Did you know. . .

Graphic originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member RJ, Ron Joseph

that there a Channel 17 in Philadelphia before WPHL-TV? Well, there was. It was WPCA-TV. David Stanislaw, a visitor to our website, worked at WPCA-TV and was the step-grandson of Wayne Cody, who portrayed “Uncle WIP” on WIP Radio. He wrote to us:

Up until the late 1950s, all that Evangelical organizations could afford is radio stations to spread the Gospel. Evangelist Percy Crawford was encouraged by Billy Graham and others to find investors to fund a Christian Television station. At that time, one of the largest TV markets would have been the East Coast and the FCC was offering UHF Television licenses. Philadelphia was chosen for the site; the name WPCA was chosen meaning “People’s Christian Association.”

The station and equipment were second hand, except for the UHF transmitter on Channel 17. No other TV commercial station in Philadelphia, or for that matter NYC, operated yet on UHF. The earlier TV cameras used Image Orthicon video tubes; however, Percy was advised to use the newer Vidicon video cameras at WPCA. Most spare parts were surplus; the station purchased used Vidicon tubes from other stations, and reused them until the dark spots became too objectionable. Then back to RCA who rebuilt them for the industry. The UHF transmitter was new however; I can remember the station being off the air for a week while we waited for a replacement tube from RCA, probably C.O.D.

Percy Crawford died in 1960, but his five children, Don, Dick, Dan, Dean and daughter Donna-Lee took over running the station. Don Crawford was President, the station engineer with the FCC radio license was the only permanent employee. Everybody else was working for minimum wages with promises of the future; the budget was tight. There were so many leaders that some times it was difficult deciding who’s direction to follow. Actually, there was little religious programming from 1960-1962.

I am the step-grandson of (Radio and) TV personality Wayne Cody who produced the first Philco Television station. . . . In fact in his childrens’ show, he was called Uncle WIP. As a youngster I often visited the TV set and was fascinated with the Television cameras; but was not allowed to touch anything. This “hands off” indignity lasted until I was 22 and learned that there was a TV station in Philadelphia that would virtually hire anyone who could recite the books of the Bible.

At that time I was in the USAF flying F106s at McGuire AFB, but I drove to Philadelphia to work at WPCA on the weekends. None of us had any experience. So, we each got a chance to operate cameras, control audio, mix video and do the Saturday night newscast we got from UPI. I never got paid so little for having so much fun. Unfortunately, none of my friends ever saw me on WPCA, since it was a UHF station. Then one Saturday in 1962, I showed up at the station and found a lock on the door. A sign that said that “WPCA had gone off the air and your final check will be sent through the mail.” The post office must have lost it.

Saturday’s Channel 17 News Anchor David Stanislaw
circa 1962

A couple of historical points that need clarification. WPCA-TV was not Philadelphia’s first UHF television station; it was the city’s first commercial UHF outlet. In 1957, WHYY-TV started broadcasting on Channel 35, and that was UHF. Channel 35 during the first few years mainly broadcast during the day, telecasting educational programs and courses to the children attending Philadelphia’s Public School System. The school TV sets had UHF converters (so that they could receive Channel 35). Of course, when the school day was over, the buildings were locked with the converters inside. So, it is also a true statement that hardly anyone in the general population had UHF converters on their sets or even knew what they were.

The “Uncle WIP” show started on radio in 1922. However, Wayne didn’t start to portray the popular kiddie host until ten years later. The program originated from the Gimbel Brothers Department Store. After Philco received their commercial television license for Channel 3, the call letters were changed from W3XE to WPTZ. During the forties, the station carried a television version of the popular radio program, “Uncle WIP” with Wayne Cody. The programs were different from the radio broadcast with radio originating from Gimbels and the TV show originating from the television station. Later, the TV show moved to Channel 10. There have been rumors (but never confirmed) that a few of the very early television shows may have originated from the department store.

Broadcast Pioneers member Ron Joseph, better known to millions as RJ, had a half-hour talk show on WPCA-TV called “Spotlight on America” weekly for two and a half years until the station went dark. He had young people talking about different vocations and guest celebrities from the Philadelphia radio and television family such as Dick Clark, Phil Sheridan, Mort Farr, Hy Lit, Joe Niagara and Frank Hall from WRCV.

The first year he broadcasted on Mondays at 8 pm, but the second year he moved Wednesday evening at the same time. It was a live broadcast for a total of about 140 shows. This was the first TV show starring Ron Joseph. Afterwards, there would be many more.

WPHL-TV came on the air on Channel 17 here in Philadelphia on September 17, 1965. It was owned then by Broadcast Pioneers member Len Stevens, but that’s a whole different story.

This regular monthly column is written and researched by Gerry Wilkinson.


RJ, Ron Joseph, a member of Broadcast Pioneers tells us that “RJ’s Disco Show” has started its second year on WZBN-TV, Channel 25. It’s on Sundays at 4 pm. While the station is licensed to Trenton, RJ tells us that some Philadelphians can also get the station over the air. Details here:

« on: January 02, 2012, 09:48:10 PM »

RJ'S DISCO USA tv show starts its second year on WZBN TV channel 25 every Sunday afternoon at 4:00pm, broadcasting from chestnut hill right here in Philadelphia.

Here are instructions on how to receive WZBN TV CHANNEL 25 IN CHESTNUT HILL:
If you have a high gain roof antenna, formerly known as a New York Antenna with a tenna rotor please make sure your roof antenna is turned toward the chestnut hill area of Philadelphia. Then, Please re-scan your HD Box. Yes an HD converter box is required for those of you who don't own an HD tv set, and a roof antenna is also required to receive this channel here in Philadelphia, not unless you live near the chestnut hill area of Philadelphia. Then just turn your HD converter box to channel 25 and enjoy the RJ's DISCO USA TV SHOW.