KTVU celebrates 60 years

- This just in: KTVU is celebrating its 60th anniversary. From humble beginnings as an independent broadcaster to the number one television news station in the Bay Area, KTVU has been on the forefront of the biggest local, national and international stories since going on the air on March 3, 1958. 

The stories KTVU brings viewers daily takes the work of 200 people on the ground and behind the scenes. To mark 60 years, we are raising the curtain and taking you behind the scenes of Channel 2. 

When the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area in October, 1989, KTVU anchor Dennis Richmond was in the lunch room buying a candy bar. He gripped the machine to steady himself during the shaking. Soon after, Richmond and anchor Elaine Corral went on the air live from the station’s parking lot with not much more than a camera and lights powered by a news truck.  The news stayed on around the clock for days.

In 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board, reporter Ken Wayne headed to East Texas.  There, he met a man who claimed pieces of the shuttle had fallen on his ranch. Wayne drove down a windy, dirt road in the middle of the night, thinking he was going to be robbed –or worse. Then the car’s headlights hit bright reflections. Spread across a field and leaning against a barbed wire fence were pieces of the shuttle. Big pieces. 

Veteran reporter Rob Roth says the day of the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 was the worst day of his life, but also the luckiest. Covering the fire, Roth and photographer Nick Soares were trapped by the massive and growing flames. Thankfully a fire truck came by, they hopped on and Oakland Fire Battalion Chief James Riley and his crew led them to safety. The newsmen were uninjured. Riley went back to rescue a woman and died in the firestorm. 

A year after 9/11, anchor Frank Somerville drove to the home of a San Rafael man whose wife died on Flight 93. The man, Jack Grandcolas, showed Somerville his wife Lauren’s clothes. The grieving man couldn’t bear to part with them because they carried her smell. Somerville did the interview, choking back tears.

As he prepared to leave, Grandcolas asked the veteran newsman if he’d like to listen to his wife’s last message on their answering machine. The woman said she was OK and asked her husband to send love to her parents. Somerville said she couldn’t quite get out the words “I’ll see you later.’  She knew she wouldn’t. He cried all the way home. He said it’s the most emotional interview he’s done in his 40-year career.

DEDICATED KTVU STAFF 

Day after day and night after night for 60 years, KTVU has kept viewers informed, educated, entertained and enlightened with news, sports, weather, specialty shows, coverage of community events, such as the Chinese New Year parade, children’s programing and investigative stories. KTVU, which runs 67 ½ hours of news shows weekly, has a dominant news presence in the Bay Area market and beyond, and has won countless Emmy awards over the decades. Viewers and newsmakers say there’s a reason why.

When 9-year-old Michaela Garecht was abducted from outside a Hayward grocery store in 1988, her mother, Sharon Murch turned to KTVU for help.

“What I remember about Channel 2 is it was my primary source for news on Michaelas’s case. There were years when the police didn’t tell me anything, but Channel 2 always knew when something was up,‘’ said Murch. She’d often get early-morning phone calls from reporters requesting interviews. “I’d say ‘OK, what’s going on?’ And they would tell me.” 

But Channel 2 is much more than just news. 

GAME TIME

KTVU hit the airwaves on March 3, 1958, the same year that the New York Giants baseball team moved to the Bay Area. The station became the broadcast home of the San Francisco Giants that year and remained so until after the 2007 season. 

The station made a mark early on with “Roller Derby” and “All Star Wrestling” to more recently being home to the San Francisco 49ers, World Series programming, NASCAR, including the Daytona 500, Oakland Raiders pre-season football, and college basketball and football. Since 1994, KTVU has done the 49ers post-game show “The Point After,” hosted by sports anchor Mark Ibanez.

“I grew up in the Bay Area and my earliest recollections were watching the Giants on Channel 2 and “All Star Wrestling” on Friday nights. To think I would wind up working here for 40 years is unbelievable,’’ Ibanez said. “It was the station of my childhood.” 

LEGACY OF ANCHOR DENNIS RICHMOND

But you can’t talk about KTVU without mentioning anchor Dennis Richmond, who spent 40 years with the station before retiring in 2008. 

Richmond was known for maintaining a deadly serious and unwavering game face on the air, but in public he was the guy who wouldn’t walk by anyone without saying hello, even as he was being mobbed by fans for autographs.

