KING 5's humble beginnings
Built by women
When KING 5 became the news
Biggest news in KING’s history
Leading technological innovation
Weather forecasting through the decades
Programming spotlights civic commitment
Go, fight, win!
Service to the community
Virtual reality and beyond
Chapter one: KING 5's humble beginnings
It all started with a woman with a dream.
KING 5 is – and always has been – a trailblazer.
Founded by a woman with a fascination for technology, KING 5 broadcast its first program on Thanksgiving Day 1948. It was a football game between West Seattle and Wenatchee high schools.
There were fewer than 6,000 TV sets in the entire area, and the picture was grainy, but KING 5 founder Dorothy Frances Bullitt was excited about the possibilities.
“It was very chancy,” she reflected decades later, “and I was very much afraid of it. But I thought we could maybe swing it.”
From these humble beginnings, KING 5 has become a successful media company dedicated to entertaining and informing its viewers – and in the internet world in which we now live, its visitors.
KING 5 grew up with the community it serves. And as it marks its 70th anniversary, it continues to be Western Washington’s trailblazer and storyteller.
We hope you enjoy these stories of KING 5 through the years and the recollections of some of the people who made KING 5 the company you can count on.
Photos: KING 5's first broadcast in 1948
Photos: KING 5's first broadcast on Thanksgiving Day 1948
Chapter two: Built by women
Meet two iconic women who made KING 5 what it is today.
Born into a wealthy timber family in 1892, Dorothy Frances Bullitt would become the nation’s first female owner in the “startup” industry known as television.
Never expecting to take charge of the family business, Bullitt was suddenly thrust into real estate management following the death of the men in her life – her father C. D. Stimson, her brother Thomas Stimson, and her husband Scott Bullitt – during the Depression years. At age 40, she was left to raise three kids and manage the family fortune having never gone to college or held a job.
“It was a time when there was no place to go but up,” she said decades later.
Her granddaughter, Dorothy C. Bullitt, recalled “Mamie” (as she called her grandmother) had first seen television at a World’s Fair in the 1920’s.
“She was a nerd when it came to technology,” the younger Bullitt said. “She was excited about what was cutting edge and new.”
In 1947, the elder Bullitt acquired a struggling radio station located in the Smith Tower. Her dream was to broadcast classical music, as well as sports. She bought the call letters K-I-N-G for a song from a merchant ship. She then bought an FM radio and television station (KRSC) and renamed them KING.
The first broadcast was a grainy high school football game between West Seattle and Wenatchee on Thanksgiving Day 1948. KING became only the 11th TV station in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi and north of San Francisco.
As more residents began buying televisions, Bullitt realized local news was a community service with huge revenue potential.
News, once a male-only proposition, would change. In 1971, Jean Enersen became the nation’s first female evening news anchor. The ratings took off. Enersen became the Queen of KING.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, they weren’t sure what to do with this person with this tent of a dress and this very large stomach,” Enersen said. “So they lowered my chair and raised the desk, so no one would know I was pregnant!”
The television station outgrew its old studio in a garage on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill and moved to a refurbished furniture store on Aurora Avenue in 1953. In 1979, it broke ground on a shiny glass headquarters on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. It moved to its current location on First Avenue South in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood in 2016.
By 1981, the KING empire had expanded, owning four television stations, several radio stations from San Francisco to St. Louis, cable television stations in California and elsewhere, and its own Washington D.C. news bureau.
As lucrative as the television business was becoming, Bullitt believed the station was there to provide public service and encourage civic discourse.
“The whole time I was CEO, the Bullitts never talked to me about profits. Never once,” said former CEO Steve Clifford. “It was a community service – that happened to kick off a whole lot of money.”
Former photographer Ken Jones recalled how Bullitt kept her board of directors in line at one budget meeting.
“She interrupted and said, ‘Money? We’ve got lots of money. I just want to do good work.’ And that filtered down to everybody in the department,” Jones said.
In 1991, two years after Bullitt died at the age of 97, the television business she had bought for $375,000 was sold to the Providence Journal for $500 million.
Chapter three: When KING 5 became the news
From a controversial town hall to an April Fools' prank, sometimes KING 5 was the news.
