Tough times for Fort Pierce’s WTVX, Ch. 34

Owner Frank Spain did his best to save his Fort Pierce television station, WTVX Channel 34. The devastating loss of CBS programming and network compensation in 1989 as part of the Big Switch had resulted in a 75 percent drop in his station’s value. He continued to produce local newscasts, heavy on coverage of the Treasure Coast (Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties), albeit with a much smaller news staff—down from forty to twenty-four. But a 74 percent ratings decline across the broadcast day resulted in advertising revenue losses that made it impossible to continue. Spain decided to sell out.
It wasn’t exactly a hot property. A deal was finally made with a relative newcomer to broadcast ownership, Elvin Feltner. WTVX elvin-feltner His company, Krypton Broadcasting, owned two other television stations—WNFT Channel 47 in Jacksonville and another independent in Birmingham, Alabama—a minor league basketball team, and what he described on his balance sheet as a five-thousand-title film library worth nearly $173 million.
Feltner purchased WTVX for $8 million in a deal approved by the FCC February 1, 1991. Sean Sheedy of SDS Communications in West Palm Beach filed the only objection to the transfer, claiming that Feltner had defrauded several investors over the years. The FCC declined to investigate further, saying the objection lacked sufficient factual allegations. Those facts would start to appear soon after the transfer.
In a bold statement announcing the sale, Feltner said after he rebuilt ratings with “innovative programming,” he would approach ABC about shifting its affiliation from WBPF Channel 25—a scenario scoffed at by that station’s management. Feltner described his film library as “bread-and-butter pictures,” not blockbusters, but family fare. Some of the better-known titles were Madame Bovary and Vanity Fair, he said, wanting to use them as a base on which to build a twelve-station empire of G-rated television stations in Florida. Jerry Carr, veteran television broadcaster who later reviewed the titles, had a different opinion. “I think I found two titles that were recognizable.” Plus, he said, the actual films were physically very old, brittle, in bad shape.
Krypton was named not for Superman’s home planet, but the small Kentucky town where Feltner was born. Like the fictional planet, trouble came quickly to Feltner’s Krypton. In June 1992, a Dutch bank sued him for failing to repay a $19 million loan to Krypton, personally guaranteed by Feltner. In reporting on the Dutch bank’s suit, the Palm Beach Post uncovered several other clues to his business practices:
• A “run-in with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 1978,” claiming that Feltner and other officers with a company called National Investment Services “violated federal securities laws while selling films as tax shelters.”
• A $3.9 million award in 1987 by an Ohio jury “to 19 investors who bought film distribution rights to 23 films and television episodes from Feltner and associates. The investors said the films and TV shows could not be sold.”
• Regarding Feltner’s film library supposedly worth $173 million—“critics have claimed the library is worth far less and contains many films already in the public domain.”
One program syndicator even told the author that his company had airchecks of WTVX broadcasting movies rented from Blockbuster, complete with the FBI Warning!
One year later, Feltner took Krypton into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after six program distributors, including Columbia Pictures and Paramount, sued the company, claiming it owed them more than $11 million. Columbia claimed Feltner’s three television stations had broadcast 440 episodes of Who’s the Boss?, Hart to Hart, T.J. Hooker, and Silver Spoons over a nineteen-month period after the distributor terminated the station’s program licenses for nonpayment.
In June 1993 US District Judge Edward Rafeedie found Feltner personally liable for copyright infringements and awarded Columbia $8.8 million. The case went to the US Supreme Court, which reversed the verdict, finding that Feltner had a constitutional right to have a jury decide the amount of damages. Columbia vowed to seek a retrial, which took several years.
By December 1993, the Palm Beach Post reported that a federal examiner said Krypton was in “such a tangled mess that its two Florida stations, mired in bankruptcy proceedings, should be turned over to a trustee.” Feltner’s Florida television “empire” came to an end in October 1994 when his stations were sold on the courthouse steps.
Columbia’s long-awaited retrial finally happened in April 1999, and the jury returned a verdict of $31,680,000—at the time the largest statutory damages award for copyright infringement. “His broadcasting and entertainment empires in ruins,” wrote Eliot Kleinberg in the Post, “Clarence Elvin Feltner sits in the Palm Beach County jail, facing more than $45 million in personal debt and a six-month sentence for contempt of court.”
Of the $173 million film library: It was later discovered that the films were kept in an un–air-conditioned storage unit, and that most had simply deteriorated over the years, like Feltner’s grand plans.

For this story and many more read Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting by clicking the BUY THE BOOK button.

