27 November 2007

[pdx, logo_design] A Brief History of The KPTV Logo (Sort of) With Illustrative Examples

1154. The history of Portland television is, in a way, the history of Channel 12, KPTV. It's also kind of a history of styles and fashion, which is truthfully the way I relate to it on a gut-response level.

The current logo portrays the KPTV-that-is-now; Portland's FOX affiliate–slick, mature, serious. It was a long growing-up. History will recall that Portland's own KPTV was the first TV station in Portland, and may well be the first commercial UHF TV station in the world (the award for first UHF station proper going to a Bridgeport, CN trasmitter (KC2XAK) that was an experimental effort). Ironically, the first owners of KPTV–Empire Coil–bought the transmission equipment for KC2XAK, shipped it cross country, and assembled it on Council Crest ... as KPTV's first transmitter.

It signed on as KPTV-Channel 27 in September of 1952 carrying all four then-major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont), and, as commercial television exploded in Stumptown from 1952 through about 1964, changed affiliations and swapped networks; KPTV was at one time an ABC station, and an NBC station. In 1956 KPTV and another local station, KLOR were brought under one corprate umbrella; at the end of April, 1957, KLOR went dark and KPTV moved into the Channel 12 spot on your dial, where it's been ever since.

My personal recollections of KPTV 12 start way after these halcyon, salad days, and I remember, from my vantage point in cosy, close Silverton (where even Mount Angel was a toll call) that 12 was the "other" station–the one where you watche the reruns and the old shows, that reran 50's vintage episodes of The Mickey Mouse Club looooong before "retro" became fashionable, where you went to see Star Trek in syndication before it too became fashionable again; it was the channel of the Jerry Lewis Telethon where "Ramblin" Rod Anders collected curbside donations as the famous fishbowl drop on SW Broadway.

As far as I'm concerned, Ramblin' Rod was the most sincere children's host out there (and was an accomplished perfrormer, coming as he did from a notable range of local talent who transitioned to the small screen via 12, such as Heck Harper and Bob "Addie Bobkins" Adkins) , and professional wrestling pretty much died with Frank Bonnema.

What was then telling about KPTV was that there was a certain "homemade" feeling about it which made it seem a little unfashionable next to its big network sisters. That may sound like an unfortunate way to describe it, but when I say it I actually do mean it in the best possible way; when the other stations had slick art up for their station ID cards, KPTV's looked like a master letterer had done them by hand. if design can express passion, these graphics did; they were done by people who cared, people who very likely not only gave a damn about what they were doing but loved showing it to everyone who could watch.

This legacy–local talent, local production, home grown–continued through the first years of the 21st Century, culminating with the move from KTPV's old studios of nearly five decades–735 SW 20th Place, just off Burnside where Morrison merges in at the Kingston Tavern, and just behind Civic Stadium–to a state-of-the-art facility at the foot of SE Caruthers Street ... only to leave the city entire a scant few years after when Meredith consolidated KPTV's operations with KPDX's in a business park out near the Cornell Rd/Bethany Blvd exit from the Sunset Highway.

Now, I don't want the good people at KPTV now to think I don't like what they're doing–we're stuck on Good Day Oregon as the niftiest AM show in Portland, and today's KPTV knows not to mess with success, keeping Perry Mason in its historic noontime slot weekdays and running the best syndication it can find, just like Yesterday's KPTV did.

But it seems like something ineffable is gone. I can't quite put my finger on it. There's a certain spirit that was diminished once Oregon's 12 became FOX 12 Oregon. Fairly or unfarily, that's just my impression, and exactly what that is, I'll leave that up as an excercise to the reader. I kind of hope some people want to argue it out in the comments. What makes Portland Portland? Are TV stations part of our terrior, our sense-of-place? I think that's why the evolution of KPTV's logo appeals to me–Channel 12's look communicates something subliminal, that can't be put into words, about what makes Portland Portland.

Maybe because it was here first, who knows.

But the point of all this is the logos, and how they have changed over the years. KPTV, as it happens, have had several looks over the years. Let's get back on point and take a look at a few of them.

First, here are two ID cards from 1952 and 1953; Wake up, PDX, you're in the video age now!

