TV 1950’s - 60’s

This was the very beginning of the 'Television Era', performers knew radio but how would those things work with pictures. Pretty much everyone who was there at the very beginning was learning, trying things from the earlier medium of radio to see what would work. Most stations (there were only 3) would initially only broadcast for a few hours in the middle of the day and would often have times during the day when they’d stop broadcasting to make adjustments to their equipment and signals.

In Colorado, outside of the Denver area, KKTV in Colorado Springs was first in the rush to hit the air. Surprisingly, an early 1953 Chieftain newspaper article mentions that it was funded by investors from Pueblo who had created the KGHF radio station in Pueblo. Next, was to come was supposed to be KDZA TV Pueblo, but for reasons I have yet to discover it never went on the air.

And then came KCSJ TV which branched off from KCSJ radio. I have a 1950 Colorado State Fair ad for the radio station touting "transmitters in three new 1950 Studebaker automobiles” that will “keep you in close touch with every State Fair activity throughout each day.” and that people “will be able to see and meet the popular local radio personalities you have come to know so well through your radio at home.” So local events and local talent were very big in media at the time.

All the talent working at the dawn of TV in small stations across the country were heavily used for the vast majority of the broadcast day. No satellites, no videotape, nothing of the sort, it was all local except for filmed 16 mm programs which were shipped to the network affiliates, which was then projected on a telecine tube and broadcast out over the air for some distance from the TV station. So the bulk of each day was filled with the work of that station’s talent - so they all got lots of airtime.

1953 KCSJ TV and radio studio opens on 'Big Hill' in northern Pueblo near the Colorado State Hospital. For $60,000 the Chieftain and Star Journal newspaper purchased the land and built a new studio which a 1953 Chieftain article bragged could "handle any type of production". Notice the tower which is near the station, it would later be moved northwest to Baculite Mesa. More recently the stations tower was moved to the top of Cheyenne Mountain, as the station which still has its' license for broadcasting as a Pueblo TV station basically emphasizes Colorado Springs now.

For almost 60 years, KCSJ was located in Pueblo (before it built a new 'state of the art' studio in Colorado Springs in the late teens), it served as a proud community supporter of Pueblo and its' events. Here Buddy and the manager for the Colorado State Fair do a promo for the 1959 Colorado State Fair. For decades, KCSJ TV (which later became KOAA TV) Channel 5 was central to anything and everything in Pueblo.

Proud to be one of the first television stations in the state, on its' first anniversary of operation, the KCSJ family celebrated its' initial year of operation. From left to right are: Kenny King (operations manager), Larry Caldwell (general announcer), Ross Beatty (sports), Cliff Hendrix (main announcer), Howard ? (IF anyone knows Howard’s last name and what he did, email me), Jon Giguere (general announcer), Marty Mendine (weather), and Buddy Johnson (anything Western).

Buddy is joined by 'Princess Columbine' (Jada Willard) who worked with him on 'The Buddy Johnson Adventurer’s Club Show' helps him here in a promo for the Christmas Seals. Buddy and the station were involved in all sorts of presentations related to Pueblo. If something was happening here Channel 5 was in the middle of it all.

Here’s one of many scripts Dad had, this one dates from 1961 and is an advertisement for Kress’s department store. It shows small changes and corrections made just before filming. Many of the sponsors requested that Buddy regularly do their spots, notice the tag line at the very end of this one.

The channel 5 studio in Pueblo was a very large room. When construction of the station on 'Big Hill' was announced on January 7, 1953 it was announced as “Pueblo’s first television station”. The Pueblo City Council rezoned an area of about 20 acres. The Chieftain announced that “The studios of KCSJ-TV will be large drive-in affairs capable of handling all types of local programming as well as network telecasts when network TV becomes available.” So most of the programing was locally generated, here Buddy hosts an interview about the Leadville Burro Days. They did a lot of crazy things in that studio!

Initially TV stations were only on the air a few hours, which eventually extended to most of the day ending late at night with the playing of the national anthem and signing off. Twenty-four hour broadcasting would not become a reality for decades. The locally originated programming was punctuated with network shows which were filmed and then shipped to affiliated stations across the country. The stars of these “network" shows frequently traveled from station to station to publicize their shows.

In this 1961 photograph is seen some of the cast from the popular TV Western 'Wagon Train'. On the left is Frank McGrath who played 'Charlie Wooster' the wagon train’s feisty cook and Terry Wilson who played scout 'Bill Hawks', next to Buddy is seated Ward Bond’s widow Mary. Bond who played the wagon master 'Major Seth Adams' died in 1960 and this was a tour of the remaining cast to reassure audiences that 'Wagon Train' would continue. Bond was replaced by John McIntire and the show continued on NBC for another 5 years. On a personal note, I remember Frank who was sitting on the short brick wall near where  Dad is standing. As I walked past, Frank put out his arm and seated my 9 year old self on his lap and talked to me, he was a nice man as I remember.

