Throwback Thursday: KZTV Becomes KOLO, Moves To The Mountain

RENO, NV - Signing on in 1953 as northern Nevada's first television station, KZTV, Channel 8 worked to establish itself with a mixture of network shows, movies and a lot of home grown programming.

With equal measures of amusement and affection KZTV was known to all as "Crazy TV."

That would change as owner Donald Reynolds bought a local radio station and wanted the same call letters for Channel 8.

The programming remained the same, but the name was new. KZTV became KOLO.

But another change was in the works, one that would address the young station's big limitation.

That limitation was a matter of topography. The station was then operating from its studios on Fifth Street with its tower next door, but that signal barely reached beyond the Truckee Meadows.

A lot of people northern Nevada still couldn't watch its first television station.

Among them, Reynolds himself, who owned a home at Lake Tahoe.

"In fact that was one of the first questions that the consulting engineers when we got on the air," remembers Tom Hughes, then the station's chief engineer." 'Does he have a picture at his home on the lake.'"

Those concerns led to a bold decision, one that would challenge the engineering and construction methods of the time.

The station's transmitter would be moved from downtown Reno to Slide Mountain. It would be anything but easy.

Today the summit of this 9700 foot peak fairly bristles with electronics. Back then it was mostly undeveloped.

In those days the FCC required an on-duty engineer at the transmitter site. That meant whatever was built there had to house equipment and staff at a site which sees heavy snow and wind that can reach 130 miles an hour or more.

The solution was a a unique one with an unexpected source. One of the consulting engineers' father worked for U-S Steel which built storage tanks for oil companies.

"He went to his father and asked him if he could redesign on a one-time only basis this building to have a cupola up on top where the microwave had to be and have interior walls and floors, that sort of thing."

The result was a one-of-a kind round steel building was built with a second story cupola.

Sixty years later this unique building is still in use.

The building contained everything needed to sustain the transmitter and staff, including living quarters.

If building all this on a mountain top was difficult so was manning it.

The staff got there by ski lift or a slow climb in a four-wheel drive or sno-cat. In winter, the building was often covered by snow.

On those days the only way in was through a door way in that cupola and down a ladder.

Shifts up there were long and lonely.

Hughes hired a pair of engineers for this unusual duty.

"One fellow and his wife would stay there for three and a half days and then three and a half days off and the other couple would move in."

If this duty had its hardships, it also had its reward: The view.

That view is more than an amazing sight. It's the key to KOLO 8's unusual reach.

Out there beyond the visible horizon, past the last mountain range in view, were communities waiting for television.

One day as his crew worked at the mountain site, they had some unexpected visitors--a group of businessmen from Battle Mountain, a community a couple of hundred miles to the east. They wanted to know when they'd see television.

"it made you feel good," says Hughes. "There were a lot of communities out there that had zero TV and it was 100 miles to the nearest movie or anything like that. So it felt like something of a community service to put that signal on."

Today on-site staffing is no longer required, but at the time there may have been only a couple of other television stations operating from sites like this.

There was no blueprint to follow. It was pioneering work.

And as northern Nevadans watched that new stronger signal, many of the faces they saw on their TV sets became part of their lives.

A few became cultural icons.

First among them, an attractive Minnesota native whose career as host, interviewer and businesswoman would span decades.

Her story next week.

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