“Seeing him out in public and how people reacted was amazing. He’s a rock star, and people would go nuts.  And he’s a hero in the African-American community,’’ recalled Wayne, who anchored alongside Richmond many times. “Of all the great people who’ve worked in the newsroom of Channel 2, Dennis best represented what KTVU is all about, and it’s what I try to live up to.”

Julie Haener worked alongside Richmond for many years and recalled his final night on the air. “Dennis, Bill (Martin), Mark (Ibanez) and I couldn’t make it through without tears,’’ she said. “A big crowd of KTVU staff gathered at the station that night and many wiped away tears as Dennis bid farewell to viewers.” 

KTVU GOES HOLLYWOOD 

Over the years, television anchors who appear on the small screen nightly have made it to the big screen when Hollywood came calling.  Somerville had a small part playing a newscaster in the movie “True Crime,’’ that was directed by Clint Eastwood. Somerville recalled how Eastwood paused just as they were about to shoot the scene. Eastwood looked him dead in the eye and said, “Whenever you’re ready, Frank.”  

The KTVU studios also provided the backdrop for scenes from the film “Mrs. Doubtfire,” starring the late Robin Williams. 

Corral, who had contributed to other movies over the years, was in a crowd scene in the movie, though the scene was ultimately cut out. Corral later reflected that “Mrs. Doubtfire” was the best movie she’d ever been cut out of.

THE EARLY DAYS OF KTVU

It’s hard to find a longtime KTVU viewer who doesn’t affiliate the station with early-day programming that had them running home from school to watch “Captain Cosmic” and “Star Trek” reruns, getting up early to watch “Romper Room” with Miss Nancy, and staying up late for horror and science fiction films on “Creature Features.”

Viewers watched Channel 2’s weatherman turned “Dialing for Dollars” host Pat McCormick hoping they would get that winning phone call, while others recall doing jumping jacks in their living room alongside Jack LaLanne’s morning fitness show. 

From classic oldies such as “Amos and Andy,” and “Death Valley Days,’’ to modern day favorites such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Friends,’’ syndicated shows on KTVU have kept viewers locked on Channel 2 since the days of grainy black and white pictures.

From 1958 until the early 1970s, Channel 2 aired a space-themed afternoon children's program called “Captain Satellite,” set in a fictional spaceship known as the Starfinder II hosted by Bob March. 

In the earliest days of the show, the captain would introduce cartoons from his rocket ship. The show also featured children in the studio acting as the captain’s crew for the rocket ship, which in the early days had knobs on the control panels that were actually pie tins held in place with nails.

For many of the early decades, the station produced a series of classic public service and educational shorts titled “Bits and Pieces,” often featuring two talking puppets, ">Charley and Humphrey. The puppets, which came to the station with McCormick, eventually got their own children’s show called The Charley and Humphrey Show,” which was hosted by McCormick.  

In an interview 10 years ago, McCormick, who wore many hats as a weatherman, host of “Dialing for Dollars” and the local edition of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, admitted that working with the puppets was truly his favorite part of being in television. 

Starting in 1958, Channel 2 had a franchised version of the live children’s show “Romper Room,” originally hosted by Miss Nancy (the late Nancy Besst). On the show, Miss Nancy would hold up her “magic mirror,’’ and call out the names of children she could “see” at home. Children were glued to their sets hoping their name would be called. Miss Nancy called “Romper Room” “the world’s largest kindergarten” and she often had her hands full. 

On one occasion, amid a product demonstration, Miss Nancy accidentally sprayed a child in the eyes with Bactine. Another time, she hosted a trained bird who refused to talk until the end of the show when he requested “one martini please.”

One of the station's most successful programs was “Creature Features,’’ which ran from 1971 to 1984 and was hosted by the late Bob Wilkins. Featuring really low quality fiction and horror films, Wilkins used a little reverse psychology to get viewers to watch the movies. He’d pull out the TV Guide and actually tell viewers what was playing on others stations. Of course, curiosity about the films got the best of most viewers, who tuned in and laughed along with Wilkins. 

Through the laughs, the tears, the good times and the bad, there is a reason “there’s only one 2.”
 

 

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