History of Television in Virginia
Experimental TV broadcasts began, mostly in large cities, as early as 1928. The depression and World War II kept development slowed, however, so that television was in its infancy at the end of the war. Only six stations were on the air in 1946. A great rush to start new stations commenced in the post-war period. The Federal Communications Commission was deluged with applications. Many of the new applicants were broadcasters who already had local radio stations. Others were community newspapers and insurance companies, and just plain speculators.
WTVR-TV in Richmond staked out its claim as "the south's first television station" when it took to the air on April 22, 1948. By that time, there still were only 16 stations in the entire country, all VHF channels. In our part of the world, WSAZ in Huntington, WBTV in Charlotte, and WFMY in Greensboro followed in 1948, as did WTAR in Norfolk in 1950.
Still, people in central and southwestern Virginia needed determination and a really tall antenna to watch TV. It became apparent to the FCC in 1949 that it would be impossible to grant licenses for all the applicants for Channels 2 through 13, and that without an orderly plan, all the new stations would interfere with each other. The FCC in 1950 declared a freeze on new licenses and went to work creating a new plan of allocating a combination of VHF and new UHF channels to communities across America. The new table of allocations was published and the freeze lifted in 1950.
Channels 7, 10 and 27 were allocated for Roanoke. From 1950, various interests began competing for the channels. Times World Corporation, which operated WDBJ AM/FM, applied for Channel 7, as did Polan Brothers of Huntington. Shenandoah Life Insurance Company, owner of WSLS AM/FM, applied for Channel 10. Radio Roanoke, the owner of WROV, applied for and got Channel 27. Unfortunately, though, very few people had television sets, and even fewer had sets capable of receiving UHF signals, so WROV-TV soon failed on Channel 27. Radio Roanoke then filed a competing application for Channel 7, whereupon Polan Brothers dropped its Channel 7 application and filed a competing application for Channel 10. In due time, Polan Brothers withdrew its competing application and Shenandoah Life Stations was granted a license for Channel 10. It began operation on December 11, 1952. To the east, Lynchburg Broadcasting Company, the owner of WLVA, applied for and got a license for Channel 13 there. WLVA-TV began operation two months later on February 8, 1953.
Meanwhile, Times World and Radio Roanoke continued competition for the Channel 7 allocation. Times World president J. P. Fishburn led a team of WDBJ and newspaper managers who spent countless weeks and months in Washington in pursuit of the authority to build the new station. Tragedy struck when Mr. Fishburn suffered a stroke in the course of an FCC hearing and subsequently died. Hearings were recessed for a time, and when they resumed TW and WROV reached an agreement: WROV would drop its application if it recovered its expenses and if TW bought the facilities which had been used for failed Channel 27. Our predecessors went to work on the old Radio Roanoke tower on Mill Mountain and its studios in the Mountain Trust Bank Building.
At last, WDBJ began operation on Channel 7 on October 3, 1955, almost three years after our friendly competitors. By then, the number of stations in America had grown to 422. It was 1957, however, before 190-mile minimum separation requirements between us and Channel 7 in Spartanburg were worked out and we begin full coverage with our transmitter on Poor Mountain. Fifty years later, we honor the work and vision of those who refused to give up on their concept for television service to our area.