70 Years: History of WEEK-TV

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:00 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:27 PM CST
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EAST PEORIA (25 News Now) - Two months into 1953 WEEK-TV went on the air for the first time.

Bob Arthur was the first news anchor to be welcomed into homes throughout Central Illinois, joined by Francis Dayle Hearn in sports and hometown favorite Bill Houlihan for weather.

When WEEK-TV began broadcasting, talent weren’t the only people in the studio.

Tom Hexamer was hired as a floor director and artist in the early 60s.

“We would have 10-13 live commercials during a half-hour newscast. It’d be an automobile that we’d pull into the studio and pull it out and while the news was going on we’d set up lawn furniture for Corn Furniture Company or then we would go to weather and do a commercial for the weather and Houlihan would walk through a live display of lawn furniture and then back over to Harrison for the news.”

There were several moving parts, a variety of sets and no zoom function on the large cameras which meant a lot of physical demands for floor directors.

Hexamer said going from black and white to color was a whole new ballgame.

“There would be 3 colored tubes in the colored camera. A red rube, a green tube and a blue tube...That combination along with the black and white tube would make up color....Red, for example, was a very low frequency color so the red gun on the camera would wear out quicker. The object would be do we really want to use a lot of red? No, so we had to conserve red.”

Longtime viewers will remember quite a few things about the 70s including “The Captain Jinks Show” with Stan Lonergan and George Baseleon as Salty Sam and the live broadcasting of Bradley Basketball Games.

There was even a newscast from the mall.

“The noon news, the 6 and the 10. The Northwoods Mall was finishing up and for the grand opening we put a window so people at the mall could actually see us doing the news.”

For the 10 pm news reporters had to have their stories done by 8:30 in order to make the deadline because staff was using 16-millimeter film.

Gary Ebeling was at WEEK-TV from June 1971 to late 1980.

He remembered looking at the film on a projector and telling the engineer what he wanted, all while writing his stories on a typewriter.

He’s kept many momentos from throughout the years.

“You had to pause before you started talking because there was a lag between where audio was recorded on the magnetic strip and where the film was in the lens of the camera. If you started talking to soon your voice was cut off so I got a memo from Tom Connor in June 1971 saying remember to pause before you start doing your interview. Those were all things film made more challenging.

Tape eventually replaced film.

Ebeling said he covered governors, labor UAW strikes, and the invasion of St. Cecilia Grade School.

He recalled three men had robbed a sporting goods store on Southwest Adams Street in Peoria and later went into the school behind Peoria High.

Many people used the radio to find out what was going on that day.

“It was a frightening day for so many people. Police gunned down the gunman Melvin Burch and the boy was free and not harmed, but I remember our photographer Stan Anderson was so close to the scene he was actually pinned down in his car and couldn’t get out to film it.”

Without cell phones, staff had to rely on each other to get information out to viewers.

“It was teamwork because it was hard to get our two-way radio going. A friend of mine had a phone so I could call the station and find out what’s going on....so at least I was updated on the story because otherwise I was just a sitting duck,” said Christine Zak-Edmonds, former anchor at 25 News.

Christine Zak-Edmonds first joined the team in December 1976 from Fort Wayne, Indiana. After a brief move to Utah she found herself back in Central Illinois in December 1978, eventually anchoring the 6 and 10 o’clock news.

“Whatever it was we were a part of that and that made me really part of the community because I was doing that service,” said Zak-Edmonds.

Zak was also part of the St. Jude Telethon for many years, helping raise millions of dollars for the organization.

After a change in the radio industry, Gary Moore moved to WEEK-TV as a reporter and weekend anchor, going on to have a 30-year career at the station.

He helped launch the first morning newscast in the market. It lasted 30 minutes from 6:30 to 7 a.m.

“We did a lot of research as to who was up at that time and what we could do to give them information, specially that they would need and then generally the rest of the news and information. We didn’t want the newscast to be so formal,” said Moore.

Every Friday they would go on location somewhere and with the morning newscast gaining popularity it quickly became what you know today, two and a half hours.

Moore said, “To the viewers...they should feel good about having a station that is and has always been committed to excellence. It was a pleasure for me to be there.”

In the late 90s, the 25 News Team became known at Your Home Team.

Today we offer more than 50 hours of local news a week on NBC and ABC, proudly serving Central Illinois.