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Sunday, April 15, 1956, will always be remembered as "C-Day" at WMAQ-TV. It was described by Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine as "a daring breakthrough the black-and-white curtain." At 4:15 PM, Robert W Sarnoff, then President of NBC, pushed a button and ushered in a new era in television. Channel 5 became the world's first all-color TV station as "Wide, Wide World" carried the event to 110 NBC-TV affiliated stations across the country.

Right: On "C" Day, WMAQ-TV Station Manager Jules Herbuveaux (right) was host to Robert W. Sarnoff (left),then president of NBC, now president of RCA, and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Sarnoff, Daley and Herbuveaux

Brigadier General David Sarnoff, Chairman of the Board of RCA and NBC, first announced the historic event six months earlier. A closed-circuit news conference on November 3, 1955, was held at the Merchandise Mart, and linked the press gathered there with reporters at New York's Colonial Theater. It was carried in color.

WMAQ-TV provided light blue shirts for all male members of the press who attended the Sarnoff news conference. In the early days of color, when intense lights were used, white shirts or blouses caused a 'flaring' which transmitted to the picture tube, distorting the color picture. Light blue shirts, however, showed up as white.

Right: Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie were Channel 5's first regular daily program in color originated to the NBC-TV network. Kukla, Burr, Ollie and Fran

The color conversion involvea five months of hard work. The project was under the general supervision of Howard C. Luttgens, then Chief Engineer, and his assistant, W. C. "Bud" Prather, who later became Station Manager of WMAQ-TV. Luttgens put a special task force of 40 technicians through a "color college" involving around-the-clock special training. The classes ranged from short sessions of several days for cameramen to courses of several weeks for video and inaintenance engineers.

Other members of the staff were busy developing new color standards needed for sets, wardrobe and makeup. Weatherman Clint Youle pondered about how to "color the weather". He replaced his standard black marking pen with various colored pens. On his weather map, movements of warm air would be traced with the traditionally "hot" colors---red and orange.

The New Performers Left: "The New Performers," Channel 5 prime time specials, present original musical-variety shows featuring talented youngsters from Chicago area high schools.

WMAQ-TV installed its first color equipment in late 1953. Its first major color transmission was the Rose Bowl parade of 1954 Channel 5's first local color program was John Ott's "How Does Your Garden Grow?", featuring the use of timelapse color film. It was introduced in March of 1955.

At that time, color required three times more lighting capability, and therefore produced more heat---which, in turn, required additional air conditioning. Even with the increased air conditioning, it was necessary to limit lighting during rehearsals so that performers wouldn't appear on camera with perspiration rolling down their faces.

Right: The set of "By Gemini", one of Channel 5's religious public service programs, reflects the space age. The program appeals to children. By Gemini

Channel 5's color conversion project cost NBC more than $1,250,000. The advertising alone cost $175,000. On "C-Day", three skywriting planes wheeled and dove over the city, announcing the news in streamers of red, green and blue smoke.

Left: Teams of bright young people from Chicago area high schools compete each week on Channel 5's "It's Academic" intellectual quiz show.

A cartoon character called "Tommy Tint" was developed for use in the station's advertising and promotion campaign heralding "C-Day". Tommy appeared in newspaper ads, billboards and on-the-air announcements. He even had a cocktail named for him at the Merchants and Manufacturers Club in the Merchandise Mart.

Right: Channel 5's 10 p.m. "NBC News: Night Report" is Chicago's number one source for news (with Kalber and O'Connor, of course). Kalber and O'Connor

The Wall Street Journal estimated that Chicago had about 50,000 color receivers in operation at the time WMAQ-TV switched to all-color in April, 1956. At that time, the lowest price for a color TV set was $595. By late 1968, there were nearly 865,000 color receivers in the Chicago market, about 33 percent of the total number of sets.

Kup's Show
Left: The Peabody Award winning "Kup's Show" each week brings together top personalities from all walks of life to revive the stimulating art of conversation.

At the outset, audiences were given five to seven hours of color programming daily. This was later expanded to about 10 hours. Included were all local live programs, up to two hours of network shows and some film programs.
Return to the Channel 5 20th anniversary booklet index

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
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