UTICA — Nationally, the name Robert Earle might ring a bell as the former host of GE College Bowl on NBC from 1962-1970. But before he “went network,” Bob Earle started his career in Utica. His was the very first voice heard on WKTV in 1949, and Earle recently returned to the NBC affiliate’s Smith Hill studios.
The reason for Earle’s visit: Chris Walsh invited him there. Walsh, a Creative Services Producer for WKTV, tells us he’s been tracking down various “Pioneers of Smith Hill” recently. He hopes to compile a history of the station and eventually produce a full-length documentary. There aren’t many in WKTV’s history who go back further than Earle: at about 5pm on on December 1, 1949, it was his voice proclaiming, “this is WKTV Channel 13 in Utica, New York, signing on” for the very first time.
Here’s a shot of Earle from 1949, performing a live commercial for the Magnavox Radio Phonograph. As the name implies, the units included a radio and a phonograph. According to print advertisements from the era posted online, it was possible for owners to have a television installed in the same cabinet — either at the time of purchase or anytime later.
Walsh tells us Earle’s career started at WIBX, and he later moved to WKAL. When WKAL owner Myron Kallet decided to get into the television business, Earle was given the chance to help launch WKTV. At some point, Earle worked as general manager of WLFH (now WIXT) in Little Falls.
Here’s a shot of Earle from his visit to WKTV’s present-day news set. (Another present-day shot appears in the “preview” for this story on our homepage or our POTW listings.) Walsh tells CNYTVNews.com he was grateful that Bob and his wife Marion agreed to drive to Utica from their home in Ithaca for the interview. Returning to Smith Hill for the first time in nearly 60 years, Walsh says Earle was “surprised at how much had changed, but also surprised at the couple things that hadn’t.”
“Bob is a wonderful guy and I was lucky that he shared his stories with me,” Walsh said, adding, “it was a true honor to meet him!”
And for those of you interested in seeing Earle in action at a point between his WKTV days and today, it didn’t take long to find a complete 1966 episode of GE College Bowl on YouTube. (The episode was uploaded in three segments; the link will bring up a playlist to watch all three segments back-to-back.)
Our thanks to Chris Walsh for sharing these photos, and to Robert Earle (who has his own Wikipedia entry, by the way) for allowing Walsh to share them with us. For next Friday’s “Picture of the Week” we’ve already got one reader submission of broadcasters in a local Fourth of July Parade… if you have others, send them along. Or, if you have any photos of a different topic relating to local broadcasting, we’d love to share them in another future “Picture of the Week” installment. Send those photos to email@example.com or upload via our Contact Form!