October 16, 2017
SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY GRANDE RONDE VALLEY TELEVISION
By Anne Hanford Olson and Marcia Hanford Loney, January 2014
The First TV Signal in the Valley
Our father, Earl Mark Hanford, was an early television pioneer in the Grand Ronde Valley. In the late 1940’s, he bought a radio and electric motor repair business which was housed behind the Union 76 station (no longer there) on the northeast corner of Adams and Hemlock in La Grande.
Our mother, Estol, used to say that our dad came home from a Motorola meeting in Portland in the early 1950’s and told her about television. He saw it as it the wave of the future and wanted to learn more about it.
He knew that television would soon be broadcast from Spokane. Perhaps in consultation with station engineers, he knew that the signals could potentially be received in La Grande. He began subscribing to the Spokesman Review so he could track the progress of Spokane television. In July 1952, Spokane stations KHQ and KXLY were both granted authorization by the FCC to build television stations. KHQ began broadcasting in December of 1952 and KXLY followed soon after in January of 1953.
According to a life history our mother wrote, “He (our father) got the first signal seen in the Grande Ronde Valley…” This was in very early 1953.
In March 1953, our dad took out a display ad in the La Grande Evening Observer and reported that his three-month study showed the quality of television station reception in La Grande to be such that it was not satisfactory as an entertainment medium. Even when video was received, which wasn’t often, audio was generally weak or nonexistent.
In the summer of 1953, our parents bought a house (no longer standing) on the northwest corner of Washington and Hemlock in La Grande. Our dad had a new cinderblock shop built next door at 104 Hemlock. He erected a TV antenna atop a tower that was next to his shop. The tower was stabilized by guy wires attached to the roof of the shop and to a post in our backyard.
Our parents used to say that we had the second television set in La Grande. Ours was a tabletop black-and-white Admiral TV in a black Bakelite case and was first located in our dad’s shop. At some point, the Spokane stations increased the strength of their signal transmission, reception improved, and people who knew our dad would stop by his shop to look at television.
Someone recently told us that they remember going to the shop to see television, but all that was ever on was the test pattern. We remember this as well, but even the test pattern was a novelty, especially the Indian-head test pattern which KHQ used. Later, we went over to the shop to watch early children’s programs such as Howdy Doody and Ding Dong School.
In September 1954, Bohnenkamp’s issued an invitation to watch a Zenith TV on their second floor. The next month, a third Spokane station, KREM, began broadcasting and was received in La Grande. Somewhere along the line, our dad put a television antenna on our house, and the Admiral TV was moved to our living room.
On March 7, 1955, NBC broadcast a live production of the musical Peter Pan starring Mary Martin as Peter. The broadcast was watched by a then-record 65 million people. None of Anne’s first grade classmates yet had a television though, so our mother invited four or five of Anne’s friends over to our house to watch. We were cautioned not to sit too close to the TV, something that was felt important at the time. In fact, it seems we sat in a row of dining room chairs. The room was dimly lit which was also considered important.
As the months went by, more and more people in La Grande had a television set, and our dad began repairing them. Soon, La Grande residents were able to subscribe to cable television.
Receiving Spokane stations instead of Portland stations meant those of us growing up in the Grande Ronde Valley in the early 1950’s had different TV watching experiences than children growing up on the west side of the state. We were teenagers before we heard of the Benson Hotel, but we certainly knew of the Davenport Hotel in Spokane. We knew the names of small towns around Spokane but not around Portland.
The phone number FAirfax 8-1521 is a cultural touchstone for many of us. This was the number of the Boyle Fuel Company in Spokane which sponsored Starlit Stairway, a Saturday night children’s talent show. More than once during each show, the Boyle Fuel twins sang a jingle including the famous phone number.
Better TV for Valley Farm Families
Without cable, farmers still had to rely on an antenna, and some locations received better signals than others. Our dad worked with valley farmers including Homer Case, Harlow Speckhart, and Myron Hug to form the Grande Ronde Television Association, a precursor of the Blue Mountain Translator District.
The Association rebroadcast television signals from Spokane which were received at what was referred to as the “head end” on the “back side” of Mt. Harris, run a distance via an underground cable, and then rebroadcast via a translator located in a small corrugated metal shed on the clear knob on the front of Mt. Harris.
It took a lot of hard work on everyone’s part to secure FCC licensing and build the infrastructure. The first translator signal, from Spokane station KHQ, was aired on Monday, August 19, 1957. By January 1958, all three Spokane channels were being aired via translator.
Maintaining and repairing the translator required frequent drives up Mt. Harris which could be treacherous in the winter. Our dad purchased an International 4WD pickup for the trips. He had it painted “school-bus yellow” so it could be seen in the snow in case he became stranded. Gettings-Lynch Motors where he purchased the pick-up received a call from the manufacturer verifying that he indeed wanted his vehicle painted such an unusual color. In the very worst weather, one of the farmers would deliver our dad to the translator via a Caterpillar tractor.
In the summer, it was a family outing to go up on Mt. Harris to service the translator. Our mother packed a picnic lunch, and we all squeezed in the International. While we were up there, we played with rocks and branches and enjoyed the view of the valley.
At home, one of our chores was to “check the channels” so our dad could see the quality of the signal of each of the three stations being broadcast. In the age before remotes, this meant getting up and going to the TV so we could turn the knob until we reached a specific station and then adjust the knob again until we found the perfect spot for optimum reception. This request for checking the channels might come several times during any one evening.
