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|Branding||WKBF Channel 61|
|Channels||Analog: 61 (UHF)|
|Owner||Kaiser Broadcasting (co-owner, 1968–1975)|
Frank V. Mavec and Associates (co-owner, 1968–1975)
Field Communications (co-owner with Kaiser and Mavec, 1973–1975)
|First air date||January 19, 1968|
|Last air date||April 25, 1975|
(7 years, 96 days)
|Call letters' meaning||W Kaiser Broadcasting Field|
|Former affiliations||Independent (1968–1975)|
WKBF-TV, UHF analog channel 61, was an independent television station licensed to Cleveland, Ohio, United States. The station was owned as a joint venture between Kaiser Broadcasting, Frank V. Mavec and Associates and, later, Field Communications (the latter owned a minority stake in the station from 1972 to 1975). WKBF is perhaps the least remembered for its position in television history, although many nationally recognized broadcast professionals began their career at the station. WKBF-TV's studios were located on St. Clair Avenue in Euclid. Its microwave studio-transmitter link (STL) was assigned the microwave license of KZM-32.
As the newest member of the Kaiser Broadcasting chain of independent stations (which included WKBD-TV in Detroit, WKBS-TV (frequency now occupied by WGTW-TV) in Philadelphia, WKBG-TV (now WLVI) in Boston, WFLD-TV in Chicago, KBHK-TV (now known as KBCW) in San Francisco, and KBSC-TV (now KVEA) in Los Angeles), WKBF-TV first signed on the air on January 19, 1968; when the station began operation, its first day of broadcast was delayed due to one of the worst snowstorms to hit the area that winter.
WKBF was the first commercial UHF television station to sign on the air in Cuyahoga County, and it paved the way for other commercial UHF stations that would debut later, such as WUAB (channel 43, with whom it later merged) and WOIO (channel 19). The first video footage transmitted on the station was a simple sentence on a hand-lettered message board reading, "We made it Cleveland", accompanied by a 1,000 hertz tone (normally used for system calibration).
In a bold move for that point in time, WKBF attempted to bring in unique programs to the Greater Cleveland television market in order to gain profitability. In another ahead-of-its-time programming move, news director Matt Quinn, began one of the first 10 p.m. newscasts on the Eastern United States, simply called The 10 O'Clock News, which aired an hour earlier than the late evening newscasts on the market's network-affiliated stations. The program lasted until its cancellation in November 1970, with its anchor, John Herrington, later moving to WKYC (channel 3), where he enjoyed a long career before passing away in 2007.
The station was also Northeastern Ohio's first affiliate of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's "Love Network", broadcasting the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, within which the local inserts were hosted by notable children's host Linn Sheldon (famous for The Barnaby Show). A soon-to-be famous children's program called Captain Cleveland also aired on WKBF, even though the actual Captain was never actually seen on-camera by viewers. In a sort of local nod to Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, the characters on the show included John, played by local Cleveland ventriloquist John Slowey, and his puppet buddy Clem, who performed on the station from 1969 to 1974.
Other programming on WKBF included a late-night weekend horror movie showcase hosted by Ron Sweed, whose on-air character was named The Ghoul. The Ghoul character was essentially a beatnik vampire, outfitted in a fright wig, goatee, lab coat, and a pair of sunglasses with one lens missing. It was patterned after the Ghoulardi character that was created by Ernie Anderson (with his permission), who was later to become the voice of the ABC network in the 1970s. While Anderson had no interest in doing so, he granted Sweed permission to don the costume. As WJW owned the rights to the name "Ghoulardi", the younger performer adopted the name "The Ghoul." Although WKBF has long since passed into broadcasting history, Sweed continued to make personal appearances on a fee-for-service basis in this guise until very late in life. WKBF also featured sports programming such as game telecasts from the World Football League and Cincinnati Royals NBA basketball, and harness racing.
Although it had a large array of local programming, the most popular and most profitable program on WKBF were syndicated reruns of the original Star Trek. It was well known that WKBF had rebroadcast the entire 79-episode original series in the exact order of play that had been originally shown on NBC when it aired on that network, and had also paid out of its own pocket for the special high-contrast black-and-white prints of the show in order to do so. In another bold move for the times, the show also ran in its original length, without additional editing for commercials.
The station was also one of only two commercial independent stations in the immediate Cleveland area back in the early 1970s, along with WUAB. A third UHF station also existed – non-commercial educational station WVIZ (channel 25). Other UHF stations in the market, with varying coverage, included ABC affiliate WAKR-TV in Akron (channel 23, now Ion Television station WVPX-TV) and WJAN-TV in Canton (channel 17, now TBN station WDLI-TV).
WKBF shuts down
By 1973, Kaiser Broadcasting had sold a 22.5% share of WKBF to Field Communications, but Kaiser retained a majority share of the station, even though two years later in April 1975, WUAB owner United Artists sold another partial stake in that station to the Kaiser/Field group, the station continued to draw its share of viewers. However, in 1975, because FCC rules at the time did not allow for ownership of more than one station in any market by the same owner or group owner, Kaiser/Field opted to shut down WKBF. Kaiser then chose to augment the programming of sister station WUAB with the best content from WKBF after the station went dark. Even though Kaiser, partnered (as a minority shareholder) with United Artists operations in the spring of 1975 after shutting down WKBF, at no time did WUAB operate under full or partial Kaiser ownership.
The station's final scheduled program on April 25, 1975 was an episode of Perry Mason; this was followed by highlights of the previous seven years of the station's existence; and then by station vice president and general manager Alan B. Bennett thanking the community for its support, attributing Kaiser's decision to fold the WKBF operation into WUAB as a result of "static market growth" along with "the creation of a second (commercial UHF) station in less than a year". Despite merging WKBF-TV into WUAB-TV, the channel 61 license was fully returned to the FCC, which closed the opportunity to transfer the license to another owner.
The dark years (1975–1980)
Rumors abounded concerning potential companies that could file for the Channel 61 license in Cleveland, yet none came forward right away. In 1980, Balaban Communications purchased a new, separate license using the UHF channel 61 allocation. The company signed on the new station later that year under the call letters WCLQ-TV (which would later change to WQHS-TV). The station now operates as an owned-and-operated station of Spanish-language network, Univision, as WQHS-DT.
- "Group Ownership" (PDF). Broadcasting Yearbook. 1969. Retrieved 31 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
- "WKBF – Kaiser for Cleveland (trade magazine ad)" (PDF). Broadcasting & Cable: 25. January 6, 1969. Retrieved 2013-10-08.[permanent dead link]
- Petkovic, John (April 3, 2019). "Legendary Cleveland horror host Ron 'The Ghoul' Sweed has died (photos)". Cleveland.com. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
- The Plain Dealer, "...but employees go out with touch of class", April 20, 1975.
| Channel 61 Cleveland occupant