WSIL station history
What were these men thinking? Harrisburg.... Illinois? Why in the world would someone build a television station in a small, southern Illinois town? This was a question asked by many in the early 1950's when the Turner-Farrar Association decided to construct a new station on Poplar street in Harrisburg.
O.L. Turner was the head stockholder in the Turner-Farrar Association. Both Turner and Charles Farrar had fathers who were in the movie theater business. O.L. Turner, Sr. built a chain of movie theaters throughout Southern Illinois that had done well for several years. Charles Farrar's father had also owned theaters, and although a competitor with the elder Turner, eventually went in to partnership with him. Both men were said to be hard workers. Both were shrewd and frugal businessmen. It is said that the elder Mr. Turner and his wife would sell tickets, take tickets, usher, and later operate the film projector. The next morning, they would arrive at the theater to clean and get ready for the next showing. It is perhaps this work ethic that added to the success of the business.
Another factor in the success of the business was Mr. Turner's own business sense. He made late night appointments with film salesman who directly called on theater owners in those days. After talking for an hour or more, the film salesman would wearily agree to a lower price on a film. Mr. Turner's son, Oscar Jr., learned much from his father, becoming just as shrewd, hard-working, and knowledgeable. He too carried on a long workday and kept a close eye on the operations of the business.
Television was a new and exciting medium in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. Many people were skeptical, but O.L. Turner Jr. was convinced that even small television stations would drive the theater and radio industries out of business. He needed to strike while the iron was hot.
Most television stations in those days were built in large cities. St. Louis, Chicago, and Indianapolis had television stations…..and large populations. Would a small town of less than 10,000 be a good place for a station? Mr. Turner did not worry. He felt that TV stations, despite any problems with installation or operating costs, would and could exist in small towns…much like radio stations. He found out later that television, being much different than radio, needed wide coverage and many viewers to survive.
Mr. Turner was given UHF channel 22 by the FCC. This would be the number for the new station, and it was soon determined that the channel and the frequency themselves would be a hinderance. UHF channels provided limited coverage. The television signal from this frequency followed the terrain, and with the hills and trees to contend with, much of the area surrounding Harrisburg would not be able to watch. The signal was picked up in areas north of Harrisburg….even as far as 40 to 50 miles away. However, even southern towns as close as the community of Vienna could not receive a strong signal. This meant not enough people would be watching….not enough people to hear commercials. How would advertisers even be interested in the station if no one was watching? Another problem….television sets weren’t made for UHF reception! Converters could be purchased and hooked to televisions. These converters would help viewers receive a stronger signal. Many viewers opted to mount tall television antennas on their homes. Both the converters and the towers could be costly or impractical.
With problems mounting, Mr. Turner decided to talk to the folks in Washington. It took two years, but politicians soon realized that a UHF channel was not practical for a small commercial station. UHF channel 22 became VHF channel 3.
…….And the rest, as they say, is history.
Many thanks to Bill Plater, author of “The WSIL-TV Story”, published in the October 2001 issue of Springhouse Magazine. Also, many thanks to Gary DeNeal, publisher of Springhouse. Check out our links section for more information on subscribing to Springhouse