WKRN-TV began operation on Sunday, November 29, 1953 at 1:00 p.m., as only the second television station in Nashville. The station’s call letters and channel number were WSIX-TV Channel 8. It was a CBS affiliate with supplemental affiliations with American Broadcasting Company and the DuMont Television Network. In late 1954, it became a full time ABC affiliate and continues that affiliation today. WSIX-TV was owned and operated by Louis Draughon, a native of Springfield, Tennessee. He, along with his brother, Jack Draughon, had started WSIX-AM/FM Radio.
The television station’s first studio was located at its transmitter on Old Hickory Boulevard in the outskirts of Nashville, referred to as “The Hill.” The station’s business office, along with WSIX Radio were on the 14th floor of the Nashville Bank & Trust Building in downtown Nashville.
The tower used was the one previously occupied by WSIX-FM radio. The FM station had operated from 1948 until it went off the air in 1953. The FM operation had been unprofitable, and television was expected to be a better use of the facility. The initial operation was with a power of 109 KW at a height of 247 feet above ground, 1365 feet above sea level. In December 1955, WSIX-TV began operation at 178KW with a 12 bay bat-wing antenna and with a new tower. The new tower put the station antenna at 2049 feet above sea level. In October 1957 WSIX-TV applied for a power increase to 316KW using the existing antenna facility.
In 1961 WSIX-TV, WSIX-AM & FM (now back on the air) moved to 40 acres of prime industrial land on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville. The same location where WKRN-TV operates today. Archie Boone, father of entertainer Pat Boone, was the contractor hired to build the facility. The state of the art facility was competitive with studios in New York and Los Angeles and became the hub of television production in the central region of the country.
Louis Draughon sold WSIX-TV and the two radio stations to General Electric Broadcasting on May 19, 1966. On December 11, 1973 at 9:00pm WSIX-TV (Channel 8) exchanged channels with WDCN-TV (Channel 2), the PBS affiliate in Nashville. When this exchange was made WSIX-TV started operating as WNGE (W-Nashville-General-Electric) Channel 2. This was with a new, stacked Channel 2 and Channel 8 antennas a top a new tower. This was only the third exchange in the history of commercial television in the United States. A two-minute videotape, featuring Robert Young of Marcus Welby series, Big Bird of Sesame Street and The Electric Company’s Easy Reader aired introducing the switch.
WNGE-TV changed ownership from General Electric Broadcasting to Knight-Ridder Broadcasting on November 28, 1983. WSIX radio stations were sold to Sky Communications of New York. Knight-Ridder changed the call letters to WKRN-TV (W-Knight-Ridder-Nashville). Young Broadcasting, Inc. acquired WKRN-TV from Knight Ridder Broadcasting on July 1, 1989. November 12, 2013 Young Broadcasting merged with Media General. The companies now work under the name Media General.
In the early years of the station, daily sign-on was not until 9:45am and local programming filled much of the airtime. Many of the people who worked for WSIX Radio, became on-air television personalities. The many hours of local weekly programming meant that the station’s staff had to come up with ideas and produce shows using station talent. Some of these local talents were seen on-air many hours each day. When WSIX-TV went on the air, the faces of Ken Bramming, Hugh Cherry, Jim Kent, Noel Ball and many others quickly became well know to viewers in Middle Tennessee. WSIX-TV produced many local programs, such as Saturday Showcase, Romper Room, Bop Hop, Shock Theatre, Classroom Olympics, Lucky Video, Mickey Mouse Club, to name a few.
Network programming in the early years included a variety of programs such as I Love Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, 77 Sunset Strip, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Betty White Show, The Cisco Kid, The Donna Reed Show and many more.
Historically, WKRN has always been committed to regional news coverage. In the early 1960’s it became the first station in Nashville to air a 5:00pm newscast. In 1998, the station’s weather coverage of the tornado that ripped through downtown Nashville was seen around the world on CNN. News personalities such as Jackie Joyner and Hudley Crockett paved the road to news excellence that continues today. The station has been recognized for its news coverage with numerous awards and honors including Midsouth Emmy’s, Peabody Awards, Edward R. Murrow Awards and many more.
Community involvement has always been a top priority to WKRN throughout its history. From the early days of Toys For Tots and UCP Telethon to its current community efforts with Food 2 Family and Ronald McDonald House “Calls For Kids”, WKRN continues to have a strong presence in the community.
The station’s humble beginnings paved the way for years of news excellence, quality programming and community involvement. WKRN has made changes through the years and you’ve changed with us. We’re proud of our history and service to Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.