Seattle's most memorable live TV

It was Thanksgiving Day 61 years ago that Seattle broadcast its first TV program. Since then the airwaves have captivated locals with live news, sports and entertainment. A tour of the top 25 moments, with video.
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Aquarium owner Ted Griffin feeding Namu in his Pier 56 pen

It was Thanksgiving Day 61 years ago that Seattle broadcast its first TV program. Since then the airwaves have captivated locals with live news, sports and entertainment. A tour of the top 25 moments, with video.

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'ꀙs still good for at least one thing, and that'ꀙs live broadcasting. I'ꀙm 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'ꀙs 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 'ꀜFirst Down & 9/11 Effect.'ꀝ

While indelible national events have been over-analyzed and over 'ꀜwhere-were-you-when'ꀝ-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'ꀙre worth a second look.

So, with some help from my friend Dave Richardson'ꀙs 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'ꀙt 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'ꀙMara led the audience in the Lord'ꀙs Prayer. Incidentally, O'ꀙMara'ꀙs 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'ꀙs 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'ꀙs 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'ꀙs 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'ꀙ 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.

11. Mt. St. Helens eruption, on KOMO, KING, and KIRO. Sunday, May 18, 1980. Mt. St. Helens began rumbling in March 1980, and all three Seattle TV stations put plans in place to cover the eruption that would bring destruction to the mountain and surrounding areas, and noontime darkness to Yakima and other communities east of the mountains. The most chilling coverage wasn'ꀙt live, but KOMO videographer Davy Crockett'ꀙs harrowing escape from the ash cloud remains the most stunning account.

12. J.P. Patches'ꀙ final show on KIRO. Friday, Sept. 25, 1981. Not surprisingly, class act Chris Wedes played J.P.'s farewell for laughs, telling evil nemesis Boris S. Wart (the second meanest man in the world, played by Bob Newman) that come Monday, the show would be all his.

13. Kirkland wins the Little League World Series, on KOMO. Saturday, Aug. 27, 1982. It was Kirkland vs. . . . Taiwan? Local boys made it big behind the pitching and hitting of Cody Webster at the annual Little League World Series, broadcast live from Williamsport, Pa.

14. Old I-90 bridge sinks while being renovated. Friday, Nov. 24, 1990. The old Lacey V. Murrow floating bridge was closed for major renovation (a new bridge had already been built alongside), but it was still pretty creepy to see the 50-year old structure sink beneath the waves (as a result of a process called 'ꀜhydro-demolition'ꀝ that involved filling the floating concrete structure with WATER!). The I-90 bridge joined a long line of local span failures, including the 1940 Galloping Gertie Tacoma Narrows disaster and the 1979 Hood Canal Bridge failure.

15. Jeff Smulyan announces Mariners are for sale. Friday, Dec. 6, 1991. Long before a certain coffee baron dropped the ball by selling the Sonics to out-of-towners, ur-Schulz Jeff Smulyan rankled Mariners fans and raised the specter of the team leaving town by announcing that the baseball club was for sale. Fortunately, our own local version of the Super Mario Brothers (led by Nintendo'ꀙs Hiroshi Yamauchi) came to the rescue and the team stayed put.

16. Huskies beat Michigan in 1992 Rose Bowl and become 1991 national co-champions, on KOMO. Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1992. Following another Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, the undefeated Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the coaches'ꀙ poll, sharing the national championship with Miami, who'ꀙd been top-ranked in the AP poll.

17. Nirvana performing 'ꀜSmells Like Teen Spirit'ꀝ on Saturday Night Live, on KING. Jan. 11, 1992. They'ꀙd sold millions of records and Vogue had begun to clothe models in flannel, but Nirvana'ꀙs triumphant first appearance on Saturday Night Live may have been their mainstream high-water mark. Their first song ('ꀜSmells Like Teen Spirit'ꀝ) was brilliantly preceded by a commercial for Mennen'ꀙs song-inspiring Teen Spirit deodorant. (Technical disclosure: This actually was seen via taped delay in Seattle and everywhere west of the Central Time Zone.)

