This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.
When KWTX-TV first went on the air in 1955, it was without a network affiliation, a situation no one in the industry envied. But being an independent station was in some ways a blessing in disguise, as it forced KWTX to focus on local creative talent for programming. One of the resulting series was The Harley Berg Show, a wildlife program that became a staple for many Central Texans during its twenty-four-year run.
Former KWTX-TV news director Win Frankel describes the show:
"Everyone in Central Texas knew Harley Berg. He was on for many, many years. It may have been about snakes or raccoons or whatever it was, and there was always one there. Whatever he was talking about, was a live one there. He explained all about the snakes and all the wildlife that ever came around here. It was very well done."
One particular episode of The Harley Berg Show stands out in Frankel's memory:
"And one time, rattlesnake got loose and got on the floor and wiggled around like a rattlesnake does, and we spent some time trying to get that snake under control. But that was funny."
Frankel explains that the camera followed the reptile—not Harley:
"The snake was there. There was a story. You know, you don't knock yourself out from the story. Mmm. And it was a poisonous snake. Well, that was good, but that doesn't happen every day. Thank goodness. (laughs)"
KWTX founder M. N. “Buddy” Bostick, a long-standing force in broadcasting and the Waco community, discusses the program's popularity:
"The television industry at that time had developed two ratings services: Nielsen and ARB [American Research Bureau]. And they rated the popularity of the programs. CBS had the most popular programs on the air. And the most popular program was I Love Lucy. And we had a program on the air at the same time I Love Lucy was on the air. And it was called The Harley Berg Show, and Harley was a lovable guy. Everybody liked him. He had a jillion stories, and he told those stories on his Harley Berg Show. And Harley Berg out-rated I Love Lucy. We'd go to New York or our New York reps would go talk to agencies about advertising on our station, and they'd say, What's this Harley Berg Show? Said, It out-rates I Love Lucy. That's right."
Shortly after going on the air, KWTX-TV garnered both ABC and CBS networks, dual affiliations it kept until KXXV went on the air in the mid-eighties. But it was the immediate success of its early independent programs like The Harley Berg Show that helped the station forge lasting relationships with advertisers and its viewing audience.
Living Stories is heard every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For more information about this program or the Institute for Oral History, visit us at baylor.edu/livingstories.
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