Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Birthday to TV in Seattle! Our own little corner of the vast wasteland first began glowing this rainy holiday back on Nov. 25, 1948, with a live broadcast of a high school football game from Memorial Stadium on Lower Queen Anne Hill.
While television has changed a lot in 61 years and taken one critical beating after another, it’s still good for at least one thing, and that’s live broadcasting. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love live television, because it has the power to unite, creating compelling moments — or sometimes even hours — where everyone viewing is temporarily united, whatever our political, religious or cultural beliefs.
Live TV accomplishes this, of course, because it transcends distance to bring audio and pictures into our homes, giving us perhaps a tiny sense of what it might be like to be on hand for important milestones, and to share big happenings with our fellow viewers, from the celebratory to the horrific.
Much has been made of nationally significant events seen on live TV over the years — the aftermath of the JFK assassination, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the O.J. chase, the collapsing towers of 9/11, Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, and even the Balloon Boy — because these televised events united us as Americans, if only from the remote, isolated vantage of wherever we stare at our screen.
In fact, it sometimes seems like live TV coverage is the only thing that unites us nowadays, since in the world of cable and Internet, about the only occasion when we all watch the same thing at the same time is during the Super Bowl or a terrorist attack. Call it the “First Down & 9/11 Effect.”
While indelible national events have been over-analyzed and over “where-were-you-when”-acized, events with mostly local significance seen on live TV here in Seattle have not been given their due. They may not have riveted the rest of the country, but they grabbed the attention of our region and they’re worth a second look.
So, with some help from my friend Dave Richardson’s seminal local broadcast history book Puget Sounds combined with a lifetime of watching local TV, I put together a list of the 25 most memorable events seen live on local channels. The parameters were fairly simple. The broadcasts listed could have originated locally or nationally, as long as they had significant local impact. Wherever possible, I've included links to the actual online video, or, when that wasn’t available, tried to link to related content for additional context. From an initial big list of nearly 50 events, I winnowed down to the top 25.
The Top 25 Live Seattle TV Moments In Chronological Order
1. First regular telecast in Seattle, on KRSC. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1948. KRSC (which a few years later became KING) broadcast a high school football championship game at Memorial Stadium; West Seattle and Wenatchee played to a muddy 6-6 tie.
2. Seafair Hydro Races on KING. Sunday, Aug. 4, 1951. A boat called The Quicksilver crashed, killing its driver and mechanic. Quick-thinking local sportscasting legend Bill O’Mara led the audience in the Lord’s Prayer. Incidentally, O’Mara’s real last name was Rhodes, but that also happened to be the name of a local department store, and nobody wanted to give it a free plug, so Rhodes was forced to change his name. Anybody remember when Bruce KING did sports on KOMO?
3. First Seattle TV newscast, with Charles Herring on KING. Monday, Sept. 10, 1951. Charles Herring anchored the first local TV newscast west of Minneapolis and north of Los Angeles, as KING began nightly newscasts just weeks after the cross-country coaxial cable brought live national TV programming from New York to Seattle. MOHAI marked the 50th anniversary with a special event at the museum honoring Herring, and history-minded KING had pioneer telecaster Herring do the sign-off for the 5 p.m. news that evening in 2001. Herring’s scheduled appearance the next morning on Northwest Cable News was canceled due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
4. J.P. Patches premieres on KIRO. Monday, Feb. 10, 1958. KIRO went on the air in February 1958 and J.P. Patches was the first program aired by the new station. TV clown Patches (played by Chris Wedes) became a fixture on KIRO for 23 years, and he’s still a regional icon making regular appearances an astounding more than half-century later.
5. Namu the Killer Whale arrives in Seattle on KOMO. Tuesday, July 27, 1965. Joining radio deejay Bob Hardwick among others in a media flotilla of sorts, KOMO reporter Bill Brubaker made hundreds of short remote video broadcasts aboard a tugboat from Puget Sound, in the very early days of such TV technology. The local media were following marine mammal entrepreneur Ted Griffin as he towed Namu, the first live captive killer whale, to fame and a pen on Seattle’s waterfront. Namu was a huge draw and became a movie star, but died in Seattle a year later; Griffin went into business capturing and selling whales to Sea World and other attractions.
6. D.B. Cooper hijacking drama unfolds at SeaTac on KOMO, KING and KIRO. Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1971. It was Thanksgiving Eve around dinnertime when a man calling himself Dan Cooper (later misidentified as D.B. Cooper) boarded a Northwest Orient 727 for the short flight from Portland to Seattle. After he gave a stewardess a note saying he had a bomb, the plane landed in Seattle where it took on fuel, $200,000, and four parachutes. Local stations were on hand as the passengers and flight attendants were allowed to disembark. The plane took off, and Cooper made a giant leap into aviation and pop culture history.
7. Huskies defeat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Monday, Jan. 2, 1978. Quarterback Warren Moon led the UW Huskies to victory in this rare positive Seattle sports event — rare because the recent expansion team Seahawks and Mariners really sucked in those days, and the Sonics were on the verge of their most exciting era.
8. Sonics almost win their first championship, on KIRO. Wednesday, June 7, 1978. Later that year, the Sonics made it to their first NBA finals. The matchup with the Washington Bullets went a full seven games, with Seattle losing it all at home. Though a bitter defeat, it set the stage for a rematch just one year later.
9. Sonics championship game, on KIRO. Friday, June 1, 1979. The Sonics made it to the NBA finals for a second year in a row, this time defeating the Bullets and taking the championship in Game Five at Landover, Md. I personally saw the final 12 seconds as they were shown at the Mariners’ game that night on the cruddy old video projection screen at the Kingdome. As a bonus not seen on TV, the Mariners beat their expansion team cousins the Toronto Blue Jays 7-2 with 5,000 fans cheering.
10. Seahawks' first appearance on Monday Night Football, on KOMO. Monday, Oct. 29, 1979. It felt like Seattle had finally hit the big time when the Seahawks made their first appearance on Monday Night Football midway through their fourth season. The undisputed highlight came when Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn completed a pass to placekicker Efren Herrera after a fake field-goal attempt and made the first down. Final score: Seahawks 31, Atlanta Falcons 28.
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