News 12 Then: Looking at the History of Chattanooga’s First TV Station

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — WDEF-TV News 12 has come a long way from being the first television station in Chattanooga.

We have a brand new news set for the first time in more than 20 years.

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WDEF-TV first went on the air on April 25, 1954 as the first television station in Chattanooga.

“When we signed on the air, we actually had four networks. We had ABC, NBC, CBS, and now the defunct Dumont Network,” said Doris Ellis, retired program and community services director. “We were fortunate enough, we could actually pick programming from each one of those networks, and air it as we chose.”

The first studios were located in the Volunteer Life Insurance Building in downtown Chattanooga.

When the station moved here to South Broad Street four years later, viewers got a chance to tour the studios, and meet the TV personalities for the first time.

“My mom and dad brought me over here, and we toured the station, and Luther was standing at the door greeting everybody as we came in,” Ellis said. “That was the biggest thrill of my life. I had finally got to meet Luther Masingill.”

Luther played a major role at News 12. He was on WDEF Radio since 1941, and later brought his radio personality to life on the TV screen.

“It was a big deal when we got him to be on the air here and have his own television show, which was kind of a call-in show, a live interactive show, much like his radio show, it was just putting it on TV, and you could actually see him for the first time,” said Collins Parker, online content producer.

Luther’s program wasn’t the only live show. There were many others, like Lunch and Fun, Top 10 Dance Party, and other children’s programming.

“Everything was live,” said David Moore, chief news videographer. “The commercials were live. You didn’t go away to a break. The director would open a copy book, and the talent would read the spot, and being on a slide drum, they’d show the slides. For Pruitt’s, you’d tilt the newspaper real slow, and Pruitt’s food town is the best store around. The best food prices that can be found. And then you’d show all those different things that Pruitt’s had on sale that Thursday in the paper.”

Live studio wrestling was a huge hit, as well.

“They had bleachers that came out from the wall, and wrestlers would come, and we had a ring that was set up in the studio, and people would watch that. But if you preempted wrestling for maybe a sporting event that CBS was having, oh, the phone calls were unbelievable,” Ellis said.

And over the years, while programming and news continued to evolve with technology, the news sets did too.

“The concept of trying to make news more accessible and just flashier to people, that’s been going on for 40 and 50 years,” Parker said.

Coming up on Thursday night on Prime News at 7, we’ll look at some of the changes our set has gone through over the years, and how this brand new one will benefit you, our wonderful viewers.

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You can watch Emily Cassulo weeknights on News 12 Now starting at 5:30. Emily also does stories on different tech products and issues for Tech Byte, which airs Mondays on News 12 Now. She joined the WDEF news team in September 2016 from News 12’s sister station in Columbus, Mississippi, where she worked as an anchor, producer and reporter. Emily is no stranger to the Volunteer State. Before moving to Mississippi, she worked at WBBJ-TV, covering crime and severe weather throughout West Tennessee. She loves living in Chattanooga, and exploring what the Scenic City has to offer. Emily is a Florida native, graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in broadcast journalism and minor in political science. While in college, Emily worked part-time as a reporter/web producer at News/Talk 96.5 WDBO. She broke her first news story there, which made national headlines, and covered the 2010 Central Florida congressional elections and the high-profile Casey Anthony trial. When she’s not busy reporting, Emily enjoys shopping, reading, playing the piano, and spending time with family and friends. Feel free to e-mail her at ecassulo@wdef.com if you have any story ideas or just want to say ‘Hi.’