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Our FOX 5 DC / WTTG Station History
ALLEN B. DUMONT, FOUNDER OF CHANNEL 5 IN 1938: "A good start in TV broadcasting can be made for as little as $25,000. And that figure can be shaved if need be."
Watching FOX 5, you may not realize how much of a pioneer the station has been. WTTG was one of the first television stations in the world. FOX 5 began operating on May 19, 1945, as the first station in Washington, D.C. and the second station of the now-defunct DuMont Television Network.The station was known as W3XWT: "W" meant North America, "3" was the region of the country, "X" meant experimental and "WT" were the station's call letters. DuMont Labs, manufacturer of TV sets and transmission equipment, owned the station. Founder Allen DuMont saw the television station as a prime way to sell more DuMont brand TV sets. "
WTTG is an owned-and-operated TV station of the Fox Broadcasting Company. It is located in Washington, D.C. and serves the entire Washington metropolitan area (including Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the Martinsburg, West Virginia area). Our studio is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
The station traces its history to May 19, 1945, when television set and equipment manufacturer Allen B. DuMont founded W3XWT, the second experimental station in the nation's capital (after NBC's W3XNB, forerunner to WRC-TV).
Later in 1945, DuMont Laboratories began a series of experimental coaxial cable hookups between W3XWT and its other television station, WABD in New York City (now WNYW). These hookups were the beginning of the DuMont Television Network, the world's first licensed commercial television network. DuMont began regular network service in 1946. Almost a year later on [January 3, 1947, W3XWT received a commercial license--the first in the nation's capital--as WTTG. The station was named for Thomas T. Goldsmith, Dr. DuMont's best friend and the DuMont network's chief engineer.
Like its New York sister station, WTTG was far more successful than the network as a whole. In 1956, after DuMont ended network operations, WTTG and WABD were spun off as the "DuMont Broadcasting Corporation". It later changed its name to Metropolitan Broadcasting due to the failure associated with DuMont. In 1958, Washington investor John Kluge bought a controlling interest in Metropolitan Broadcasting and installed himself as its chairman. He changed the company's name to Metromedia in 1961. Goldsmith sat on Metromedia's board for over a quarter-century.
At first, WTTG ran on a low budget. However, in the late 1960s, it benefited from Metromedia's aggressiveness in acquiring top syndicated programming, giving it a significant leg up on WDCA, which signed on in 1966. By the 1970s, WTTG was one of the leading independent stations in the country, running a broad lineup of cartoons, off-network sitcoms, first-run syndicated shows, old movies, local news and locally produced programs. During this time period, and well into the early 1990s, WTTG was the flagship station for the Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team. Its main claim to fame was Panorama, an afternoon talk show hosted by John Willis, and Maury Povich. WTTG offered Japanese cartoons dubbed into English including Astro Boy and Marine Boy.
When cable television began in the 1970s, WTTG became a regional superstation. At one point, it appeared on every cable system in Maryland and Virginia, as well as most of Delaware and in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Though not distributed as widely as it once was, the popularity of WTTG has kept it available on cable on several Maryland and Virginia cable systems. It still serves as the default Fox affiliate for the Harrisonburg, Virginia market. Additionally, it is still carried on cable in Charlottesville, Virginia despite the city recently gaining a Fox affiliate out of WAHU-CA. It also served as the default Fox affiliate for Salisbury, Maryland until the debut of new default Fox affiliate, Fox21 Delmarva, a subsidiary of WBOC-TV on August 21, 2006).
Metromedia owned the station until 1986 when Rupert Murdoch, after buying 20th Century Fox, purchased the Metromedia television stations to form the nucleus of the Fox network. WTTG became one of 6 (now 16) Fox owned-and-operated stations (O&O), all the while retaining consistently high ratings, a rarity for a Fox station then. Initially, its programming was similar to what it had run as a true independent station since Fox only programmed for a few hours on weekends. Then, in the summer of 1990, the morning cartoon block was ended in favor of Fox 5 Morning News. It was the second Fox O&O to have a morning newscast and the fourth or fifth Fox affiliate with morning news.
In the 1990s, Fox 5 added more syndicated talk shows and reality shows. It continued to air afternoon cartoons from Fox Kids until the fall of 2001 when they moved to WDCA (only to be cut to Saturdays everywhere in 2002). But WTTG, later on, brought back Fox children's programming under the banner 4Kids TV. On October 29, 2001, WDCA became WTTG's sister station when Fox bought it from Viacom. Fox 5 continued to run top-rated off-network sitcoms in the evenings. In 2002, it added an evening 5 to 6 p.m. newscast. Today, it has 40 hours a week of local news.
