The History of Analog Television Broadcasting in Milwaukee

Originally Posted at "Bayside and Beyond" Blog on January 22, 2007

Albert the Alley Cat, WITI photo, c1982 WITI, courtesy of Dick Golembiewski, used with permission.
Albert the Alley Cat, c1982 WITI, courtesy of WITI, used with permission.

It's funny how things work. If television Channel 6 audio could not be heard when tuning in at the low end of the dial on an FM radio, then Dick Golembiewski may not have delivered an information packed and provocative lecture on the history of TV in Milwaukee. It's that simple.

Mr. Golembiewski's talk on January 15, 2007, was the second of six held at the North Shore Public Library (Glenadale, Wisconsin) on Monday evenings through February 12th. The sponsor is the North Shore Historical Society - what a great partnership. If I had to identify a theme for the series it is zooming in on interesting local institutions.

I came to the lecture with an unrealistic expectation, to be entertained by reminisces and anecdotes. I guess my mind was stuck on an image of Albert the Alley Cat. But now that I think it through, how could that be good history? Mr. Golembiewski went chronologically through key events beginning in the 1920s. He skimmed the surface. I advise checking out the well-researched details at his website. Then as now (we have digital television just taking off) it was a complex time.

In the Fall of 1948 several television stations were weeks away from going on the air in Milwaukee. WTMJ had been broadcasting since December 1947 on channel 3. The FCC took a time out, which lasted longer than an anticipated few months and became known as The Freeze. The Federal government was sorting through issues - allocation schemes, interference problems, VHF versus UHF, color TV versus black and white - and the Korean Conflict had center stage.

By the time things were clear (the FCC issued its general order on television in 1952), channel 1 was gone (other radio users like the police were entrenched in that spectrum space and many television sets were in use with the 1-13 numbering scheme).

A more important consequence was the allocation of educational TV channels. There would be a commercial station on channel 10 now and no channel 12 in Milwaukee but for this change.

Because of interference with a channel 3 in Kalamazoo, WTMJ moved to channel 4.

A lot happened and explaining it is complicated.

Other bits I caught that made me think: WITI was a Whitefish Bay TV station until 1960 so as to meet the required distance from the nearest other channel 6, a station in Iowa. There were many locally produced programs most of which are lost because either they weren't recorded or they were recorded on expensive tapes that were reused many times. Very sad. For several years in the late 1950s at one station there was color broadcasting using the Dumont system. That required the constant use of strobe lights in the studio. How did they do the news or a live dance program? I get a headache imagining that. There was even a WOKY-TV on channel 19 for a while. I don't believe it.

In his formative years, Mr. Golembiewski was a big fan of channel 6's Nightmare Theatre hosted by Dr. Cadaverino. Although sent to bed by his parents at a reasonable hour, young Dick Golembiewski was up late, wide-awake and happily listening to his radio experiencing history first hand.

Related link -

A Brief History of Milwaukee Television (the Analog Years)



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