WSUN-TV Debuts, May 31st, 1953

WSUN-TV Channel 38 in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida, began broadcasting at 4:15PM on Sunday, May 31st, 1953 with a dedicating ceremony featuring Samuel G. Johnson, mayor of St. Petersburg, Curtis Hixon, mayor of Tampa and Herbert Brown, mayor of Clearwater [1]. At 4:45PM a 15-minute NBC newsreel was presented and then the evening’s programming began in earnest with an installment of Hopalong Cassidy.

WSUN-TV Debut Line-up – Sunday, May 31st, 1953 [2]

4:15PM – Dedication Ceremonies.
4:45PM – NBC Newsreel.
5:00PM – Hopalong Cassidy.
6:00PM – Terry and the Pirates.
6:30PM – Kiddies Karnival.
7:00PM – The Jack Benny Show.
7:30PM – Liberace.
8:00PM – Jackson and Jill.
8:30PM – Be There With Bear.
9:00PM – Film Feature (Mr. Muggs Rides Again, 1945)
10:00PM – March of Time (“Make Way for the Queen”)
10:30PM – Local News.
10:35PM – Your Home Theatre (Trade Winds, 1938)

Some notes on the first day’s programming: Kiddies Karnival was a locally produced children’s show; the episode of The Jack Benny Show was the season finale with guest Gisele MacKenzie; Jackson and Jill was a syndicated sitcom starring Helen Chapman and Todd Karnes; Be There With Bear was a film about the Indianapolis Speedway. WSUN-TV signed off in February of 1970. During its twenty years on the air, it was affiliated briefly with both CBS and ABC. Otherwise, it was an independent station that acted as a secondary affiliate for all four networks, airing programming from ABC, CBS, NBC and DuMont.

Works Cited:

1 McDonnell, Marguerite. “All Eyes on TV Tonight.” St. Petersburg Times. 31 May 1953: 5G.
2 “TV Today.” St. Petersburg Times. 31 May 1953: 5G.

6 Replies to “WSUN-TV Debuts, May 31st, 1953”

  1. At the time WSUN signed on in MAY of 1953 (not “March”), they were carrying “selected” NBC and CBS programming, as well as several syndicated series, including a few that were several years old, like Jerry Fairbanks’ pioneer “syndie”, “JACKSON AND JILL” (1949). “First-run” syndies on Channel 38 that evening included “THE LIBERACE SHOW” [which was starting its highly successful syndicated run at that time], and “TERRY AND THE PIRATES” (1952-’53), produced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s production company and nationally sponsored by Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

    The station also acquired a “package” of older Monogram theatrical features, including “The East Side Kids” series starring Leo Gorcey {and Huntz Hall}; “Mr. Muggs Rides Again” was among the last of that series before Gorcey and the studio converted it into “The Bowery Boys” in 1946. “Trade Winds” was an independent feature produced by Walter Wanger {and released by United Artists}, a lighthearted romantic comedy [about a supposed murderer] starring Fredric March, Joan Bennett, Ralph Bellamy, Ann Sothern, and Thomas Mitchell. Just the right way to end a balmy Sunday evening- unless you were watching “WHAT’S MY LINE?” on a CBS affiliate.

    “THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM” was presented via kinescope, because the final episode of the 1952-’53 season (featuring Gisele MacKenzie) had originally been telecast live over the network on May 17th at 7:30pm(et)- this is why live network programming was “kinnied” for delayed broadcast purposes, and directly mailed to those stations that were unable to carry the initial live telecasts…including those, like WSUN, that were on the air for the first time.

  2. …and by a strange coincidence, WNEW-TV – Channel 5 in New York- briefly aired repeats of “THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM” and “THE LIBERACE SHOW” back-to-back on Sunday nights [9-10pm(nyt)] in early 1976.

  3. When I was very young, we got our first TV. Channel 38 was the only we could watch (it was the only one in town). Anyway, there was a local program called “Music Master” and they played, of course, music. I don’t remember the man host’s name, but they had woman co-host, and her name was Charlotte. During the show, she would pantomime a song. I guess it was a popular song at the time.
    Do you have any more information about the show?
    Thanks.
    Tom Rover
    Seffner, FL

    1. Hi, that was my mother. Charlotte Joh – they had a talent search and WSUN had young women do a weeks worth of tv shows, my Dad wanted her to try out but she really didn’t want to. She just had birthed me her 5th child in June 1953. She decided to go only to appease my Dad she thought it was over, it was, but they liked her and added her to the line up of contestants. After each contestant had their week, WSUN opened up for voting via postcards or letters. My mother won overwhelmingly. I remember even in my elementary school years her memorizing songs and pantomime lots of Doris Day songs. My mother was a beautiful loving Christian woman and she went home to her heavenly home at 87 years old, in 2014. She was still very beautiful at 87. I think the man on the program was Harry Smith.

  4. My Dad bought our TV before WSUN came on the air for the first time. For some time before daily operations began they broadcast an Indian head test pattern daily. I was 8 years old at the time. Us kids were sent to bed early in those days. My bed was right against the bedroom wall adjacent to the living room wall where out TV was located. I used a kitchen knife to make a whole in the wall so I could watch TV after bedtime. That whole in the wall was how I found out Santa Claus was not real.

  5. My mother was one of the first television personalities on WSUN tv38 in St. Petersburg, 1953. I was born June 2, 1953 and I was her fifth child, my family had just gotten a tv set and she was laboring but didn’t want to go to Morton Plant Hospital, but by 8:52pm I was born in Morton Plant, Clearwater. Later in the year WSUN was promoting a contest for a female personality and the idea was to select a few from applicants. This was advertised and I am told my Father kept telling my mother (Charlotte Joh) to apply. She thought he was “crazy,” she had a newborn and 4 other children ranging in ages from 2, 4, 6, 8) My Dad wouldn’t let up and she applied thinking it was over. The contest was over for applications, but they liked my mother, so they put her in the line up. Each woman had a week on the show then WSUN had viewers send in their votes via postal mail. My mother won overwhelmingly and she became the first female personality. At the time we were living on 2nd St. Bellaire Beach in the home my grandfather had built for our family. We moved into St. Petersburg so that mother would be closer to the station which was at the end of the St. Pete pier downtown St. Pete. I remember my sister and I were in a Maas Brothers commercial when I was in 2nd grade and she in 5th. I have a lot of memorabilia from that time. Momma was a wonderful Christian lady and she passed from death to life at 87 in 2014. She was still beautiful at that age.

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