Anyone with roots in Sudbury remembers CKSO TV and the big broadcasting station at the top of the Beatty Street Hill.
People who were there describe it as a magical place, full of on-air characters and the precious (perhaps precarious) moments that are part and parcel of live television.
CKSO was also the first private television station in Canada signing on Oct. 25, 1953.
Bill Kehoe was the first newscaster, a first class broadcaster who went on to become staff announcer at the CBC in Ottawa.
The now 72-year-old retired television pioneer is busy these days finishing up an autobiography that is also a chronicle of the coming of TV to Sudbury.
Kehoe moved to Sudbury from the Ottawa Valley in November of 1952 to begin a job at CKSO radio.
A section of his yet to be published book describes the arrival at the Sudbury bus depot.
It was after midnight and very cold.
?I hoped the depot remained open overnight?when daylight arrived I freshened up in the depot washroom, checked the suitcase I had borrowed from my mother, then set out on foot to explore the downtown. I wasn?t sure of the location of the radio station, although I had the address?it was about seven o?clock by then, and I noticed a lunch counter ? the Victory Lunch and went inside. No tables, just a long counter with rather high stools?Sudbury was a company town, with miners working in three shifts round the clock, so the busy lunch counter was not unusual at that hour of the morning.?
Kehoe found the radio station, located in those days on Elgin Street behind the old Nickel Range Hotel and across from the Grand Theatre.
In a telephone interview from his home in the Capitol the broadcaster remembered his first day on the job didn?t start off well.
?The first (on-air) station break I did, ?CKSO Radio Sudbury, the great voice of the great north? or whatever it was?a few minutes later the studio door swung open,? recalled Kehoe.
?There was this man standing there, I hadn?t met him, I didn?t know who the hell it was. He said ?did you just do that last station break?? and I said ?yeah?. He said ?if I hear you say Sud-berry one more time, you?re fired??he said ?the word is Sud-bury?.?
It was the radio station manager, the legendary Wilf Woodill.
?He finally calmed down a bit,? remembered Kehoe.
?He sat down across from me and he said ?look, if you keep your nose clean, do your job well here, within one year you will be on television?. I said ?are you kidding??, he said ?no, we?ve applied for a licence?by God within one year, I was on television doing a newscast (sponsored by) Inco.?
Kehoe says he hadn?t planned a career in television, it was just a stroke of good fortune.
Employees helped construct the new television station. The broadcaster remembers laying tile in the hallways, painting walls and lugging in equipment.
?(Woodill) said ?if you want to be on television, after you finish your work here at the radio station, you?re going to have to go up to the station (construction site) and help out?, which I did,? said Kehoe.
?I used to pop out to the station and head up to Ash Street there where the water tower is and help build the damn place.?
Finally it was time to sign on. Most of programming came out of the main floor studio but Kehoe says sometimes they?d haul a big old TV camera up a flight of stairs to the newsroom and point it out the back window overlook the parking lot.
?So we could see the slag being dumped at Copper Cliff,? said Kehoe.
?We showed that at night (to fill programming time)?we had no video tape or anything like that?other times we?d haul (the camera) to the other side of the building where Woodill had his office on the corner facing down Regent Street?and the people could see the men coming off duty at 3:30, or whenever it was, from the Frood Mine?people would be at home and they?d see the father?s or the brother?s car coming up the hill.?
It was a big deal to work in television. These were the days before cable TV, satellite dishes and VCRs.
CKSO staffers were stars in the community and were true ground breaking performers.
?You have to remember that people like Judy (Erola) and myself and Basil (Scully), we had never even seen a television when we were appearing on television,? recalled Kehoe.
?Here I was, reading a newscast for Inco?I had never seen a television program in my entire life. And here I am, on TV reading the damn news. I had no role models, we had nobody to go by, we had nobody to imitate or nobody to emulate, we had to be ourselves.?
There were no production aids and everything was done in black and white and live.
?I think that made us more genuine as far as the viewers were concerned,? said Kehoe.
?And of course they had nothing to compare us with either.?
People would come up to Kehoe when he was having lunch at Cassio?s, on ?Copper Cliff Road? as he recalls it, and ask for his autograph.
Television was a novelty.
Kehoe explained that he has a story in his book about Arnold?s Plumbing and Heating in the Donovan.
The store owner used to put a TV in the display window and an old fellow used to come out and park his easy chair on the sidewalk to watch the programs.
?There were so many people parked out front watching the TV that they had to take the damn TV out of the window,? said Kehoe.
And then there was the invention of TV dinners and TV dinner trays.
Because of the introduction of the little wooden box with the picture tube, dinner was moved from the table to the living room.
Kehoe is essentially finished his book but wants to round it out with more recollections about the early days of CKSO TV and the impact it had on people?s lives and the business community.
Some local residents have already e-mailed names and phone numbers and Kehoe will visit the city in the coming months to do some interviews. He hopes to have his project published in about a year.
Kehoe can be reached at [email protected]