KPTV's first Station ID card, ca. 1952

KPTV Station ID card from 1953, featuring classic Saint Johns Bridge shot

The first one is glorious, no? According to Ron Dunevant, webmonster of Yesterday's KPTV (and who gave gracious permission for me to borrow his images; thank you, Ron) :

Obviously hand-drawn, it represented the hard-work of the employees who got the station up-and-running just weeks after tower construction began

A very can-do image pertains. The card is as charming as is passionate. The one with the Saint Johns Bridge is a recurring theme–I distinctly recall KOIN using a similar shot–but the Saint Johns is a Portland icon, and what better way to use it on television?

Now, let's take a rocket ride through the 1960's:

KPTV "Satellite" logo card from 1962

It's the age of Sputnik, and KPTV is following the fashion. If only they know that the world would become even smaller than they could have dreamt. The abbrevation of "ORE." in the city name is charming and quaint.

KPTV Station ID card from 1967

Whenever I see this one, the voice of Rod Anders echoes through the memory: KPTV, Channel 12 ... A Chris-Craft Station!. Chris-Craft industries started out by making boats and diversified into a basket of industries, including media. These days, Chris Craft is back to just making boats, and KPTV is on the FOX net. There's a symmetry there somehow.

The style of type stayed consistent through many representations: the call-sign in extended type, the bold sans-serif 12, the mysterious four-pointed star (maybe it was borrowed from the lady in the Portland city seal) and the baseline leading away from the 1. It was a clean, simple design that lent itself well to at least a few interpretations.

Now, on to the 70's. This period was dominated by what I call the "Four Easy Pieces" logo; it looks like someone clicked them all together like a handful of Legos. The 1 in the 12 grew a quiff, and the play of bold mixed-case letters (the P and V are majuscule, the K and T are minuscule) generates a bit of playful energy.

KPTV's 1972 logo

It wasn't long before the four easy pieces found a home on the Chris Craft banner card, as well.

KPTV Station ID card from 1973

Modern, dynamic, stylized–very 1970's.

1975: President Ford had declared our long national nightmare over, the CB-Radio craze was just getting into full-swing, and KPTV pushed the envelope with the presentation of a diagonal line of 12's and the four easy pieces diminshed below them. Further, the line if 12's were animated to appear as marquee lights.

KPTV Station ID card with the "Running Lights" logo,
circa 1975.

While an exciting change (seriously–I enjoyed watching the promos with the "running lights" line of 12's) it proved graphically limiting in layouts, leaving a diminished area above and left for program specific graphics:

Programming announcement with the "running lights" 12's.
Notice here that the 12's at the far left and the far right are dimmed
out, displaying the marquee-lights animation in action.
The problems in layout should be fairly apparent here.

This graphic treatment lasted little more than a year.

Starting in 1976, KPTV debuted a clever, dead memorable design for its identity:

1976 Station ID card featuring "Rectangle-12" logo design

The logo uses simple typographic tricks of unifying forms and cutting out pieces to create a very strong and memorable design. Perhaps without meaning to, the unity of the K with the P and T with the V pays homage to the Four Easy Pieces (which gave similar colorations to the KP and the TV pairs). None of the joins feel forced or overly arbritrary, and the way in which they're done actually makes a sort of symmetric desgin out of the dissimilar letterforms.

And the change wrought on the number 12 are nothing short of brilliance. Unifiying the 1 and the 2 within the rounded-rectangle lifts the letters to the next level to the status of icon, one which even today stands strongly along industry classics like the legendary Circle-7.

This is TV Station logo design done right. It lends itself well to a variety of treatments, from disco-era neon:

Surprisingly, sweet rave parties were still some years in the future.

To the day someone over at KPTV discovered Photoshop (joke, fellahs, joke!).

In seriousness, the way the stylization was carried into the word "PORTLAND" from the call sign "KPTV" is well done.

And even worked well when the stylized type was left behind as we worked our way through the '90s:

But times do change and so do station affiliations. In 1995, the UPN network debuted KPTV joined itand in 1996 the station removed from its home of decades to the east side of the river. But, as we've seen here, strong design has legs.