On May 15, 2006 WTTG launched a new website, which features more news and video with the "MyFox" name and interface. (The "My" in the MyFox name may be a reference to Fox's new network My Network TV, which is now shown locally on WDCA.) It is at www.myfoxdc.com.
The new logo and set premiered on June 25, 2006. WTTG launched "NewsEdge" (previously titled "The Edge" until October 2006), its 11–11:30pm newscast, on July 31, 2006. "NewsEdge", which is anchored solo by 10pm co-anchor Brian Bolter, follows its 10–11pm newscast. Also with the launch of the 11pm broadcast, Fox 5 has now expanded its 5pm broadcast to 7 days a week. The 5pm on the weekend is only a half-hour long as opposed to the weekday hour-long broadcast. Plus the new "NewsEdge" has also gone to 7 days as well. The weekend 11pm broadcast is 15-minutes long, followed by "Sports Extra."
On September 4, 2006, WTTG began simulcasting its weekday morning and daily 10 PM newscasts on Baltimore's Fox-owned WUTB, under the banner of My 24 News. The higher-ups at both stations cite the decision to simulcast as a by-product of cross-regional news interests and increasing overlap between the Baltimore and Washington media markets.  On October 2006, while WTTG aired Fox Sports' coverage of the 2006 Major League Baseball postseason, the first half-hour of the 10 PM newscast was seen on Washington's Fox-owned WDCA under the banner of Fox 5 News at Ten Special Edition. The same has occurred in 2007, with a banner name of My 20 News at 10.
On July 2, 2007, WTTG discontinued its noon newscast and replaced it with an hour-long newscast at 11am, titled Fox 5 News Midday. On September 10, 2007, the station added "NewsEdge" at 6pm which is also anchored solo by Brian Bolter. The 6pm edition of "NewsEdge" follows its 5–6pm newscast. The addition of "NewsEdge" at 6pm was due in part to the success of its current 11pm counterpart.
On January 14, 2009, WTTG entered into talks with local NBC O&O WRC-TV to share helicopters and pool news video. [2 ]
On January 30, 2009, starting with their 6pm newscast, WTTG became the third station in DC (behind CBS affiliate WUSA and ABC affiliate WJLA) to launch news in high definition. With the change to HD came new FOX O&O HD graphics currently used on sister FOX stations WNYW and KTTV.
Pioneers of WTTG
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH, ENGINEER] In 1938, the DuMont Company started an experimental TV station in Passaic, New Jersey. Not long after that in 1939, we began operating another experimental station, W2XWV in New York City. On July 1, 1941, the FCC announced that it would allow commercial broadcasting to begin, so we could get income from sponsors to pay for programming. From July 1st to December 7th, when Pearl Harbor hit, TV didn't have a chance to expand very much.
Most TV sets were located in bars, where patrons would watch wrestling and ad-libbed variety shows. Stations gave time away to advertising agencies, which experimented with different types of programs. The total cost of operating DuMont's New York station from October 1942 to October 1943 was just over $62,000.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] TV was a real rarity at that time. When the war began, NBC and CBS discontinued broadcasting, but we kept on. Dr. DuMont put full-page ads in the New York Times saying that we have a responsibility to the 1,000 set owners who bought DuMont TVs. The programming was skimpy things like stories about police protection during air raids.
DuMont applied for a second station in Washington shortly after opening his New York outlet.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] By the time we were ready to open our Washington station, the war was almost finished. I drove a truck from Passiac, New Jersey, down to Washington, DC. I was a ham radio operator and sent out the message that we needed space to start a TV station. Word came back that two floors of the Harrington Hotel were available; they had been using the rooms as storage space. Two of my colleagues, Morris Barton and Willis Ayer had to run a power line up through the elevator shaft from the basement. The equipment was in good shape, so the next day I walked across the street to the FCC, which was in charge of licensing television stations. You had to have a construction permit to operate a station, and to get it, you needed to write a letter explaining how a TV station would benefit the public. So I asked the guy where I could find a typewriter, and he said, "Over there." I sat down and wrote the letter, handed it to him, and he asked, "How soon can you be on the air?" I said, "Tomorrow." And he said fine, that we would have a cable [letter of acknowledgment] in the morning. We went on the air the next day [May 10, 1945] with a microphone and a camera, showing a test pattern and slides.
