Television Station WTVE - Woody Langley

WNBF-TV, Channel 12 in Binghamton (New York), began telecasting in the late 1940s.  Their first competition in the Valley was WTVE, Channel 24 in Elmira, which went on the air circa 1952.  Whereas WNBF was licensed in the original VHF television band of Channels 2-13, WTVE operated in the then new UHF frequency spectrum of Channels 14-83, requiring viewers to add “bow tie” antennas to their rooftop masts and set-top tuner boxes.

WTVE was owned by Thompson K. Cassel, a Floridian who in 1950 had built WATS radio station in Sayre.  Initially and in addition to the ubiquitous test pattern, WTVE’s limited programming day consisted of old movies, syndicated film shows, and offerings from the ABC and DuMont networks beamed from the station’s mountaintop transmitter site outside the city.  After downtown studios were converted from a three-story building that once housed a community center, the scope and hours expanded to include live local programs.  Typically, in these black-and-white days before the advent of color and videotape, station breaks, program reminders, and commercials for area businesses consisted of one or more 35mm slides depicting goods or services described by a voice-over announcer. 

Around 1954 or 1955 a violent windstorm in the Southern Tier blew down WTVE’s transmitting tower.  The so-called “Double Dozen” station remained dark for a year while insurance matters were settled and reconstruction began.  When WTVE finally resumed broadcasting it was a shadow of its former self, much of the studio equipment having been rented out or sold off in the interim.

During this declining period, several of us from the 1957 graduating class of Sayre High School availed ourselves of the lone remaining studio camera to produce a weekly interview program devoted to Valley-oriented news and activities.   The live, late Friday afternoon half-hour was titled “Studio 24.”  Our staff of classmates included Glen Snyder, who was also a WATS disc jockey, as host; Norma Franklin, the daughter of WATS and WTVE chief engineer Ben Franklin, as the audio mixer; and me as the cameraman.  Guiding all of us as the director was the station’s stalwart announcer and all-around technician, Dave Ridenour.  Only several installments of “Studio 24” ever aired, a memorable one featuring the Sayre High marching band.  Although their performance was flawless, my inexperience with the RCA camera mounted on a wheeled tripod resulted in dollying straight into the brass section during one number, overturning music stands and sending musicians scrambling. 

Ultimately, WTVE failed to regain its financial footing and went off the air forever (date unknown, but probably late 1950s or early 1960s.)

Editors note:  As many Sayre residents might remember, this article is about the only television available in Sayre at the time.