Longevity is its own evidence. The Rectangle-12 had a lifespan of 19 years. You can't improve on a good thing.

From then, the UPN years saw a little experimentation, eventually settling on the Oregon's 12 logo, of which this is a very good example:

The station, as I recall, flirted with simply calling itself Oregon's 12, but never quite got away from carrying the call sign KPTV whereever it went. This, in my opinion, is to the good–that call sign to this day has immense good will pertaining, and it would be foolish, I'd say to delete it wholly (even today's FOX 12 Oregon can be found at KPTV.com) The Rectangle-12 has morphed into an outline of the state of oregon containing a 12 with a half-serifed 1, which perhaps unintentionally pays homage to the way the Rectangle-12 connected and, more prosaically, allows an interesting typographic form while allowing for the tight kerning between the 1 and the 2 that's requred to make the logo a success.

Despite transmitting from Portland and primarily serving the Portland market, KPTV during these days made an effort to get its viewers thinging about Oregon as a whole. The "1 Oregon" campaign, comprising 30-second spots featuring notable Oregonians from all over the state, went a long way toward it, as did the then new AM news block, Good Day Oregon (Not Good Day Portland), so the "Oregon's 12" approach worked very well–it communicated an insipring remit, and a station that really wanted to be Oregon's station.

Now, of course, we're in the era of FOX 12 Oregon. We still have GDO and we still have Perry Mason, we still have The 10 O'Clock News. We now have The 11 O'Clock News and The 5 O'Clock News on weekends; KPTV has become a major news player locally.

We look back in fondess, we look forward with hope. Who knows what the future will hold for Portland's Own KPTV?

For more of the KPTV scrapbook, visit the Yesterday's KPTV site. Tell Mr Dunevant that ZehnKatzen sent you. It's the most loving tribute to Portland's broadcast history that I (or, I think, anyone) can name.

(Credit: The station photo of the 1996 stuidos was nicked from Melvin Mark's website; the station photo of the old building on SW 20th Place was clipped out of a screenshot at the front door of Yesterday's KPTV. All station logos were courtesy of Yesterday's KPTV and used with permssion, we thank Ronald Dunevant for granting permssion, mounting and maintaining the Yesterday's KPTV site, and for generally existing. He's skookum).

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Kevin Allman said...

Where I grew up, KCOP 13 was the area's "Chris-Craft Station," and the title cards always showed the station's logo over footage of a boat on a river.

Having no idea what a "Chris-Craft" was, I assumed Chris was the guy who owned the station. And he liked boats.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Actually, the interesting point was that up until they owned TV stations, Chris Craft was a subsidiary of a couple of concerns from 1960 on (the company itself was started in the late 1800s by a fellow who was named Chris Smith–and who liked boats), and was still famous for its wood boats and classic designs.

I'm probably not telling you something you didn't already find out, but I realized there was a point I could make here about brand reputation. When Chris Craft owned TV Stations, it was under the umbrella of something called the NAFI Corporation (which was, they say, partially controlled by Bing Crosby). Someone presumably understood the good faith the words "Chris Craft" had, so when NAFI decided to start buying TV stations, they rebranded in favor of the legendary boat maker.

Oddly enough, KCOP and KPTV were the only two broacasters in Chris Craft's portfolio for about a quarter century (from 1957 through 1982).

Kevin Allman said...

KCOP: A Chris-Craft Station!


Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Nifty! I love the way the voice-over is so oratorial and had this feeling of pomp.

Clearly KCOP was KPTVs upmarket cousin. The production values were really evident here–but then I'd expect that in television town.

One crochet would be the logo–the 13 seems ill at ease in that oval–the 1's already trying to climb out of there–and that trapped space in the upper right make me feel like the whole things off balance and about to roll left!

Seriously, though, thanks for sharing. That was cool.

Frank said...

KPTV. I do remember when I was in Portland in 1975. Saw a rerun of the classic TV series "The FBI with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as the dedicated Inspector Erskine and "Speed Racer" I stayed at the legendary Benson Hotel in Portland.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Thanks for the word, Frank. KPTV was great for that sort of programming. I formed a lifelong love of Speed Racer thanks to them.

We'll not see its like again any time soon.