[HELEN GOLDSMITH] Tom said he asked for anyone watching to call in and tell them. [No one called for three months.] Finally, they got one reply. It was the Naval Research Lab searching for suspicious radio signals and they'd picked up on Tom's. No one in Washington had TV sets at the time.
In November 1946, Goldsmith applied with the FCC for a commercial license, which would for the first time, allow the station to sell advertising. Owner Allen B. DuMont told Goldsmith the station would be named WTTG, in Goldsmith's honor. On November 29, 1946, the FCC granted a commercial license to station WTTG.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] We were the top station, a great station. We had good studios and good programs and did a lot of interesting things in connection with the government. Even in 1945, we were a training ground for the FCC. They were right across the street. Their commissioners, engineers and attorneys learned about television by walking across the street and talking to our guys.
For 13 weeks in 1946, the New York station, now with a commercial license and call letters WABD broadcast the world's first televised soap opera, "Faraway Hill," about two women who were after the same man. And by 1947, WABD had become the flagship station of the pioneering DuMont Network, which broadcast the first network program, "Walter Compton and the News," which aired simultaneously on WABD and WTTG. The very first ABC show, "On the Corner," was produced and aired by DuMont.
Early television was nothing like the industry is today. WTTG would sign on in the afternoon sometimes as late as 6:30 at night, with mostly live programming, much of it originating from WABD New York. There were Quiz shows like "Cash and Carry," talk shows like "Tell Me Doctor" and variety programs such as "The Red Benson Show." At many stations around the country, a popular form of live television featured a live disc jockey, sometimes pantomiming records. At WTTG, Art Lamb was the host and became Washington's first TV personality. There were no programs at all on Saturdays during WTTG's first four years.
WTTG claims a number of broadcasting firsts: the first live sporting event Senators baseball in 1948. On December 24, 1946, the first church service telecast from Grace Episcopal Church in New York, was carried on WTTG and two other stations on the DuMont network. WTTG's Bob Wolff became the first television sportscaster in the Washington, DC area. On June 27, 1949, DuMont's longest-running series, "Captain Video," premiered on WTTG.
[WERNER MICHEL, DUMONT PRODUCER] They paid us what they could pay us. You did everything like create sets out of things that were never meant to be sets. We didn't have enough money to program the network every night, and just about every show we did have, we developed ourselves. I expanded Captain Video from 15 minutes to 30 right off because the material lent itself to that. Larry White directed the first few. It was on every night at 7:00 and was sort of the precursor of "Star Trek."
[LARRY WHITE, DUMONT DIRECTOR] I directed "Captain Video" from 1948 to 1951. They had a 10-minute cowboy segment in the middle of the show to this day I don't know why. Then in 1951, I left the station and went to work for Benton and Bowles advertising. Well, they bought Captain Video and sent me back right away to direct it.
[WERNER MICHEL] Our costumes were put together with nothing. Sunday nights we had two cop shows back to back [so we could share costumes]. Sports helped us out. One New Year's Eve, we did a live broadcast from Times Square, it was the first time anyone had done that. You had to constantly experiment.
[LARRY WHITE] Our studios were in the Wanamaker Department store. In the old days, they had an auditorium where they would give piano concerts and turned it into a TV studio for us. It was handy having the store right there because we were always looking for props and we could borrow them from the store.
[TED BERGMANN, DUMONT SALES] We had a show called "Birthday Party," where we would have a different child's birthday party on camera and Pat Meikel did an afternoon show called "Magic Cottage." We did a lot of kids' shows because children loved TV.
[LARRY WHITE] We made it up as we went along. No one knew anything. We had no knowledge of technique. Once we needed an echo chamber, so I bought a Slinky, hung it from the ceiling and attached a mic at the bottom.
[TED BERGMANN] We started pro football on Channel 5. I went to Philadelphia and negotiated a deal with the first NFL Commissioner Burton Bell. There were 12 teams in the NFL at the time. I bought the rights to 10 of them for $1 million. Now you can't even buy 30 seconds on the Super Bowl for that amount.
[LARRY WHITE] I also directed a show called "The Plainclothesman," where the camera was the lead character. If he got punched, the camera would wobble. The early cameras required a tremendous amount of light. It quickly got to be 120 degrees in the studio.
