September 18, 1954. It's just another day to most people. But, to us here at NewsChannel 8, it's the day we were born. It all began on Eastside Boulevard in Muskogee, where James C. Leake turned an old grocery store into a television station. Channel 8, or KTVX as it was known back then, was born.
The very first program to hit the airwaves was OU football as the Sooners played the University of California. Other programs, like Acee Blue Eagle, soon followed. Kids from all over the area flocked to the show. And, for their parents, the first news team consisted of newscaster Jack Morris and weather with Don Woods. Hal O'Haloran soon joined the news team as sportscaster.
Don Woods reported on Oklahoma's weather for more than three decades. And, he had a little help from a friend, Gusty.
"Well, I was forced to go out and learn to draw a cartoon to get the job," he remembers. "Well, he gave me the job and then I found out I was the only one that applied. But, since then, Gusty has been famous."
The first day on the air, Channel 8 sponsored a contest to name that cartoon. Don Woods and Gusty have been together ever since. Gusty is now the official state cartoon of Oklahoma.
In 1957, Mr. Leake moved the station to Tulsa's Lookout Mountain and changed the call letters to KTUL. Channel 8 remains on top of the mountain today.
In 1965, another big moment for KTUL came when a 1900 foot tower was built in Coweta, allowing Channel 8 to reach more than half a million viewers. The tall tower alone would not guarantee Channel 8 great success. It's people would. Betty Boyd made KTUL the favorite with women. She would bring a new dimension to local television.
"We used Betty. We'd take her out and she'd do the shows all around," Leake said in a 1994 interview. "She was on the air all the time and did us a very, very great job and that just opened up a whole new part of the audience that we hadn't had any access to.
Shows like Mr. Zing & Tuffy were a hit with the kids. John Chick was Mr. Zing. Tom Ledbetter was Shaggy Dog and Wayne Johnson was Tuffy the Tiger.
Bob Hower joined the news team in 1968. Hower, one of the most beloved news anchors in Tulsa television helped make Channel 8 the most watched station.
The 70s brought about the age of disco, platform shoes and '8's the Place'. Channel 8 would be the news leader and the 'News Guys' reigned supreme. 'The News Guys' and '8's The Place' promotional campaigns were the brain child of Carl Bartholomew, better known to kids back then as Uncle Zeb. Carl was the promotions director. Bob Hower calls him a genius.
"(Mr. Leake) said do anything you want. We need good promotions. We want them entertaining and interesting. Just don't embarrass us on the air. So, I had that much latitude," Bartholomew said.