Written by M.D. Smith, III, Kirby Jones Smith, and M.D. Smith, IV
His father, M.D. Smith, Sr. was a farmer. Here is another photo of M.D. Smith, Jr. with his son, M.D. III as a small boy.
The station was incorporated, and J.C. Bell bought 25 percent of the stock, Glenn Marshal bought 25 percent, and M.D. Smith, Jr. and wife had 50 percent.
In 1940, Eloise married Dr. Hanna and changed her legal name to Eloise H. Hanna.
During the war years, there was much talk about FM radio. It was believed that after the war, all AM stations would convert to FM.
M.D. Smith, III was in business as Birmingham Awning & Tent Co. After Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) , the Quartermaster came to see us about war work, since we made tents, awnings, and taupolines at Birmingham Awning and Tent, and practically said we had to go in war work. We made everything from parachutes to underware, as well as tents, during the war.
We were affiliated with the DuMont & NBC Television Networks. However, there was no cable connecting us with New York, so all network programs came to us on kinescope or film.
Mrs. Hanna continued to add equipment and personnel to the TV station. Live studio cameras were added in 1950, and by 1953 the staff had grown to 15. Today WBRC TV, Channel 6, employs more than 150 people.
(By Kirby Jones Smith) After a year, we started our own broadcast station and formed a corporation.
M.D. Smith, III resigned from Storer Broadcasting to devote full time to the radio business and the two stations.
November - The FCC finally approves the sale and the Smiths take over Channel 31 with a staff of 17 people. M.D. Smith, IV is Operations Manager. Maury Farrell is Sales Manager and MDS, III is a remote General Manager. Channel 31 (WAAY-TV) is affiliated with the ABC television network. Channel 19 (WHNT)also goes on the air in November with a 250 foot tower and 600,000 watts. Channel 31 had ONE Video Tape Machine. It was an Ampex, VR-1000. It used 2" tape. It was monochrome (or course). It took up a space of 4 feet, by 4 feet by 6 feet and that did NOT include the TWO 6 foot high equipment racks of electronics (all tubes) to run the machine. It had massive power supplies and tubes had to be changed every day to keep it running. Only one spot on a break could be on Video Tape since there was no way to splice or edit tapes together. The other commercials had to be Slides and Audio Tape. A picture of Master Control with projectors and slide chain in the foreground and the operator (Lamar Gilbert) at the "switcher" in the background.
When we bought the station, they were reading all commercials LIVE from the announce booth. The first thing we did was put in Audio Cart Machines with trip cues for the slides to eliminate the announcer and the switcher didn't have to read along with the copy and trip the slides at the right time. There was a Live Romper Room show every weekday morning. It was the major production of the day. We used two, mismatched B/W studio cameras. One was a General Electric Image Orthicon camera with a 3 lens turret and the other was a General Electric Videcon camera with a zoom lens. We liked the zoom lens a lot and eventually replaced the turret with another very expensive "Zoomar" zoom lens (as seen in photo) we bought used at a good price. In the photo, M.D. Smith, III is running Camera 3.
The slides for commercials were shot on Black&White "reversal" film. When it was processed it was a slide ready to show, rather than a negative to make a print from. That station had a very small, old B/W film processor that processed 16mm B/W film for the nightly newscast at 6 and 10. It ran slowly at 4 feet per minute and it took 100 feet of film for less than 3 minutes of film, much of which would be edited out and thrown away. However, we tried to only shoot what we wanted to use to save on film costs. If a photographer could get 2 or 3 stories on one 100' roll of film, we thought he was great. Our 6 and 10 P.M. News Casts were called "The WAAY of the World". The station also owned one OLD Auricon sound 16mm camera. It was an optical sound track and the electronics (tubes) used numerous batteries for the filament voltage, plate voltage and motor power.
Late November - Just two weeks later, President Kennedy is shot and ALL TV stations cease broadcasting commercials for 5 days. This is tough for a struggling new TV station.
WAAY Radio, meanwhile, is making a lot of money as the dominant radio station in Huntsville and the revenue is used to pay the losses at channel 31 during these first few struggling years.