[TED BERGMANN] Milton Berle was killing everybody on Tuesday nights, so it was impossible to program against him. So we took Tuesday night at 8:00 and offered it to different religions. We'd alternate with a priest, a rabbi, and a pastor and got terrific ratings but lost money. So we notified all involved that we were taking the show off the air. Well, the New York Archdiocese calls and says, if we find you a sponsor for our Bishop Fulton Sheen, would you keep it on? Well, sure! We didn't think anyone would sponsor a religious show. Three weeks later, they notify us that a sponsor is ready for the fall, Admiral TV. The head of Admiral in Chicago was a devout Catholic. And Bishop Sheen became a personality for years.
[WERNER MICHEL] Some loyal sponsors stayed with us. Jackie Gleason was the big moneymaker. CBS stole him. Dr. DuMont was the greatest engineer, but he wasn't the greatest businessman.
[LARRY WHITE] Art Carney at the time was on Morey Amsterdam's show, which we also had. The character of Ed Norton sort of had its beginning on the Amsterdam show, where Art played a waiter named Newton.
[TED BERGMANN] I created Cavalcade of Stars for DuMont, and Jackie Gleason was the third host. We were desperate for someone to take over the show, and his agent at MCA told me about Gleason, who had failed on the West Coast in "The Life of Riley." On his first night, he shows up as thisslim, dark and handsome man and says Mr. Bergmann, I'm gonna bust my butt to make this show a success. Well, three weeks later I drop by his dressing room and he's looking at himself in the mirror. He sees me and says what the *&^% do you want?
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] We had a lot of fun. We trained a lot of top talent who became wealthy working for CBS and NBC. ABC was small. We could have outrun them; there could have been a DuMont today.
[LARRY WHITE] Allen B. DuMont had pretty much the same outlook as David Sarnoff [of RCA]. She just didn't have the vision. DuMont was basically in the TV business to sell equipment.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] One reason that DuMont didn't make it is that, back in 1938, the company sold a block to stock to Paramount Pictures to get money. But Paramount wouldn't let Dr. DuMont go to Wall Street for more investment capital. They were afraid of what the TV business would do to their movie business.
In 1954, while Channel 5 was thriving, the DuMont network was not. Few cities had enough TV outlets to carry DuMont shows and the rising expense of creating national programs had sapped the network of its profits. Paramount, which had invested $50,000 in the network in 1939, never invested more and vetoed DuMont's many attempts to attract additional investors.
On April 1, 1955, under assault from CBS, NBC and a newly capitalized ABC, Dumont drastically cut back its primetime programming. And by September 1955, Dumont programming has been reduced to NFL football on Sunday afternoons, boxing on Monday nights, and college football on Saturday afternoons.
On August 8, 1956, The DuMont network offered its final telecast: a boxing card. CBS inherits the rest of the Dumont/NFL football deal.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] The company that bought out DuMont later took $10 million in cash out of the company and invested it into what became Intel. They told the management team, "You fellows find a college environment where you can find professors and students to help you develop electronics." So they went out to Palo Alto and started Silicon Valley.
[PAUL NOBLE] DuMont got spun off in the late '50s, and John Kluge, the food broker from DC bought it and built it slowly.
[THOMAS T. GOLDSMITH] John Kluge came to New York City and got in touch with Allen DuMont. He bought the stations, including WTTG, and expanded into a huge network. I was on the Board of Directors for many years. The FCC finally got to the point where they said companies like ours were exerting too much influence because we owned TV stations and newspapers in the same cities you must divest. So we had to meet many times to evaluate the offers to buy the company and see which was in the best interest of the stockholders. When Kluge sold out, he had seven stations and sold it all to Rupert Murdoch for $3.5 billion.
Murdoch used WTTG and WABD DuMont stations to build the core of the FOX network.
In addition to being the first television station in Washington, DC, WTTG is proud to have been the:
- First station to broadcast live a presidential inauguration (Harry S. Truman - 1945)
- First station to televise live before a studio audience (1946)
- First television station to sign on early in the morning in Washington, DC (typically, television started in the afternoon)
- Originating television station for national coverage of the McCarthy Hearings (1954)
- Originating television station for national coverage of the Hoffa/Kennedy Hearings (1957)
- First station to have videotape facilities (1959)
- First station to become fully automated (1966)
- First primetime newscast in the country (1966)