International Free and Accepted Modern Masons, Inc. under the leadership of Dr. William V. Banks purchased WGPR TV62 in Detroit in 1974. It was the first TV Station in the United States to be independently owned and operated by African Americans.
WGPR-TV62 first aired in Detroit, Michigan at noon on September 29, 1975, with recorded greetings from United Stated President Gerald R. Ford and Senator Robert P. Griffin. Ford said in his address, “WGPR will serve as a symbol of successful Black enterprise. This is truly a landmark, not only for the broadcasting industry but for American society… I only wish I could be with you in person as WGPR goes on the air.“
“WGPR- TV will be the one station especially dedicated to serving the Black community and other minority groups,” said Dr. Banks. “The program schedule will provide in-depth penetration into the problems, goals, aspirations and achievements of Blacks and related ethnic groups. WGPR- TV will be entertaining, educational and totally committed to community and public service.”
Construction took nearly two years, in part because lenders were unwilling to loan money to finance the station’s start-up. However, work accelerated in 1975 after International Masons sold real estate holdings elsewhere to finance operations. A former industrial office building at 3146 East Jefferson Avenue was purchased to house WGPR radio and television, while federal government support expedited the purchase of steel necessary to erect a new transmitter facility.
The Detroit Free Press hailed the station’s sign-on in an October 3, 1975, editorial as “a new dimension and added stature to the area’s entire telecommunications industry“
The Federal Communications Committee unanimously voted to permit Dr. Banks to operate UHF Channel 62 in Detroit after WGPR, Inc. demonstrated it had the financial resources to guarantee the million dollars needed for the first-year operation.
Dr. Banks noted in addition to meeting the FCC requirements, the station was able to boast $123,000 in advertising pledges for the first 12-month operation. He said advertising commitments had been received from General Motors Corporation, $25,000; Ford Motor Company, $25,000; Old Pro Clothes, $30,000; Sears Roebuck and Co., $25,000; Chrysler Corporation, $10,000; and the K-Mart division of S.S. Kreage Company, $8,000. – Source: Jet Magazine
The station was equipped with the latest production facilities and studios for video taping and live presentations at that time. Dr. Banks said 90% of the station’s programming will be locally produced and of special interest to Blacks but should interest whites as well.
There were so many programs and shows that received their first start on WGPR TV62 One show, the live dance music program The Scene, drew on the success of WGPR radio and was among its most successful; cars would sometimes line-up on Jefferson Avenue to see the stars arrive for tapings.
A full-time talent coordinator was responsible for fielding mail-in requests for prospective on-stage dancers and booking singers and musical acts. James Brown, The Gap Band, The Time and Jermaine Jackson were among the program’s most notable musical guests. Prince, then a part of The Time, had also been heavily promoted on WGPR-FM, with several gold records given to the stations from both he and the band.
Panagos tapped Pat Harvey, who joined WGPR-TV in 1976 as a sales assistant, to be Morris’s fill-in host dubbed “The Disco Lady“. Another early show, Rolling Funk, also featured dance music but in a roller derby environment, taped at an Inkster roller rink. WGPR-TV62 lured Jerry Blocker away from WWJ-TV (Channel 4), and he became Detroit’s first Black newsman in 1967.
The WGPR-TV Historical Society is a registered 501 (3)(c) non-profit established by former WGPR employees, many of whom launched their careers at the station. The WGPR TV-62 Historical Society established and operates the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum. Over a 24 month period the Society collected photographs, oral histories, artifacts and memorabilia on station history. They worked with a museum designer to create exhibit that was first seen at the Detroit Historical Museum’s Community Gallery from January to April of 2016. The exhibit story panels were designed to be portable and were stored while the original studio of TV62 was converted and renovated to create space for the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum & Media Center. Sponsorship support from the International Masons and WGPR Radio Inc. made this possible.
In the span of six years, the Detroit Historical Society went from organizing as a non-profit to opening a museum. On January 2017, the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum & Media Center officially opened on in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
For 20 years, the TV station produced programming and content responsive to the needs of African Americans in Detroit. Unfortunately, on July 25, 1995, WGPR-TV was sold to CBS.