Frank K. Spain brought Ft. Pierce’s WTVX Ch. 34 into the big leagues

In February 1979 Frank K. Spain, a pioneering engineer in the field of television, purchased WTVX Channel 34 in Fort Pierce. Over the next few years Spain would spend a reported six million dollars upgrading the CBS affiliate with a new 1,600-foot broadcast tower farther south and five million watts of power to extend its over-the-air signal to the lucrative Palm Beach County market. With the improved signal came a significant beefing up of its news department, including a studio and news bureau in a West Palm Beach high-rise office building, and bright orange sports jackets for its anchors. Former news anchor Jim Hughes told the Stuart News, “Under his ownership, the station became a major player. Channel 34 dominated the Treasure Coast,” and made inroads into Palm Beach County.
Spain, a native of Tupelo, Mississippi, was fascinated by electronics, which led to a successful career in the emerging television industry. He worked for NBC in Washington, DC, where he helped devise the first television feeds from the White House, Capitol, and the 1949 presidential inauguration of Harry S. Truman. Moving to New York with NBC, he helped develop the technology for color television. Still keeping his hometown roots, he established the first television station in Tupelo.
WTVX Frank K. SpainIn 1974 he started a new hobby, acquiring and restoring vintage automobiles, which would take him and his wife, Jane, around the world in search of cars and adventures. Spain’s collection of more than one hundred classic cars is now parked at the Tupelo Automobile Museum. (Photo from his later years at the museum.
Ten years after he purchased WTVX, Spain’s Fort Pierce station would suffer a major blow when it lost its CBS affiliation as part of The Big Switch—the largest swap of network affiliations in television history.
(Coming soon–tough years ahead for WTVX.)

Florida radio stations revolutionized AM with first-ever directional antenna array

April marks the anniversary of the world’s first use of a directional antenna array to keep a station’s signal from interfering with distant stations on the same frequency. This innovation, engineered and installed at Florida stations WFLA/WSUN in Tampa Bay, enabled AM stations to continue to utilize “sky wave propagation,” or more simply “signal skip,” to beam their signals to northern markets. Here’s the story, which begins on page 82 of Towers in the Sand.

WFLA WSUN directional antenna array (1)

As the crow flies, it’s over a thousand miles from Clearwater, Florida, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yet in the world of AM broadcasting, where signals bounce off of the ionosphere and are reflected back to earth hundreds of miles away in a phenomenon known as “sky wave propagation,” or simply, “signal skip,” a thousand miles may not be enough to prevent interference from stations sharing the same frequency.
Early radio stations established by city governments (such as WJAX Jacksonville and WCOA Pensacola) as well as real estate developers like Carl Fisher (WIOD Miami) used signal skip to send their “fun in the sun” messages to frigid audiences up north. This engineering and physics reality was the raison d’etre for WFLA and WSUN, two stations owned by the St. Petersburg and Clearwater chambers of commerce. Because the stations shared the frequency of 620 kHz on the lower part of the AM band, their signal enjoyed even greater skip. With only 2,500 watts of daytime power and 1,000 watts nighttime, WFLA and WSUN could tout the area’s tropical climate, sandy beaches, and relaxed lifestyle to thousands of winter-worn northerners.
The signal skip that was cherished by the chambers of commerce was cursed by one particularly powerful station in Milwaukee. WTMJ-AM, owned by the influential Milwaukee Journal, also broadcast on 620 kHz, one of the few in the nation on that frequency. Interference from WFLA/WSUN prohibited its growth in its own market, and as the older of the stations (WTMJ signed on May 1922), it had priority with the Federal Radio Commission.
WTMJ petitioned the FRC to abolish WFLA/WSUN, change its frequency, or reduce its power. A frequency change or power cut would have severely impacted the mission of the Florida stations, so much so that the chambers contemplated giving up the broadcast license. Fortunately, its station manager, W. Walter Tison, was both an engineer and a fighter. For help, he turned to his engineering consultant, Commander T. A. M. Craven, to see if they could “direct” his stations’ signals to reduce interference in Milwaukee yet still reach other northern audiences.
In the 1930s engineers had done some experiments with directing the signals of short wave, point-to-point transmissions, but most had dismissed its value for AM broadcasting. Commander Craven enlisted the help of Ray Wilmotte, a longtime Tampa Bay broadcast engineer, British expatriate, and direction-finder expert who was working on expanding the concept to directional antennas. Wilmotte was so sure that he could solve WFLA/WSUN’s Milwaukee problem “that he agreed to be paid only if he was successful,” according to radio historian Barry Mishkind.
It was quite a project, and it created what would become a landmark gateway to Clearwater on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. After detailed calculations, Wilmotte laid out two, two-hundred-foot self-supporting towers, one on either side of the causeway, “a quarter wavelength apart, in line with the bearing toward Milwaukee, 346-degrees,” Mishkind explained. Calling the process “quite simple,” Mishkind described how “the transmission lines [were] cut to quarter-wavelength, and routed in a curved way to the towers.” The result, Wilmotte predicted, would be a “null” (low signal) toward Milwaukee.
It worked! So well, in fact, that an FRC inspector in the path of the null “who was to measure the frequency of the station, instead had to ask if WFLA/WSUN had authority to be off the air,” Mishkind reported. “He could not hear the station at all!” The first directional broadcasting antenna array in the world was deployed in April 1932, and served the Florida chambers well for years, beckoning northerners (other than those in Milwaukee) to “come on down.” In 1950 the original towers and directional antenna array were relocated to the Gandy Causeway where they still straddled the roadway.
Ronald D. Rackley, who later became consulting engineer for WFLA/WSUN and at this writing is a partner at the consulting firm of duTreil, Lundin & Rackley in Sarasota, had a longtime fascination with the pioneering directional antenna array. After years of research, Rackley, along with Wilson Welch, Clear Channel radio’s Gulf Coast director of engineering, went searching for the original towers’ site on the Courtney Campbell, eventually discovering the location from an old aerial photo. The south tower site is now home to a sewage plant, but the original base for the north tower “was hidden in a clump of trees in a field next to a gas station,” wrote Mishkind. “Clearly visible was the date, ‘Mar 8 ’32,’ when the tower bases were poured.”
(Photo courtesy of jeff560.tripod.com)

