FORT WAYNE, Ind. (NBC33) – 60 years ago this week, our NBC station made history when WKJG-TV became the first local television station to go on the air.
To celebrate, we’re taking you along on our stroll down memory lane all week.
We begin with a look at what Fort Wayne was like back in 1953:
In 1953, Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island Weiner Stand was already nearly four decades old.
"There were so many businesses. There were two high schools downtown, so they would be coming down for lunch. They would scatter. It was Central Catholic, and then the Central kids would come down," said Kathy Choka, Owner of Coney Island Wiener Stand.
In fact, many mom-and-pop-type businesses lined the streets of downtown Fort Wayne.
"Most of the stores downtown were privately owned, and they were families that had an investment in Fort Wayne," said Choka.
There's still a thriving downtown today, but very few of the businesses in these pictures are still around.
"Because of the malls and the expansion out north and southwest, a lot of businesses didn't locate downtown anymore," said Choka.
Getting around Fort Wayne was also very different. The Baker Street Train Station first opened its doors nearly a century ago, in 1914. The last train pulled out of the station in 1990 but in 1953, it was a critical part of Fort Wayne's transportation system.
“Back in 1953, this train station was very active. There were several trains, probably a dozen or more, traveling in and out of Fort Wayne in all directions from the Baker Street Station," said Geoff Paddock, NE Indiana Passenger Rail Association.
There were other modes of transportation, like catching a bus at "Transit Corner" where Main and Calhoun Streets meet but trains were the preference when traveling long distances.
"60 years ago, our airport was new. Air travel was still catching on, and the automobile wasn't quite as active as it is today. We didn't have interstate highways in 1953, so train travel was the real strong first mode of transportation for individuals. You could take trains almost anywhere from Fort Wayne. This was a real hub of passenger rail service," Paddock said.
Of course, if you did have a car, maybe the popular '53 Hudson, cruising into places like Gardner's was a great way to spend an evening. Well, if you weren't huddled around the TV.
"Television sets were very expensive in those days, especially color. And it was really not that reliable of a commodity at the time. You were kind of taken with atmospherics and everything else," said Bob Chase, legendary WOWO broadcaster.
And forget about cell phones.
"You could hear other people talking on the line, and it was a party line they called it back in those days," said Jim "Rooster" Cassell, radio and TV historian.
The fashions were different and people "dressed up" to go just about everywhere.
In '53, Republican Mayor Harry Baals led the city while WKJG's Hilliard Gates led the city's first local television station.
"It's just unbelievable, and channel 33 has had a great part in the culture of this community, and did it at a time when a lot of that culture needed to be recognized," Chase said.
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