TV 1950s - 60s

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 two or three, 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, to come was supposed to be KDZA TV Pueblo, but for reasons unknown, 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 community 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. The film was then projected on a telecine machine and broadcast out over the air from the TV station’s tower. The bulk of each day's programming though was filled with the work of the station’s talent - so they all got lots of airtime.

In 1953 KCSJ TV and radio studio opened 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 Chieftain article bragged could "handle any type of production." Pueblo was a very powerful city during this time period. Notice the tower which is near the station as it would later be moved northwest to Baculite Mesa. The station which has been sold and resold a number of times has changed. In recent years with its broadcast tower at the top of Cheyenne Mountain, the station though still licensed as a Pueblo television station, now unfortunately emphasizes Colorado Springs.

For almost 60 years the main production facility was located in Pueblo before it built a new "state of the art" studio in Colorado Springs in 2014. It served as a proud community supporter of Pueblo and all its events.

Here Buddy and the manager for the Colorado State Fair Clyde Fugate, do a promo for the 1959 Colorado State Fair. For decades, KCSJ, which later became KOAA, Channel 5 was central to anything and everything in Pueblo.

Proud to be one of the first television stations in the state and region, on its first anniversary of operation, the KCSJ TV family celebrated the first year. From left to right, Kenny King (operations manager), Larry Caldwell (general announcer), Ross Beatty (sports), Cliff Hendrix (main announcer), Howard ?, Jon Giguere (general announcer), Marty Mendine (weather), and Buddy Johnson (anything Western) kids’ show and live music programs with the Colorado Rangers.

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

Here’s one of Dad’s many scripts. 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 has a very large room. When construction of the station on "Big Hill” was announced on January 7, 1953 it was proclaimed as “Pueblo’s first television station." The Pueblo City Council rezoned an area of about 20 acres for it.

The Chieftain stated 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 sign 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" programs frequently traveled from station to station to publicize their shows.

Here some of the cast from the popular TV Western Wagon Train is seen in this 1961 photograph. On the left is Frank McGrath who played "Charlie Wooster,” the wagon train’s feisty cook, and Terry Wilson who played scout "Bill Hawks.” Sitting next to Buddy is Ward Bond’s widow Mary. Bond who had played the wagon master "Major Seth Adams,” died in 1960. 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. Band member Roy Leatherman can be seen between McGrath and Wilson, so the Rangers were involved. 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 pulled my eight-year-old self on to his lap and talked to me. I remember him as a nice man.

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 whoop. It’s something the family still occasionally does unconsciously when we sing Happy Birthday.

Buddy and Princess Columbine in Rocky Ford. They regularly visited many of the towns throughout the Channel 5 viewing area. Here they are at the Arkansas Valley Fair parade in 1958. This was typical of the way Channel 5 used to be involved in all the region's towns, large and small. Television sets were expensive and they were promoting a brand new medium!

04-11 1962 Saguache appearance

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

A 1957 parade at an unknown location. Buddy, either 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 shoot was for a Christmas promotion show for Coca-Cola with Dad, me and a small stuffed Santa. They gave it to me to hold for the program. I thought they were really giving it to me and I wouldn’t let them 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 I worked in twice for a few years, as a studio cameraman and floor director. I have this original image in its Adele Russell wood-burned frame on my wall.

Here they are at a 1955 Pueblo Ordnance Depot orphan Christmas party. Buddy was involved with the Depot for decades. They hosted many parties and events for orphans during the holiday seasons and during the Colorado State Fair. Buddy was honored by a number of boys’ ranches, and became an honorary member of their organizations.

04-15 Award 1955 Boy's Town

This certificate was from Nebraska Boys Town, which appeared on his show. Boys Town was made famous by three films.

Another Boys Ranch, this one from Amarillo, Texas, arriving by train as they often did. Buddy is seen here on our horse “Chubby.” Chubby was the most gentle horse. He would stand quietly 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 a big pet and a member of the family. The estimates of how many kids were on Buddy’s shows is in the thousands.

Apparently, companies like the CF&I would sponsor trains which brought groups of kids from boys’ ranches in nearby states. They would be on the show and attend the fair if it were on. Buddy and Chubby were there to meet them.

04-17 Award 1956 Farley Boys Ranch

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

Everyone loved 'ol 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. He was boarded in a pasture up North Creek. Dad would return Chubby late at night when we came home from a long day at the State Fair or other event. Chubby was a real trouper who loved to nibble on people’s food when they weren’t looking.

Buddy did general interviews with 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 visited Pueblo, including international recording artists like Tito. He was in dozens of films mainly in Mexico. 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 announcer Larry Caldwell and children look on.

President John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo in the summer of 1962 to announce that the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project was going through which would store more of Colorado’s water. 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.

Previously, they had sold small brass frying pans to show support for the project without which the populous Colorado “Front Range” of today would not have been possible. The Frying Pan-Arkansas Project enabled the diversion of water from the Colorado’s Western slope to the Arkansas River and the Eastern slope where water is 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 Chef." Ned later became a TV station manager in Missoula, Montana. On the right was Buddy’s good friend Bill Baker. Bill worked for Channel 5 for years, later working for a Denver station, ultimately he had his own film production company. Some twenty years later, I purchased Bill’s film production equipment when I started my own company, Tamarack Productions. They were great guys! Here, Buddy interviews Fred Harmon, a famous cartoonist. These studio cameras are typical of the first B&W cameras available to early TV stations across the nation. Also, notice the supplemental light on one, and the large boom mike above the performers.

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