ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Television station WTEN is celebrating a milestone. It was 70 years ago on October 14, 1953, that WTEN went on the air for the first time.
But it wasn’t called WTEN at the time and it wasn’t channel 10. Hudson Valley Broadcasting owned what was then WROW radio and WROW channel 41. It was run out of a former home for retired nuns in North Greenbush.
“The building belonged to St. Joseph’s church in the 1870s,” said Jim Greenfield, North Greenbush historian. The building was located next to a farm on Glenmore Road. The “nunnery”, as it was called burned down in 1966, the same year the station moved to Northern Blvd. in Albany.
WROW channel 41 was a UHF station, meaning it broadcasted over a low-frequency signal. Not many television sets at the time could tune in to the station, even with an antenna. WROW was losing money fast and heading toward bankruptcy. Harry Goldberg, the owner of Hudson Valley Broadcasting knew he had to sell the station or go down with it.
Frank Smith was a financial advisor in New York City. One of his clients was the famed journalist and entertainer Lowell Thomas. “Lowell Thomas became famous when he made T.E. Lawrence famous as Lawernce of Arabia in the late teens,” said John Ansley, director of the Marist College Archives and Special Collections. Ansley added, “He’s probably best known for his work in radio.”
Smith and Thomas heard about WROW and had a plan to turn the bankrupt station into a money maker. “The idea was they would apply to the FCC and go for a VHF station so they could be a CBS affiliate,” said Ansley.”
“That was what was called a crap shoot,” said Phil Beuth, an early employee of WROW. Beuth added, “a crap shoot that brought to Albany a man called Thomas Murphy. Smith and Thomas bought WROW and hired Murphy to run their station. They named their new company Capital Cities.
In 1956, the FCC granted WROW a VHF channel. Murphy chose channel 10 and changed the call letters to WTEN. In the years that followed, WTEN gained viewership against the area’s dominant station WRGB by focusing on programming geared to children and families.
“I looked the schedule over and WRGB was adult and soap operas all afternoon and I said we got to go for kids,” said Beuth. The station hired a series of on-air personalities to introduce cartoons and Western movies. One of those personalities was Thaddeus Konopka, who later changed his name to Ted Knight.
Knight was a ventriloquist and puppeteer and hosted several children’s shows including Officer Ted and Windy Knight. He later went on to star as anchorman Ted Baxter in the The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Other personalities included Ralph Vartigan who was known as Commander Ralph of the Goodship News program and co-anchor of the noon newscast with Mary Caroline Powers. George Leighton was the Old Skipper who introduced Popeye cartoons. John Stewart hosted the Dialing For Dollars show and Sam Stratton, who at the time was the mayor of Schenectady, was the news anchor.
The staff at WTEN outgrew their studios at the former retirement home for nuns. In 1966, the station moved to a new building on Northern Blvd. They have been there ever since.
News10 takes a look back at the history of WTEN with a special presentation. It includes interviews from some of the early employees from the mid-1950’s who were there when it all began. Plus, some on-air news personalities you might recognize.