Rev Billy Graham got broadcasting start at Florida radio station

Graham Billy copyFeb. 21, 2018 – It is with sadness and appreciation for his life’s work that we note the death of The Reverend Billy Graham today. In reporting his death, CNN said, “Graham built his ministry by brining the gospel message of tent-revival preachers into the modern media age, using any tool at his disposal . . .”

What is generally not known is that Reverend Graham got his start in radio preaching at Florida radio station WFOY-AM in St. Augustine. As reported in my book:

“In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Reverend Graham said a friend ‘arranged for me to preach for a week of evenings at East Palatka Baptist Church. And not only in the church, but over radio station WFOY in nearby St. Augustine, live every morning. By now I had prepared and practiced about fifteen sermons—full length ones—and I was ready to go.’ After preaching in church, Reverend Graham said, ‘I was so keyed up that I could hardly sleep at night, and yet I had to drive on a rural road the twenty-eight miles from Palatka to St. Augustine . . . in the morning in order to preach on the radio.’”

Again from CNN’s report, “‘He saw himself as using a new media to deliver a very old message,’ said Randall Balmer, an expert on religious history at Dartmouth College.”

Here’s a link to the CNN report: https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/21/us/billy-graham-obit/index.html

His message of peace, respect, and understanding will be missed

Broadcasting history icon reviews Towers in the Sand

Mishkind Barry

For a different perspective on my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, check out the review by Barry Mishkind published today on his “Broadcasters’ Desktop Resource” website. Barry bills himself as “the Eclectic Engineer,” but those of us who have followed him for decades know he is also an encyclopedia of broadcasting history, much of it archived on his website, Oldradio.com. His work was invaluable in my research and much appreciated.

Click here to receive your own personally inscribed copy of Towers in the Sand. An e-book is also available. Paperback $29.95 plus tax and $5.00 shipping/handling, the e-book is $8.99.

Hurricane Andrew 25 Years Later

Hurr Andrew 25 anniv

Twenty-five years ago radio and television stations throughout the southeast coast of Florida were in wall-to-wall coverage watching and waiting as Hurricane Andrew, which was first projected to hit southern Palm Beach County, shifted and strengthened.

Then, at 3:31 a.m. on Monday, August 24, 1992, people in Miami-Dade and Broward County watched or listened to the simulcast on radio station Y-100 (WHYI-FM) as WTVJ’s Bryan Norcross, Tony Segreto, and Kelly Craig moved from the fancy news set in the studio to their “safe spot,” a bunker-like storeroom. “When you see us move, it’s time for you to move into the safe spot in your home,” they had told their audience. Soon after a lady named Madeline called the station on her still-working landline phone and through tears told Norcross she was under a mattress in the bathroom while her husband and son shouldered the door to keep the wind from breaking through.

