Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Phantom Broadcast

KLEE-TV was the first television station in Houston, Texas, and the 12th in the nation. Constructed in 1949, it was purchased one year later by the publishers of the Houston Post to compliment their radio station. In light of this change in management, the station's call letters were later changed KPRC-TV.

Nothing worthy of the Hyper-Kitchen's notice happened at station KPRC until 1953, when they received a letter from Britain addressed to the "president of KLEE." Enclosed was a photograph of a television set displaying the KLEE station identification card. The accompanying letter explained that the picture was taken on September 14th, 1953 and requested an explanation. The station was baffled. Disregarding that the signal could not have possibly travelled all the way to the UK, and that American and British television receivers were incompatible, the KLEE identification card had not been used since the Post had bought the station.

The photographs were examined and deemed genuine. As various engineers and television experts tried to determine how the incident had happened, word got out. An article was written about the KLEE photo in a 1958 issue of Reader's Digest, and C.B. Colby devoted a chapter to KLEE in his 1959 book "Strangely Enough!". From there the story spread via word of mouth, and as per usual, was distorted with each retelling. Certain facts were ignored and fallacies were inserted. The details of the case were exaggerated; now the KLEE ID card had been seen by "viewers in many parts of England" and KLEE had been "off the air for years." It had developed a feel similar to a ghost story, with a phantom broadcast in the place of any undead specter. Perhaps this is why the story has endured for so long.

The staff at KPRC responded to the letter they received, asking for more information. The response was bizarre; little more than an advertisement for a mythical "super-heterodyne" television set that could receive signals over vast distances. Comparing notes with other television stations across the country, KPRC found that the others had received similar letters and photographs, and concluded that an unknown party in Britain had concocted the stunt to scam people into purchasing their non-existent "super-heterodyne" television sets. Whoever they were, they were relying upon out-of-date information, which explained why the picture showed the KLEE ID card and not KPRC.

It is deeply unfortunate that such a strange little mystery must be revealed as a mere hoax. The old phrase "the truth is stranger than fiction," is not so often the case.

Would you like to know more?
-The ever-intrepid Snopes.Com examines KLEE
-For whatever its worth, the official site of KPRC-TV, formerly KLEE-TV
-Buy C.B Colby's "Strangely Enough!" for a single cent (a steal)

1 comment:

  1. Thought you might like this, if you haven't already seen it.