In continuing to relate his memories about his career in art, Carmichael area resident Bob Miller said that his involvement in working in television did not end with his employment with KTVU Channel 36 in Stockton. He would become one of the early employees of KOVR Channel 13, which was founded in Stockton, and has a long history of operating in the Sacramento area.
“I was there (at KTVU) for six months, and that was in 1954,” Miller said. “(KTVU) immediately put me on the air. There was a show called ‘Magic Genie,’ and a woman named Jean Hardie did the show. And once a week, I went on the air (on the ‘Magic Genie’ show) and I drew pictures on big sheets of butcher paper (with) lecturer’s chalk. I would draw, for example, Elmer the elephant, and I showed the kids how to draw Elmer using black and white chalk. And then I would tell a story about Elmer. Or it might be Sam the snake or it might be Joe the spider. Kids would send in drawings. We would get anywhere from 800 to 1,000 drawings a week and we would pick 10 winners to be on the show, and we would give them little prizes. We were sponsored by a little toy store in Stockton. I was (at KTVU), then (KOVR) Channel 13 went on the air.”
Miller related his first memory about KOVR, as follows: “The first thing pictured on the air misspelled KOVR. It was spelled KVOR. And, of course, KOVR stood for coverage in those days, seeming they had a signal that [covered Northern California]. It was a huge, huge signal, and that was the idea. But the problem was, it duplicated coverage of stations in the Bay Area – the NBC and CBS outlets and so forth. So, (KOVR) couldn’t get a network. They had for a brief time the DuMont network, which carried the (San Francisco) 49ers, which was not much of a deal in those days. (KOVR) had to curtail their coverage in order to get a decent network.”
After being asked how soon he began working for KOVR following the station’s debut, Miller said, “I was almost brand new (at KOVR). There had been another art director there before I was there. His name was Jens Hendrickson. I don’t recall what the reason was he left the station, and they hired me. If they terminated him, it was possibly because of the situation with the ‘KVOR’ mistake.”
In being only about six months shy of the 60th anniversary of KOVR, its history should be of added interest to locals, especially those who recall the earlier years of the station.
The previously mentioned long range coverage of KOVR was referred to in The Sacramento Union and The Sacramento Bee’s announcements that the station would debut on Sept. 6, 1954.
On the same day, The Union noted: “The Sacramento-San Joaquin valleys get a new TV station today, when KOVR-TV goes on the air at 7 p.m. with its premiere program. The new VHF station, with transmitter atop 4,000-foot Mt. Diablo, 35 miles from its studio, will operate on Channel 13. The debut of KOVR marks the first very high frequency TV station to start operations in the valleys.”
The Union described KOVR’s transmitter tower as “standing 325 feet above Diablo’s peak” and sending out 141,000 watts of signal power. The construction permit for the tower was issued by the Federal Communications Commission in February 1954 and work for the construction of the tower began shortly thereafter.
Prior to KOVR’s first broadcast, it was estimated by A.E. Joscelyn, the station’s manager, that KOVR would eventually have an audience of more than 4 million viewers. It was also reported by The Union that the station’s first program would be viewed by 300,000 people.
The Bee, in its Sept. 6, 1954 edition, noted: “Northern California’s newest television station and one which promises to be seen over the widest area will go on the air tonight with an inaugural live program from the California State Fair and Exposition in Sacramento.”
At that time, the 55-mile microwave relay from the fairgrounds at Stockton Boulevard and Broadway marked the longest remote sound and picture pickup ever attempted in this section of the country. The Sept. 6, 1954 telecast was the first in a week-long series of nightly telecasts from the fair.
The Bee also reported that the station’s original reception reached as far north as Oroville (Butte County), as far east as the Sierra Nevada, as far south as Fresno (Fresno County) and to the Pacific Ocean on the west.
And in The Union’s report, it was noted that KOVR’s test patterns determined that the station originally had strong reception in 27 California counties, including Sacramento County.
With its first airing, KOVR became Northern California’s seventh VHF station to take the air.
KOVR was originally owned and operated by Television Diablo, Inc. and that independent company’s principal stockholder and president was Les Hoffman, who was also a radio and television manufacturer.
Miller recalled Hoffman’s involvement as a television manufacturer, as follows: “His company was the manufacturer of ‘Easy-Vision’ televisions. The picture tubes in the television sets had a tinted glass that was supposed to make it easier to watch the television picture.”
During the following year, KOVR was sold to the Gannett Company of Rochester, N.Y. Part of the arrangement of the sale was that the station’s transmitter would be moved to a location near Jackson.
