WQAD’S 50th: Signing On The Air Wasn’t Easy
MOLINE, Illinois – It didn’t start with a spadeful of dirt.
The groundbreaking for WQAD-TV actually started long before August 1, 1963 when competition began to create the Quad City’s third television station.
By 1963, there were already two television powerhouses: WOC, which is now KWQC aired NBC programs. WHBF was aligned with CBS. But the upstart ABC network had some popular progams which the other two stations were starting to broadcast.
“‘Maverick’ I think was on one of the other stations for example, that was one of the hot programs,” co-founder Sam Gilman told us in a 2003 interview..
“And we thought that could provide, that and other programs like it, could provide a good core for a third television station in the community.”
Sam Gilman is one of the 24 original shareholders of the Moline Television Corporation.
“It was exciting, it was showbiz.”
But first it was a lot of work. Once the license was granted, construction began.
Work on a new tower started south of Orion, in Henry County. And on April 11th, 1963, work began in earnest for what would become the broadcast home of WQAD on Moline’s 16th Street hill.
“But it was a fun and exciting time,” said Gilman.
“It started with a bare piece of ground.”
And in order for WQAD to get on the air, something unprecedented had to occur. Nine Quad City banks had to come together to bankroll the one-point-three million dollars needed to get WQAD broadcasting.
But even then, there were no guarantees.
Attorney William Stengel’s father Richard was among those who founded WQAD and kept it on the air.
Often at the family’s dinner table, the teenaged Stengel heard about the gambles and hurdles of starting this television station.
“The frustrations that I heard on a daily basis from my father I had no interest in other than being a lawyer,” he told us in a 2003 interview.
But there was great pride in starting WQAD and to keeping it competitive.
“It was something that my father, Sam Gilman, and Judge Coyle took pride in,” said Stengel, “And they wanted to make it truly a part of the community.”
And 50 years later, it still is.
And that makes those first few years of WQAD’s history as important as the latest ones.
“It was in large part a labor of love”, said Gilman.