There were times when KING not only covered the news but became the news.
In 1974, meteorologist Jeff Renner was working the nightshift when he noticed Station Manager Eric Bremner walking through the halls with two secret service agents. They were investigating reports that the print shop employee was producing counterfeit 20s in the basement. Bremner recalled the worker was a recently-released prison inmate who was hired to operate the print shop. Renner said the counterfeits were reportedly pretty good, though the cafeteria manager thought they looked suspicious.
Soviet town hall
In November 1985, KING broadcast the first live town hall between Seattle and the Soviet Union. An audience of citizens in Seattle with talk show host Phil Donahue exchanged views by satellite with a Soviet audience in Leningrad, hosted by Gosteleradio commentator Vladimir Pozner.
This “people to people” exchange was criticized by The Seattle Times and protested by people who didn’t like the Soviets’ human rights policies.
The town hall was motivated by a desire to break down the fear and animosity of the Cold War and seek common ground.
Porsche crashes into KING lobby
On September 3, 1986, a man drove his Porsche through the front doors of KING TV on Dexter Avenue North. The car smashed into the reception desk, injuring three employees. Reporter Mike Oling’s leg was broken in two places.
“Wrong place at the wrong time,” he said as medics rolled him out of the lobby, littered with glass and broken paneling.
The driver ran off and was chased and held by photojournalist Don Metcalf, Evening reporter Enrique Cerna, and KING Radio reporter Bob Parker until police arrived and cuffed him.
Ironically, KING was the last local station to broadcast the incident live that night.
Shortly after, a sculpture by artist Richard Beyer was installed in front of the doors. Affectionately called “The KINGstones,” it was chock full of rebar to thwart future drive-throughs.
PHOTOS: History of KING 5
KING 5 history in photos
Space Needle falls over…April Fools!
But nothing caused quite as much commotion as the live broadcast of Almost Live on April Fools’ Day 1989.
The writers decided to open the program with a fake news report that the Space Needle had fallen over. Host John Keister started his monologue. Director Steve Wilson said almost immediately the phones in the control booth started lighting up. By the time they hit the first commercial break, the 911 lines were being overwhelmed.
“There were people from Eastern Washington, medical people, who came over to volunteer,” recalled Keister.
Wilson said they showed a live shot of the Space Needle – still standing – at the end of the show. But the damage was done. City and Space Needle officials were infuriated by the stunt. Keister had to issue an apology. “
We really didn’t think it was going to affect anybody,” said Wilson.
Chapter four: Biggest news in KING’s history
From the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption to the 2014 Oso landslide, KING 5 is committed to covering the news and telling the truth.
KING’s biggest news stories were also the region’s biggest stories. They roughly fell into three categories: nature, human nature, and our global nature.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens nearly took the lives of the three KING staffers who had lived near the mountain for a month in an RV.
KING was the only TV station that had a live shot of the mountain 24 hours a day leading up to the eruption.
The chief photographer gave meteorologist Jeff Renner, photojournalist Mark Anderson, and engineer Mike Carter the weekend off, because it was Carter’s wedding anniversary. That Sunday, May 18, 1980, the mountain blew. During a helicopter tour days later, Renner saw their camp area had been totally destroyed.
Nature’s fury was constantly in the news, from the sinking of the Interstate 90 floating bridge on November 25, 1990 to the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually earthquake on February 28, 2001 to the horror of the Oso landslide that killed 43 people on March 22, 2014.
For some strange reason, there was no shortage of mass killings in the Northwest. Ted Bundy admitted to raping and killing 36 women in the 1970’s. Gary Ridgway, the so called Green River Killer, was convicted of murdering 49 women in the early 80’s. And on February 18, 1983, 13 people were robbed and executed at the Wah Mee gambling club in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Tony Ng, Willy Mak, and Benjamin Ng were convicted and sent to prison.
Seattle began to make national, even international, headlines and not always for the best reasons.
A hijacker known only as D.B. Cooper parachuted out of a Boeing 727 on November 24, 1971 with $200,000 ransom, never to be heard from again. Riots during the November 1999 WTO meeting put several world leaders, including then President Bill Clinton, at risk. And less than two years later, the Mardi Gras riot on February 27, 2001 led to the murder of Christopher Kime.