KOVR was sold to Metropolitan Broadcasting (later known as Metromedia, Inc.) in February 1960, and the station’s antenna was placed on a 1,550-foot tower near Walnut Grove.
By 1962, KOVR was running its Sacramento studios at 1216 Arden Way.
KOVR began its McClatchy ownership era when McClatchy Newspapers purchased the station from Metromedia in 1964, and operated KOVR from studios in Stockton and Sacramento.
That era ended with the sale of the station to the Outlet Company of Providence, R.I. for $65 million. The agreement for the sale was announced on July 5, 1979.
In explaining the reason for the sale, McClatchy Newspapers President C.K. McClatchy, in an interview for The Bee, said, “Various recent court decisions and rulings by the Federal Communications Commission have made it clear there is increasingly strong government opposition to the ownership of television stations by newspapers in the same market. This is what led to our decision that it would be in the best interests of the community and our employees and McClatchy Newspapers to seek an orderly transfer of ownership.”
The Rockefeller Group bought the Outlet Company in 1983 for $244.8 million and assumed an $87.3 million debt. As a subsidiary of the Rockefeller Group, the Outlet Company later became known as Outlet Communications.
In explaining a portion of KOVR’s history, The Bee, in its March 13, 1986 edition, noted that “Outlet remained a part of Rockefeller until February , when it split off, leaving KOVR behind, briefly.”
And The Bee added that following that split, Outlet “almost immediately” partnered with Wesray Capital Corp. to spend $625 million for the acquisition of four radio stations and seven television stations, including KOVR.
The station was once again under a different ownership in 1986, as Narragansett Capital, Inc., an investment group based in Providence, purchased it for $104 million.
But that proprietorship was fairly short lived, as Narragansett sold KOVR to Anchor Media, Inc. (later became River City Broadcasting) for $162 million on Nov. 1, 1988.
In 1995, KOVR exchanged affiliations with KXTV Channel 10, as KOVR became a CBS affiliate.
During the following year, River City Broadcasting was bought by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Viacom Television Stations Group (presently part of CBS Corporation) purchased KOVR for $285 million in December 2004.
Today, KOVR, which presently identifies itself as “CBS 13,” is recognized as the Sacramento market’s oldest continuously operating television station. Its offices and studios have been located at 2713 KOVR Drive in West Sacramento since 1987.
In continuing with his memories about Channel 13, Miller said, “One of our major shows was the Hoffman Hayride, which was sponsored by Hoffman Easy-Vision televisions. It was a live show once a week. It lasted an hour, and they had a lot of production numbers. Among the guests were Maddox Bros. and Rose, which in those days were popular western (music) people. ‘Cotton Seed’ Clark was the show’s emcee. We had seven or eight production numbers, with guys singing, ‘(When the) Moon Comes over the Mountain,’ (etc.). I would do sets (for the show) with lecturer’s chalk on big sheets of paper – 8 (feet) by 10 feet, with props and so on. And when I was done, I was just covered in chalk. I looked like a clown, but it was fun.”
Miller said that new employment brought him to Sacramento in 1955.
“Dick Block, who also worked at Channel 13 at that time, said, ‘Hey, I heard about a television station going on the air up in Sacramento, Channel 3. So, Dick and I came up to Sacramento – and made an appointment of course. I was interviewed by (Ewing C.) ‘Gene’ Kelly, showed him my portfolio, and that was at the corner of 11th and J (streets), above a creamery called Country Maid. I started the day the station went on the air on Sept. 3, 1955.”
Miller eventually spent a decade working as the art director for Channel 3.
While at Channel 3, he designed all the sets for the news shows, most of the commercials and all of the kiddie shows, including Skipper Stu, Boson Bill and Captain Sacto.
After leaving Channel 3, Miller began working for Fred Wade – the original Captain Sacto – at his business, Wade Advertising Agency, which handled the accounts of such businesses as KCRA-TV, KCTC 1320 AM, Crystal Cream and Butter Co., Capital Federal Savings and Loan, Suburban Ford and Rancho Murieta.
Most Sacramentans would recognize the steamboat logo for River City Bank that Miller created while he was employed by Wade.
Miller ventured into business on his own in 1977, as he established Bob Miller’s Art Department, which later became Bob Miller Associates, and is now known as Bob Miller Design.
In discussing his career as a whole, Miller said, “I think I left a legacy and helped raise the standard for design in Sacramento and that might be part of my legacy. Working as an artist and designer has been a rich, professional life. It’s been an adventurous, entertaining and fulfilling career, and I’m not done yet. I have fairly solid (artistic) commitments until 2018, so it would be irresponsible to die (before then).”