The Early Years of WALA-TV in Mobile, Alabama

Part One

On Thursday, March 22nd, 1951, the Pape Broadcasting Company, the owners of WALA-AM, a radio stations in Mobile, had filed a television application with the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast on TV channel 3. By Wednesday, March 28th, there were two applications for new TV stations in Mobile on file with the FCC: one from Giddens & Rester, a company which owned a chain of movie theaters in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi and operated WKRG-AM and WKRG-FM in Mobile, and the Mobile Press-Register, which owned WABB-AM in Mobile.

By July 1952, the Pape Broadcasting Company had filed a new application to broadcast on channel 8. By August, the FCC determined the application for broadcasting on channel 8 would not be processed due to proposed channel allocations for Mobile by which channel 10 would be available and channel 8 would be deleted. By Wednesday, November 26th, the FCC had granted a new application for the Pape Broadcasting Company to broadcast on channel 10. In December 1952, William O. Pape, the president of WALA-AM, expected his new station WALA-TV to go on the air by the new year. By the time WALA-TV began broadcasting, WKAB-TV had begun broadcasting on channel 48 on December 29th (see articles about WKAB-TV titled "Mobile's first TV station").

WALA-TV’s first broadcast came on Wednesday, January 14th, 1953 from a broadcast tower behind the WALA-AM building on 210 Government Street in downtown Mobile. The Mobile Press-Register published an advertisement for the station on the day of the broadcast. Here is the proclamation from the advertisement:

"It's an auspicious beginning indeed. Today a new era starts with the Pape Broadcasting Company bringing you the finest TV shows available. Looking back, Pape Broadcasting Company is proud of its radio history. Looking forward, the Pape Broadcasting Company is proud of its TV future. For twenty-three years it has furnished you the finest radio programming. Today, WALA-TV brings you the finest television programming without adjustment or conversion of your present TV set. It's a happy day for all of the folks at WALA and WALA-TV. W. O. Pape, owner operator of both stations, renews his promise to the people of Mobile to operate only in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. "We have always remembered our duty to the people of Mobile. We have remained first in the radio field…now, our amazing line-up of TV shows will prove to everybody that talent runs in the family, and that WALA’s sister affiliate, WALA-TV will be the first in television, too".

Part Two

Here are some of the times set for WALA-TV to sign on for broadcasting and to sign off from broadcasting between 1953 and 1962, according to past editions of the Mobile Press-Register:

January 1953 (original times set for station)
  • Sign on: 5:00 p. m. Monday through Saturday and 1:00 p. m. on Sundays
  • Sign off: 11:00 p.m. every day
Thursday, May 21st 1953
  • Sign on: 3:40 p. m.
  • Sign off: Shortly after a newscast and "Coming Attractions" at 11:00 p. m.
Friday, March 18th, 1955
  • Sign on: 11:00 a. m.
  • Sign off: Shortly after "Coming Attractions" at 11:35 p. m.
Thursday, March 1st, 1956
  • Sign on: 6:58 a. m. before “Today”, a news program from NBC, at 7:00 a. m.
  • Sign off: Shortly after a a local newscast and “Coming Attractions" at 12:05 a. m.
Sunday, October 6th 1957
  • Sign on: 11:56 a. m. on Sundays.
  • Sign off: Shortly after a newscast at 12:00 a. m.
Friday, March 4th, 1960
  • Sign on: 6:00 a. m. beginning with “Continental Classroom”, an instructional program from NBC
  • Sign off: After a program titled “Million-Dollar Movie” with a start time of 10:35 p. m.
Friday, June 1st, 1962
  • Sign on: 6:00 a. m.
  • Sign off: Shortly after "Nightcap News" at 12:00 a. m.

Part Three

On Monday, July 12th, 1954, strong winds caused the broadcast tower of WALA-TV to fall. The tower was located behind the WALA-TV building on Government Street in downtown Mobile and its height was 435 feet.

After the fall, the top of the tower was touching the back of the F. W. Woolworth building on Dauphin Street (the WALA-TV building was two blocks away from Dauphin Street). No persons were harmed by the tower.

At 5:55 p. m. on Sunday, January 2nd, 1955, the station began broadcasting from a new tower one mile east of Spanish Fort, Alabama, just east of Mobile and Mobile Bay. The tower had a height of 572 feet. The station was set to begin broadcasting from the new tower at 12:00 PM on that day, but faulty circuits in equipment moved from the station in downtown Mobile caused the delay.

The tower near Spanish Fort was later donated to the Alabama Educational Television Network (it was renamed Alabama Public Television in 1988), which used the tower to broadcast network programming in Mobile and the surrounding under the call letters WEIQ beginning on Friday, November 6th, 1964. By that time, WALA-TV had begun broadcasting from a new tower in Loxley, Alabama, just east of Mobile Bay. The new tower improved the station’s coverage of areas around Pensacola, Florida, just southeast of Mobile.

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