Meet Bill Ray...

Pioneer News Director at NBC/Chicago

Curator's note: Take note of this article form the July 9th, 1951 edition of Broadcasting magazine. The late Bill Ray, a pioneering broadcast news director, was the man in charge.

The secret of Channel 5's success in those days? Start the 10 p.m. news and feature block with 10 minutes of weather. Rely on a staff that includes Clifton Utley, John Chancellor, Len O'Connor and Hugh Downs (plus Louis Roen, who, a decade and a half earlier, was pitching products to the ladies on the numerous soap operas that NBC-Chicago originated).

Forget about local news film [according to the article, Ray doubted there was enough hard local news to fill a fifteen minute slot; but in an interview several years ago, Bill told me NBC was "too cheap" to foot the bill for the shooters and the editors].

One of Bill's greatest achievements came three years after this article appeared. For some years prior, Bill had led a fruitless battle to allow broadcast journalists to record the proceedings of the Chicago City Council. The aldermen and the Mayor routinely nixed his requests. One day Bill took measures of his own. And, during the course of an hour special on WMAQ radio, played recordings of aldermanic debates held earlier that day in the council chambers. According to an NBC press release issued in the wake of the broadcast, the recordings were acquired "by undisclosed means". Audio recorders and [eventually] cameras were thereafter free to roll when the Council was in session.

If your're in the business, you'll find this article (which I offer in its entirety without comment) worth reading.



News was a standard programming ingredient at WNBQ (TV) Chicago long before the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. Since then, however, it has transcended the routine to a primary position.

Left: Artist Yo Hara makes original topographical maps of Manchuria, Korea and China. Most of his work is used by Commentator Clifton Utley (l), talking with News and Special Events Director Bill Ray and Jack Chancellor (r), staff writer. Yo Hara, Bill Ray and John Chancellor

Despite a basic antipathy evinced by many station men and advertisers to news on television, WNBQ, an NBC O & O outlet, was programmed with news and special events the day after it took the air two years ago. News and Special Events Chief Bill Ray, who has followed radio news trends since he entered the industry in 1933, predicted in 1948 that TV news would carry its own weight and also maintain and raise ratings on adjacent shows.

He started with radio's timing for newscasts. Video newsmen first appeared before the cameras during the evening dinner hour. Programming subsequently stretched back to lunch, and will retreat to breakfast some time this year. In the meantime, following these broad outlines of scheduling, Mr. Ray implemented each of the two basic hours for TV news---dinner time and noon.

From dinner, he jumped across the highly popular evening viewing periods to the time when the network goes down. From noon, he hopes to bring into the picture a mid-afternoon feature for housewives. Morning plans are still nebulous.

He believes news on TV is an established feature, equal to TV programming with less factual and more strictly entertainment contents. However, with network facilities and budgets, a large capable staff working at Radio Writers' Guild salaries, and a metropolitan location, he is able to "dress up" his operation. Principles, though, are the same which motivates a small station's news chief working with less leeway and fewer appurtenances.

Primarily, the end results are "clean"---news is straight, factual, authoritative. Writers are trained thinkers and observers, and are logical. Commentators are selected for character and integrity as well as insight into such basics as human nature, politics and psychology.

The trimmings---for example, three cameras, stills, movies, slides, charts, graphs, gimmicks, expensive production aids, trick camera work, celebrated guests and special art work---are tertiary.

WNBQ programs from two to three times as much local news as any other station in the country.

A late analysis shows 32 local live shows weekly, in addition to five network live programs. Local newscasts total 6 hours, 55 minutes, of which 4 hours, 35 minutes are sponsored. Several slots are in the "sale" stage now.

News Sells Wide Product Variety

TV news at NBC Chicago sells gas, lard, cigars, men's slacks, 100-pound bags of flour, tons of coal and commuter rides. It's just happenstance that most of the products now advertised tent slightly toward the upper-income consumer, Mr. Ray says.

Norm Barry, Hugh Downs, Louis Roen, Jack Angell and Len O'Connor
Left: Roster of writer-commentators employed by NBC Chicago, on its five-a-week mid-day video news roundup included (l to r) Norman Barry, Hugh Downs, Louis Roen, Jack Angell and Len O'Connor. News is presented in an informal fashion.

