A Guided Tour of WMAQ-TV


See the State-of-the-Art Television Facilities as They Appeared in 1970

CURATOR'S NOTE: The text and pictures below are from the article "WMAQ in the History of Chicago" that appeared in the March/April, 1970 edition of Broadcast Journal magazine. The author, Chet Campbell, was then director of WMQ-TV's public information department. In 1970, WMAQ-TV was well into the period of expansion that lasted until General Electric's 1985 acquisition of RCA. Read Chet's introduction below. The chose the areas you would like to visit from the links that follow.

Chicago's huge Merchandise Mart, a two-block square landmark overlooking the North Branch of the Chicago River, occupies a place in broadcasting history. Since 1931, it has been the home of NBC's Midwest operations---the pioneer WMAQ radio, the second oldest AM station in Chicago, since 1948 WMAQ television. WMAQ radio is credited with a number of "firsts" which include such pioneer efforts as the University of Chicago Roundtable, radio's first daytime serial, Lights Out; the first broadcast of intercollegiate baseball and football; the first overseas news report and launching such talent as Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos and Andy, Gary Moore, Mercedes McCambridge and Red Skelton. WMAQ-TV followed in the same pattern as its sister radio station, having been the incubator of the "Chicago School" of informal television production techniques in the 1950s. WMAQ-TV has also contributed to its share of innovative programming---Garroway at Large, Zoo Parade, Ding Dong Schooll and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

World's First All-Color Station

Sunday, April 15th, 1956, was a milestone for both WMAQ-TV (then WNBQ) and the television industry. It was "C-Day", described by Broadcasting-Telecasting Magazine as "a daring break through the black and white curtain," and the date WMAQ-TV became the world's first all-color television station. Brig. General David Sarnoff, then chairman of the board of RCA and NBC, first announced the conversion of WMAQ-TV to all-color six months earlier in an historical closed circuit news conference from both New York and Chicago. The station installed its first color equipment in 1953 and the first major network color transmission was the Rose Bowl parade in 1954. In April, 1956, when WMAQ-TV began telecasting all local live programs in color, there were an estimated 50,000 color sets in the Chicago market. Today there are more than a million color sets in the market. Today WMAQ-TV airs more than 17 hours of local news programming each week. It is the only Chicago station with its own color film processor; with news crews on the street 24 hours a day; with videotape mobile units assigned to news coverage and has the only outside the city news bureau---the Northwest Indiana Bureau, staffed with a reporter and a film cres in Gary, Ind. NBC Chicago has a news operation of about 130 persons, which serves both WMAQ Television and Radio, and the NBC radio and television networks. On the network level, the NBC Chicago news operation covers the entire Midwest and parts of the South, and includes a separate Huntley-Brinkley unit. The Chicago office provides an average of 180 news feeds to the NBC-TV network each month. WMAQ-TV's production and technical facilities are housed on the 19th and 20th floors of the Merchandise Mart, in the studio and office areas which were incorporated into the original plan of the buildings of the building when it was built in the early 1930's. Constant remodeling and renovation of studios, control rooms and other technical areas, have kept pace with technological developments in the industry. Studios which once were originating such radio programs as the Carnation Contented Hour and First Nighter are now the most modern and efficient television production centers in the Midwest. The NBC Chicago operation now is expanding into an additional 33.000 square feet of space in a building constructed on the roof of the Merchandise Mart for Eastern Airlines several years ago. The airline vacated the space last year and moved to suburban Chicago.

You may visit the following areas:

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
Audio and video downloads
About the Curator

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Created by Rich Samuels (e-mail to rich@richsamuels.com)