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Happy 50th Anniversary WXIX! Thanks For The Gift

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Courtesy Media Heritage
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WXIX-TV bumper sticker.

WXIX-TV added to its rich history – which started 50 years ago today with Larry Smith's puppets and the Cool Ghoul movie host on the city's first independent station – by adding the ION network on digital subchannel 19.4 on its anniversary.

It's the first time ION has ever been available over-the-air here, due to Cincinnati's lack of TV channels compared to similar size markets. (It all goes back to the 1954 TV allocations, and how Cincinnati is penned in by signals in Dayton, Columbus and Louisville. Don't ask.)

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Credit John Kiesewetter
Larry Smith's Rudy and Teaser puppets were displayed with a Smith photo at the downtown public library last December.

On Aug. 1, 1968, Cincinnati saw its first new TV station in 14 years with the debut of WXIX-TV, licensed to Newport, Ky., and Cincinnati. In the 1950s, owners of Newport's WNOP-AM (740 AM) planned to add a TV station as Channel 74. It never happened.

The first WXIX-TV stars were Smith and his puppets (now on display at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting in West Chester Township), and radio veteran Dick Von Hoene hosting Saturday night movies as the "Cool Ghoul." Comedian Michael Flannery hosted the Club Nineteen afternoon kids' show.

As an independent station, Channel 19 attracted viewers with movies and first-run syndicated shows like Louise Lasser's Mary Hartman and Martin Mull's wacky Fernwood 2-Night. Mary Hartman was so popular that it had more viewers at 11 p.m. than WKRC-TV's news.

In 1986, Channel 19 changed Cincinnati's TV landscape by affiliating with Fox, and launching  The Late Show with Joan Rivers on Oct. 9, 1986, and Married…. With Children on April 5, 1987.

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Credit Courtesy Fox Broadcasting
'The Simpsons' 2017 cast publicity photo.

The Simpsons, after appearing on the Tracey Ullman Show, debuted as a Fox series on Dec. 17, 1989. Cincinnati's Fox 19 quickly became one of the network's strongest stations (which made it very easy for me to get interviews with Fox stars).

The robust ratings convinced Channel 19's owners to launch the city's first 10 p.m. news 25 years ago, on Oct. 18 1993.

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Credit Courtesy CBS
Chris O'Donnell (left) and LL Cool J (right) star in CBS' 'NCIS: Los Angeles.'

For the 50th anniversary, WXIX-TV added ION, started in 1988 as the family-oriented PAX TV network by Lowell "Bud" Paxson. It was rebranded as ION ("Positively Entertaining") in 2007. The lineup includes reruns of:

Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, NCIS: Los Angeles, Criminal Minds, Leverage, Blue Bloods, Saving Hope, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, White Collar,  and Animal Science.

"At WXIX, we saw a great opportunity to bring ION’s strong programming lineup to Cincinnati viewers," said Debbie Bush, vice president and general manager, in the station's announcement. "These dramas are among some of the highest-rated programs in prime time, and we know they’ll be popular with Tri-State viewers looking for contemporary, high-quality programming on the growing number of digital subchannels."

Viewers who watch over-the-air with an antenna will not need to rescan their televisions to receive ION from WXIX-TV, she said. ION will automatically show up on their broadcast television channel lineup on 19.4.