On July 23. 1923 in New Orleans, a young 23 year old radio enthusiast, Joe Uhalt, threw the power switch an turned on his five watt transmitter, installed in a chicken coop in the rear yard of his house, establishing the station that was to become WDSU AM-FM-TV. When a disastrous fire destroyed his station, many listeners generously offered to contribute to the re-establishment of Uhalt’s station. Joe wasn’t a wealthy young man and the contributed funds allowed him to return his station to the air in 1924. On February 2, 1924, Uhalt’s young radio station was recognized and authorized by the United States.
government. At that time, his station boasted the call letters WCBE and was housed in the rear of a Barrone Street radio store, one of three operated by the young Uhalt. Lack of operating funds limited the new station to two hours a week. The infant broadcasting facility soon became a popular source of entertainment in the Crescent City. Joe was now the builder and owner of a new and improved 50 watt radio station. He was also the announcer, engineer, accountant, and janitor.
On July 6th, 1928, at 8:30 PM, Uhalt and another local radio engineer, George Pierce,
completed modifications to the station’s transmitter, and increased the power of the station to 500 watts making it the largest and most powerful in the city at that time. The higher powered station established its three studios (the first station in New Orleans to have more than one) in the DeSoto Hotel on Poydras Street in the New Orleans business district. It was then that the call letters were changed to WDSU. Information gathered from newspaper records (mainly those of “The Illustrated Press”, a local weekly newspaper devoted to radio entertainment) indicates that the “D” recognized the co-operation of the DeSoto hotel management. The “S”, contrary to a popular belief that the “S” stood for “Soto” as in “DeSoto,” recalls financial assistance given to Uhalt by the New Orleans States, a local newspaper of that time, and the “U” was, of course, Joe Uhalt’s claim to fame.
The station featured a Western Electric transmitter of military design. Still later, Joe increased the power of WDSU to 1000 watts and located the transmitter in Gretna, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. On the transmitter site were two self-supporting towers which supported the transmitting antenna. The studio and office spaces were moved to the Monteleone Hotel on New Orleans’ famous Royal St. in the Vieux Carre’ (called locally the “French Quarter”). Another power increase, to 5000 watts, saw a new RCA TT5A transmitter installed on a site in Algiers, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. The site is now occupied by the Oakwood Shopping Center. That transmitter site boasted a two tower directional antenna array. The old WE transmitter in Gretna was still in use as an AM auxiliary transmitter in 1950 when the WDSU-TV Royal Street studios were established. It had, of course, some time related problems such as burned out meters. The transmitter “final” RF amplifer was tuned with the aid of a fluorescent lamp bulb in a milk bottle set on top of the transmitter. Also in the last years of its life, the WE transmitter frequency was checked by tuning a radio to 1280kc “beat” frewuency produced by the mixing of the old WE transmitter’s signal with that of the newer, more elaborately frequency controlled signal of a new RCA transmitter in located in Algiers.
WDSU was later acquired by the Stephens Broadcasting Co. (owners of the Stephens Chevrolet Co.) of New Orleans. Stephens sold the station in 1947 to Edgar Stern, Jr. and his Royal Street Corporation.
In January of 1948 the station was issued a CPs for a new TV facility and an FM station. In November of 1948, WDSU-TV erected the first TV antenna in Louisiana, an RCA Superturnstile (bat-wing) antenna, atop the Hibernia Bank Bldg. in New Orleans. The studio was a converted office on the 14th floor of the Hibernia building. A structure erected on the roof of the 14th floor housed the FM transmitter and the RCA TT25A transmitter and control console which included a CCU for the single TK11 RCA field camera in the 14th floor tstudio below.
WDSU-TV signed on the air December 18, 1948 with the first TV program in Louisiana. The show originated from New Orleans’ Municipal Auditorium and was produced with facilities installed in the stations first remote unit. The unit was located inside the audience area of the auditorium. The signal was relayed via the mobile TV unit’s 1/10 watt microwave transmitter to a receiver mounted on the light ledge of the Hibernia Bank dome.
The station operated from the Hibernia Bank location until 1950 when new a new studio complex was established in the Vieux Carre’. The office space for the new facility was established in a historic old French Quarter mansion known as the Signoret Residence and Brulatour Mansion. The studio facilities were established in a large Quonset hut type structure erected in the rear of and connected to the Brulatour Mansion. The building at 535 Chartres St. (formerly the residence of Oliver Pollack, who supplied munitions to the American forces during the Revolutionary War), directly behind the large Quonset structure, was connected to the Quonset studio structure and converted into a garage for the stations news cars and mobile TV units.
For nearly 10 years there was no competition for WDSU-TV. Crews trained at WDSU-TV handled field telecasts for ABC, CBS, NBC and Dumont networks. WDSU-TV engineers were selected to handle several NASA space capsule re-entry events for NBC. The crews were stationed aboard an aircraft carrier to capture the historic landings. Again, WDSU-TV engineers were chosen to lead a large group of technicians in the first “extra-continental (over-water)” telecast. They constructed a 100KW Ch.8 transmitter on the Carribean island of Bimini to relay an NBC three hour live program, “Wide, Wide World” to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where it was sent by cable to New York.
In 1972, WDSU-TV was sold to the Cosmos Broadcasting Co. of South Carolina. WDSU-AM and WDSU-FM were sold to an Oklahoma group. The call letters were changed to WGSO and WQUE (FM 93.3). Still later, the AM station became WQUE-AM and then WODT. The Call letters WGSO were transferred to another station in New Orleans operating on 990KC.
The WDSU-TV facility was sold by Cosmos to the Pulitzer organization. In 1997 the studios and offices were moved to a new location on Howard Avenue in New Orleans. The station celebrated its 50th year on the air from that new facility. Again the station was sold, this time to the Hearst organization. At this writing, WDSU-TV was still in the hands of the Hearst organization.
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