EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — New Year’s Day marks a major milestone in the history of WBRE-TV. It’s the 70th Anniversary of when Channel 28 became the first local television station to sign on the air.

The Pioneer Station is a fitting description of WBRE-TV for what it accomplished at 11:58 AM on January 1, 1953.

It became Northeastern Pennsylvania’s first TV station to sign on the air. Television was a grand experiment and a fascinating one.

“Everything we did was of interest because it was all there was,” said David Baltimore, Co-Founder of WBRE.

David Baltimore, his father Louis, and Chief Engineer Chuck Sakoski Sr. worked behind the scenes of the Baltimore family-owned TV station which became a network affiliate of NBC.

“The network started out only a few hours a day originally and expanded hour by hour into the afternoon and then into the morning and as they did they left us periods where we had to program and we looked for what we could find,” David said.

That need paved the way for original programming in the 1950s including Roscoe the Clown featuring Frank Labarr in face paint.

He, like most on-air talent then, had professional roots in radio. Local news was also up and running thanks to pioneer newscasters Franklin D. Coslett and Jerry Baum, and Tom Bigler.

Weatherman Joe Scott became a household name. He also appeared in a show called Magic Carpet. He wasn’t alone when it came to versatility.

“We might be a camera person, we might possibly be a director, we would certainly produce programs, and then we would announce them or appear on air in the guise of a newscaster,” said Coslett.

Evolutionary would become revolutionary in the 1970s with live capabilities from the scene of local news but before that happened, disaster struck in 1972.

WBRE’s downtown Wilkes-Barre headquarters were flooded by remnants of Hurricane Agnes. The TV station managed to stay on the air thanks to technology and willpower.

“We loaded a color camera and a few other things that we could salvage and as we were going up Northampton Street from Franklin, the water was right behind us. We hauled this up to the mountain so that we could stay on the air,” said Chuck Sakoski Jr., Former Broadcast Engineering Supervisor.

In September 2011, WBRE evacuated its studio yet again but thanks to a then-partnership with FOX 56, managed to stay on the air.

The technology has changed through the decades at WBRE. So have the faces, but each has left an indelible mark in their own way.

Anchors like Kathy Bozinski and Dawn Timmeney and many others.

Candice Kelly has been a constant presence on the nightside anchor desk for the past 14 years.

“I’m honored to be even a small, little part of it because there have been so many people in this community that have covered very important stories and life-changing events in our area and people will remember back when it happened how they received that news,” Kelly said.

Andy Mehalshick and Candice Kelly hold the honor of being the two longest-serving on-air reporters and anchors in WBRE-TV history.

“To be part of Eyewitness News, to be part of this great tradition, I grew up watching Eyewitness News. The Franklin D. Cosletts, the Keith Martins, the Vic Vetters, all the crew over the years. Vince Sweeneys, Joe Scotts,” said Andy Mehalshick.

Some like Keith Martin left a mark on colleagues as much as they did on viewers.

“He wanted to get it right and he cared about the community, Mark. And he really took to heart. You know, we’re doing a job. We’re not robots,” Mehalshick said.

Jim Miller and Sid Michaels, unbeatable as a sports team and inseparable in our memories, embodied commitment to their craft.

“They lived and breathed Eyewitness Sports. It wasn’t just about putting on a good show. It was about telling the story of our local athletes and they really cared about locals. I think Jim and Sid brought local sports to the next level,” said Mehalshick.

When it comes to iconic weathercasters, it would be tough to top Vince Sweeney and his popular jingle.

“Vince said it would be like this and you know, I talk to our Chief Meteorologist Josh Hodell now and he still hears it on the street. And it’s a tradition carried on. Yeah, it was a great slogan but it was the fact people turned to Eyewitness News for the weather. I mean they still do. The most accurate forecast. Now, we have so much greater tools and we have scientists running the weather department,” said Mehalshick. o

Yes, it’s been some kind of ride these past 70 years as the next chapter in WBRE history beckons.

“The way our business is changing so fast is head spinning. But I’m excited to be a part of what’s going to be coming up next and how we grow together as a community and a news station,” Kelly said.

Happy 70th anniversary, WBRE, and wishing you many, many more.

During its first couple of decades, WBRE would sign off each night with the playing of the national anthem.

Now, it broadcasts 24/7 and provides more than five and a half hours of local news programming each weekday.