One of the most popular things Buddy would do was the Indian 'war whoop', particularly after singing Happy Birthday to someone. Here Buddy and Princess Columbine treat a group of kids in Rocky Ford to a loud and boisterous war hoop. It’s something the family still unconsciously does occasionally when we sing Happy Birthday.

On a different visit to Rocky Ford, Buddy and Princess Columbine regularly visited many of the towns through out the Channel 5 viewing area. Here they are probably, at the Arkansas Valley Fair parade in 1958. This was typical of the way Channel 5 used to be involved with the region's towns, large and small.

The station promoted their talent which always brought out good crowds. Dad did tons of personal appearances not just close, but throughout the Channel 5 viewing area. This was for a 1962 appearance in Saguache for the Spring Roundup dance and parade.

Another parade from 1957, Buddy, with Princess Columbine or with his band The Colorado Rangers, were regional fixtures at celebrations of all types and sizes. I remember when I accompanied him, how he would get mobbed at such events.

This was for a Christmas promotion show for Coca Cola. Dad, me and a small stuffed Santa. They gave it to me to hold for the program, but I thought they were really giving it to me and I wouldn’t let then take it back. Dad bought it for me and we still bring it out at Christmas.This shot shows some the paraphernalia involved in early TV studio production. What you can’t see is how hot these lights were. Some of my earliest memories were of this studio, which later in life I again worked in twice for a few years as a studio cameraman and floor director.

Here they are at a 1955 Pueblo Army Depot orphan Christmas party. Buddy was involved with the Depot into the 1970s for they hosted many parties and events for orphans during the holiday seasons and during Colorado State Fair time. Buddy was honored by a number of boy’s ranches becoming an honorary member of their organizations.

This certificate was from Boys Town, a Boys Ranch in Nebraska. They were on his show.

Another group was from Amarillo, Texas. Buddy is seen here on our horse ‘ Chubby'. Chubby was the most gentle horse, he would quietly stand among children even when they were surrounding and petting him which was inevitable. Children would sometimes even walk right under him, but he wouldn’t move. He was like a big dog and a member of the family. The estimate of how many kids were on Buddy’s shows is in the thousands and thousands.

These groups were very appreciative for Dad’s involvement and his publicizing their events and causes. In the Pueblo Heritage Museum exhibit about Dad are the fine crocodile boots which the Boy Scouts gave Buddy for all the help he had given them over the years.

Everyone loved 'ole Chub'. This is a children’s picnic in Pueblo's City park. I remember Dad going out very early to load Chubby in the horse trailer when we lived in Beulah as he was boarded in a pasture up North Creek. Then returning Chubby late at night when we came home from a long day at the State Fair. Chubby was a real trooper who loved to nibble people’s food when they weren’t aware.

Buddy did general interviews of a wide variety of people who came through Pueblo during this period. This is Buddy and a girl listening to major Mexican film and music star Tito Guizar. Pueblo was the second largest and second most powerful city in Colorado during this period so everyone of importance who visited Colorado often visited Pueblo, including international recording artists like Tito. He was in dozens of films mainly in Mexico, but this was a tour to broaden his appeal in the US.

At one time or another all the political figures made their way through the TV and radio studios of KCSJ. Here was then Colorado Governor Steve McNichols who talks with Buddy on his show as Larry Caldwell and some children look on.

When John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo in the summer of 1962 to announce that the Frying Pan Arkansas Project was going through, Dad and I sat very close to the President on the grass in front of the platform in School District 60 stadium (now Dutch Clark stadium). The Frying Pan Arkansas Project enabled the diversion of water from the Colorado’s Western slope where they have lots of water to the Arkansas River and the Eastern slope where water is more scarce.  It was a bright sunny day and I still remember the large green recliner that Kennedy sat in and how reddish brown his hair was. He sat while the  Colorado delegation spoke and then he spoke behind a podium with ‘Pueblo' spelled out in flowers, it was a great day.

This was Dad’s place of work for about a decade. I love this shot for it also shows the crew. On the left is Ned Taylor who when he wasn’t running camera was the puppeteer for 'Koko the Clown' and 'Pierre the Chief'. Ned later became a TV station manager in Missoula, Montana. On the right was Dad’s good friend Bill Baker. Bill worked for Channel 5 for years, later he worked for a Denver station and even later had his own film production company. Some twenty years later, I purchased Bill’s film production equipment when I started my own film production company Tamarack Productions. Great guys! Here Dad is interviewing Fred Harmon who was previously a partner with Walt Disney, now lived in Pagosa Springs and who wrote the 'Little Beaver' and 'Red Ryder' comic strips.           © John Johnson 2019       All rights reserved.