WIBW-TV was the first television station in northeast Kansas. On November 15, 1953, WIBW-TV signed on the air on channel 13. Owned by Capper Communications, operated by the family of Arthur Capper, the station was located near the Menninger Clinic in west Topeka.
The television station shares a history with WIBW-AM and WIBW-FM. The call letters were purchased by Capper in 1927 from a portable field station in Logansport, Indiana. The Federal Radio Commission at the time approved the move of some portable stations to underserved areas. Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency assigns stations beginning with the letter W east of the Mississippi River, and K west of the Mississippi. WIBW-AM station signed on the air in Topeka, Kansas, May 8, 1927, and converted to stationary operation on January 14, 1928, broadcasting from Jayhawk Theater in downtown Topeka. Capper later operated out of his former home on Topeka Boulevard. He later added the television property to his holdings. WIBW is the furthest west station with call letters beginning with W.
Originally part of the Kansas City market, the station lobbied to make Topeka its own market. The CBS affiliate was then able to air programs from the other networks including ABC, NBC, and DuMont.
Broadcasting from a 200-foot tower near the studio, WIBW-TV’s first program was its own sign-on ceremony with station manager Art Holbrook. Following the ceremony, the station joined the DuMont network with a pro-football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns. Approximately 1,000 homes received the first broadcast. Ten months later the station switched to a 950-foot tower several hundred yards to the west and increased the audience. (The tower was later used by KTWU.)
The station became known for innovative live local programming and remote broadcasts. In the 1960s WIBW-TV televised the first college basketball in the state with the University of Kansas and Kansas State University games. When ESPN was beginning as a cable sports channel, the network used the WIBW-TV remote truck and crew for many live broadcasts. The station formed the network and televised the All-American Futurity, the triple crown of quarter horse racing, held in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico. Other live coverage included dedications of the Tuttle Creek and Pomona reservoirs, Kansas Avenue bridge collapse, and numerous remote baseball broadcasts. The station emphasized its weather coverage, and in 1966 became known for its reports on the Topeka tornado, during which time Bill Kurtis, a WIBW-TV newsman, gained fame for his cautionary warning, "For God's sake take cover." In the early 1970s Holton Hodges delivered a weekly editorial called Why? Wib the Clown was a popular local character portrayed by Gordon Jump, who later went on on to star on network television. Frank Wiziarde, who created Whizzo the Clown for a Kansas City television station, moved his program to WIBW-TV in the 1970s.
Stauffer Publications acquired the Capper properties in 1957, which included WIBW-AM, and the Topeka Daily Capital. WIBW-TV was among the properties sold by the Stauffer family to Morris Communications on July 7, 1994. Morris then sold the television properties to Benedek Broadcasting on June 6, 1996. In 2002 Benedek merged with Gray Communications, which became Gray Television. The station began broadcasting its newscasts in high definition in 2012.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2013
Date Modified: July 2014
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