Dr. Know: TV Truths, A Loyal Star, And 15 Minutes of Fame Overshadowed

The good doctor investigates the shuffling of local TV stations, just how local a beloved Cincinnati sports celebrity is, and how a bird stole the glory.
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Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Were Cincinnati’s three oldest TV stations (Channels 5, 9, and 12) originally on Channels 4, 7, and 11? My grandfather insists that all three stations moved across the dial, confusing him and the whole city. Is he messing with me, or is his memory the thing that’s messy? —DO TOUCH THAT DIAL

DEAR DO:
Don’t worry, your grandfather did witness TV channel musical chairs in his youth, and it was even messier than he remembers. Hold tightly to your remote as we channel surf.

Cincinnati got into television early, in 1946. Today’s Channel 5 (WLWT) launched on Channel 1, then lurched to Channel 4. WCPO and WKRC later began at channels 7 and 11, respectively, but that created a problem called “re-radiation,” which is when two TVs in the same home screw up the other’s reception. Watching Channel 7 caused interference on any nearby TV watching Channel 11. Re-radiation was one reason the FCC decreed a nationwide channel reshuffling in the early 1950s, and Cincinnati had the dubious honor as the only city in the U.S. forced to drag all three of its stations around on the dial. The costs annoyed station owners, but TV repairmen loved hearing from clueless viewers with blank screens. “Yeah, sir, we’ll be right over and get your I Love Lucy program back on again. Just a $5 service call.”


Now that the crazy NFL season is over, I wonder: Does Cris Collinsworth spend any significant time in Cincinnati anymore? I’m quite sure he’s all over the country during football season, but what about the rest of the year? Does he get back here much at all? —LIVIN’ OFF THE AIR IN CINCINNATI

DEAR LIVIN’:
Beware of being “quite sure” about anything, because your assumptions are exactly backwards. Football season happens to be the most likely time of year to experience a celebrity spotting of Cris Collinsworth in Greater Cincinnati. You may have noticed that when he does color commentary on NBC Sunday Night Football and other games, he really, really knows his stats at a deep level. On top of simply knowing a lot, Collinsworth—along with everyone else in the NFL—has access to the best football data analysis in the world: Pro Football Focus.

PFF provides an unimaginable depth of real-time data that can literally suggest plays to coaches during games. And guess where PFF is based? Right here. And guess who moved the company to Over-the-Rhine after making a majority investment in 2013? Cris Collinsworth—a twice-Super Bowl Bengal, for those who don’t know. So the Collinsworth family lives here all season near Ft. Thomas. The rest of the year they’re in Florida, comparing life among alligators there with stink bugs here.


Please check out something I remember from when I was a kid in Cheviot. Somewhere in the 1950s, a house on our street (Roswell Avenue) became famous for getting “Cincinnati’s newest telephone.” I’ve always wondered if the people living there now know about their home’s brief fame. —GOOD CALL

DEAR GOOD:
Sometimes the Doctor feels like he receives ever-more-challenging challenges of ever-less-significant significance. Rest assured, however, that every mystery is afforded equal doggedness in the pursuit of even the tiniest truths.

On September 4, 1952, representatives from Cincinnati Bell gathered at the home of Gustav Westrich on Roswell Avenue in Cheviot to hold a brief ceremony marking a staggeringly momentous occasion: installation of Cincinnati’s 400,000th telephone! Cincinnati Bell executive R.T. Teague apparently drew the short straw and oversaw this life-changing moment by dialing the telephone’s first call to Mrs. Westrich’s sister in Michigan. How did such an event miss making that day’s front page? Well, a far more important story was printed there: a missing Australian Grass Parakeet ($28 reward), recognizable by its fondness for spaghetti and beer.

You’d think a golden plaque would have been mounted at the Cheviot home, but when the Doctor contacted the current occupants, they were entirely unaware of their address’s proud history. They will now reappraise its value by towing it to a future episode of Antiques Roadshow.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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