18. Mariners beat the Yankees in 11th inning of Game 5 in 1995 A.L. Division Series, on KOMO. Sunday, Oct. 8, 1995. Down 2-0 in the best-of-five Division Series, the Mariners came back to win three in a row. Game Five ended triumphantly with the famous Edgar Martinez hit, now known simply as 'ꀜThe Double,'ꀝ that brought Ken Griffey, Jr. home and sent the M'ꀙs to the American League Championship Series.

19. Makah whale hunt at Neah Bay. Monday, May 17, 1999. In spite of all the best efforts of various chambers of commerce, visitors bureaus and glossy mags to portray Seattle and the Northwest as a great place to start a business or take a vacation, there'ꀙs always something that comes along and sends a slightly different message, whether it'ꀙs Ted Bundy, Mt. St. Helens, Gary Ridgway, or a legally sanctioned effort to take out a motorboat and shoot to death a whale. This is what news helicopters were invented for, and a bookend of sorts for the Namu phenomenon 34 years earlier.

20. WTO riots, on KOMO, KING, KIRO, and KCPQ. Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1999. The WTO Ministerial held in Seattle 10 years ago still doesn'ꀙt quite fit into the narrative of the city'ꀙs history, but it sure made for frightening television to see familiar landmarks and intersections filled with tear gas, smoke, rioters, and police. Jim Forman'ꀙs coverage on KING of late-night rioters on the move from downtown to Capitol Hill was particularly spooky to this viewer.

21. Kingdome implosion, on KOMO, KING, KIRO, and KCPQ. Sunday, March 26, 2000. Keeping with the theme of 'ꀜdoes not fit into city'ꀙs historical narrative,'ꀝ that the Kingdome would cease to exist as a result of legal, intentional action is still astounding nearly 10 years later. Sure, it had its faults and Safeco and Qwest fields are beautiful facilities, but the Kingdome had a certain a quirkiness that fit with the Seattle I knew in the 1970s and 1980s.

22. Nisqually earthquake shakes Seattle Municipal Building (and City Council) on TVSea. Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2001. The legislative branch was in session at the old Municipal Building when the 6.9-magnitude Nisqually quake struck, and the cameras of TVSea (now known as the Seattle Channel) were rolling for perhaps the most action-packed meeting in the august body'ꀙs history.

23. Seahawks lose to Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL, on KOMO. Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006. It wasn'ꀙt a very good game (we lost), but it was cool to finally see the Seahawks provide a prologue and epilogue for the real show: all those expensive halftime commercials.

24. Seahawks beat Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football in Seattle snow, on KOMO. Monday, Nov. 27, 2006. It was a night of a freaky ice and snow storm that snarled traffic for hours and brought Green Bay-esque flurries to Qwest Field. Mike Holmgren'ꀙs Seattle Seahawks scored 34 points to Holmgren'ꀙs former Packers'ꀙ 24, with Seattle running back Shaun Alexander piling up a record 40 carries. It wouldn'ꀙt have been nearly so memorable were the Kingdome still standing.

25. Pike Place Centennial concert on the Seattle Channel. Friday, Aug. 17, 2007. All-star band The Iconics, featuring members of the Presidents and Posies, played a set of local tunes at Steinbrueck Park to mark a century of the Pike Place Market, and the Seattle Channel covered the whole thing live. The moment that still puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye came when John Roderick of the Long Winters led a rendition of 'ꀜThe Old Settler,'ꀝ the 19th-century folk tune better known as 'ꀜAcres of Clams.'ꀝ Since my European immigrant parents made Seattle home 50 years ago (after stops on Long Island and in Oakland), the verse that ends, 'ꀜI started one morning to shank it for the country they call Puget Sound'ꀝ never fails to give me chills.


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