Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
You don’t have to go very far afield from the KHCB studios we showed you last week to find most of the TV stations that serve the enormous Houston market. Houston TV was born about four miles southwest of here, at a spot on Post Oak Road that’s now where the I-610 loop bends from the south side to the west side. In 1949, though, it was wide-open exurbia, and a prime spot for KLEE-TV (Channel 2) to build its first studio and transmitter. As we noted a couple of weeks ago, KLEE-TV was sold to KPRC and the Houston Post, becoming KPRC-TV within just a few years; it stayed at Post Oak until 1970, when it moved west, and we’ll catch up to it shortly.
Houston’s second VHF station made it to the air in 1954. KTRK (Channel 13) was partially owned by Judge Roy Hofheinz of KTHT radio, who’d soon go on to own the Colt .45s/Astros and build the Astrodome. After initially making plans for a studio and tower on Post Oak just south of KPRC-TV, KTRK instead took a more expedient option, taking over the building on the University of Houston campus that had briefly been home to a failed UHF station, KNUZ-TV (Channel 39). In 1961, Hofheinz moved the ABC affiliate to a new site on Bissonnet Street just a block west of KHCB’s current home, building a domed facility that would directly anticipate the design of his new Astrodome soon afterward.
KTRK’s domed studio is still there on Bissonet, though the building was later substantially expanded and renovated by later owners Cap Cities and ABC, leaving only a curved wall as an exterior reminder of Hofheinz’ original design. (And yes, someday we’d very much like to get back to Houston and get a tour of the plant here…)
Where did KPRC go after its original Post Oak home was paved over by I-610? Out along the Southwest Freeway (then just US 59, now also I-69), about four miles west of its original location, where its oh-so-70s building was razed in the 2010s, replaced by a blockier new building on the same site, still with a landmark STL tower advertising the NBC affiliate to drivers along the freeway.
The third commercial station to hit the Houston airwaves actually came from out of town. KGUL-TV (Channel 11) started in Galveston in March 1953, but probably wasn’t very viewable in Houston until later in 1954, when it built a new taller tower in Alvin, 23 miles southeast of downtown Houston and just a smidge farther from downtown Galveston.
KGUL became KHOU, employed a young Dan Rather (whose coverage of Hurricane Carla got the attention of KHOU’s network, CBS), and by 1958 had moved its studios to Houston. From 1960 until 2017, KHOU made its studio home along Buffalo Bayou on Allen Parkway, west of downtown and quite a ways away from the rest of the TV stations out here. Then came Hurricane Harvey, which flooded the bayou and the studios – and after making a temporary move in with public TV station KUHT, owner TEGNA moved KHOU out here to the southwest side, opening new digs in a Westheimer Boulevard office building just west of 610 (and the famous Galleria mall) not long before we got to town. (KHOU now also owns independent KTBU, channel 55, in part to provide a UHF signal to augment KHOU’s VHF channel 11.)
Just around the corner from KHOU on Fountain View, another office building bore the sign of independent KUBE-TV (Channel 57), now owned by New York-based RNN.
Just the other side of the 610/Southwest Freeway interchange, and just a few blocks northeast of KTRK, Fox-owned KRIV (Channel 26) and its MyNetwork sister station KTXH (Channel 20) share a studio building along the Southwest Freeway service road. After a rocky first few years as KVRL and KDOG, channel 26 picked up steam as a Metromedia-owned independent, then as a Fox O&O. It moved to this Southwest Freeway location in 1997 and bought a competing indie, KTXH, in 2001.
And as we head out to the western edge of this studio cluster, alongside the Westpark Tollway a couple of miles west of the 610/Southwest Freeway interchange, we pick up another thread of the earliest days of Houston’s TV history. Remember KNUZ-TV, that failed UHF on channel 39 from 1953?
Its license resurfaced again in 1967 from these studios out on Westpark, as Gaylord-owned independent KHTV. Like so many of Gaylord’s indies (including WVTV in Milwaukee, KSTW in Seattle-Tacoma and KTVT up in Dallas-Fort Worth), KHTV became a regional superstation early on, reaching cable audiences across Texas and Louisiana. Later on, it joined the WB and then the CW, becoming KHWB, KHCW and eventually KIAH (IAH is the airport code for Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport).
These days, CW39 is owned by Nexstar, originating a local morning show here and carrying a 9 PM newscast from KTRK.
So now we’ve scoured one small corner of this huge market. Want to see more? Sure you do – and in next week’s installment, we’ll head out to some other parts of greater Houston to see some AM sites, and more!
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The Radio Historian has created another historic calendar for 2021, and we’re selling it!
This year’s calendar features 13 new full-color historic images of radio broadcasting from 1913 to 1969. We only have 30 and they sell out fast, so don’t wait!
The 2021 Tower Site Calendar is in the final stages and heading to the press, and we are ready to take your order!
This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the beautiful cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!
And while you’re getting your calendar, don’t forget the other great products in our store.
And don’t miss a big batch of Houston IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Wrapping up Houston at some north-side AM sites