Seattle became the home of several global companies such as Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks.
So some things had to make way. On March 26, 2000, it was the Kingdome that was imploded to make way for a brand-new stadium.
And as viewers’ interest became global, so did KING’s reporting. Reporters went to China, Japan, Bosnia, Korea, Iraq, Africa, and the Dominican Republic.
“The company felt they had a mission to create informed citizens,” former photojournalist Steve Dowd said.
His colleague, former photojournalist Ken Jones, agreed.
“It (traveling) meant something,” Jones said. “We were out there pursuing truth, and we think that’s a pretty high calling.”
Chapter five: Leading technological innovation
KING was a trailblazer in camera technology and cutting-edge photojournalism.
A tip of the hat to hydroplane racing led to one of KING’s major technological advancements – the television telephoto lens.
KING engineers Earl Toms and Al Smith invented the 100-inch lens in the early 1950’s to get exciting close-ups of the hydros ripping around Lake Washington. The “big boys” at NBC would borrow the lens when they needed it for their broadcasts.
The 1962 World’s Fair gave KING a chance to show off its technical chops. It was the first station to broadcast from Seattle Center live to Europe. KING also created an early predecessor of the GoPro action camera, calling it the “Creepy Peepy” camera, which shot live pictures from the monorail through a microwave transmitting device.
In the newsroom, photographers were using easy-to-carry 16-millimeter film cameras to cover daily news.
The chief photographer at KING from 1961 to 1984 was Phil Sturholm, a legend in Northwest photojournalism, whose artistic eye and mentorship inspired scores of journalists. From film cameras to electronic news gathering (ENG) in the late 1970’s to satellite live shots, Sturholm coached producers, reporters, and photographers to be the best storytellers.
Since 1979, KING photographers have won five National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Station of the Year awards for the best station in the country.
In 1995, Northwest Cable News (NWCN), a subsidiary of KING Broadcasting, became the world’s first all-digital station. It was able to prerecord and air live shows directly from computer hard drives. There wasn’t a shred of videotape anywhere. It allowed NWCN to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the Pacific Northwest so viewers could get their “news fix” anytime they wanted. And because everything was digital, gathering, editing, and playing back news stories was faster than ever before. Today, all television stations run this way.
Chapter six: Weather forecasting through the decades
It started with cartooning but evolved into science.
When early broadcasters were looking for things to interest people, weather seemed like a natural – after all everyone talks about it the weather, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
But in the early 1950's there wasn't a lot of weather information to be had so how do you make it interesting? You hire Bob Hale, a local sign painter known for his great cartoon characters. Hale blazed the weather cartooning trail for a decade accompanied by Ole Sol and Sammy Seagull, to name a few.
Bob Cram continued the cartooning tradition through the 60's and into the early 70's, and successfully brought another entire group of characters on the scene.
Robin Hall, Cram's daughter, still remembers that crew including Onshore Flo, always bringing clouds in, Tondaleo Schmidlap, a cranky landlady who wore a housecoat and curlers in her hair and always had a cigarette in her mouth and complained about the weather, and Big Hi, who usually brought the gift of the sun.
Cram was asked to study up on weather but he decided to move on, sticking to things he loved, like skiing and cartooning. In fact, the inside of the old lodge at Crystal Mountain was covered with his skiing cartoons.
About this time the weather forecasters had a changing look, sometimes looking like they had just left the disco floor.
The graphics gradually improved during the 1980's and early 1990's, as did the underlying weather technology, but we were still forecasting from paper maps and serenaded by the sound of dot matrix printers.
Meteorologists still had trouble seeing the details of Washington's complex microclimates, but that all changed in 1994 when KING 5 installed the first operational Doppler radar in Puget Sound at Sea-Tac.
The same year we introduced the SchoolNet automated weather stations located at schools – in neighborhoods where people live, not out at the few airports around the region. That network has now grown to more than 150 stations around the state.
This innovation continues today. KING 5 helps fund ongoing research into Northwest weather at the University of Washington and is the only local station to integrate the high-resolution computer model output into its on-air graphics
But broadcasting the weather isn't all science even today; being out in the weather is one of our favorite things to do.
