APRIL 13, 2013: THE REAL STARS OF 50s & 60s TELEVISION-THE WORKING VEHICLES OF A SMALL TOWN TV STATION

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Most of the Baby Boom demographic looks back at the 1950s and 60s as the Golden Era of television.

In some cases like Gunsmoke, Andy Griffith or Bewitched there’s a solid case for golden era status but, in many cases, live TV and major productions were spontaneous and crude.

That concept was even more evident with the small local television stations where everything was done live on a budget with giant equipment that had to somehow be made portable.

They had to rely on any available vehicles to get the show out to the public.

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CHCA was one of those small town stations and it began life in 1957 in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada in a building on a hill so far out of town in those days that the employees were often stranded out there during blizzards.

I remember my first visit to the CHCA studio for a kiddie program just before Halloween in the early 60s and none of the magic was lost despite that fact that the local Romper Room set was right next to the kiddie program studio. That just made it more magic.

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CHCA was a station that managed to pump out local versions of Romper Room and American Bandstand simply because they had to–there were no alternatives back in those days for budget conscious small town TV stations.

The big test for stations like this was when they went on remote shoots and that’s where CHCA had to rely on strong backs and heavy duty vehicles to haul their massive equipment.

Most of this stuff weighs about the same as a new Ford Fusion and they had to get it on the roof of a ’58 Chevy wagon or Chevy Suburban to get the vantage point at an event.

Clearly, it worked but the real unsung heroes in early TV were the guys who hauled these giant cameras around Red Deer.

The other issue was the out of town location of the CHCA studios. My folks had a house on an acreage on the same east side of town that was a lot closer to the city than the CHCA building and we missed a lot of school thanks to snow clogged roads in the early 60s.

Add another few miles and it becomes very clear why CHCA needed a little Land Rover to even have a remote hope of delivering the news on time. Despite their best efforts, I recall a lot of dead air space during blizzards when we were 8 year old kids stuck in a house searching for a Three Stooges pot of gold at the end of the TV rainbow.

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Eventually CHCA became CKRD and they finally moved into town where the threat of weather was far less ominous but they still had that gargantuan equipment to haul around so the tasks were just as big but the roads were better.

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Ultimately, the Golden Era of small town TV really came down to 1958 Chevy station wagons, Land Rovers, Chevy Suburbans and Ford Econoline vans.

Without them, live TV would never have made it to air on CHCA Red Deer.

Jerry Sutherland

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