Walter Brownlow, who lived with his wife and children at 821 West Pine Street, was known for years as “Brownlow the Radio Man”. His radio shop at 411 West Walnut Street was a mainstay for the latest model radios and record players. He also repaired them when they burned out a tube or otherwise failed. It was a small wonder, then, that this neighbor would be so inventive as to be the first in northeast Tennessee to bring television to our homes.
In March of 1949, radio station WBT in Charlotte, NC, was granted a license to broadcast a television signal under the TV station call letters, WBTV – Channel 3. Sporadic trial and error eventually brought an hour or two of programming to far-flung areas. Walter seized the opportunity and erected a tall multi-element antenna in back of a house high up on Laurel Ave. He gave that property owner a free connection to the TV cable that left that tower and meandered down to the alleys of the Tree Streets. For a monthly fee, anyone could sign up with him to receive the first TV reception in our area. He also hoped you would purchase one of the many TV sets he had ordered. For people wanting TV reception and their own antenna, or those outside our neighborhood, he would test for a signal with his antenna system somewhere on the property of the customers.
In order to convince Johnson City residents that he could, indeed, capture the distant TV signal from Charlotte, he announced thru the newspaper that everyone could come to his home any evening and see TV on his little 10 inch screen. During hot weather, he placed 50 chairs in his backyard, placed his set in the open dining room window and entertained one and all. As the years passed, he sold the cable system and it was extended to the rest of Johnson City. Our current TV cable system, still on utility poles in our alleys, continues his innovative service that started in 1949.