Florida’s First Television Station

 

Capitol Theater Downtown Maimi. Photo Courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

Capitol Theater Downtown Maimi. Photo Courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

In 1925, Mitchell Wolfson and Sidney Meyer founded the Wolfson-Meyer Theatre Company. One year later, they opened the Capitol Theater, an innovative auditorium in the heart downtown Miami. Over the years their organization grew, and later became the largest chain of movie theaters in Florida, Wometco. Wolfson and Meyer’s company would also bring entertainment into the homes of millions by establishing Florida’s first television station WTVJ.

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew. Photo courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew. Photo courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

WTVJ’s first broadcast was at noon on March 21st, 1949.  The station’s headquarters was located at The Capitol Theatre, which had closed in 1952 and was converted into a fully functioning television studio. The renovation added 200 spectator seats for its 68-by-100-foot studio on the second floor. The ground floor accommodated the executive offices, programming and sales departments. Control and projection rooms were located on the third floor.

WTVJ created 125 hours of original programming each week in addition to network shows which were shipped to WTVJ from New York. The local news team included weather anchor Bob Weaver, sportscaster Bernie Rosen, and journalist Ralph Renick.

Reporters used several tools in order to cultivate breaking news stories. They utilized direct lines to police and fire departments to find the scoop. WTVJ also had in-house film processing machines that developed film within 30 minutes. After the news director, writer and editor viewed the film, the writer would then assemble story notes while the editor spiced the film together. 

Ralph Renick and Ike Seamans circa 1971. Ralph Renick. Photo Courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

Ralph Renick and Ike Seamans circa 1971. Ralph Renick. Photo Courtesy of www.floridamemory.com

WTVJ’s innovative programming brought many firsts to television audiences. Ralph Renick hosted the first daily television editorial in the nation in 1957.  The station also brought diversity to South Florida through its newscasters.  Manolo Reyes was the fist Spanish language news anchor on an English language station, Jane Chastain became first female sportscaster, and C.T. Taylor was the first black news anchor.

Throughout the years WTVJ created other numerous ground breaking television programs such as Skipper Chuck’s Popeye Playhouse, a racially integrated children’s TV show that developed a cult following with children as well as adults. One of WTVJ’s most popular programs was Montage, a documentary series that included editorials on crime, environment, health and entertainment. Montage was the highest rated public affairs program in America for over two decades.

In 1975 WTVJ became the only station in South Florida at the time with live broadcasting capability.  WTVJ, a CBS affiliate for more than three decades, was bought by NBC in the 1980s. In 1995, a deal between NBC and CBS forced WTVJ to switch from channel four to a weaker signal on channel six.

In 2000, WTVJ built their new studio in Miramar, Florida. Following WTVJ’s move to Miramar, the entire west side of the 300 block of North Miami Avenue was demolished to make room for a Federal Courthouse Complex. While there is no trace of Wometco’s presence on North Miami Avenue today, there is no doubt that The Capitol Theatre, WTVJ, and Wometco will be always be a significant part of downtown Miami’s history.

 

 

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