Over 75 WDEF-TV Employees, Former Staff Celebrate Station's 70th Anniversary

  • Sunday, May 26, 2024
  • Earl Freudenberg

Over 75 former and current employees gathered in the WDEF TV studio B on S. Broad Street Saturday to celebrate Chattanooga’s first television station's 70th anniversary.

The event was organized by retired program director Doris Ellis, who worked at the legendary station for 50 years. Ms. Ellis said, “I wanted to see many current and former employees gather, share stories and enjoy a delicious B-B-Q meal."

Those attending included Judy Corn, who was co-host of the station's popular Morning Show with Harry Thornton for nearly 12 years. Ms. Corn said, “Harry Thornton was probably the most controversial TV host in Chattanooga television history, but he also had a tender side. I have great memories of that period of my life.”

Memories were shared by former Morning Show hosts Helen Hardin and Doug Fisher. Ms. Hardin left the TV station to work as congressional chief of staff for Zach Wamp. Fisher was a veteran of the Chattanooga Police Department and later worked in Erlanger Medical Center administration.

Also in attendance were Ben Cagle, who served as both WDEF Radio and TV manager, and Bob Lee, popular TV news anchor.

Former sales manager Ralph Dawn, who worked at the station for 22 years, remembered walking the downtown streets selling ads. Dawn later operated an advertising agency for nearly 30 years and bought advertising on WDEF TV.

Mary Caldwell, widow of the late sales manager Bert Caldwell, was also in attendance.

Ricky McCain has worked at WDEF TV for nearly 50 years and is the station’s current chief engineer. He remembered some of those early days and the station’s first live shot of the Riverbend Festival.

David Moore has been with WDEF TV since 1979. Although he still covers stories, Moore serves as the station’s news operations manager.

Veteran sportscaster Randy Smith recalled his days at WDEF TV as sports director. Smith has fond memories of reporting on Friday night football, and his friendship with Tennessee Temple University Coach the late Ron Bishop. Smith now writes for the Chattanoogan.com.

News anchor Kay Blevins visited with some of the former lady employees including Helen Hardin, Rachel Oesch, Fran Shepherd, Margie Scott, Betty Crabtree and Donna Youngblood.

Chip Chapman served as master of ceremonies. Chapman has worked in broadcasting for over 42 years and is currently co-host of the station’s morning team.

Retired Chattanooga City Court Judge Russell Bean was special guest. The judge said he remembered watching the test pattern for a couple of weeks in anticipation of the station going on the air in 1954.

General Manager Dan Howard said the station was very proud to host the reunion. Howard said he hadn’t seen an event like this before and he thanked current and former employees for their hundreds of years of service to the iconic TV station.

WDEF TV signed on the air from the Volunteer Building in downtown Chattanooga on April 25, 1954. The studio moved to the old Glass House Restaurant building at 33rd and Broad Street in 1957.

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