The station has implemented its schedule of five-a-week strips and a three-a-week feature with week-end programming, adding three Sunday evening shows and one on Saturday afternoon. Almost every kind of news available, from human interest to detailed analytical commentary, is covered by at least one of the programs. The ever-broadening video lineup is reversing the trend of radio, where newsrooms seldom, if ever, carried their own weight financially, Mr. Ray says. In television, news presentation is showing a "distinct tendency" to make money for the operator, because the impact warrants the expense borne by the advertiser.

The week-day schedule begins with "WNBQ Newsroom", Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12:15 to 12:30 p.m. This is followed by "The Weatherman", 5:35 to 5:45; "Clifton Utley and the News", 5:30 to 6 p.m.; "The Weatherman", 10 to 10:15, and Tom Duggan's "Let's Look at Sports", 10:30 to 10:45.

Each show can draw from the wire services, staff reporters, local tipsters, and three NBC television film features, the "Daily News Reel", the "Weekly Sports Reel" and the "Weekly News Reel". The local operation also uses occasional Chicago-area films shot by a cameraman assigned to "Camel News Caravan", which WNBQ carries nightly from the network.

The noon show, with a full lineup of commentators-writers, presents Network Commentators Clifton Utley and Alex Dreier, Reporter-at-Large Jim Hurlbut, starred on the "Zoo Parade" on NBC-TV, AM Newscaster Len O'Connor, News Announcers Louis Roen and Norman Barry, Newswriter Jack Angel and Network and Local Announcer Hugh Downs. The "WNBQ Newsroom", most informal on the slate, is handled by newscasters who can write their own copy, and writers who can deliver commentary.

Two late-evening features, Mr. Utley's commentary and "The Weatherman" with Clint Youle, his wife Jeanne, and his brother, Bruce, are regulars which have been on the air as long as the station.

Wide Sponsorship for Utley Commentaries

Mr. Utley has been bought since late last spring and his 5:50 to 6 p.m. show is sponsored on Tuesday and Thursday by Peabody Coal Co. The evening commentary is shared by Englander Mattresses, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and the Rock Island Railroad on Monday and Wednesday. His Saturday show from 6 to 6:30 is sponsored by the First National Bank, which picked up the show originally last July.

Mr. Youle, a former newswriter at the station, has been sponsored since September, 1949. His 10 o'clock feature is paid for by Ceresota Flour three evenings a weekly and by Commonwealth Edison Co. And the Public Service Co. Two nights. The same show on Sunday has been picked up by the Santa Fe Railway.

Mr. Youle, with his wife and brother, join hands (and voices) to deliver an integrated commercial in a kitchen situation. His earlier show also finds him illustrating weather conditions on a wall map and giving predictions.

"Let's Look at Sports" five nights weekly is sponsored one night each by Benson & Rixon (men's clothiers), Van Dyke Cigars, Lucky Tiger Shampoo and McIntosh Real Estate, which is selling plots in the Inverness subdivision of suburban Palatine, and each of the four buys participations on the Thursday evening program. Mr. Duggan telecasts a Sunday show at the same time. He follows a commentary by NBC AM network commentator Alex Dreier, who is sponsored by Home Federal Savings & Loan Assn. From 10:15 to 10:30 each Sunday.

Missing from the extensive coverage is a daily newsreel, which Mr. Ray says would be a welcome addition if (1) there was enough spot news in the area to sustain a 15-minute program, (2) reels could be processed rapidly enough, and (3) a sponsor would be willing to pay the tariff, "which could easily run to $1,000 a day."

Ratings Higher

The station's programming strategy has added up. American Research Bureau TV ratings for the Chicago area for the week between May 1-8 gave WNBQ "a greater advantage than ever before" over the other local stations in news show ratings, with WNBQ carrying the first six news shows (five produced locally) and eight out of the first nine, Mr. Ray reported. The top five rated shows for WNBQ were (1) Clint Youle, (2) Clifton Utley, (3) "The Weatherman", (4) "Camel News Caravan", (5) Tom Duggan's "Let's Look at Sports". NBC, incidentally, does not make any money from the sale of its packages, just the time, the news chief reports.

All talent, including writers, are hired only on an exclusive basis. No outside writer or commentator can handle a news show. Most news programs remain in the same time slot in which they started. Telecast at a constant hour, they are able to build an audience, get a meaningful circulation, and be sold. The principle of strip programming, sound in radio, pays off in TV, too.

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