“We wrote history that evening”
In 1989 the dream of Mike Verdrengh and Guido Depraetere became reality. Nine publishers, including De Persgroep, founded the Vlaamse Televisie Maatschappij. In the first advertising campaign for VTM you could see a stork standing on a television, with the slogan: ‘Er broedt iets op je televisie’ (literally meaning ‘Something is hatching on your television’, while figuratively it means ‘Something special is going to happen on TV’).
The VTM sticker on the rear window
And something special was indeed going to happen on TV. The arrival of VTM marked the beginning of an audiovisual revolution. “Because we made so many Flemish programs, a whole market suddenly opened,” says founder Mike Verdrengh.
Before the arrival of VTM, Flanders still watched Dutch channels en masse, but that changed quickly. Thanks to VTM, the Flemish popular culture matured. In the past, the better artists performed in parish halls, today they fill the Sportpaleis several times. VTM also created the phenomenon of the Famous Fleming, which led to a certain feeling of pride with the viewers. Half of Flanders had a VTM-sticker on its car.
The news has always been the backbone of the commercial channel. Mike Verdrengh and Guido Depraetere invested heavily in the editors. News anchor Dany Verstraeten was there from the beginning. He still vividly remembers the early period. “I started on 1 December, 1988 and after barely two months of preparation, the first news program aired on 1 February, 1989.”
There was a real pioneering atmosphere. “We were brainstorming in a hangar, on a concrete floor with plastic garden furniture to sit on. Nobody had any kind of television experience, except Jan Schodts and Terry Verbiest, who came from the BRT. I went to see how things were organised at RTL, but only once. That is how I learned to be a news anchor.”
Dany Verstraeten was very nervous during the first broadcast. He was sitting with shaking knees in the studio. “Fortunately I had Nadine De Sloovere next to me. She had already done live television. The first broadcast felt a bit like dying. Fortunately, everything went well. No matter how you look at it, we wrote history that evening, just by breaching the public broadcaster’s news monopoly.”
Marlène de Wouters was also there from the very beginning. She presented the grand opening show in 1989, together with Lynn Wesenbeek, in a full Kursaal Oostende. “I remember that Lynn could barely move because of the stress, just before we went down the stairs. I bounced back and forth behind the scenes, because I used to play tennis. ”
For thirteen years, Marlène de Wouters epitomised VTM. But the most famous face on the screen of the commercial channel is and remains Koen Wauters. He got to know Mike and Guido in 1988 as members of the jury of the Baccara Cup, a musical competition between provinces. Koen Wauters participated with Clouseau.
“At the reception Mike came up to me and asked if television was not something for me,” he says. “My answer sounded like: ‘Uh … Yes?'” A few weeks later Koen Wauters met again with Mike and Guido and a month later he signed a contract. Mike and Guido were masters in plotting a course for people from who they knew: ‘This can work.’
“And they liked to play good cop, bad cop,” adds Koen Wauters. “Regarding Familieraad, Guido said: ‘Mike is convinced, but I doubt that you will be able to associate well with those people.” To which I thought: ‘Come on, Guido, if there is anything I can do well … ‘. And that made me perform twice as good.”
Staf Coppens, a former actor in the series Wittekerke and now a presenter
“My first memory of VTM is a very personal one. As a young chap I played a role in Wittekerke. After school I found myself in a different world. In the Manhattan studios, where Tien Om Te Zien was recorded, I walked around between big names from home and abroad. It was a fantastic period-, which I extended since 2004 at VTM, except for a nice break at Ketnet. And to this day I am still happy to be able to make nice programs.”