The Story of Mobile, Alabama's First TV Station
By July 1952, the Pursley Broadcasting Service had filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast on television channel 48. By then, the company had one broadcast station all ready in operation in Mobile, WKAB-AM (840), and its ownership consisted of Louise Pursley, who had 85% of the company's stock, Claude L. Pursley, who had 13.33% of the company's stock, and Robert H. (Bob) Moore, who had 1.66% of the company's stock.
Shortly before the Pursley Broadcasting Service filed their application, other companies had filed applications to televise in Mobile, including the Pape Broadcasting Company, the owners of WALA-AM (1410), Giddens & Rester, the owners of WKRG-AM (710), and the Mobile Television Corporation (The Mobile Press-Register).
The FCC granted the application for the Pursley Broadcasting Service on Thursday, August 7th, 1952. The application for the Pape Broadcasting Company to broadcast on channel 10 was granted on Wednesday, November 26th, 1952.
The Pursley Broadcasting Service had intended to begin broadcasting on channel 48 on Monday, December 25th, 1952 before Monday, December 15th, 1952 became their next target date, followed by Thursday, January 1st, 1953. On Monday, December 29th, 1952, WKAB-TV began broadcasting at 5:14 PM after being given special temporary authorization by the FCC to operate on channel 48 from December 29th, 1952 to Monday, June 29th, 1953. WALA-TV, which was owned by the Pape Broadcasting Company, would begin broadcasting on Wednesday, January 14th, 1953.
WKAB-TV'a broadcasts took place from a studio located on 525 Donald Street in the Toulminville neighborhood of Mobile near the transmitter for WKAB-AM. As for WKAB-TV's transmitter, it was located near the studio also.
Robert H. Moore, the general manager of WKAB-TV and WKAB-AM, had predicted his TV station would begin broadcasting by January 1st, 1953, which was the target for WALA-TV to begin broadcasting before it was changed to January 14th. WKAB-TV broadcast a test pattern on its first day of broadcasting to give viewers a chance to adjust their TV sets. A movie was scheduled for broadcast afterwards.
By the next day, the Mobile Press-Register had yet to publish any programming listings for WKAB-TV in their morning and afternoon newspapers: the Mobile Register or the Mobile Press respectively. The only TV listings available were for WDSU-TV in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Days before the first broadcast by WKAB-TV, an advertisement for the station was printed in an issue of Broadcasting Magazine (published on Monday, December 22nd, 1952) with a message proclaiming "TV starts with a bang in Mobile[,] Alabama with 15,000 sets in use". The advertisement included this message as well: "Another TV market is ready--so hungry for primary television service that 15,000 sets were installed before the announced opening date of WKAB-TV! Mobile area dealers are still installing sets as fast as they can get them. For this worthy audience, WKAB-TV's schedule is rapidly filling with top CBS and DuMont shows under interim agreement". The advertisement credited Forjoe and Company, which represented the station nationally, and included a cartoon cat named "Kabby", whose main body (excluding head and appendages) resembled a TV screen, holding a microphone while standing up vertically (the cat was drawn anthropomorphically, or like a human). This message for potential advertisers appeared beside the cat: "Availabilities are going fast! Better get in touch with Forjoe right away!"
By March 1953, WKAB-TV had begun producing a local public affairs program titled "Meet Mobile". The program was about 15 minutes in length and it was hosted by Betty Mitchell. The program scheduled for 9:30 PM on Monday, March 9th, 1953 was to feature a discussion on health and water pollution with Earl B. Wirt, a pathologist at Mobile Infirmary and City Hospital, Walter Johnson, chairman of the Alabama Citizens’ Group Against Pollution, and Joe Langan, a former state senator from Mobile.
By March 1953, WKAB-TV had broadcast a program described by the Mobile Press-Register as an "amateur hour" program and it featured a person named Eddie Hodges, who was six years of age and described by the newspaper as making "a great hit with Mobilians". During the week of Monday, March 23rd, 1953, he was scheduled to appear as a special guest at the New Spic, a restaurant and night club at 779 Holcombe Avenue in Mobile, for shows held Monday through Thursday and for night shows on Friday and Saturday.
By May 1953, the Mobile Press-Register had begun publishing programming listings for WKAB-TV along with listings for WALA-TV and WDSU-TV. On Thursday, May 21st, 1953, the newspaper listed the start of the broadcast day for WKAB-TV as 4:25 PM and the end of the broadcast day as 11:35 PM after a newscast scheduled for 11:30 PM.
Other local programs produced by WKAB-TV included a program hosted by Edward Curtis Gordon, who made country music. His program was about 30 minutes in length.
"The Tom and Jack Show" was hosted by Jack Cardwell, another musician, and Tom Jackson. The program was broadcast originally by WKAB-AM in 1948 and its original timeslot was 6:00 AM.
“Miss Kitty and the Kiddies” was hosted by Kitty (Greer) Looper, who attended Murphy High School in Mobile in addition to working for WKAB-TV. Her program was similar to national TV programs hosted by Art Linkletter.
There was a rhythm and blues music program from WKAB-TV hosted by Larry Keith, who was a radio announcer for WKAB-AM since 1951, when the station had a format of R&B music. Listeners of his radio broadcasts knew him by the nickname “Jivin’ Man".
On Thursday, July 29th, 1954, plans were announced for WKAB-TV to discontinue broadcasting on Sunday, August 1st until microwave service was available. The station never broadcast again after that date and the construction permit for microwave service was cancelled by the FCC on Tuesday, February 28th, 1956.
By February 1962, WKAB-AM had become WTUF-AM, which had a format of country music, followed by WMOB-AM in 1969 with a format consisting of discussion programs and music considered "middle of the road music, WWAX-AM on Monday, May 10th, 1982, when the station began a broadcast oldies music, and WBHY-AM on Sunday, December 23rd, 1984, when the station began broadcasting contemporary music targeting adult radio listeners before settling with a religious format.
On Thursday, March 12th, 1964, a TV station licensed to serve Montgomery, Alabama began broadcasting with the call letters WKAB after the original call letters WCCB were replaced. The station was known as WKAB-TV until Monday, September 4th, 1989, when the call letters were replaced by WHOA and later WNCF on Thursday, July 1st, 1999.
On Friday, December 13th, 1991, a radio station licensed to serve Berwick, Pennsylvania was given the call letters WKAB to replace the call sign WZWB. On Wednesday, July 26th, 2006, the station became WHLM-FM. Since then, no other broadcast station licensed by the FCC has used the call letters WKAB.