Chuck Conrad has discovered a way of combining two
of his hobbies: collecting radio and television equipment memorabilia
and collecting classic cars. Conrad, a member of the Greater Lakeport
Kiwanis Club, is owner of KZQX Radio at Chalk Hill (located near
Longview, TX). It's not some satellite fed music service. Everything
originates in Chalk Hill, Texas (near Longview) in their own studios.
KZQX started out as one of the first Low Power FM stations to be
authorized by the FCC to operate in Texas. The station has been on the
air since September 18, 2002. In the Fall of 2009, an opportunity opened
up top acquire a commercial frequency on 100.3 FM and the station moved,
probably becoming one of the first, if not the first LPFM stations to
make such a move.
A few years ago, Chuck discovered the existence of a Dumont Telecruiser,
which is one of the very first mobile TV production vehicles ever
manufactured. It was just sitting in a field near downtown Dallas. The
Telecruiser was known in Dallas as the "Golden Cruiser." It was
purchased originally by East Texas Oil Man Thomas Potter for his
television station KBTV. In 1949, Potter's KBTV, Channel 8, on Harry
Hines Boulevard, became the first television station located in Dallas.
In 1950, the Belo Corporation acquired KBTV and the call letters changed
to WFAA. The station is still providing news and entertainment to the
In 1948, Potter ordered the Telecruiser from Allen B. DuMont
Laboratories, who in turn had the Flxible (sic) Company custom build
the coach in 1949. The company manufactured smaller buses, ambulances
and motorcycle side cars, hence the name "Flxible." They found they
could not register the name spelled correctly, so they decided to drop
the "e". "They were used as mobile x-ray units and bloodmobiles," Conrad
said. "This is one of the very few, if not the only, mobile units from
that era left."
Potter's Flxible bus was outfitted with what was at the time, "state of
the art" equipment, by Allen B. DuMont Laboratories in Passaic, N.J.
DuMont was a pioneer in early television equipment on both the broadcast
and consumer levels. Among his accomplishments was perfecting the TV
picture tube, and operating his own TV network. He also built broadcast
equipment and high end TV's for discriminating buyers. A brass plaque
in the bus reads "DuMont Telecruiser, Model B Serial No.101."
"It's probably the only Flxible Telecruiser (sic) still in existence,"
Conrad said. During the late 1940s and 1950s, DuMont Laboratories lead
the way in radio and television technologies. Potter wanted his bus
outfitted with the best broadcasting equipment available. In fact, the
entire TV station was outfitted by DuMont.
The "Golden Cruiser," as it was known, was operated by KBTV and
subsequently WFAA until it was put to pasture, almost literally, in
1972. "People at Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum believe the Dumont
Telecruiser may have been used during part of the ABC TV/WFAA coverage
of the Kennedy Assassination," Conrad said. "Even if it wasn't, there is
a lot of Dallas history to it. (Editor's Note: Friends at
WFAA have provided us with some video that was actually shot from the
Telecruiser. Among the clips is the J.D Tippit funeral. Officer Tippit
was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy's assassin.
This funeral feed was distributed as a pool feed to network stations.)
It was used by WFAA-TV well into the early 1970's." Edward Terry
purchased the Telecruiser from WFAA at an auction. Conrad, in turn
purchased it from the Terry Estate. "That makes us the third owner,
perhaps the fourth owner, since Belo purchased the bus when they
acquired Channel 8 in 1950," Conrad said. "Mr. Terry intended to turn it
into a motor home, but never got that far." Terry apparently used it as
a traveling store, visiting numerous flea markets with it.
"To his credit, Mr. Terry saved most of the electronics that came with
the bus," Conrad said. "We are still missing quite a lot, but the
equipment we got from Mrs. Terry is certainly a good start to restoring
this to a working black and white TV Mobile Unit." That's Conrad's
goal: to get the Telecruiser restored to its original condition.
"At first I though it would be a three year job," he said. "That was
three years ago. So now I've added three more years."
The 28-foot van, carried all the equipment, including the three cameras
and the tripods used to hold them as well as all the cables and mics and
other necessary equipment. It was also used as the control room.
"The equipment I got with it is 1960s vintage," Conrad said. WFAA
updated the bus about 1960, and added new devices as they went along.
Original DuMont equipment is very hard, if not impossible to find.
Conrad only has one camera but has parts for two others. "I'm hoping
someone will call and tell me they've got some old television camera
parts," he said. Conrad said the vehicle was used to cover athletic
events, church services, parades and other local events. "There was no
breaking news with this vehicle," he said. "It doesn't have a generator
so you had to find a power supply and it used a lot of electricity." It
took a lot of pre-planning to get it into operation. He said networks
could rent it for special events, making it a profit center for the
The Telecruiser was not originally air conditioned, but at some point
external air conditioning ducts and a unit were added. Conrad plans to
return it to its original appearance, so the exposed duct work has gone
away. He plans to add air conditioning, but in a more tasteful and
discrete way that will not be visible to the casual observer.
"Strangely enough, it has its original engine - a Buick straight
eight," Conrad said. "It runs pretty good, considering." Most of the
original engines were replaced by larger more modern units a long time
ago. Very few Flxible busses still have their original running gear.
Conrad and friend and fellow Kiwanian John Morgan are working on gutting
the vehicle. "I want to get it a close to original inside and out as I
can," Conrad said. "I want to get it painted like it was originally. I'm
looking for someone with enthusiasm, willpower and the desire to do it
right. This is a long-term project. Finding vendors with a passion to do
the job correctly is more difficult than it might seem." After it's
restored to working order, Conrad plans to display it at some well known
national car shows. "I may use it as a novelty at some events, but
eventually I'll be looking for a home for it in a museum," Conrad said.