KDYL Brings Local, Independent Television to Utah

by JASON BUSHNELL

Introduction

When KDYL began broadcasting in Salt Lake City in 1922, it was just the thirteenth radio station in the United States. It became the radio station for the already prominent Salt Lake Telegram newspaper in Salt Lake City. However, by 1927 the station was failing financially and falling behind the already established KZN radio station (owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Deseret News) and looking for new support. Sydney S. Fox, an outside investor, entrepreneur and stepfather of then-KDYL president Fred Provol, purchased the failing station for $4,000. Fox saw potential in radio to be an “entertainment medium,” and saw KDYL as a great way to test this potential. (Boyles, iv)

Fox immediately established a new and innovative way to build revenue for KDYL. He knew it would have to come through advertisement. In fact, much of his own success in broadcasting (radio and television) was based upon his ability to sell advertisement in new, inventive ways. (Boyles, 27) Over the next ten years, Sydney S. Fox continued to improve and build up revenue and the popularity of KDYL.

Fox’s focus shifted from radio to television in 1939 after he attended the World’s Fair in both New York City and San Francisco. This is where he saw television demonstrated for the first time. Fox’s drive and enthusiasm quickly turned to developing a local television station in Salt Lake City under the KDYL name. He felt that the possibilities of this new form of medium were unlimited and all of his time went to making it a reality in Salt Lake City.

Fox knew that it would be a sensation, but he failed to see how much of an impact it would have on the local Salt Lake City community. He began to demonstrate local television at state fairs and at public demonstration days at local department stores in downtown Salt Lake City. The turnout was outstanding. Following several applications to the FCC, he was granted an experimental license in 1941. However, the timing was not meant to be. Shortly after obtaining a license, the onset of World War II halted any further progress. That was until 1946, when RCA began production of television transmitters once again.

Inside the television studio of KDYL-TV. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

KDYL, with a recently purchased transmitter, began to build a transmitter on the top of the Walker Bank and Trust Building in downtown Salt Lake City. A full television studio was also built at the Regent Street Playhouse on 68 Regent Street. (Boyles, 39) Then, with the approval of a television broadcasting application in 1946 by the FCC, KDYL began transmitting by November as KDYL/W6XIS. (Boyles, 40) These transmissions soon turned into regular programmed media in April 1948, and thus launched the first independently owned television station in the United States. KDYL, going by the call sign of W6XIS, continued to provide independent programming for the Salt Lake City community until early 1953, when KDYL was sold to TIME Inc. for just over $2 million.

Findings

Radio, having been around for some time by the 1920s, was viewed as a source of information and news. And even though rumors of television being the main medium for such information and news were growing daily, people still had their doubts. As early as 1910, the idea of sending pictures over wires had been well discussed but yet looked upon as impossible. A 1910 article in the Deseret News emphasizes these doubts:

“Something more tangible than television has been devised by a French inventor … [who] is making an apparatus to which a series of photographs can be telegraphed one after the other instantaneously, and reformed so as to give a cinematograph reproduction of an event.” (“Seeing By Wire”)

Yet by 1938, full-page articles were being printed within newspapers featuring the progress of the television.

The Kane County Standard printed such an article titled “Television, Science’s Youngster, Starts Wearing Long Trousers.” In this article, Joseph W. LaBine focuses on progress of the invention and notes that the “bugs” had been eliminated. “Actually, RCA’s engineers have already ironed out most of the ‘bugs’ in transmission.” It may have been articles such as that one that focused on the television that influenced Sydney S. Fox, president of KDYL in Salt Lake City, to pursue the concept of television.

But the most influential impact came from Fox’s visits to the World’s Fair in New York City and San Francisco. There he witnessed RCA’s demonstrations of television that launched the beginning of television’s rise to the top of broadcasting mediums. Fox was reportedly “so enthusiastic and saw such possibilities for the new medium, that they immediately ordered a ‘jeep’ television outfit consisting of equipment capable of demonstrating but not telecasting, television.” (“KDYL-TV Laid Plans for Video”)

Sydney S. Fox with two of KDYL-TV's engineers, including head engineer John Boldwin (far right), inside main control room at KDYL. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

KDYL immediately began to show the power of this “new medium” with demonstrations in local Paris Co. department stores as early as fall 1939 and at the State Fair in 1940. Over 45,000 people filled demonstrations in department stores in the space of just three days to witness the demonstration of television, and the television was also designated the key attraction at the State Fair. The Salt Lake Telegram quotes Fox saying that “he knew there was enough interest in television in Salt Lake City to justify going ahead with plans for commercial television here.” (“KDYL-TV Laid Plans for Video”)

Fox’s plans for television were put on hold in 1941 with the onslaught of World War II. “Because of America’s all out war effort, [the War Production Board] would not permit the manufacture or sale of television broadcasting equipment by regular manufacturers.(Boyles, 39) But this did not stop the enthusiasm of Fox. KDYL continued to invest time into developing the already existing technology and in 1943, following a trip to New York, Fox explained that television production factories were preparing transmitters for postwar delivery. (“SL Radio Executive Says Industry Eyes Television”)

In September 1944, KDYL filed an application for the building of a commercial use television station on an experimental basis. (“S.L. Firm Asks to Build Television Station”) By December 1944, the FCC granted KDYL a permit for the construction of an experimental television station, which would become the first studio between Kansas City and the West Coast. Fox was quoted as saying, “KDYL is proud to be a pioneer in this great field.” (“S.L. Firm Granted Television Permit”)