Early Color Television
In 1959, our dad discontinued repairing radios and television sets and focused only on the translators in Union and Wallowa counties and on 2-way radios for the police and for logging companies. Before he stopped repairing TVs, someone brought in a color television for repair. Although the first color broadcast had been the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade and the NBC peacock had debuted in July of 1956, color sets were still a rarity in La Grande. We once again went over to the shop to watch television, this time to see a little color TV.
Our dad always wanted to keep up with the technology, though, so by 1963 we had a color television. There were still only a few shows in color including Bonanza and Sing Along with Mitch (so you could follow the bouncing red ball). In fact, there were so few shows in color that if it was in color, we watched it!
Spokane TV station broadcast dates:
Report on early television reception:
La Grande Evening Observer March 7, 1953 “About Television” display ad
Televised broadcast of Peter Pan:
Bohnenkamp’s invitation to watch TV in the store:
La Grande Evening Observer September 30, 1954 “Watch Zenith TV Tonight!” display ad
First translator signal:
La Grande Evening Observer August 21, 1957 “TV Translator Signal Aired”
All three Spokane channels aired via translator:
La Grande Evening Observer January 11, 1958 “Third Channel Aired Via Translator”
Color television dates:
September 8, 2017
We were aware of the problems viewing KTVB in Union County and we have repaired the channel. Regular viewing should be possible, though you may have to rescan. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.
August 28, 2017
We are aware of the problems viewing KTVB in Union County and we are working on a solution. We hope to have the channel up and running by the end of this week. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.
December 1, 2016
MY VOICE: Show support for the BMTD
Observer Upload Published Apr 13, 2016 at 01:32PM
The Blue Mountain Translator District’s conversion to the fiber-optic cable took place at noon Jan. 20. A March storm caused irreparable
damage to the new equipment atop
Mt. Fanny and forced the district to temporarily revert to the old system.
Now things appear to be more stable and the main channels are HD 1080i or 720p resolution once again. The recording studio in Portland broadcasts signals from towers in Portland and reach the viewers there for free. Our circumstances are much different. The Blue Mountain Translator District now receives the Portland network stations through a fiber optic internet connection for rebroadcast in Eastern Oregon. As a result, the district is able to deliver picture quality that is crisp with enhanced audio as well as additional channel offerings. BMTD needs residents to contribute financial support every year to continue rebroadcasting the signals, repair and replace equipment, and serve the antenna television needs of Eastern Oregon.
These recent improvements come after a year of collaboration with several entities and agencies, resulting in 21 antenna channels delivered by BMTD. The Blue Mountain Translator District would like to thank Union County 4-H Extension Service, Union County Commissioners, Skyline Towers in Portland, and WindWave Communications for working collectively to complete the fiber conversion.
This fiber project is a creative technological solution to bring broadcast television the 265 miles from Portland to Eastern Oregon. In the past, the signals were interrupted by interference between the “hops” as they traveled from site to site across Oregon, finally reaching the end of the line where we live at Mt.Fanny. If any one of those “hops” experienced an issue, we were left without television until the repairs could be performed. Now, BMTD has a direct connection with Portland through the fiber-optic cable to eliminate the previous issues.
Blue Mountain Translator District is a special district created in 1978. Its purpose is to deliver antenna television to the people of Union and Baker counties. There are 17 transmitters at three sites broadcasting network television 24/7. The main channels offered include KGW (NBC), KOIN (CBS), KATU (ABC), KPTV (FOX), KPDX (UPN), and KRCW (CW). With the new fiber connection, BMTD also delivers dot 2 and dot 3 subchannels MeTV and Grit for westerns like “Big Valley,” “Bonanza,” and “The Rifleman.”
We are too far from the main broadcast stations for it to be free. Our responsibility is to contribute the annual payment (ORS 354.690) to the Blue Mountain Translator District for using antenna television.
Contact BMTD at (541) 963-0196 for details how you can make a contribution or volunteer. Let’s not overlook the importance of antenna network television in Eastern Oregon by showing support for the Blue Mountain Translator District.
About the author
Tim Wallender is the chairman of the board of directors for the Blue Mountain Translator District.
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November 29, 2016
Live TV Display at Blue Mountain Translator District Office
Come by and visit our new office at 1655 First Street, Baker City, OR upstairs in Suite 203 8:00am-5:00pm. You’ll see our live feed of the HD digital signal you can enjoy by using the Air TV signal Blue Mountain Translator delivers. Call us to hook up – it’s easy. $100/yr instead of $100/mo like Satellite and Cable TV. Get 21 clear channels including the major network channels ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC like you’ll see in our office window.
November 21, 2016
Translator District payments to be added to property bill
Now that property owners in Baker and Union counties have received their annual property tax statements, the board of directors of the Blue Mountain Translator District reminds members who receive a bill from the district in the statement that this is for the 2015/2016 fiscal year. Any member who did not return the July annual statement they received in 2015 will now have the district’s $100 annual usage fee for the signal added to their property tax statement in accordance with ORS 354.690.
If you believe you received this bill on your tax in error, you may write the district a note of explanation at P.O. Box 901, La Grande 97850. Each case is reviewed by the board and if the board agrees, the amount will be refunded. The fee is used to maintain, repair and update the equipment the district uses to bring television service over the mountains from Portland to rebroadcast from our three translator sites to your home antennas.
Those who want to begin using the signal, at $8.34 per month, may go to www.bmtd.org for information and advice on equipment needed to receive the best possible signal. The district has antennas and boosters available for sale at near cost.