Here is an aerial photo of WAAY Radio made about the same time. You see the three tower directional array maintained by Chief Engineer Robert A. ("Cactus) Gay. The center tower is self-supporting and was used originally when the station was daytime only. The other two are guyed and were put up to form the directional array to allow night time power and 24 hour operation.
August - Anita Smith and Wayne Johnson are married. Wayne goes to work at WAAY Radio in June of 1966 after getting a degree in Marketing at U of A.
M.D. Smith, III heard a song in another town, and found out that the music was available for purchase and a special pressing of a 45 RPM Record. The company would either write your song lyrics or you could do them yourself. Mr. Smith decided to have the record made for Huntsville and Ft. Walton Beach (Home of WNUE Radio). He wrote the lyrics for both songs and the TV station pilot (M.D. Smith, IV) flew the company airplane for the aerial shots of the two cities. A month later, "Huntsville, My Home Town" was born.The link is a page with album covers, words, and the music you can download in RA or .MP3 format.
August - After both Smith's get Multi-Engine ratings, the station converts to it's first of four Piper Aztec Twin Engine Airplanes. This is the Piper PA-250 (N31TV) with engines of 250 horsepower each. It is 60 miles an hour faster than the Cessna 172.
April - Channel 31 converts to Color Video Tape and Color studio cameras. Having bought a used color film chain/island from WTOP in Washington, DC in 1965 and the first station to broadcasting anything local in color. The Two new 2", Quad rotating head tape recorders (RCA TR-70 and an RCA TR-22 (used but "high-banded" for color)) were a major improvement. Before we only had one Black&White Ampex VR-1000, all tube video tape recorder. It was a monster and good to retire it. It sat in storage for a year with no one wanting it, and was finally sold for a few hundred dollars as parts. The big RCA TK-42 Color Studio cameras were huge. They each had one 3" Image Orthicon tube for the picture and three 1" vidicon tubes for the 3 color guns. The cameras cost $50,000 each. A complete set of replacement tubes was $12,000 per camera. As the first station to broadcast live newscasts in color, we were very proud. Channel 19 had a ratings edge over us, even in B/W, but they also bought new color cameras about 8 months later.
The anchor team that was #1 in 1974 was (Left to Right standing) John Bradshaw (weather), Tony Beason (News), Dan Jamison (Sports). (Left to Right seated) Ed Sisson (News) Adrian Gibson (Anchor) and Sam Depino (Anchor).
April 4 - The April 4th tornados gave us much publicity as the ONLY station with live weather radar to show the storms until ALL TV stations were knocked off the air at 11:05 p.m. when the last tornado crossed the top of the mountain at Monte Sano and Panorama. The stations were off the air for 2 days. Phil McHugh of McHugh-Hoffman Consultanting was in town for a consulting visit at the time. Parkway City Shopping Center was nearly destroyed. It was later rebuilt as a Mall with covered center walkway. (Note: in 2001-2002 it was rebuilt again as "Parkway Place", a two-story and greatly enlarged Mall.)
We had a great set of music jingles used with on-air promos and radio spots. They basically said, "Look for us, we'll be there, 31 News is Everywhere." M.D.Smith, III and IV wrote the lyrics together for these jingles. The 60 second cuts could be split into two 30 second cuts for variety. Here are three versions in .mp3 format of about 1 mb each. 31 News Everywhere - Male - Full 60 vocals.mp3 which I think is the best cut. Then 31 News Everywhere - Female - 60 Vocal.mp3 and finally the "bumper"31 News Everywhere Bump vocals (long donut).mp3 which allowed for putting words inside the jingle.
Two nice close-up shots of Dave Stanley with the TV Monitor and Two-Way equipment. The other is of Ken Rainey on the freshly designed weather set.
" The Great American WAAY" was the Radio Theme during these few years and among other items, the "Great American WAAY" belt buckle in both pewter and bronze was created.
December - The Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville announced that due to declining interest and sponsor support, there would be no annual Christmas parade in Downtown Huntsville that year. Bob Baron with WAAY-Radio, M.D. Smith, III and M.D. Smith, IV all got together and decided that WAAY Radio and TV would put on an "All Volunteer Christmas Parade" Everyone pitched in building their own floats, entries, and bands, and the Parade went on. That was the FIRST and TWENTY years later, WAAY-TV still has the commitment to see that our all volunteer Christmas Parade takes place. The location was moved from the route around the courthouse downtown, to a route starting beside the Huntsville Hilton and passing the Civic Center and looping the downtown area because of the size. The event attracted over 211 entries and close to 50,000 spectators.
