70 Years: The history of WEEK Television
EAST PEORIA (25 News Now) - Peoria, Illinois’ first television station was WEEK-TV, signing on the air February 1, 1953 on UHF channel 43.
The owner was the West Central Broadcasting Company. The CEO was US Senator Robert S. Kerr, former governor of Oklahoma and founder of the Kerr-McGee Corporation, whose main interests were in developing and refining oil and gas. The company was familiar in broadcasting, as it also owned and operated WEEK Radio (1350 AM) since 1947.
The first face Central Illinois saw on their brand new, but tiny, tv screens was Bill Houlihan, WEEK’s first weather personality and hometown boy. Other early news people included Tom Connor, Bob Arthur and Chick Hearn, the latter two went on to lengthy careers in Los Angeles with Chick becoming the play-by-play man for the LA Lakers NBA team. In 1953, WEEK carried shows from all the available networks but later selected NBC as their sole primary network.
To extend WEEK’s broadcast reach, WEEQ-TV was launched in 1957 as a full-time satellite repeater on UHF channel 35, serving the LaSalle-Peru area to the north until it was shuttered in the early 1970′s.
The 1960′s brought big changes to WEEK. In 1964, in preparations leading up to broadcasting in full color, a larger tower was constructed and the signal was changed from channel 43 to channel 25. 1966 saw a new owner in Kansas City Southern Industries (its core business was in railroads) and the creation of Mid America Broadcasting.
Longtime viewers fondly remember the areas’s longest running children’s show, “The Captain Jinks Show” with staff members Stan Lonergan as the befuddled Captain of the USS Albatross with trusty First Mate Salty Sam portrayed by George Baseleon. They offered up jokes and played cartoons in a live weekday afternoon format, writing their own material and involving the studio crew as part of the hijinks. Although the original run ended in 1973, it was revived in 1978 with the original Captain and Salty for 3 more years. They were joined by Bosun Joe who taught young children the basics of drawing and videotaped segments from the local zoo and animal shelter.
WEEK has always held a leadership role in public service which manifested itself in 1978 when General Manager Bill Adams decided to produce a telethon, benefitting the St Jude Children’s Hospital local affiliate. That first broadcast raised almost $90,000 and has become the signature point of pride for WEEK. Since that first shaky broadcast in 1978, the still locally produced St Jude Telethon has raised over $150 million total to help in the fight against childhood cancer. WEEK has partnered with a number of community groups including the Crittenton Centers, Heart of Illinois United Way, the American Red Cros, the Susan. G. Komen Memorial Affiliate, Central Illinois Junior Achievement as well as many others
Another jewel in WEEK’s crown was broadcasting local Bradley University men’s basketball. The Bradley Braves had been a national powerhouse in the college ranks, first with the “Famous Five” of the 1930′s and regaining glory after World War II by recruiting talented GI’s returning home. But by the early ‘70′s, fortune smiled upon Bradley no more. A new athletic director eager to place his school’s game on television to widen his market and a new cocky and controversial head coach was all WEEK needed to get involved in the big way. Averaging 10 exclusive broadcasts a season for 25 years, WEEK rode the wave of new excitement from The Hilltop, broadcasting Bradley’s 4th NIT Championship game from Madison Square Garden in 1982 and an undefeated Missouri Valley Conference season and championship in the 1986. WEEK brought into viewers’ homes Hersey Hawkins and Mitchell “JJ” Anderson, who became the Braves’ top two leading scorers of all time.
In 1985, Price Communications became WEEK’s new owner and later became one the founding stations of the Granite Broadcasting Corporation. Granite bought a FM station in 1997 and re-christened it WEEK-FM with the nickname “Oldies 98.5″. It was subsequently divested in 1999.
Granite assumed operations of rival WHOI-TV from Barrington Broadcasting through joint sales and shared services agreements in 2009. WHOI is the Peoria market’s second oldest television station, signing on the air October 20, 1953, almost nine months after WEEK. It began broadcasting originally on VHF channel 8 as WTVH-TV. In 1963, the FCC mandated it change to UHF channel 19 to allow for a third VHF channel in the Quad Cities. The call letters were changed by new ownership in 1965 to WIRL, to match the AM radio station they owned in the market. In another ownership move, the call letters switched to WRAU in 1971 and settled on WHOI (the “Heart of Illinois”) in 1985.
WHOI was able to secure rights to the new network formed by the merger of the WB Network and UPN, The CW. It was broadcast on a subchannel to allow over-the-air viewing. All operations at WHOI’s long-time studio in Creve Coeur were moved to WEEK’s facilities in East Peoria and the former site was closed. Separate newscasts for each station continued under the WEEK roof with separate control rooms and studios created. Today, Heart of Illinois ABC can be found on WEEK25.2 and Peoria-Bloomington’s CW on WEEK 25.3
On September 30, 2015, the FCC approved the sale of many Granite stations to Quincy newspapers (now Quincy Media or QMI). The new owner remodeled and updated the facilities and equipment to the tune of over $10 million. New newscast sets, master control and production control rooms for both stations, a state-of-the-art newsroom with new field cameras and editing equipment, updated sales and creative services areas were all part of a three-year total makeover of the original 60-year-old building.
In 2020 it was announced Quincy Media was selling WEEK and the rebranded HOI ABC to Gray Television, Inc. The sale will position Gray into 102 media markets, collectively reaching over one-quarter of US television households.
The future looks bright for WEEK and HOI ABC under Gray’s experienced leadership. Each station has been at the vanguard of news, sales and public service since 1953 and they have no intention of relinquishing their lead anytime soon.
Learn more of our history here.
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