News 12 Then: Sets Evolve Over the Years

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — We took you down memory lane on Wednesday night, looking at some of the history of News 12, Chattanooga’s first television station.

We’ll rewind a bit again, and look ahead to the future, which starts with this brand new set.

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The news sets at WDEF-TV News 12 have evolved a lot since we first went on the air on April 25, 1954.

“When we first signed on the air, the sets were modest, and as the years progressed, our sets did too, and became more and more elaborate,” said Doris Ellis, retired program and community services director.

Emroy Williamson, who everyone called “Mr. Willie,” built and designed most of the sets on his own, over the years. He was even the first person in Chattanooga to do color animation.



“He was a carpenter in our back shop, and would physically build the images that you would see over an anchor’s shoulder, the set around them, and anything like the hanging globe. Now it’s all done by a graphics operator on a computer,” said Collins Parker, online content producer.

“The sets got bigger, more elaborate, more chroma key,” said David Moore, chief news videographer. “When I started, Debbie Baer was on the weather map putting magnetic sticker things on the wall, so we didn’t have all this high tech doppler this, and doppler that. You had a weather forecaster with magnetic sunshines.”

Our most recent set traces back to 1998, when we built a new one from scratch.

The news desk has remained the core, with the environments around it changing.

But the next big change came in September 2011, when we launched the area’s only weeknight 7 o’clock newscast, Prime News at 7.

“We had modified a sports set to make the new Prime News at 7 set,” said Chris Hull, production manager. “It was a really cool set to begin with, which is why we wanted to use it for that. We had moved sports to the chroma wall anyway, so it was a freed up space, so we just changed some colors on it. It was more of a grey, and we made it more of a red. Later we even toned that down for Let’s Chatt, so we put more wood on it, and we took pretty much all of the red out of it, and added some greens and blues to it for Let’s Chatt.”

Our brand new set in November 2018 is a complete overhaul, and will be used in different ways for all WDEF-TV newscasts.

“This is the first set built for and in the HD era, so there’s a lot more detail to it,” Hull said. “There’s a lot more technology in some of the things. Like, we’re going to have monitor walls, two different sets of monitor walls, things that did not happen 21 years ago.”

Construction only took a couple of weeks, but the planning took months.

“Lots of detail went into the thought of the design of the set, and the building of the set,” Hull said. “It’s going to have a lot of Chattanooga in it, a lot of pieces of Chattanooga. There’s virtually nothing in the show, nothing on the set, that isn’t inspired by scenes from Chattanooga.”

There’s a Choo Choo and Riverwalk area. You can even get a glimpse of the Aquarium. A lot of architecture you see mimics the stone, wood and brick you’ll find throughout the Scenic City.

“It reminds me a lot of when we first signed on the air, how attached we were to the community, and how we had members of the community come in and do various things, and this really kind’ve gets back to our roots,” Ellis said.

“When people watch us, they’re going to see the best is yet to come,” Moore said. “From people who are dedicated, who really work hard bringing accurate and precise news, I think you’re going to see that set is just something we’re going to build around, just to make our product even better.”

If you’d like to learn more about the history of News 12, just head over to the “station history” section of WDEF.com.

And see Part I of the story here.