70 years ago, KOLD became first TV station to sign on in Tucson

70 years ago, KOLD became the first TV station to sign on in Tucson.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 7:55 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 8:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Lucky 13, as it was known, was the first TV station to sign on in Tucson.

It happened at the 13th second, after the 13th minute and 13th hour on Jan. 13, 1953.

But anticipation began to build in the days before the official sign-on. The Arizona Daily Star headline on Jan. 11 read “TELEVISION COMES TO TUCSON.”

KOPO-TV, which four years later became to KOLD, was started by legendary cowboy Gene Autrey. He also owned KOOL in Phoenix.

As the signal flickered on for the very first time, the first thing Tucsonans saw was the Arizona Dance Hands, led by Dean Armstrong and 14-year-old singing sensation Laverne Davis.

“It was just such a big thing to me, exciting, and I was very nervous,” said Davis, now 84 years of age and married to David Lawrence. “I’m always very nervous before I play anyway. I was very nervous.”

And who wouldn’t be being part of something that was history-making and, at the time, certainly original. Her nerves gave way to something that she will always treasure.

“Thank God that I had the opportunity,” she said. “I think it was a pretty wonderful experience.”

She was already a star in Tucson performing on the radio and at music venues since the age of 10. Now, she hit the big time for Tucson.

“You’re in some kind of a high you know, excited, thrilled to be able to do it and grateful,” she said.

Even before the station signed on, the Daily Star ran pages of advertisements for television sets to get ready for the big day.

It wasn’t cheap. TVs, according to the ads, ran from just under $200 for a 17-inch black and white to about $400 for a 21-inch. That’s about $4,000 today.

Dealers said about 100 sets were being sold in Tucson every week at a time when the population was just 45,000.

It took about $1 million to get Channel 13 on the air.

Who knows what the next 70 years will bring. But one thing is certain - it will always be magic.