That tradition started early with Hale, who did weather live from the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. One of our viewers, Tim Quigley form Bremerton, was at the World's Fair with his high school girlfriend and watched Hale draw the weather. Afterward, Hale tore off the drawing and handed it to them. They carried the huge poster board around the rest of the day at the fair and Quigley stored it in his garage for over 50 years.
This spring Quigley cleaned out his garage and asked us if we would like the drawing, and he was kind enough to drop it off.
It turns out it may be the only surviving piece of Hale's on-air artwork. Sadly, the same is true of Cram's on-air weather work. His daughter has only two of his weather cartoons.
One of our favorite place to be out in the weather used to be our rooftop weather garden at the old station with its classic birdhouse built by Captain Phil Harris of Deadliest Catch fame.
Of course, going outside was never without risk – even in the roof garden especially when we were attacked by nesting crows who didn't like us around their babies, or maybe they just didn't like our forecasts.
Chapter seven: Programming spotlights civic commitment
KING’s earliest shows included educational children’s programming.
Keep in mind that television was a “startup” industry in the late 1940’s. Few people had television sets, which sold for around $192 to $399 for a small, seven-inch screen in a wooden console. The programming had to be locally produced, since transporting filmed performances was cumbersome and prohibitively expensive.
Deciding what to put in those locally produced shows was always an experiment. KING was dedicated to informing and educating the public, so children’s shows were logical choices. Long before Fred Rogers sang about his neighborhood, Ruth Prins as Wunda Wunda used music and puppets to engage children and earn a prestigious Peabody Award. Stan Boreson offered Scandinavian hospitality in his Clubhouse.
The 1960’s brought a news program called Face to Face to KING. Produced by Jean Walkinshaw, one of the first female documentary producers in the Northwest, the show focused on the social changes rocking the city. It was the region’s first television program hosted by an African American, Roberta Byrd Barr.
“Roberta was wonderful on camera,” said Walkinshaw. “She was acerbic, she was angry, and the print press really loved her. The goal of the program was to show people of all different backgrounds, all different races, showing a different segment of society from what one usually saw.”
As informative as the program was, it wasn’t always profitable. KING’s president at the time, Stimson Bullitt, stood firm that programming should be a community service.
“What he did wasn’t always good business from a bottom line standpoint,” said his daughter, Dorothy C. Bullitt. “The intent was deep civic commitment and civic courage.”
Programming on KING could also be fun.
Almost Live – a sketch-comedy show – began a 15-year stretch in 1984, launching the careers of host John Keister, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and TV actor Joel McHale.
Evening came to KING in 1986, part of a multi-station network generating features of interesting people and places. Today, the network is gone, but Evening remains. Thirty-two years and cases of awards later, Evening continues to innovate.
“They really do encourage you to be really innovative,” said Evening co-host Jim Dever, who’s been at KING since 1991. “We are really trying to do something different, and this is the place to do it.”
Chapter eight: Go, fight, win!
How Seattle became a sports town
The first-ever broadcast on KING television was a high school football game between West Seattle and Wenatchee in November 1948. Seventy years later, high school football is still king, but along that 70-year timeline, the station broadcasted numerous, locally produced sporting events.
Events ranged from something as simple as an in-studio boxing match in the 1950's to a six-hour broadcast of the hydros 30 years later. Along the way, there were colorful personalities to help bring those events to viewers’ living rooms.
Over the years, the arrival of pro franchises helped Seattle evolve into a bonafide sports town.
When the Mariners arrived in 1977, KING partnered with the team to broadcast games during the Mariners’ first years in the majors. KING also had broadcast partnerships with the Sonics and Seahawks, airing the Mike Holmgren show and the Pete Carroll show, which gave fans an exclusive look at the Hawks during prime time on Sunday nights. When the Sounders came to town in 2009, KING produced a weekly show with the team, starring Seattle soccer legend Alan Hinton.
The excitement of pro sports ushered in a new era of sportscasters at KING 5, led by Don Poier. When Tony Ventrella took over in 1982, he spent the next decade redefining the role of sports director at KING. Lou Gellos covered some of the biggest names in Seattle sports in the 1980's, including Brian Bosworth, who once sued the NFL for the right to wear his college number 44 in the pros. In 1996, Akemi Takei became the second female sportscaster at KING.
