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.

2 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.

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