Originally created 03/02/99

WRDW versatile in early days



Augusta's love for television began around Valentine's Day 45 years ago -- about the time of WRDW-TV Channel 12's first broadcasts.

Started where it is today at 1301 Georgia Ave. in North Augusta, just up the hill from the Savannah River, the station is only a couple of months younger than its competitor, WJBF-TV Channel 6, which was next door in those early days.

Broadcast newsmen were jacks of all trades in television's beginnings.

"You did just about everything," broadcast personality Lee Sheridan said in an interview for Channel 12's Celebrate 2000 series. If there was a "hole" on the air between shows, "you filled it."

Mr. Sheridan, who later went to WAGT-TV Channel 26, broadcast sports, special events, weather and news.

Newscasts in the 1950s followed a simple format -- five minutes of news, five minutes of weather and five minutes of sports. Then it was off to the network broadcast.

Jim Davis, a longtime news anchor at Channel 6, also got his start at Channel 12. He came to Augusta to work for WRDW radio, but soon was doing television news broadcasts as well as the commercials in between.

And in those days, everything was live.

When Mr. Davis tried to do a commercial advertising a watch for sale by jewelry company, everything went wrong. He told viewers the watch was shockproof and when he hit it on the table, the crystal fell out. He said it was waterproof and when he dunked it under water, dozens of tiny air bubbles popped up.

People at Channel 12 used to kid Mr. Davis that he knew how to handle the competition because the day after he moved to Augusta, Channel 6's studio burned.

Despite competition, Channel 12 loaned Channel 6 the equipment to keep WJBF on the air.

Sharing was not uncommon for the two stations.

Charles Moody, who has been with Channel 12 since December 1957, remembers when the stations shared weathercasts. Cullum's Department Store sponsored the weather and that segment was simulcast on both stations.

Before satellites and radar were used to predict the weather, Lou Stratton -- who was WRDW sales manager and weather forecaster -- "made it up," Mr. Moody said.

Local stations were responsible for a lot of programming in television's infancy.

Channel 12 featured its own country and Western show. The United Way kickoff was held live and Augusta's own brand of TNT Monday Nitro was broadcast live from the studio, which besides a few cosmetic changes is virtually the same as it was in the 1950s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Masters Tournament was not the hot ticket it is today. Channel 12 broadcast a live half-hour show during the tournament, Mr. Moody said, with golf greats Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones among those in the studio to drum up interest.

"They were trying to sell tickets," Mr. Moody said.

Television technology has changed significantly over the decades, but Mr. Moody noted a few things that have stayed the same. He cited Augusta's First Baptist Church's Sunday morning worship-service broadcast that's been on the air for at least 38 years.

Charmain Z. Brackett can be reached at (803) 441-6927 or czbrackett@hotmail.com.