KPLR-TV was founded by the late Harold Koplar, (warmly known as HK); owner of St. Louis’ famed Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis’ Central West End. HK, the entertainment impresario who made The Chase Club one of the top three venues in the country for big-name entertainers in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He originally envisioned the new medium of television as an extension of his entertainment complex. He and other prominent St. Louisans participated in naming the company, 220 Television, Inc. CBS had originally applied for Channel 11 in St. Louis in 1953 and was given a grant in 1957, but later that year, the network purchased KWK-TV, Channel 4. Surviving 10 years of FCC Hearings and legal challenges, Koplar won the broadcast license for Channel 11 over 4 competing applicants. The idea to locate Channel 11 physically close to the two Koplar hotels was conceived jointly by Koplar and James L. Caddigan, Executive Vice-President and General Manager of KPLR-TV. The two officials saw the possibilities for production facilities in the city’s leading hotels, with existing “sets” that could not be duplicated except at prohibitive cost. Special events, like the Veiled Prophet Queen’s supper, as well as St. Louis Symphony concerts originating from the Khorassan Room were telecast live. They began to plan the location of the offices and studio in close conjunction. The first two floors of the Chase Apartments at Lindell and York were cleared for office space. The sound stage studio (65′ x 75′) was located at the rear of these apartments, abutting the glass-windowed end of the Chase Hotel’s Khorassan Room.
Beneath the floor of the sound stage was an ice rink for special telecasts of “ice extravaganzas.” Sixteen rooms in the hotels were permanently wired for telecasting. The station’s facilities also included a bowling alley. Every facility for production of programs and commercials, live and videotaped, was available. The entire area was named “Video City,” the production center of the Midwest. It was the earnest desire of the officers and directors of KPLR-TV, from President Harold Koplar throughout the entire company, to give St. Louis area residents fresh, entertaining local television and to serve the needs of the public interest with intelligent, informative programming.
KPLR-TV was the first VHF “Independent” television station ( meaning it was not affiliated with a national television network) in St. Louis. By 1997, as measured by Nielsen television ratings, KPLR-TV was the number one-ranked independent television station in the country. That success, however, did not come easily. In a network-dominated environment, many early Independents failed. On April 28, 1959, Harold Koplar signed his new television station on the air, with a live telecast of a St. Louis Cardinals vs Cincinnati Redlegs baseball game. Over the years, the station featured many famous broadcasters like Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, Bob Costas and Joe Buck. The inaugural outing was to become the first in a series of “firsts” to which KPLR-TV could lay claim in the years to come. In the station’s early years, necessity was truly “the mother of invention.” The first Independents had to produce most of their own programming. HK personally developed the concepts for a number of the station’s initial programs, including the very popular “Captain 11’s Showboat,” which was hosted by Harry Fender, and featured a daily trip down the Mississippi River with stops along the way at Cartoonville, Funnytown, Adventure Town and Suspenseville. It also incorporated film programs such as Ramar, Huckleberry Hound and the Three Stooges. Live audience participation, gifts and guest personalities are added features of the show. “Wrestling at the Chase,” was also a feature program, and along with the “Showboat,” both programs were destined to become St. Louis television classics. Newscasts were often telecast from the lobby of the Chase Hotel, and occasionally relocated to the hotel’s outdoor pool, with a “bobbing” anchorman in an innertube! The need for local production capabilities led HK to create the “Videocruiser,” St. Louis’ first mobile remote production vehicle, which enabled KPLR-TV to cover area news, community events, and local high school and college sports, in an innovative and effective way. TESA (Television and Electronic News Association) called it “ a striking example of the aggressive quality of KPLR-TV’s imaginative, active spirit. Continuing in this spirit, the station erected the first German-built antenna in the nation, giving KPLR-TV 30% more basic coverage to area residents.
KPLR-TV soon added the following to its list of “firsts”: the first station in St. Louis to convert from film to videotape recording equipment; first St. Louis station to install a Kart machine, to improve commercial efficiency and on-air look. In the programming area, the station enhanced its image as St. Louis’ “hometown” station with the addition of St. Louis Hawks Basketball and St. Louis Blues Hockey to its line-up. Many retailers and advertisers like Steve Mizerany and Bill Geisz began using television to increase business, producing their commercials right in the KPLR studios.
