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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Birthplace Of Cincinnati TV Dead At Age 59

Cincinnati’s birthplace of television soon will reduced to rubble.

WLWT-TV's original Studio A on Chickasaw Street beneath the University Heights tower – and later the first home for WCET-TV (Channel 48) -- will be razed by the end of the year.

The studio on "Mount Olympus," as the huge complex overlooking the city was called, was built for the city's first commercial broadcasts on WLWT-TV (then Channel 4) on Feb. 9, 1948 for $600,000.

Ruth Lyons' "50-50 Club," the city's most popular TV show in the 1950s and '60s, and the Saturday night country music "Midwestern Hayride," were televised from the hilltop facility.

More than 7,600 people toured the studio at an open house on April 19, 1948. That month WLWT-TV became NBC's second affiliate in the nation, after WNBC-TV in New York. Channels 9 and 12 didn't sign on until 1949.

While Crosley Broadcasting originally had grand plans for Mount Olympus at the advent of TV, they never panned out. By 1951, just three years later, Crosley had moved the "50-50 Club" and other shows to Crosley Square, the centrally located home of WLW-AM since 1944 at Ninth and Elm streets downtown. The transmitter and tower have remained at Mount Olympus.

Crosley then leased the studios to WECT-TV – the nation's first licensed public TV station – for $1 a year. From 1959 to 1976, CET broadcast Lilias Folan's yoga shows, Irma Lazarus' interviews and "Action Auction" from Mount Olympus. The Sports Time cable channel and Paradigm Communications were based there. Gary Burbank taped a sitcom pilot there in the early 1990s, "It's The Pitts."

So why won't Mount Olympus see a 60th birthday?

"It’s a business decision. We looked at the cost at rehabbing the building, but it was exorbitant. We didn't want to pay for the upkeep any more," says Tim Hudson, Channel 5 assistant chief engineer.

The roof leaks, and there is no air-conditioning. The studio mostly has been used for storage of old WVXU-FM equipment acquired two years ago by WGUC-FM, which broadcasts from the Channel 5 tower.

Channel 5's owners, Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., approved the demolition earlier this month. By the end of December, all that will remain will be the "garage area" housing the WGUC-FM and WVXU-FM transmitters, and Channel 5's backup analog transmitter, Hudson says.

"It's a tired old building and it needs to come down," Hudson says.

It's a historic old building, and it's a shame to see it go.

Do any of you have remembrances of going to shows at Mount Olympus? Or working there?
Tell us all about them....


at 11/21/2007 8:59 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very symbolic of the times. The birthplace destroyed by the current and uncaring WLWT regime.

at 11/21/2007 11:32 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...


That building has one of the more incredible views of downtown.

I think it's unthinkable with what WLWT did with Crosley Square, now Mt. Olympus.

It's time that the building is saved.

This isn't a "Save the Flimm Building", this is history. 2 stations were built at that location. The genesis of SportsChannel Ohio/FSN nee Sportstime was started in that building. Horrible news!

Can't this building be saved????

at 11/22/2007 12:21 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this doesn't have anything to do with Chickasaw Street. I just thought all the TV news anchors wearing black Tuesday in honor of Joe Nuxhall was a classy move.

at 11/22/2007 1:34 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT - What ever happened to the rest of the X-star network of radio stations? Are they now just repeaters of wvxu's repeater service for NPR? Did they go off the air? Were they sold?

at 11/23/2007 11:08 AM Anonymous Mike said...

I happen to know Cincinnati's very first weather radar unit is still in the upper room of Mt. Olympus. It apparently came out of a WWII Navy ship. It's kind of large, but it would make a great display for the Cincinnati radio/TV museum in West Chester--especially in light of today's "Power of Five" Doppler weather competition. The museum would gladly accept the unit to display if WLWT would consider it. Whatya think?

at 11/24/2007 5:11 PM Blogger Jeffrey said...

why dont they tear down the current channel 5 building as well and start over fresh? The whole station is a mess. Their newscast is lousy and unwatchable so why not start over?

at 11/24/2007 6:17 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading this sad note I'm again left with the feeling that Cincinnati is missing out on it's broadcast heritage.
There should be a museum centrally located that can tell the story of radio and tv here...not a little attempt at the old VOA site, although I appreciate the attempt.
It's a story too seldom heard, and would be a great draw for visitors.

at 11/25/2007 4:35 PM Anonymous Observer said...

Just a comment on Anonymous 11/24 6:17pm...

I hate to admit this, but...the time for a permanent, Cincinnati-oriented broadcast museum really appears to have come and gone. Remember when the Cincinnati Historical Society tried to establish one in the early 1990s? They were expecting to subsidize the venture with money from the pockets of Multimedia, Taft, Scripps, etc.

What happened? Lack of money, lack of probable interest.

The historical society finally gave up, gave its broadcast archivist the old shafteroo, and locked up almost everything for good.All that's left for the public are a shelf or two of VHS tapes. Good luck trying to access anything else.

As far as potential interest - the onetime fans of Ruth Lyons and Paul Dixon are an ever-dwindling breed. You can't build a tourist attraction on nothing but a 70+ age base.

I'm also aware of the underfunded but well-meaning volunteer efforts at West Chester. They're probably the only hope Cincinnati has for any kind of rememberance of the days when this was truly a "big time" TV and radio town. Good luck to them in their efforts to swim upstream against graying demographics and little to no interest from the ever-conservative Cincinnati foundation types.

at 11/26/2007 8:10 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Sports Time cable channel and Paradigm Communications were based there."
And before Paradigm was located there it was called Production Plaza which did alot of the trafficing of episodes for the Phil Donahue shows in addtion to other Multimedia produced shows all across the country.

at 11/26/2007 10:37 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

John - you got such praise for posting the ratings for week one of sweeps. Why did you not follow up and post week 2 and week 3? It seems your readers were clamoring for that information, in fact, gushed over you providing it. Now sweeps is nearly over, and no updates since. What's up with that?

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