The story of Hurricane Andrew is important not just from a historical perspective, but because of the lessons it provides. The people of the state of Florida have not faced a storm the strength of Andrew in twenty-five years, while the population along the vulnerable coast has exploded—over six million people now live in Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach counties alone.

Bryan Norcross’s story in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, is titled “What happens after a hurricane has everything to do with what you do before a hurricane.” Preparation is the key—even something so simple as having an old-fashioned, battery powered AM/FM radio so you can hear important safety and recovery information after the power has failed, the Internet is down, and cell phone service is overloaded. You can read an excerpt of Bryan’s story by clicking here.

Bryan recently published a new book on Hurricane Andrew. Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of WeatherUnderground.com, published an illustrated review. Check it out here.

And for an interesting audio reminder of the days during and after Andrew, check out this adaptation of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” by former Y-100 DJ Joe Johnson, now a morning host on WLRN-FM. Here’s the link.

 

Broadcasting and Women’s Rights Trailblazer Passes

 

Lee mug

A Florida broadcasting pioneer passed away a few weeks ago, but not one cut from the usual cloth of engineer, on-air personality, or station owner. She is someone that every woman who has since made a good living selling local broadcast radio or television time is indebted.

Lee Colee Hamilton was likely the first female broadcast salesperson in Florida. Her obituary, penned herself, says it best:

“Lee never campaigned for women’s equal rights. She just took them. As early as grade school when a publisher offered a bicycle for the most magazine sales in Philadelphia, but excluded girls, Lee signed up under her brother’s name and won the citywide contest. It launched a life-long love affair with work and its rewards.”

You can read the full obit here:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/classifieds/obituaries-announcements/hamilton-lee-colee/mq8Z83dfzjtjo9bszHLs4I/

Her name was Leanore Dippy when she got her first job at Orlando’s WLOF as an “office girl” and copywriter. The story of how she broke into the all-boys-club of street sales is, I believe, among the best in my book. You can read the full story here:

http://www.towersinthesand.com/excerpts/

After becoming the top salesperson at WLOF she married my father, Donn R. Colee Sr., who was general manager of the station at the time. Together they put Orlando’s second television station, WLOF Channel 9 (now WFTV), on the air; then, after being recruited by MetroMedia owner John Kluge, became what Broadcasting magazine said was the only husband-wife management team in the country, evaluating and managing TV stations from Kansas City to Washington, DC. They divorced in 1968 but remained business partners and best friends until her death. She married Harry Hamilton in 1973 and, living in Palm Beach County, began a new career in commercial real estate—another very successful business partnership.

Lee was one of a kind and will be missed by all who knew her.

More critical acclaim for Towers in the Sand: “. . . a delightful and very readable book.”

Gold Robert author reviewer
History professor and author Robert L. Gold, book reviewer for the St. Augustine Record, calls Towers in the Sand “an important and welcome history of Florida Broadcasting . . . recounted with a storyteller’s touch.”
The review, published in The Record May 5, goes on to say: “From the beginning of the book, I was drawn to both the flow of events and the many characters who brought Florida broadcasting into being,” adding, “such are human-interest stories that emerge in the book from seemingly every part of the peninsula as well as the panhandle.”
Please click here to read the full review and a Q&A with the author.
Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting is available in paperback and e-book editions. Click here to purchase a copy.

How enterprising journalists at a Florida television station derailed the confirmation of a US Supreme Court nominee, and what the President did in retaliation

Carswell Judge G Harold

President Richard Nixon’s 1970 nomination of Florida Circuit Court Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Tallahassee to the US Supreme Court appeared to be in the bag. In announcing the nomination, presidential spokesman Ron Zeigler said “Carswell’s personal and judicial background . . . were investigated (and) the judge received a complete clearance.”

That blanket statement wasn’t enough for the journalists of Jacksonville’s WJXT Channel 4. Investigative reporter Ed Rodder went to Carswell’s hometown of Irwinton, Georgia, scoured public records and newspaper articles, discovering a speech Carswell made when running for the Georgia state legislature in 1948, containing the following three paragraphs:

“I am Southern by ancestry, birth, training, inclination, belief, and practice. And I believe that segregation of the races is proper and the only practical and correct way of life in our states. I have always so believed and I shall always so act.

“I shall be the last to submit to any attempt on the part of anyone to break down and to weaken this firmly established policy of our people.

“I yield to no man, as a fellow candidate or as a fellow citizen, in the firm vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy and I shall always be so governed.”

