A new television station made its debut in Austin August 17, 1953 with the call letters KMMT. It has been telecasting over channel 6 since that first day. The first TV Station Manager, L.L. McCurnin stated in a media release that the KMMT call letters really didn't stand for anything, they were just what the FCC selected from a list of suggested call letters submitted with the station application.
The original owners were three Austin businessmen, Martin Busted, Harry Smith and Palmer Ulland. At first it was a low power CBS/ABC/Dumont station. Its primary affiliation was CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting Company but it was also affiliated the ABC, the American Broadcasting System and Dumont. The debut newspaper ad for KMMT noted that they were serving a population of 500,000 in Southern MN and Northern Iowa. In late 1954 KMMT became, and continues to be, an exclusively ABC affiliate. At that time, ABC was the smallest of the three networks. The new television station shared a building with KAUS radio on Highway 105 South in Austin. It is the same site where KAUS AM/FM continues to operate today.
The very first KMMT broadcast was from 5:30 to 10:20 PM on August 17, 1953. According to an Austin Daily Herald newspaper article the first programming that viewers saw was a fifteen-minute organ recital by Eddic Schofield of Charles City, Iowa. He was the staff pianist for WHO TV in Des Moines and brought a Hammond organ to the TV studio for the event. The recital was followed by a mystery film entitled "$5 Tip" at 5:45 PM. Local news, weather and sports took the air from 6 to 6:30 PM. Entertainment programming was scheduled from 6:30 to 10 PM and the first programming day concluded with the news at 10:00 and the weather at 10:15 PM. Sign-off was at 10:20 PM. The second phase for expanding the programming day was planned for late September or early October to coincide with new fall network programs. The third, and final, phase of getting to full operation was based on cable hook-up to live programs from the networks.
KMMT did produce some local programs in addition to news, weather and sports. The Hemingway Talent Show was on the air in 1953 and 1954. Gloria Kopet was the station piano accompanist for the program as confirmed by Stan Stydnicki, former Vice-President of Operations. Pastor Joe Matt began recording THE FAMILY HOUR, his weekly religion program in the KAAL TV studio on May 1, 1955. It continued until April 2001 and as far as we know, it held a record as the longest running, locally produced religious program in the United States. THE FAMILY HOUR broadcasts ended with the retirement of Pastor Joe Matt.
Ownership changed hands between 1956 and 1957 when Blackhawk Broadcasting, based in Waterloo Iowa purchased KMMT. There were several significant milestones during the Blackhawk period of ownership. Buff Setterquist, better known as Uncle Robb, joined the KAUS staff in 1963. A short time later he started his own local program, THE UNCLE ROBB SHOW, designed to "appeal to anyone who could laugh". He claimed that it wasn't aimed at any specific age group. Color broadcasts began in 1967. The call letters were changed to KAUS in 1968. We began carrying the Jerry Lewis MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Labor Day Telethon in 1973 and continue to be an MDA station.
In 1974 the television station and KAUS radio became separate companies and in 1975 the call letters were changed to KAAL, representing AUSTIN and ALBERT LEA. In the same year, the TV station moved to its current facility at 1701 10th Place NE, just off Interstate 90 and the 11th Drive NE exit in Austin. The building was converted from the former Johnny Kaiser Volkswagon dealership and showroom.
In 1980 Blackhawk Broadcasting sold KAAL to News, Press and Gazette Company based in St. Joseph Missouri. Under the new ownership the news department was expanded and KAAL became the first station in the market to add equipment for live, on-the-scene news reporting and live production capability. Technical improvements also included converting to an SVHS videotape system, which was state-of-the-art at that time and the Traffic Department made the transition to computerized broadcast logs, billing and traffic orders.
This was the era during which KAAL TV made excellent use of our live and remote recording capabilities. We held the market distinction for being highly involved throughout the viewing area by presenting several live high school football and basketball games each season. We also produced and aired a live telecast of the Miss Minnesota Pageant final night of competition during prime time for eight consecutive years. It was a five-camera operation, live from Riverside Arena in Austin, and was up-linked to five other television stations in order to reach audience for all contestants participating in the state pageant. KAAL produced two other Miss MN Pageant specials during the week of competition hosted by TV-6 news anchors. They included a one-hour MISS MINNESOTA PAGEANT PREVIEW and thirty-minute MISS MINNESOTA PAGEANT OPENING NIGHT SPECIAL.
KAAL produced and aired a variety of holiday school concerts and documentaries on a wide range of topics. BRAVE IN THE ATTEMPT and A WORLD OF WINNERS (1984) created greater awareness about the Special Olympics programs and events in southern Minnesota and north Iowa. We focused on the impact of regional history with the ROCHESTER - A PROUD HERITAGE, a tribute to the citys 125th anniversary, A HOLIDAY AT MAYOWOOD (1984), LAURA INGALLS WILDER - AMERICAN PIONEER GIRL (1985).
December 1985 - Wooster Republican Printing Company/Dix Communications purchased KAAL. It operated under the name of MDM Broadcasting-Midwest KAAL Corp. One of the changes under this owner was that KAAL began broadcasting ABC programming in stereo in November 1990. Other technology and equipment upgrades included CCD cameras for all studio and ENG (Electronic News Gathering) work.
KAAL changed owners again in 1997 when Grapevine Communications, based in Atlanta Georgia, purchased it. Our official name became Grapevine Broadcasting of Austin. Under Grapevine ownership the news department made a transition to a computerized system. This was quickly followed by the close captioning of local newscasts to serve hearing-impaired viewers.
Grapevine Communications sold KAAL TV to GOCOM under the legal name, GOCOM of Austin License sub LLC effective January 1, 2000
One year later, Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. purchased KAAL TV from GOCOM effective January 1, 2001. Hubbard Broadcasting now owns all ABC Affiliates in MN including KSTP in Mpls/St.Paul, WDIO in Duluth, KAAL in Austin plus ABC satellite stations in Alexandria and Redwood Falls. KAAL's license is listed as KAAL TV LLC.