Many companies wanted to operate TV stations and hundreds of broadcast license applications flooded into the Federal Communications Commission. In 1948, the FCC put a temporary, six-month freeze on new TV licenses in order to figure out how to allocate channels, avoid interfering signals, and other technical issues. Six months turned into four years in part because of government foot dragging and in part because of the Korean War.
Even before a television station opened in Mobile, Press Register Executive Editor George Cox was the subject of a national TV and radio program broadcast by NBC. Cox appeared in the “Big Story” series in 1949 for an episode titled “Murder by Memory.”
The TV series was based on the popular radio series. Each show featured a different reporter’s true story selected from newspapers across the country. Reporters commented at the opening and closing of the show. In between, a narrator explained the plot to the audience and a featured actor dramatized the reporter’s role.
“Murder by Memory” depicted the case of James Robert Collins of Mobile. Collins made the youthful mistake of becoming involved in a Citronelle, Alabama, bank robbery in 1928 that left the bank president dead, killed by one of the bandits. Collins was imprisoned for his part, but escaped in 1937 and was living in Pennsylvania in 1949. Cox waged a newspaper campaign to prevent Collins’ extradition to Alabama after the Press Register established that he had gone straight in the years since his escape.
As the date neared for when the FCC would begin issuing TV licenses again in 1952, the Mobile Television Corporation, a subsidiary of the Press Register, was among the applicants standing in line for approval. But it was not the only one, or the first.
On March 22, 1951, Pape Broadcasting Company, owners of WALA AM radio, the former WODX started by the Register, filed an application for a TV station. The Press Register filed its application a few days later, as did Giddens and Rester, a firm that already operated radio stations WKRG‐AM and WKRG‐FM in Mobile as well as a chain of movie theaters in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.
In July 1952, a fourth company filed for a license, the Pursley Broadcasting Service, which owned radio station WKAB AM. WKAB-TV became the first TV station in Mobile to begin broadcasting on December 29 from a studio in community of Toulminville.
In an ad in Broadcasting Magazine, the station claimed that 15,000 TV sets had been sold in Mobile even before the station announced its first broadcast day. The station aired programs from CBS and DuMont, a network at one time rivaling CBS, as well as local public affairs programs, amateur acts, and country music programs. On August 1, 1954, WKAB went off the air supposedly to install new equipment, but never resumed its signal. The real problem was that WKAB operated on UHF at a time when few people had UHF tuners in their TV sets and those receivers that existed were of poor quality compared to VHF. The station probably couldn’t attract enough viewers or advertisers to be profitable.
WALA TV began broadcasting January 14, 1953, from a Government Street building two blocks away from the Press Register. A July 1954 storm destroyed the station’s tower and took it off the air for six months. WKRG TV didn’t begin broadcasting until September 5, 1955. The Press Register never started its own station. Instead, on April 5, 1958, the Press Register became half-owner of WKRG TV Inc. As part of the $1.05 million deal, the newspaper agreed to sell WABB radio.