As World War II drew to a close, radio was a well-established medium, providing music, drama, news and family entertainment.
It was part of America – and the American home – as people gathered around their “sets” to be alerted, informed and entertained.
In Memphis, WREC Radio already was well-known and recognized as a major factor in the local radio industry. With its popular shows and personalities, it had a devoted listening audience of thousands. Its studios, located in the Hotel Peabody (as it was known then), were sites of Mid-South activity, and its broadcasts were part of Memphis entertainment.
WREC Radio had seen remarkable growth in the years since it began as FNG, a small Coldwater, Mississippi, station in 1922. Its founder was Hoyt Wooten, an electrical engineer whose dream was to build a radio station in the Memphis area. Wooten’s determination, and family support, helped propel WREC radio to its success, and by the end of the first half of the century, WREC was a household name and a part of Memphis life.
What few people knew, or recognized at that time though, was the potential impact of television. Remaining a kind of science-fiction fantasy in this country until after World War II, television had not begun to take the place of radio in American homes. But as early as 1928 Wooten had applied for – and received from the Federal Radio Commission – one of the first six television station construction permits granted in the United States. Like others in the communications industry he could foresee the tremendous effect this exciting new medium would have on this society, and he applied early to secure a place for his channel here in the Mid-South.
AFTER THE WAR
The end of World War II came about, and the concept of television came into full being. Television stations were being started all across the country and Americans were excited about having “sight” added to the sounds they loved so dearly. In September 1948, the federal government imposed a “freeze” on the allocation of channels throughout the nation. In April 1952, after that freeze was lifted, WREC applied for VHF Channel 3 in Memphis. Three years later, after a lengthy license application procedure before the Federal Communications Commission, Wooten and WREC were granted the right to operate a television station. Seven months later, on December 31, 1955 – a day ahead of the station’s formal beginning – WREC-TV went on the air with the Gator Bowl. Full local and CBS network service began the next day, Sunday January 1, 1956. WREC-TV had begun operations as a CBS affiliate. (Channels 5 and 13 had begun on-air operations.)
The television station, as the radio station had done for many years, operated out of the Hotel Peabody location. New staff members, technicians, news and production people were added, and the “new” Channel 3 enjoyed years of success. In 1962, Wooten sold his properties to Cowles Communication, Incorporated. In 1971, Cowles transferred WREC-TV to The New York Times Company. The change in the station’s call letters, from WREC-TV to WREG-TV, came later as the radio and television operations finally severed their connections. WREG-TV is now housed in downtown Memphis along the banks of the Mississippi river. In May 2007, the station transferred ownership from The New York Times Company to Local TV LLC.
1922 On September 22, KFNG begins broadcasting from S.D. Wooten Sr.’s home in Coldwater, Mississippi, on 10 watt battery powered transmitted under license issued to Hoyt B. Wooten for the first commercial radio station in the state.
1925 New Hotel Peabody opened in Memphis, with Wooten’s Radio-Electric Company, retail radio shop, as one of first lobby tenants.
1926 In September, KFNG moves to Whitehaven and incorporates as WREC, increasing power to 200 watts on frequency of 600 kilocycles, sharing frequency with WOAN in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, established in 1921 as first commercial station in Tennessee. While most radio call letters have no real significance, WREC is the exception to the rule. Its call letters came from the name of the retail radio store in Hotel Peabody – Wooten’s Radio-Electric Company (WREC.)
1928 On July 19, Hoyt Wooten granted permit, one of first six in the United States, to build and operate a closed-circuit experimental Composite V.T. television transmitter.
1929 April 23, WREC opens new $25,000 studios in basement of Hotel Peabody; increases power to 500, then 1,000 watts; buys out WOAN, becoming WREC-WOAN until permission a year later to drop WOAN call letters. Becomes basic affiliate of CBS on October 15.
1935 Construction begins on new transmitter at Payne Avenue and Hindman Ferry Road.
1936 New transmitter with twin 420-foot towers dedicated on April 26; power increased in June to 5,000 watts daytime and 1,000 watts at night.
1937 From January 24 to February 13, WREC cancels all regular programming to remain on air constantly with flood reports and flood relief messages. The station’s core purpose has always been “On Your Side,” serving as an advocate for the people of Memphis.
