East Texas Throwback: KTRE-TV stays committed to local news 60 years later

East Texas Throwback: KTRE-TV stays committed to local news 60 years later
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During the 1950s, East Texans were on the verge of joining the rest of the country with their very own TV station.

The idea of a TV station in Deep East Texas was the vision of three men - E.L. Kurth, Richard W. Wortham, and David W. Thompson, who worked with the FCC.

In the fall of 1954, an 11-acre site was agreed on off US Highway 69 - just outside of Lufkin - and construction began on the TV station.

"I think it was important then as it is now for local information and entertainment," said Former KTRE-TV Staffer Don Weir. "As a matter of fact, prior to KTRE-TV, many people had never had a TV set."

KTRE first broadcast on Wednesday, August 31, 1955 as "the Lufkin Daily News" reported in a special edition of the paper.

According to the Daily News, KTRE-TV studio included a transmitting equipment, a camera and a 14-by-18-foot studio for live programs, including news.

It was all broadcast from the KTRE-TV tower, which stood at 540 feet above the Pineywoods terrain. At the time it was the highest structure in East Texas. The tower still stand to this day.

"A lot of the time if they did have a TV set they watched snowy test patterns a lot. So, KTRE was the first opportunity to have entertainment and information in their homes," Weir said.

The launch of KTRE 60 years ago was unique because, as the "Houston Post" described, it was the "first satellite TV station in the nation" with the help of KPRC-TV in Houston.

KTRE's first broadcast was also a special occasion as former KTRE staffer Don Weir remembered. He was a recent high school graduate with his first job in TV.

"I remember it was quite the event. It featured some of KTRE's talent, Murphy Martin, Hank Huggins, Royce Christiansen. Richman Lewin was the manager of the station, and Fred Hill was the chief engineer, and they were all the program. As well as dignitaries from Lufkin," Weir said.

KTRE's first broadcast was live from the new Lufkin High School on August 31, 1955, and it was complete with special guests from Houston, Baton Rouge, and of course Lufkin and Nacogdoches.

The 540-foot tower broadcast the first signal to viewers more than 65-miles away.

Kurth named the station because of the dense forests in East Texas. K-TREE became KTRE-TV, a "nomenclature" required by the FCC.

KTRE's leading men in the early days included general manger Richman Lewin, news anchor and sales manager Murphy Martin, and program director Bill Carter. All three men had one goal in mind with the new station: to provide as much local programming to East Texans.

They did exactly that as you can see from the first schedule published in "the Lufkin Daily News."

The station also broadcasted parties like the annual Christmas party to make the East Texas community feel like they were part of the station and to get them to know the TV personalities.

The list of programming at KTRE also included live kid shows, live commercials, and "Bonanza," the popular show back in the day. The cast of "Bonanza" also made a stop at the KTRE studio.

But Bonanza wasn't it. KTRE also featured local talent Hank and Juanita Huggins. They were called "H-H Ranch Show"

The "H-H Ranch Show" was immensely popular and ran for 15-years.

In the 60s, KTRE's first sell went to a single mother of three young boys, Lucille Buford. She was the first to link-up KTRE with its now sister station KLTV. Buford also saw KTRE's conversion to color TV in 1970.

However, color TV was just the beginning of KTRE's technology jump, as veteran KTRE reporter Donna McCollum explained, "I started in film with the 16mm camera and a tripod, both of them super, super heavy. We were one-man band at the time."

"And then we progressed onto up to something called three-quarter-inch, and cameras got a little bit smaller. And I got photographers," McCollum added. "And then we progressed to beta, which is a little smaller and much smaller camera and much faster. And we are where we are today."

Through KTRE's different owners, Civic Communications in the 1990's, Liberty Corporation in the early 2000's, and Raycom Media now, KTRE has never lost its connection to the Pineywoods.

"I feel very humble to be part of a 60 year anniversary. With being here just a short time - three years of the sixty year - looking back and seeing how things have change… how people have changed… how viewer habits have changed. And us being able to stay with the times," said KTRE-TV Station Manager Starla Bickerstaff. "In the market size that we are, we are very blessed to have a television station of this caliber here in our local area and deliver the news on a very local level. And be able to give people what they want."

It still remains caring, committed, and proud of East Texas, especially as we look at the next 60 years.

Special thanks to "The Lufkin Daily News," "The History Center" in Diboll, and our KTRE Staff. 

You and your family are invited to KTRE-TV 60th celebration on Saturday, August 29th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The party will be at the KTRE-TV studio located at 358 TV Road in Pollok, TX, next to the Lufkin State School. We'll have free food, music, meet and greet with the KTRE anchors, kids area, tour of the KTRE-TV studio and more.