A coffee mug was created with the "Still The One" logo and the 31 worked in. The reverse side of the mug had the full size 31 logo and call letters. The heavy, serif "31" has been used for many years. Soon after we would adopt the more modern 31 logo with the circle around it similar to WABC-TV, Channel 7 in New York. (See 1979)
May - Channel 31 has great ratings after several difficult years against Channel 19 and so we celebrate with a picnic on the front lawn. Some of those attending of interest: Bob Baron (Weatherman), Don Roden (was asst. chief engineer and after short time as engineer with Ch. 54 who came to town in 1985 ,went on to be Chief Engineer of channel 19 before leaving for private business) and the NewsHound, as he was called, Dick VanValkenburg, who did all the wreck and hard news coverage with a Cannon Scoopic 16 film camera for years. He died from one of several heart attacks he had. Dick died in December of 1986. The ratings for the book were:
HOMES Arbitron 6pm 31 71,000 19 59,000 48 14,000 10pm 31 51,000 19 39,000 48 12,000
August, 22 - (From 1979 to 1980, M.D. IV lost many pounds with Weight Watchers and begins exercising in races, including the budding new sport, Triathlons.) There were none in Huntsville, so M.D. IV, with the help of Bettie Higgins, Channel 31 puts on our first of many annual Triathlons. A 3 mile run, 6 mile bike and 400 meter swim at the Natatorium. We have 400 entrants (and more wanting to do it) the first year. It peaks at 600 entrants in 1985 and then drop back to 400 in the late 80's and early 90's) The Sub-Theme of this event has always been, "To Finish Is To Win."
April 13, - In record time, Channel 48 returns to the air. WAAY-TV runs a letter in the newspaper welcoming them back on the air.
The press package face looked like this and went to all radio and newspapers in the area. At the reception, members of the staff of WAAY-TV, Channel 31 lined up to be introduced by General Manager "Commander" M.D. Smith. All women's uniforms were authentic. The women's came from the nation's only Army Corps Museum at Ft. MCClellan. Note the hair styles.
Other photos of the event include
1. Jim Marsh (anchor), Julie Martin (promotion), Carl Spurlock (producer) and Lee Baker (artist).
2. A Huntsville Times photographer admiring Heather Burns (anchor) and Helen Howard (reporter).
3. Here General Manager M.D. Smith talks with the press just before the Ralph Bellamy speaker phone call.
4. Special guests also included REAL retired military officers and their wives.
5. This photo is of "Commander" M.D. Smith and Program Director Bettie Higgins who is wearing a 1942 WAC uniform and cap with the rank of Major.
6. In this typical ladies pose of 1942, we see Helen Howard, Heather Burns and Debi Benson.
7. A special cake with the Winds of War logo was created and shown here by Bettie Higgins.
8. This pose includes the tall Bob Baron (weathercaster) with Heather Burns (L) and Helen Howard and Debi Benson (R)
9. This photo includes News Director Mike Sullivan, Bettie Higgins and Mike's Wife, Patty Sullivan (we drafted everybody).
10. City Council Woman Jane Mabry (tall-center) "joined up" with staff members mentioned above.
11. The 31 News cars sported a triangular signboard promoting the February 6th series premier.
12. As a result of the WOW party, here is one newspaper article by Judi Moon from The Huntsville Times
13. Another newspaper photo with our women "Saluting their superior officer."
This was a major event and promotion of it. ABC gave us special credit for our local efforts in a future Affiliate Meeting the next June. M.D. Smith, III the CEO of Smith Broadcasting was particularly proud of this event since he loved promotion in Radio and TV stations.
July - Scott Smith joins TV as Art Director after several years working for printing companies as commercial artist.
November 30 - First 5:00 p.m. newscast begins on Ch. 31. We were the first in the market and for 2 years had the ONLY 5:00 show. It became #1 over a sit-com and a game show and finally Ch. 19 added their own version that had less than half the numbers our show did by then. Ch. 48 expanded their 5:30 news back to 5:00 in 1992.