HK’s son, Edward J. (Ted) Koplar, then 16, became fascinated with his father’s growing business. After learning the business as an apprentice during his high school and college summers, Ted Koplar became a full-time employee of KPLR-TV in the mid-1960’s. His first assignment included producing and directing a number of sporting events, telethons, community interest and news/information programs. He was later promoted to Vice President of Programming. His initiatives as Program Director contributed significantly to the station’s growth: he personally developed KPLR-TV’s first 30-minute newscast and within three years after its inception, “KPLR NewsWatch” was the number one rated Independent television newscast in the country; he initiated the move to install a satellite receive dish, making KPLR-TV the first broadcast facility in the country licensed by the FCC to own and operate a satellite earth station; and he achieved his goal of creating the best feature film library in the St. Louis market. This coupled with purchases of top-quality off-network programming, helped to increase KPLR-TV’s audience share from a 7 to a 19 in four years.
On a national level, KPLR-TV became a leader in the Independent television community from the beginning. It was a founding member of The Association of Independent Television Stations (originally INTV) and of The Independent Television News Association (ITNA); two organizations, which were instrumental in helping Independent stations throughout the country, achieve parity with network affiliates.
Ted Koplar was named President of Koplar Communications, Inc. in April of 1979. Following that, in 1980, KPLR-TV became the first St. Louis television station to convert to 1-inch, network quality videotape equipment. In 1983, the station installed the area’s first and only satellite uplink transmission facility, making KPLR-TV one of the busiest teleports in the Midwest, for news and sports transmissions. Then, in 1984, KPLR-TV became the first in St. Louis, (and one of the first in the country,) to convert to full stereo sound. Ted Koplar, along with his station’s general manager, Barry Baker, won back the exclusive broadcast rights to telecast St. Louis Cardinals Baseball. The return of the Cardinals to KPLR-TV in 1988 after a 25-year absence, helped elevate the station to the number one Independent station in the country by July 1989.
Koplar also distinguished himself on the home front by focusing on local, family-friendly programming like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Family Ties.” In 1990 the station wanted to bring back locally produced children’s programming, so the St. Louis 11 Kids Club was established. Hosted by local comedian, Buzz Sutherland, segments included fun games and lessons for kids. Long before there was an “American Idol” program, Koplar promoted area talent through KPLR-TV’s “Team 11,” a group of young singers and dancers who represented the station through public appearances in schools and at community events. Many of those young adults went on to national careers in broadcasting: Victoria Recano, “The Insider”, Nikko Smith “American Idol”, Nikki Boyer, TV Guide Channel’s “Watch This” and Red Carpet Countdowns, Amy Ehrlich, Nickelodeon’s “Roundhouse” and Broadway’s original cast of “Fame.” The station also featured a “Kids Club Crew,” consisting of three young adults who hosted interstitial programming during the two-hour block of weekday children’s shows. The Crew visited local schools and presented a program called “Positude,” promoting self-esteem and positive attitudes. One favorite feature was “Mary Mary,” starring Mary Hall a longtime employee of the Koplar family. Mary gave children insight as to what life was like growing up in the 1920’s. “Louie” a sun conure was the Kids Club mascot. At one time, the Kids Club topped over 150,000 members, between the ages of 2 and 12. Weekly in-studio tapings brought in a live audience of children where they participated in interactive games and lessons. These tapings were so popular that there was a 2-year waiting list of groups wanting to participate.
In 1995, KPLR-TV went from being the top Independent station in the country to the #1 Warner Bros. Television Network (WB) affiliate in the country, airing family favorite programming like “7th Heaven” and “Reba”. Continuing the reputation for acquiring all of the nation’s top syndicated programming, the station added hits such as “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “King of Queens,” “Family Guy,” “Sex and the City” and “Two and a Half Men.” Since the beginning, Community Service has always been a priority for KPLR. The station has built relationships with, raised funds for and featured stories on non-profit organizations such as The Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), Junior Achievement, Heat Up St. Louis, Matthews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club, The American Red Cross, and many, many more.
In May of 1996, KPLR-TV became the first television station in St. Louis on the World Wide Web. In 1997, Ted Koplar sold the station to ACME Television Holdings, Inc., a broadcast group created by Jamie Kellner, then President of The WB Television Network. Over the 10 years of the network’s existence, the station was frequently the #1 rated WB affiliate in the country. Kellner sold the station to Tribune Broadcasting in 2003, and it remains the current owner.
In the fall of 2006, CBS, which owned the UPN network, and Warner Bros., which had the WB, merged to form The CW Television Network, and KPLR-TV was declared the affiliate in St. Louis. The “C” in CW stands for CBS and the “W” represents Warner Bros. Today, CW 11 programs a strong schedule of news, sports and entertainment. KPLR’s digital signal is available on KPLR-DT 11.1, with more than 11 hours of high definition CW programming every week.