When TV came to the Isa

TELLY TIME: Herb Lilburn shakes hands with Sir Asher Joel to celebrate the arrival of commercial TV in Mount Isa in 1971.
TELLY TIME: Herb Lilburn shakes hands with Sir Asher Joel to celebrate the arrival of commercial TV in Mount Isa in 1971.

A post on the Mount Isa & Districts History & Heritage Facebook page has sparked off a big conversation on the intriguing question “when did TV first come to Mount Isa”?

Former Mount Isa resident Joan Cartwright posed the question on Wednesday which set many people off on investigative tangents with some people remembering they saw the first Moon landing (July 20, 1969) from their Mount Isa classroom.

This was disputed by others who said their schools only had the first Moon landing on radio or perhaps they were confusing it with later Moon landings.

The word from the North West Star files is that television officially arrived in the Isa on December 21, 1970 when ABC was first relayed from Townsville under the call sign ABIQ-6.

The first commercial channel did not arrive until the following year.

On Saturday, September 11, 1971 the front page of the North West Star was blazoned with the headline that “Channel 8 on air tonight” with a “choice of world-class programs”.

North West Star page 1, September 11, 1971.

North West Star page 1, September 11, 1971.

The North West Star could be forgiven for greeting ITQ-Channel 8 with such fanfare.

The owner of the newspaper – Sir Asher Joel – was also the owner of the new television station in those days before cross-media restrictions came into play.

Indeed the first newsreaders of the day on ITQ-Channel 8 would introduce their segment with "Here is the news, direct from the pages of the North West Star".

And what were the world-class programs on offer?

On the first night the Channel opened at 6pm with a welcome message.

That was followed at 6.05pm by an episode of Skippy called “The Long Way Home” where Dr Alexander Stark was determined to have Skippy for his private zoo.

At 6.30pm there was an episode of Bugs Bunny followed at 7pm by Dick Van Dyke.

The official opening was at 7.30pm followed by a “Special” featuring Peter, Paul and Mary and then the feature Saturday movie “Winchester 73”.

The night’s programming finished at 10.45pm with a “program summary” of what was on the air on Sunday – more Skippy and more Bugs Bunny plus helpings of Shirley Temple, the Black and White Minstrels and the movie Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, Tony Randall and Doris Day.

And what about those people who claimed they saw the 1969 Moon landing on TV in Mount Isa well before the official ABC launch in December 1970?

Well, it was possible to get ABC in the 1960s “with a large antenna”.

Watch out for a forthcoming article from Kim-Maree Burton on the history of media in Mount Isa.