Rodder’s report on the newly found speech was picked up by Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News January 21, 1970, setting off a firestorm of controversy and Carswell’s denial of racial prejudice. After months of investigations and hearings, the US Senate rejected Carswell’s nomination “by a surprising 51–45 vote that touched off pandemonium in the staid and ornate old chamber,” reported the Associated Press. “Wild clapping, cheers and a few scattered boos from the galleries greeted Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s solemn announcement of the tally that marked President Nixon’s second straight defeat on a nomination of a Southern judge to the high court.”

Two years later the Nixon presidency was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, uncovered and advanced by reporters from the Washington Post, which also happened to own the station that derailed the president’s Supreme Court nomination, WJXT Channel 4, as well as Miami’s WPLG Channel 10.

On October 27, 1972, Chuck Colson, Nixon’s self-described “hatchet man,” sent a memo to another White House staffer: “Please check for me when any of the Washington Post television station licenses are up for renewal.” Then, between December 29, 1972, and January 2, 1973, three separate license challenges were filed against WJXT, and one against WPLG. Some of the challengers had direct ties to the president.

“Of all the threats to the company during Watergate . . . the most effective were the challenges to the licenses to our two Florida television stations,” wrote Katharine Graham, publisher of the Post, in her autobiography, Personal History.

Florida attorney Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte was lead counsel in the Washington Post Company’s successful defense of its stations’ licenses. Later, while president of Florida State University, he wrote a heartfelt piece for the Poynter Institute about Graham and her fight to keep her company’s television stations. The article is reprinted in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, and is especially relevant in today’s atmosphere of media bashing.

For the record, Bob Schellenberg was the general manager who led WJXT through the license challenge; Jim Lynagh was GM of WPLG.

This is just one of many stories of solid journalism and community service in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting. Please click here to buy the book

 

75 years ago this month – War came to Florida shores

U123 GulfAmerica copy
(U-123 oil painting by Jackson Walker)

February 16, 2017 – A full-page-and-a-half article published in today’s Palm Beach Post by staff writer and historian Eliot Kleinberg tells the fascinating story of German submarine warfare within sight of Florida shores. Twenty-four ships were sunk between February-May 1942, the majority in the 150-mile stretch of coastline from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton.

A great storyteller, Kleinberg’s opening paragraph sets the scene: “If you were living on Jupiter Island 75 years ago, on Feb. 21, 1942, you might have been partying at the local drinking hole, relaxing in your living room, or asleep in bed. All of a sudden, you would have felt the ground beneath you vibrate.” The story continues with coastal blackouts, famous local landmarks like The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach being converted into a hospital, local residents with German names being rounded up, beachcombers finding bodies amid seaweed and shells, pervasive paranoia.

It’s a great article, well illustrated, and well worth the read. Here’s a link: “The war offshore”

Eliot’s article references a book titled Operation Drumbeat by my godfather, University of Florida Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus Michael Gannon. Mike was the inspiration for my book on the history of Florida broadcasting and its effect on the social history of the state. One of Mike’s stories about warfare off the coast is in my book, including a first-person account by the captain of German U-123 who was monitoring St. Augustine radio station WFOY. The submarine was so close to the beach that “houses, trees, the dunes of the beautiful beach, the slender light house beyond it, everything could be seen without binoculars.” The boat continued northward where it encountered and sunk a tanker off Jacksonville Beach.

Commercial radio stations caused particular security concerns—not just because their signals could be used for direction finding, but out of caution for coded messages that could be conveyed to the enemy even by well-meaning broadcasters.

Within weeks of the submarine warfare off the coast, the US War Service Office of Censorship issued its Code of Wartime Practices for American Broadcasters. Many of the provisions were obvious, if very restrictive, when seen through the lens of today’s liberal media rules. Other prohibitions were somewhat surprising. “ALL weather data, either forecasts, summaries, recapitulations, or any details of weather conditions.” Included were restrictions on weather conditions surrounding special events. Permitted were terms such as “Game called because of weather,” “wet ground,” “muddy field”; prohibited was anything related to conditions over a large area, like “clear,” “rain,” “windy,” etc.

Entertainment programs were also restricted—the goal being to prevent coded messages to the enemy. “No telephoned or telegraphed requests” for songs. No “service announcements,” such as lost pets, meetings and the like. No man-on-the-street interviews.

The rules were voluntary, but enthusiastically adopted by broadcasters seeking to support their country in time of war.

You can read more about these topics and many more examples of how Florida broadcasters influenced the social history of our state in Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, available now in paperback and e-book editions by clicking here.