Music was fading from the AM dial. Among stations playing Top 40, only “13Q” WKTQ (1320) was keeping the faith. WPEZ-FM (94.5) had been steadily eroding 13Q’s audience for years.
In a few months, 13Q would become “1320 WKTQ” and change its playlist to focus on a more “adult” sound.
At WTAE (1250), the playlist included more and more “oldies” and talk shows were creeping onto the schedule. Ditto for KDKA (1020), whose pop music selections had always been pretty mellow, anyway.
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Speaking of KDKA, the Pirates were opening their 1979 season and 1020 kHz was again the flagship, just as God and Bing Crosby intended.
Group W stablemate KDKA-TV (2) also was providing televised coverage of all games, which drove officials at the CBS network right up the walls. You can be sure that Westinghouse Broadcasting officials were not interested in dropping Pirates broadcasts to clear the schedule for CBS’ primetime lineup. Besides, most TV series went on hiatus in the summer, anyway.
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The season turned out to be highly profitable for KDKA and the Pirates when the team went all the way to the World Series.
(In case you’re keeping track, that was the last time the Pirates won the championship, though the Pirates lost their opener 30 years ago tonight to the Montreal Expos, 3-2 in 10 innings in Three Rivers Stadium. Kent Tekulve took the loss.)
And it’s not like you could have watched the Pirates on cable. ESPN wouldn’t be launched for another five months (and it filled a lot of its schedule with third-rate coverage of things like Australian rules football) and Pittsburgh’s KBL didn’t debut until 1986.
If you did subscribe to cable in the Pittsburgh area, your choices were generally limited to a handful of movie channels and out-of-town broadcast outlets, including New York’s WOR-TV and WCBS-TV and Cleveland’s WUAB-TV.
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April 6, 1979 was a Friday, but on Monday night, April 9, 1979, ABC affiliates WTAE-TV (4), Steubenville’s WSTV-TV (9) and Youngstown’s WYTV-TV (33) had “Perry Como’s Springtime Special” at 8 and the 51st annual Academy Awards at 10.
NBC affiliates WIIC-TV (11), WJAC-TV (6), WFMJ-TV (21) and WTRF (7) had “Little House on the Prairie” at 8 and “Monday Night at the Movies” at 9, featuring a no-doubt heavily edited screening of the 1972 film Deliverance.
And finally, because there wasn’t a Pirates game, KDKA-TV was carrying CBS’ prime-time lineup. “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” aired at 8, followed by “The White Shadow” at 8:30 and a Cheryl Ladd special at 9 p.m.
At 9:30, CBS had the “Preacher” episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” described by your Pittsburgh Press “TV Graphic” thusly: “Reverend Little Ed Pembrook (guest star Michael Keenan) is turning his Sunday morning broadcasts on WKRP into a quick-buck ripoff and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) promises to clean up the situation.”
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“WKRP” was followed at 10 p.m. by an episode of “Lou Grant” entitled “Mob” (“Lou and Rossi stumble onto a big story but have trouble putting it together after they see an oldtime mobster at a posh resort, repeat, 60 min.”).
Mr. Monday Morning Nostalgic Fix would be remiss if he didn’t admit that “WKRP” and “Lou Grant” were two of his favorite TV shows of all time.
All that, plus a Pirates world championship? Heck, it almost makes Mr. MMNF nostalgic for a nuclear meltdown.
April 6, 1979 was a good night to stay inside and watch TV.
Not that the programming was all that great. In fact, it was going to get worse — the following night, NBC was bringing back “Supertrain,” after disastrous ratings for its first few episodes forced a complete retooling.
One of the great network flops of all time, “Supertrain” (billed as “The Love Boat” on rails) lasted five more episodes before chugging into the great scrapyard in the sky.
No, people in Pennsylvania were staying indoors because an ill wind was blowing no good over the Three Mile Island nuclear plant (speaking of flops), six miles from Harrisburg.
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It’s worth noting that no injuries or illnesses have ever been directly linked to the March 28, 1979 partial meltdown inside TMI’s Reactor No. 2, but 30 years ago, we didn’t know that.
Indeed, Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh — in office less than three months — had advised all children and pregnant women within a five-mile radius of TMI to evacuate. He wouldn’t lift the order for a few more days.
The accident, and the sluggish response of TMI’s operators to the crisis, had turned Thornburgh into a self-professed nuclear skeptic: “I want to know if it’s safe,” he said.
So, what was the state of broadcasting in Pittsburgh 30 years ago this week?