Channel 13's position as the local leader in news coverage began when the station was purchased by the Gaylord organization in July of 1956.  Headed by the veteran publisher of the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, E. K. Gaylord, the newspaper group had already blazed a trail in broadcasting with WKY-TV.  WKY management and staff were encouraged to make the move to Tampa and help take WTVT to the next level.  Over a dozen employees chose to do so and the beneficiary was Channel 13.  Gaylord immediately added a fleet of station wagons equipped with police-style shortwave radios.  16mm Auricon sound-on-film cameras were purchased, and a more sophisticated film processor was brought down from the WKY.  

Dick John, WTVT News Director and Anchor (1956-58)
(Courtesy Dick John)

Another import from WKY-TV, news director Dick John, was charged with hiring reporters and seeing that they were trained as television journalists.  John replaced Landis Wilkinson as anchor for the 6pm "Newsroom," and Wayne Fariss continued to anchor the 11p.m. version.

Dick John has kindly written about his days at Channel 13.  Click here to read "Newsroom 1956"


The news fleet in 1956. New Director/Anchor Dick John is seen at far left.

Standard equipment for the time was the 16mm camera, a microphone, tripod, and small floodlight.  

See 'More News Photos' for details on the gear
being used here by Marvin Scott

Reporters such as St. Petersburg bureau chief John Evans had to gauge their time very carefully, since there was no I-275 to whisk them across the Howard Frankland bridge back to the studio in Tampa.  In fact, there was no Howard Frankland bridge...just Gandy Bridge.  Surface streets were much slower and a reporter had to allow for travel time.  During the day, Evans used a scheduled Greyhound bus to send freshly-shot newsfilm from downtown St. Petersburg to Tampa, where it would be picked up and brought back to the station for processing.

Evans recalled  that on more than a few occasions when breaking news was involved, he would hit the station about the time "Newsroom" was starting.  After processing, a few seconds of unedited film would be shown towards the end of the news program.

"Yeah, Chief...I'm in St. Pete.  If I leave right now, I'll be back to the studio in 2 hours!"

Reporters usually concluded their field work in the early to mid-afternoon.  Once a story was on film, the reporter had to return to the station and have the film processed in a primitive manner that called for the negative to be wrapped around a core of spokes and hand-dipped into developer.  Channel 13's new management sent a call for help to the home office in Oklahoma City, and soon a Houston-Fearless film processor was shipped to Tampa.

To operate the new film processor the station turned to Barbara Lea Jones, who had joined WTVT in 1955.  "I reported to work when they were still dropping trees into holes," Barbara recalled in 2005. 

Barbara was able to process film without the previous muss and fuss in about 20 minutes.  The film immediately taken to the editing bench.

(Left: Barbara Lea Jones in 1957)



Earl Wells at the film editing bench

Editing was accomplished on a 16mm moviola using a hot splicer and glue to join the clips together.  A script would be typed on a non-electric typewriter and checked for accuracy while the edited film was spliced onto a larger reel with other stories scheduled for the evening's news cast.  Scripts were read directly off the paper...no teleprompter.  Several anchors of the time, including Dick John and later Crawford Rice, were renowned for their ability to glance at copy and maintain contact with the viewer. 

In the control room, the director had only a format sheet and would rely upon the newscaster to cue a film roll using a foot pedal concealed under his desk.  When a film cue was called for, the pedal would be pressed and a bell would ring in the control room and the film projection room. 


(Lower left - foot switch used by anchorman for cueing the director to roll newsfilm)


Channel 13's news director and 6pm anchorman, Dick John, 
confers with 11pm anchor Wayne Fariss

The need to cover news from Florida's state capitol, Tallahassee, created a need for a bureau there.  John Evans was summoned from St. Petersburg to become Channel 13's first Tallahassee bureau chief. Tallahassee is 277 miles from Tampa and a challenging drive in the mid-fifties, before the era of high-speed interstate roads.  Getting television news from the state capitol in the days before satellite links proved difficult, but not insurmountable.  Newsfilm was taxied daily to the Tallahassee airport where it was given to a flight attendant on a commercial airliner headed to Tampa.  

(Mr. Evans has described the early days of reporting from the state capitol for BIG 13.  To read John Evan's story, CLICK HERE )