of course, you couldn’t get anything on it anyway, except snow.”In an interview years ago, the late Walter Dickson, who came to WABI radio in 1938 and became the station’s chief engineer, said he went to WABI’s owner, Governor Horace Hildreth, with the idea to start a television station. The governor wasn’t immediately sold on the idea.”If you fellas want to go with it, how much is it going to cost? It will be around a hundred thousand dollars Governor, not a cent more. If it works, fine. If not, we’ll forget about it.” They didn’t have to worry. On that late January day in 1953, Dickson would make history, throwing the switch that brought the first television station north of Boston to the airwaves. As former TV5 General Manager George Gonyar remembers, television sales skyrocketed at local businesses. “It was exciting. The whole marketplace, everybody, went out a bought a TV and put an antenna on the roof. You had to have an antenna and waited for that signal to come on.” “They had a bonanza. They started selling TV sets. They called me up and wanted me to come up and show people how to tune one. Well, I hardly knew how to spell television myself, you know.”There was not a lot of programming in the early days. Hal Shaw had the first show on TV5, playing records, which he recalled during one of our previous anniversary celebrations. “I came to WABI Radio as a morning disc jockey on “Rise and Shine,” then went to TV as the first TV announcer in the state of Maine. I remember how proud we were to get the first film on the air. We even sold the test pattern.” Everything was live, including the commercials, which were read from cue cards. George Hale came to WABI just a few months after the television station went on the air in 1953.”I can remember doing a thing called ‘Spin the Wheel.’ The show was supposed to be five minutes. They came in with five minutes of commercials. The sponsor said, ‘you want to do a show, that’s your problem. I bought five minutes, I want it all commercials.’ So I did the first infommerical.” Back then, the TV studio was on Copeland Mountain in Holden and the offices were in downtown Bangor. Eventually, everything was moved to Hampden, but the company kept growing, and a new location was needed. Studio City opened in 1962, with long lines of folks waiting to tour this brand new facility. It’s still our home today.We’ve gone from black and white to color, film to video tape, to no tape at all, analog to the digital revolution. One thing remains constant: WABI is Maine’s only locally owned television station, still controlled by the Hildreth family. In fact, TV5 is the oldest station in the country to be under the continuous ownership of one family.