KBTX at 60: 1957, the birth of a station

BRAZOS COUNTY, Tex. (KBTX) - In 1957 the world was drastically changing, from the invention of the frisbee to the paramount race to space. While the birth of a small, family owned news station in the heart of Texas may fall somewhere in between those moments, that was the year KBTX shook up the Brazos Valley.

There were just 38,000 residents and 7,000 students at Texas A&M at the time, so the idea of adding a TV station on E. 29th Street had its skeptics.

When original KBTX owner Buddy Bostick was interviewed at the station's 30th anniversary in 1987, he remembered, "most people said, if you do that, you're crazy! Or if you do that, you're going to lose a lot of money."

He said plans for KBTX started about a year earlier, when it was assigned by the FCC to be an educational channel. But Bostick says he knew A&M wouldn't use it, so he applied to change it to a commercial station.

"And so we had a winner. We went on the air in May of 1957 with KBTX-TV in Bryan," said Bostick.

Inside of a four room building on a dead end road, David Haynes signed on the air from Bryan/College Station for the very first time.

When Haynes was interviewed at the stations 30th anniversary, he said, "That first day, first night, it was an exciting event!"

While we don't know what Haynes' first words were, we do know, they haven't stopped for 60 years.

"We were the smallest, but we were the best," said Peggy Gillam, wife of KBTX's first General Manager Harry Gillam.

In the beginning, most programming and commercials were done live in studio, with car companies even wheeling their vehicles right on set. Peggy remembers those days vividly.

"Everyone would play multiple roles," said Peggy. "So when the break came they'd put on hats or whatever and do the live commercial, then they'd run back out and finish the news. It was wild!"

KBTX may have been the smallest station in the country at the time, but it was led by a man with a big vision.

"I looked around for the one man who could do the job, and he was Harry Gillam," Bostick has said.

"Harry actually carried a Polaroid in the floorboard of his car for years. If us and the kids were driving somewhere, and we saw a bad wreck, he'd pull over and get out the camera and use it in the show that night," remembers Peggy.

At the beginning there were no photographers, and most employees did multiple jobs, from sales, to traffic and on-air.

"The kind of people that he wanted to work there, he got. He was very lucky," said Peggy. "At first we used students, all of the cameramen were students."

KBTX got it's first Polaroid camera in the 60's, allowing the station to transform how it served the community.

"The need was there, and we felt like we could handle that need. And I think we have," said Peggy.

By 1963, there were more people watching television than reading the newspaper, and Harry Gillam leading the way for those first 30 years, KBTX aimed to be a station with character.

"It wasn't just his passion for the station, but his passion for Bryan/ College Station, for Texas A&M, he just believed in it," said Peggy.

Though Harry left us 30 years ago, and that original four room building has since doubled in size, we're still the same small family, serving the Brazos Valley one story and one show at a time.