KDYL's downtown building next to the Walker Bank building in Salt Lake City. The KDYL-TV transmitter was located on top of the Walker Bank Building. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Between 1944 and 1948, KDYL was actively pursuing the reality of broadcasting local television programs to the Salt Lake City community. KDYL built a television transmission tower on top of the Walker Bank and Trust Building in downtown Salt Lake City, and finished building a television studio in the Regent Street Playhouse on 68 Regent Street. (Boyles, 39) The Regent playhouse worked perfectly for the site of a television studio since the playhouse was given up during the war. In 1946, KDYL began experimental transitions but did not officially sign on the air until April 1948 under the call sign W6XIS. The Salt Lake Telegram explained the significance of KDYL-TV:

“An event of historic significance in the field of entertainment and the dissemination of information occurred in Salt Lake City this week. It was the inauguration of the first regularly scheduled television program in the intermountain region…. Salt Lake City thus becomes the 13th city in the nation to have regularly scheduled television.” (“Salt Lake 13th to Have Television”)

The inaugural program was graced with the presence of the Utah governor, the Salt Lake mayor, and Frank Streator, president of the Chamber of Commerce. (“Salt Lake 13th to Have Television”) Along with KDYL-TV being the first station west of Kansas City, it also set another milestone by being the first independently owned television station in the nation. KDYL became a pioneer for what television would become and mean as a local informational source in the United States.

KDYL-TV followed a five-night-a-week schedule, but due to public demand KDYL-TV changed to seven nights a week by October 1948. In its early years KDYL-TV had many firsts and milestones. It was the first to broadcast golf and downhill skiing, and by 1952 KDYL-TV was broadcasting from 9:30 in the morning until midnight seven days a week, which made it one of the largest scheduled local television stations in the nation. (Boyles, 47)

A group of men, including Sydney S. Fox (center) addressing a TV audience on a live broadcast from KDYL-TV studios. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Television continued to boom and expand within the Salt Lake Valley as well. By May 1948, KSL, a competing radio station, had helped build an entertainment television studio in a ZCMI department store located in downtown Salt Lake City. The studio was scheduled to broadcast a one-hour show daily from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. (“Department Store Sees Television”) This became an added attraction for shoppers at ZCMI and led to KSL filing an application for construction of its own local television station by July 1948 with construction beginning in early 1949. (“Get Television Permit”)

KDYL-TV continued to set the pace for local television. “In late July the station’s mobile unit was delivered, which made possible the telecasting of events away from the studio.” (“KDYL-TV Laid Plans for Video”) This also brought sporting events to viewers at home. The Salt Lake community would soon be able to watch a wide range of sporting events from their own front room. This became a true pioneering television station, which played a major part in the Salt Lake community.

KDYL-TV continued to broadcast as an independent company through Intermountain Broadcasting Company, headed by Sydney S. Fox, until July 24, 1953, when KDYL-TV was purchased by TIME Inc. for just over $2 million. Fox retired as president of Intermountain Broadcasting and as president of KDYL. He would be succeeded by Roy E. Larsen, president of TIME, Inc. This was not necessarily a terrible move for KDYL-TV, as Larsen stated: “We know the KDYL stations will profit by TIME’s journalism and television success formula. We at KDYL hope to make our station ‘The Voice of the New Golden West.'” (“Sale of KDY-TV”)

Conclusion

Sydney S. Fox and his team at KDYL helped pioneer and develop early television station standards that directly impacted the Salt Lake community and the rest of the nation by being the first at many aspects of broadcasting, including: first independent television station, first to air golf and downhill skiing, first to challenge the nation’s use of locally scheduled broadcasts by providing local broadcasts seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. until midnight. The station also pioneered ways of gaining advertisement space on local television. Sydney S. Fox continued to work within television after leaving KDYL and pressed the concept of entertainment with the idea of producing movie-like television shows. Sydney S. Fox truly helped drive local television into the news, information and entertainment source that it has become, and his desire for the public to witness television still lives today as KDYL continues to air local programming under call number KTVX in Salt Lake City.

Jason Bushnell is a senior studying mass communication at The University of Utah. He is set to graduate following the Fall 2012 semester. He will be continuing a career within television broadcasting.

Sources

“Seeing By Wire,” The Deseret News, April 12, 1910.

Joseph W. LaBine, “Television, Science’s Youngsters, Starts Wearing Long Trousers,” Kane County Standard, January 7, 1938.

“Salt Lake Concerns To Show Television,” Davis County Clipper, September 15, 1939.

“Television Set To Be Exhibited,” Salt Lake Telegram, September 10, 1940.

“S.L. Radio Executive Says Industry Eyes Television,” Salt Lake Telegram, October 12, 1943.

“KUTA Files Application For Television Station,” Salt Lake Telegram, June 3, 1944.

“S.L. Firm Asks to Build Television Station,” Salt Lake Telegram, September 23, 1944.

“S.L. Firm Granted Television Permit,” Salt Lake Telegram, December 30, 1944.

“Salt Lake City 13th To Have Television,” Salt Lake Telegram, April 21, 1948.

“Department Store Sees Television,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 28, 1948.

“S.L. Station Expands Television Schedule,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 7, 1948.

“Get Television Permit,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 30,1948.

“KDYL-TV Laid Plans For Video in ’39,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 31, 1951.

“Sale Of DKY-TV OF Salt Lake City To Time, Inc. Stated,” Davis County Clipper, July 24, 1953.

Patrick Wm. Boyles, Sydney Fox and KDYL, 1927-1952: A Utah Broadcasting History (M.S. thesis, University of Utah, 1953).

 

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