December - Brent Smith begins work striping La-Kart carts for production. Later transfers and becomes a switcher and master control operator.
July - The board decides to give one last major try at WNUE to make it successful and drop the AC and satellite service and go back to live DJ's and the HIT (Top 40) Radio sounds that made the station famous. It was "NUE HITS 14" and it sounded great. The new logo designed by Scott Smith was put on a new coffee cup sporting Orange & Yellow lightning bolt. It was good old TOP 40 in 1988 and music was still on 45 RPM records, but was beginning a transitiion to CD's. Ratings did jump up several notches and the station was well listened to in the Ft. Walton area. However, getting and/or keeping competent sales personnel was all but impossible and after one year and two months( Sept. 1989), with losses large and continuing to grow, the station was also taken off the air and put on the market to sell.
September - A frequency is opened in South Pittsburg, Tennessee (near Chattanooga) and M.D. Smith and Robert "Cactus" Gay apply for it in the name of Smith Broadcasting. Later Cactus becomes the other partner. The Construction Permit (CP) was authorized in October 1989, but the change in Authorization to Marson Broadcasting (the new partnership) did not take place until April 23, 1990. Construction began immediately.
November 15 -
A freak tornado rips through Huntsville and destroys Airport Road
businesses, apartments, Jones Valley Elementary School and many homes on Tony
Drive. Eighteen people were killed. Channel 31 was the ONLY station to have a generator and be
able to stay on the air that night for extensive live and taped coverage. We got much praise from that
wise move. Some time later, other stations got a generator, too.
Later the TV station raised $26,000.00 for the Red Cross Disaster funds (see Feb. '90 for details).
November - WKXJ-FM goes on the air on November 5, 1990. This is the first bumper sticker for 97-Kicks. It is a "Hot Adult Contemporary" format. M.D. Smith, IV and Robert A. (Cactus) Gay own the station under Marson Broadcasting. (Marson is an old name used by M.D. Smith, III during the war years in his manufacturing plant, Marson Company. It was the "Mar" from Marcellus and the "Son" from Davidson that formed the name.
The "oldies" music was bought on 10" Reel-to-Reel tapes and dubbed with great effort to the old "carts"(many came from WAAY and WNUE radio). Carts were the cartridge tapes that played commercials and music at the radio stations in the 80's to keep music sounding better and not getting scratched and dirty as in the early days when the actual 45 record was played on the air. The looked very much like the old 8-track music tapes, but were built differently. However, all the NEW music of the 90's came on CD and was played on a home type CD player. Eventually a new music "oldies" library was bought and the cart tapes were retired for music. A few years later, all commercials were put on computer disk and the cart machines were taken out of service forever.
September - The general manager, Harmon (Dutch) VanBuskirk, of WNUE for 25 years, finds a partner, Neil Braswell and decide to buy just the frequency and transmitter & tower and lease the building for 2 years. Dutch gets back on the air in October 1990 with a "Talk" format. It is satellite news and talk and Dutch has some live phone-in talk shows.
November - Channel-31-TV ratings come in to show our station the dominate news leader in Huntsville. The station is #1 for ALL newscasts, seven days a week in ratings, share and households. This is the strongest position the TV station has ever been in. The other stations continue to cut staff. Now both channel 48 and channel 19 have staffs of about 75, while channel 31 has a staff of over 125 with the plans to begin a new noon newscast on June 1, 1992.
June 8 -
Ch. 31 becomes the first station to Close Caption ALL its local
newscast for the hearing impaired. Ch. 19 began a year later.
There was a large reception and celebration held. The local AIDB (Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind) and other officials and dignataries attended the announcement at the Huntsville Hilton. Here, Mayor Steve Hettinger addresses the audience (with person "signing" what is being said). There was a special memorial cake made with both the WAAY-31-TV logo and the [CC] logo on it to honor the event.
This also happened to be Mr. and Mrs. M.D. Smith, IV's Thirty-First (31) anniversary that same night. Judy Smith received a special flower arrangement and a "Circle 31" gold necklace made the same as the 31 logo pin anchors wore a few years before.
