East Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – As we approach the Golden Anniversary of NewsChannel 9 this fall, we've decided to crack open the archives and share some memories with you.
We're going to take you back to the very beginning, 1962, and the furious race to get WNYS “Colorful Channel 9” on the air in record time.
The birth of Channel 9 was recorded much like a big event in your family in the early '60's, on home movies. No one thought to roll a videotape.
The first face on the air belonged to a guy who'd become a local legend in TV and radio, Phil Markert.
“The first words spoken were 'A cat has nine lives,' which was my way of starting Channel 9. A cat has 9 lives. A baby's gestation period is 9 months. This is September 9th,” Markert said.
Syracuse was one of the biggest markets in the country with only two TV stations.
The FCC approved a third station in 1961, and a battle developed between 10 potential owners' groups.
After a year, the FCC ordered them all to work together to get the station and the ABC network on the air. They had to build a station from scratch in 90 days.
They hired a management team, which hired a staff, which raised an antenna on Mount Sevier in Pompey.
At the same time, they were carving a studio out of an empty furniture store in the basement of ShoppingTown Mall in DeWitt.
Dennis Calkins was NewsChannel 9’s Art Director from 1962 to 2003, and shared his memories of the days before the station went on the air.
“There were no walls, no nothing. So we had to start from scratch to do the control room, the studio, all the offices for clerical, sales, administration. So it was just a nightmare. It all had to be rewired,” Calkins said.
They made it just in time for the new season, signing on the air September 9, 1962, the 9th day of the 9th month.
“Mike Price was our original weatherman,” Phil Markert recalled, “and when I introduced him, said 'and now, here's the guy who'll be doing our weather, Mike Price,' and he was behind a curtain, a stage curtain, and he couldn't find his way out.”
Mike Price shard his point of view. “You could see this clawing behind the curtain, behind the cyclorama, as if I'm clawing, and finally Phil came over and helped me through where the slit was in the curtain. That's the first thing I remember as appearing on Channel 9.”
One of the engineers who helped build the station, Mort Miller, said, “We got on the air so fast, we didn't actually stay on the air. Next morning, signed on and something broke down, and we were off the air.”
They recovered quickly and from the beginning, Channel 9 set out to be different than the competition.
We produced hours upon hours of live programming, shows aimed at young people and teenagers, with an eager staff that in many cases wasn't much older than that themselves.
They learned fast, and provided Central New York with viewing pleasure that some folks still remember fondly, 50 years later.
“There were a few guffaws during the whole thing, but it worked and we got it on the air. And I found out during my career that that was the nature of the business, that you never thought you were going to make it on the air on time, but somehow it managed to take place,” Mike Price said.