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KSL-Ch. 5 celebrates half a century

The television industry loves to celebrate itself and mark milestones. This week, however, the folks at KSL-Ch. 5 have a good reason for doing so.

Half a century on the air is something to celebrate.And Ch. 5 will devote an hour tonight at 9 p.m. to its 50th anniversary. "Eyewitness to 50 Years" is a bright, fast-paced look back to well before June 1, 1949, when the station first went on the air. (All the way to Philo T. Farnsworth and the invention of television, to be exact.)

Familiar KSL personalities -- both present (like Dick Nourse, Ruth Todd, Carole Mikita and John Hollenhorst) and past (Paul James and Bob Welti) show up in a variety of segments.

There's some great footage of early programming, from Eugene Jelesnik and his "Talent Showcase" to live wrestling matches staged in KSL's studios. And a list of kiddie show hosts that includes Uncle Roscoe, Marshal Dan, Engineer Ron, Admiral Bernie and Miss Nancy of "Romper Room."

Ch. 5's original programs get a mention -- shows like "Dimension Five," "PrimeTime Access," "SportsBeat," "Outdoors with Doug Miller," "Focus," "Midday," "Faces," "Our Town," "Roundtable," "Talkabout," the Days of '47 parade and various telethons.

Much of the hour is devoted to a look back at the evolution and highlights of KSL's news coverage, from the personalities to the top stories. Another segment looks at Ch. 5's coverage of the LDS Church, including the first conference telecasts and the first trans-Atlantic satellite broadcast, a 1962 performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir live from Mount Rushmore.

It's a walk down memory lane, with plenty of potholes -- stories like the a 1965 plane crash in Salt Lake City, the 1976 Teton Dam disaster, Gary Gilmore, the Hi-Fi killers, Ted Bundy, Frances Schreuder, the Singer/Swapp saga and even the embarrassment that cold fusion became. But there are upbeat tales as well, from Jake Garn on the space shuttle to the artificial heart

"Through the years we've shared many unforgettable moments. We're proud that more Utahns watched these historic events on KSL-5 than anywhere else," Nourse intones.

There are also highlights of network programming -- from "I Love Lucy" to the Super Bowl to "Who shot J.R.?" to the "Seinfeld" farewell. Ch. 5's sports coverage gets a segment of its own. And there are various outtakes and bloopers from KSL's news and other programming.

The tone can get a little self-reverential at times, but it's an altogether entertaining, nostalgic hour.

Not that the hour is flawless. There are a couple of errors, like a brief clip of the Texaco Star Theater (which, being an NBC show, wouldn't have aired on KSL in the 1940s or '50s). Or when Keith McCord reads from his script that "KSL, as a CBS affiliate, broadcast the American debut of the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' " (Actually, the Beatles had debuted on "Stage Show" months earlier.)

Sportscaster Tom Kirkland reads that "A win in the '84 Holiday Bowl was the beginning of a long run of post-season appearance for BYU." (Actually, that game was the seventh consecutive post-season bowl for the Cougars and ninth in 11 years.)

And the three minutes devoted to Nourse's trips to Vietnam take on a rather too reverent tone.

But that, of course, is nitpicking.

Anyone who has ever watched KSL-Ch. 5 -- and what Utahn hasn't? -- ought to enjoy "Eyewitness to 50 Years."