When Channel 12 first went on the air on July 1, 1953, the news looked very different than it does today. Reporters from existing news organizations like radio and newspapers were the first faces that greeted viewers on black and white TV. For example, Dick Cornish, father of KWCH anchor Roger Cornish, had been working at a Hutchinson radio station in the 1950's. He applied for a job at Channel 12 and was hired as a staff announcer.
"There were no TV people to hire, obviously, so you hired from radio. It was the only broadcasting there was at the time," said Roger Cornish. "If I have my story right, he was on the staff the day they went on the air."
Changes in Technology
In the beginning, there were no special sports reporters or meteorologists. Commercials were live and often read on the air by the anchor because there was no spare film to "pre-record" an advertisement.
"It wasn't out of the ordinary for the anchor to either walk over to a different spot or sit at his desk and do a commercial for Pepsi or cigarettes," said Kent Cornish Kansas Association of Broadcasters President.
Laverne Goering, Channel 12's Director of Programing and Operations, says the station did a live commercial for the Hutchinson bus every day. "The announcer would say, 'Our sponsor today is the Hutchinson Transit System,'" said Goering. "Then they would take a camera and shoot it out the back door and show the bus as it drove by the station, on time, every day."
Today, television cameras shoot on digital cards, video tape or even smartphones. But in the early days, images were captured on 16 millimeter film reels that had to be developed before they could go on air. Roger Cornish, who first was a Hutchinson reporter, remembers he had a one o'clock deadline to make the evening news. "When I was working in Hutch in the news department, I had to shoot my film and get it to the bus station so it got to Wichita on time," said Cornish. He was later promoted to morning and noon anchor in 1976.
In 1984, Channel 12 upgraded to using video but getting tape from the Statehouse in Topeka still took an unusual route. Channel 12 General Manager Joan Barrett remembers when she worked at a TV station in Topeka. They used to share video tape with KWCH.
"We would ask our photographers go take the tape to the turnpike and ask drivers if they would carry the tape to Wichita and give it to the Turnpike attendant," said Barrett. The box would be labeled to call the KWCH Newsroom when it arrived at the Wichita exit.
"The turnpike attendant would then call the station, I think they hated doing it, but they did," continued Barrett. "My photographers also hated doing it. They always tried to get the reporters to come with them – usually pretty young women – as they had much more luck getting drivers to take the tape!"
"You couldn’t count on the tape for the early show," said Barrett. "And sometimes it would be dropped off at the turnpike stall furthest away from you – but I can say we never lost a tape!"
Changes in Programing
In the early years, television shows weren't on twenty-four hours a day. In 1953, the broadcast day started at 5:30 p.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m. The network aired a fifteen minute newscast. Within a few years, Channel 12 produced a six and ten p.m. newscast. The station would simply sign off after the last show.
Kent Cornish says as the networks started provided some programing, like soap operas, stations realized they had to create some local shows to get viewers to stay for the evening news.
"To do a local show, like Dialing for Dollars, didn't really cost the station any money because the technology was so simple," says Kent Cornish. "You basically had a camera and a host."
Channel 12 produced shows like Take Your Pick, Dialing For Dollars, Fifo the Clown, Woman's World and Hi Fi Hop.
But as viewers became more sophisticated, they expected more - better graphics, three camera angles, better audio. "A lot of local programing tried to keep up with what network television was doing," said Cornish. "But at some point networks started doing some syndicated game shows." Cornish says local television stations couldn't afford the cost, so they eliminated local shows. It was less expensive to pay for syndicated programs.
Changes in the Newsroom
In 1966, Channel 12 was the first station in Kansas to broadcast in color. Later that year, the station broadcasted live coverage of events outside the studio.
Early on, the station produced programs like "Women's World", for female viewers. The shows were hosted by women like Charlotte Brisco, Lou Grant and Joyce Livingston, but by the 1970's women started to make an appearance in the newsroom.
Andrea Joyce was one of the earliest female anchors at Channel 12. Starting in 1978 she sat at the anchor desk along with Dennis Shreeffer.
"I think what stations began to realize in the 1970's was that women were important, vital members of the community and that the news could not accurately be presented without that voice, that input," says Joyce. "It happened for other minorities as well. Newsrooms reflected the changing times and became microcosms of our society."
When she first graduated from college, Joyce says she was surprised how hard it was to get a news job. She eventually accepted an offer as a "weather girl" a TV station in Colorado Springs to get her foot in the door.
Four months later she received a call from Channel 12 in Wichita, looking for a female anchor. She first anchored on weekends and reported during the week, shooting and editing her own stories. Joyce says she learned from the experience but wasn't as aware of the historical significance when she first sat at the anchor desk.
"You know, I was so young, I'm not sure at the time I thought of it as a 'breakthrough'…just something I really wanted to do and eager to make my mark," she said. Joyce is now a national sideline reporter at NBC SPORTS and getting ready to cover her 11th Olympics.
Today, viewers expect to see a female anchor during the newscast. Current KWCH anchor Cindy Klose has helped lead the KWCH news team for the past 22 years. Before being hired in Wichita, Klose anchored at the cable network CNN.
Over the years, the look of the newsroom has changed and there are more sources of news than ever before. But Kent Cornish says one thing stays the same.
"If you are interested in what's happening specifically in your community, whether it's news, sports or weather, you are going to rely on a local station."