What would become NBC12 signed on the air on Sunday, April 29, 1956. At the time it was WRVA-TV and it was a CBS affiliate. Over the years that followed, the station was affiliated with CBS, ABC and finally NBC. Our history, and that of television in Richmond, is a story complete with corporate intrigue and government policy changes.
One of the men who lived it, wrote it all down shortly before his death. "Roots to Satellites" is a history of TV in Richmond by Sanford Terry, the man who built what is now WWBT. From the corporate foot dragging that left WRVA third in the race, to the executive who felt the station should be built along the design of his "cow barn," it's a story we hope even non-broadcasters will find fun to read.
We're pleased to be able to provide Mr. Terry's "Roots to Satellites" online.
Early Decisions, Timid or Bold, Determined the Future of Television in Richmond
Richmond's AM radio stations WRVA and WRNL rode the crest of an unprecedented wave of prosperity in 1945 and 1946. Their owners were in no hurry to join the pioneer trek to television, influenced no doubt by thoughts of large and risky capital. In early 1945, just months before the war ended, the FCC allocated four VHF TV channels to Richmond. Local observers mistakenly guessed that the franchises would be quickly picked up by WRVA and WRNL, regarded in the industry as Virginia's leading broadcasters. The third and fourth channels were wild cards. Another local radio station, WMBG (now WTVR-AM), was not thought of as a likely contender, but its owner, the founder of the future WTVR, took the initiative and picked up a channel before an unexpected construction permit freeze was imposed. WTVR (and WBTV, Charlotte) were among the 108 pre-freeze stations. Foot dragging was costly for others. In the end, WRNL lost its television bid and WRVA got only a half loaf.
The WTVR story is a genuine rags to riches saga of a $500 investment that brought millions when the property was sold. Wilbur M. Havens and a man named Martin owned a hole-in-the-wall automobile battery and ignition shop on West Broad near Laurel street. In 1927, the partners, drawn by the romance of radio, obtained a license (WMBG) to operate a ten watt station on the second floor of the shop. Power was stepped up several times. By 1939, growing WMBG sported a new 5000 watt transmitter on Staples Mill Road and a studio and office building at 3301 West Broad. Martin sold his share of the business to Havens in 1942.
Having no board of directors or partners to answer to, Havens could move as he desired. In 1947, he brought the first FM service to Richmond. His WCOD(FM) operates now as WTVR-FM. It is unknown if Havens at the time saw a golden future for television. Possibly he was drawn to the romance of TV just as he had been to radio 20 years earlier. Whatever the motivation, Havens kept his dream of television to himself until papers were filed with the FCC. With no other Richmond applications to consider, the commission quickly granted his request for authority to build a station on Channel six.A sync generator and the control room switcher were said to have been built in the chief engineer's home workshop. FM and TV antennas shared space on a fairly short tower adjacent to the AM towers on Staples Mill Road. An addition to the transmitter building housed a medium power FM and five hundred watt TV transmitter. And a small studio and control room went into the West Broad Street radio building. Havens' WTVR won the everlasting distinction on April 22, 1948, of being the first television station south of Washington, DC to begin broadcasting.
About the Author:
During World War II, Sandy Terry served in the Pacific on General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters staff and was away from the station for nearly four years. While in the Army, he planned and directed the construction of a 10,000 watt broadcast station in the U.S.Army Transport Apache. It is thought to be the world's first completely equipped radio broadcast ship.
It had a studio, control room, transmitter and power generating equipment. The ship was first used to broadcast live back to the United States news of the invasion of the Philippines when MacArthur's forces liberated the islands from the Japanese. This would have been known as the first ENG ship!
Who else is better qualified to put together a History of our Television Station. Sandy Terry was there from its inception and served our station for over two decades.
David G. Frasier
WWBT-TV NBC 12
P.O. Box 12
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