1940 Remodeled and enlarged $60,000 studios dedicated in Hotel Peabody in November.
1941 On August 28, power increased to 5,000 watts night as well as day.
1952 WREC applies for TV Channel 3, so does Plough’s WMPS. In his application, Wooten mentioned that his proposed TV studios would be in the “magnificent” Hotel Peabody.
1955 On May 27, FCC unanimously grants Channel 3 to WREC
1956 On January 1, WREC-TV begins regular programming from Hotel Peabody. WREC-TV uses WREC’s radio show, “Breakfast Club,” as the model for the television program “Good Morning from Memphis.”
1962 On December 31, sale of WREC stations to Cowles Communications is announced.
1967 On March 1, WREC-FM goes on air with stereo music.
1969 On December 6, Hoyt Wooten dies at home at the age of 76.
1971 On October 15, FCC approves sale of WREC-TV to The New York Times Company. WREC-TV changes call letters to WREG-TV. Cowles devotes full attention to WREC AM and FM.
1972 Hotel Peabody is up for sale. WREG-TV President, Charles Brakefield, begins examining the future location of the station. Since Brakefield was spearheading the revitalization of Downtown Memphis, he began seriously contemplating a move for the station. He felt strongly about anchoring Downtown and serving as an example of urban renewal to other businesses. A site on the river seemed like the ideal location for WREG-TV.
1975 March 3, WREG-TV moved to its current location on prime Memphis real estate on the east bank of the mighty Mississippi River at 803 Channel 3 Drive. The station is situated on one of the highest points along the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.
Downtown Memphis is at the center of WREG’s coverage area. It is near the center of Mid-South commerce, the beats of city and county governments for Memphis, and the interstate system, which runs right pass the station’s door.
1992 WREG-TV expanded its current facility. Part of the expansion provides production support for the station’s many hours of local programming, along with housing News Channel 3 Anytime, the only 24-hour local news channel in Memphis. WREG-TV News Channel 3 is distinguished in the Memphis market by its tradition of emphasis on local news and information, local programming, local weather and local sports. No other television station in Memphis can boast of airing more local news broadcasts, or specially produced local shows than WREG-TV. The station’s outstanding local programming keeps viewers informed and entertained about those subjects that they want to know about.
2002 In July, WREG added 2 1/2 hours of local programming to its broadcast week, with the expansion of Daybreak from 5A-530A.
In September, WREG-TV expanded its commitment to Downtown Memphis by going back to The Peabody with a new studio in Peabody Place. At this time, and additional 7 1/2 hours of local programming will air each week “LIVE” from Peabody Place (M-F 9A-10A and M-F 4P-430P).
According to Smith Howell, a longtime WREG-TV employee, “Mr. Wooten was a very progressive businessman, who marched to a different drum. He always had challenging ideas, that were different and innovative.” The station has not only continued to march to this different drum, but has remained supportive of the revitalization of Downtown. The new studio in Peabody Place and the local programming expansion are prime examples of how WREG-TV has maintained the original philosophy of its founder, Hoyt Wooten.
2007 In May, WREG transferred its ownership from The New York Times Company to Local TV LLC.
2007 On October 4, WREG-TV was the first Mid-South station to hold a web exlcusive newscast. George Brown anchored our coverage of election night in the hottest mayoral race in the city in more than a decade. The exclusive webcast was streamed live on wreg.com from 7:30 to 7:55 PM. This is just another example of how News Channel 3 is committed to bringing you the latest information on the latest technology available. News Channel 3 is on your side on the air, on the web and on your mobile device.
2008 On February 1, wreg.com and WREG-TV made Memphis history by carrying exclusive LIVE, Breaking News coverage on the web. We didn’t just stream chopper video, we had anchors, reporters, phone interviews and LIVE News Chopper 3 over the scene of man who was trapped for five hours. News Channel 3 viewers were directed to the web coverage via an on air crawl.
2011 We made the switch to broadcasting our news in High Definition.
This new era in television meant the need to completely overhaul our control room as well as new studio cameras and equipment and new computers that generate the graphics seen on the air.
It also meant changing how we dress due to patterns picked up by the cameras and changing our make-up.
Sometimes less meant more and sometimes ‘imperfections’ were more…visible 🙂
Also in 2011, due to the closure of Peabody Place, Live at 9 was moved and is currently produced from the WREG-TV studios.