August 22 - The 12th Annual 3in1 Triathlon takes place. A special Star 31 Mug was created for winners in the age divisions. As always, the slogan "To Finish Is To Win" appears.
April 15 - It is announced that Channel 31 has re-hired Bob Baron who left Channel 48 and he will be doing weather forecasts along with Gary Dobbs after a year of working behind the scenes (due to previous contract restrictions keeping him off the air for 12 months.) Several nights later, severe weather hits the area and the new "31 Storm Tracker" does a superb job tracking and predicting where storms will move. It is the only tracker on TV in the valley. Others add similar capabilities some months later.
April 17-19 - Ch. 31 begins Weekend early morning news from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Ch. 31's Monday through Friday 6:30-7:00 am news expands to a full Hour from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. and we move the WAAY-TOO-EARLY program back to 5:30 a.m. (W2E later expands to one hour also beginning at 5 a.m.)
Summer - We decide to become a 24 Hour News Station presenting MORE NEWS around the clock. Our new coffee cup this year shows 24 Hour logo. We are already doing newsbriefs every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sports on the hourly Newsbreaks was included.
August 21 - The 13th annual "31 3-in-1 Triathlon" takes place at Old airport and Natatorium.
November - WKXJ-FM, 97Kicks begins broadcasting with a 99.3 Translator in the Chattanooga Metro area. Now with the 50,000 watt main transmitter on 97.3 covering the rural area and the new translator covering Chattanooga, the future looks brighter for the profit potential of the radio station. On this, its 3rd annivarsary (Nov. 5) it still is not making significant profit, but paying its own way. We decide to make the sound even "hotter" and are successful in getting teens and young adults with the "Hot Jammin' Kicks-FM" sound and logo. (both this and original sticker artwork done by Scott Smith).
August 19 - The 14th annual "31 3-in-1 Triathlon" takes place at Old airport and Natatorium.
August 25 - SHOALS STAR RADAR comes to the valley. This is a high powered Enterprise Electronics Corporation (EEC) weather radar mounted in a Winnebago Motor Home. It is taken to the Shoals and put in service as an early warning radar for areas west to the Mississippi river. It has the Baron processor on it, which can see 16 levels of rain.
November - Channel 31 announces the opening of THREE new area bureaus. They are located in Guntersville (Marshall County), Scottsboro (Jackson/DeKalb counties) and Fayettville, TN (for Tennessee counties). This brings to FIVE, the area bureaus covering the whole 31 viewing area with regional/area bureaus for a local focus on news, un-matched by any other TV station. We also can get to News Events faster with AIRSTAR, a twin-turbine prop-jet MU-2 aircraft.
December 7 - The tradition continues-- WAAY-31-TV held it's 20th Annual Christmas Parade in Downtown Huntsville. In order to commemorate this tradition that started in December of 1976, a special anniversary patch was made.
May 23 - Mrs. M.D. (Kirby Jones) Smith, III (age 80) passed away after a long period of declining health. M.D. Smith, IV continues as President and General Manager of WAAY-TV. Anita Smith (sister) and M.D. Smith, IV now co-own Smith Broadcasting, Inc. and the TV station.
June - The Storm Team (weather team) of Gary Dobbs, Adrian Gibson and Kristen Cornett take to the air. Kristen is also trained to drive and operate a remote weather station (Feb. 98) with GPS tracking called the Storm Chaser van. There is much focus on the weather in these years.
M.D. Smith, V ("Dee") had been involved with the web site design and updates. Dee and his wife Kristen had their first child on 01-01-01 (it was snowing this day) and named him M.D. Smith, VI and call him Marc.
Certainly it has been more difficult for ISP's in the last few years and a lot of them have folded up. HiWAAY continues to improve the bottom line and while not making much money, we are not losing it, either. On this occasion, the 8TH (see logo) Birthday, we had a cake to share with staff and friends. Gathered behind the cake are (L to R) M.D. Smith, Redge Swing (General Manager), Charles Boley (dept. manager and one of oldest employees) and Scott Swing (Redge's son who is a "long-term" salesman). And closer, M.D. Smith cuts the cake to start the celebration.