Through all of KING's professional personalities, it's the amateur stars who have really shined. A weekly Prep Zone features outstanding prep athletes, and the high school sports show “The Blitz” just wrapped up its 306th episode.
Chapter nine: Service to the community
KING has served its local community, acting as a watchdog and offering a platform for discussion.
KING’s service to the community is reflected in a variety of ways.
Founder Dorothy Bullitt’s first dream was to broadcast classical music on the radio. The first year, 1948, was a bust. Her check to the Hooper audience rating bureau was returned, along with a note saying they couldn’t find any listeners! By the time the Bullitt family donated KING FM to the arts community in 1994, it was easily worth $25 million and had a worldwide audience, thanks to the internet.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, KING aired company commentaries, often aimed at getting citizens to participate in the civic life of their communities. Initially done by management, the commentaries were eventually written and delivered by news employees.
Charles Royer arrived in 1971 and delivered commentaries for six years before serving three terms as Seattle’s mayor. Others who offered commentary were Don McGaffin and Bob Simmons. Former NBC correspondent Jim Compton offered perspective on The Compton Report for 10 years. He was elected to the Seattle City Council in 1999.
Cheering them on was KING’s charismatic president for 16 years, Ancil Payne.
“Ancil could work a room quite well,” said former KING CEO Steve Clifford, who took over when Payne retired. “He was a very astute person and he was totally committed to the idea of TV being a public service.”
Politics was a major focus for KING. News anchor Mike James covered the Republican National Convention in Dallas in 1984, where President Ronald Reagan was re-nominated for a second term.
For 11 years in the early 2000’s Up Front with Robert Mak explored political issues and vetted campaign ads in its wildly popular “Ad Watch.”
“You put it on display, and you break it up, and you explicate it, and you tell everything you can about it,” “Ad Watch” Producer Michael Cate said. “You look at all the claims, and people enjoy that!”
Northwest Cable News became the first regional outlet to provide live statewide caucus coverage in 2004. It was so innovative, it won the station a regional Emmy.
“It really invigorated the community to understand the politics of their own state,” said former Director of Operations Larry Blackstock. “It helped people get involved more.”
KING didn’t ignore the thriving performing arts community. In the 1980’s, KING had two arts and entertainment editors – Lucy Mohl, who did films, and Greg Palmer, who did theater and whatever struck his fancy.
Communities of color were embraced for nine years in the mid 1980’s to 1990’s on Celebrate the Differences hosted by Enrique Cerna and Lori Matsukawa.
And communities hit by disaster, hunger, or violence were supported by KING telethons, drives, and town halls.
But at KING, the pinnacle of public service is investigative journalism.
From the very early years until today, KING reporters exposed policies and agencies that hurt people and especially, taxpayers.
“The reason we come to work every day and have this (investigative) unit is to enact change for the better in our communities,” said chief investigative reporter Susannah Frame.
For example, former investigator Linda Byron’s exposure of a statewide backlog of untested rape kits eventually led to legislation to process them. Investigator Chris Ingalls’ exposure of food stamp fraud led to several arrests and more policing. And Frame’s investigation of Hanford nuclear workers’ exposure to toxic vapors led to a historic settlement between the feds and the state of Washington.
“Today, if someone were to ask me, ‘Oh what kind of business are you in?’ One of the first things that would fall out of my mouth is: I’m in public service,” said Frame. “And I am so grateful that KING TV has given that gift to me.”
Chapter ten: Virtual reality and beyond
Fully immerse yourself in storytelling
As KING turns the corner on the first 70 years, the future of visual storytelling is very promising. New technologies and simpler, more compact cameras create a world of possibilities.
Of the many technologies out there, virtual reality is one that has really stood out as an immersive form of storytelling. While still in its infancy, what we’ll experience through visual and audible experiences in the near future will be incredible.
Editor’s note: View this video in the YouTube app on a mobile device and tilt the device to move around within the video. Watch it on a virtual reality headset or Google Cardboard to experience it in 3D.
KING 5's Rich Marriott and Mark Feijo contributed.