13 WREX has been a fixture in the Rockford area since the early days of television.
The station went on the air with test pattern on September 18, 1953 and commenced commercial operations October 1, 1953. An application was filed in July 1952, by licensee, Greater Rockford Television, Inc., May 13, 1953. Principal stockholders included L.E. Caster, President, Joe M.Baisch, Vice President, Swan Hillman, Treasurer, Stanley H. Guyer, Secretary, A.J. Bilardello, Sales Manager, H.R. Television, Inc. Soren Munkhof was the first General Manager.
The station’s call letters were dedicated in memory to Rex N. Caster, the son of L.E. Caster, President of Greater Rockford Television, Inc. Rex Caster, 1st Lieutenant U.S. Army, was killed at St. Lo. France in 1944 during the Second World War. He was awarded the Silver Star Posthumously for gallantry in action. A plaque bearing his story still greets visitors at the entrance to the station today.
From the start of its operations, WREX was affiliated with the CBS and ABC networks. The station’s original network affiliation was ABC-CBS Dumont. However in 1965, the station relinquished the CBS affiliation to WCEE and Dumont was eventually dropped. The station remained the ABC affiliate from 1954 until August 1995 when it became the NBC affiliate. The Lion and Crown were WREX logos for the first decade of its existence. While network affiliation has changed throughout the years, our call letters and channel number have been the same since 1953. By 2002, the station will add a new channel number when it begins broadcasting both digital (ch. 54) and analog (ch.13) signals.
In 1963, The Gannett Group purchased 13 WREX. Paul Miller of Rochester, New York became President. Joe M. Baisch was Vice President/General Manager.
Three years later in 1966, 13 WREX was the first area station with complete local color equipment, including two new “live” GE studio color cameras and Ampex high-band videotape recorders. The station used this technology to cover local events ranging from the Junior Pony League World Series to High School graduations at the Coronado Theatre.
In 1967, a tornado devastated Belvidere, IL and local stations banded together for “Operation Belvidere Telethon,” a fund raising effort to give much needed aid to victims of the storm. The live show originated from the WREX studios and featured many local acts. Help poured in from across the Stateline area.
The station was purchased by Gilmore Broadcasting Corporation in 1969 with James S. Gilmore, Jr. as President. Other stations owned by the Gilmore Broadcasting Corp. included WEHT-TV, Evansville, Ind., WSVA-TV, AM,FM in Harrisonburg, VA and KODE-TV, AM in Joplin, MO. Jack Mazzie was General Manager at 13WREX.
Throughout its history, WREX has been visited by some of the biggest names in television, including Milton Berle, Carol Channing and the “Dynamic Duo”: Batman & Robin.